Archive for March, 2011

Hard work: It’s for suckers.

I was listening to an piece on the radio the other day about a couple who drove across the country to start a new life; which ultimately didn’t work out for them.  While it was a reasonably interesting piece, something that was said stuck out to me.

The woman opined that her belief in hard work leading to success and happiness in life had been shaken.  She went on to say that she felt that her generation had believed in hard work and that the recession has shattered that belief.

If we look at those who gain fame and fortune many if not most of them are very hard workers.  They stay up late and work 7 days a week.  These hard chargers throw 100% of their life into their work and fortune follows from all this effort.  So, since most want fame and fortune, shouldn’t they too really dig in and work hard?  Isn’t the American dream to work hard and prosper!?

First I’ll point out that some folks derive the greatest enjoyment from their work and these people are often the ones who find fortune and success.  For many of these folks the fortune is just a by product of their love for their work.  I will contend that these people are the exception, as they are deemed “exceptional.”  One example of this may be Mark Zuckerberg.  I say this based on the movie “The Social Network” which I’ll assume is somewhat accurate.  I’ve also had the personal experience of meeting a few very wealthy (multi million and billionaires) and find that for some, the money is a secondary passion.  Whether its directly for the money or the success that money brings, it does appear that the highest levels of any particular area, hard work is the path to achievement.  Despite that, in fact because of that, I still think hard work is for suckers.  So, it works for the Mark Zuckerbergs, why not you?  Well the why not is the same reason that drinking the sugar water that your favorite NFL star supposedly drinks will not make you an NFL star.  Correlation is not causation.  For instance being an on and off drug addict will not make you (formerly?) rich like Charlie Sheen, though it may give you “tiger blood”.

There are many things that are hard, and many of them are not worth doing.  This is a matter of personal accounting that many people do not do.  Take for instance the cleaning of our house.  It just so happens that my wife and I have available to us enough free time, and do not command a high enough dollar amount for our time to make a maid service profitable for us.  If we each commanded $100/hour and disliked cleaning our house, it could actually be profitable to pay someone else to do it.  That $/hour determination, which is highly subjective I should point out, is what really matters.  What is your time worth to you?  Do you work 60 hours per week?  80 hours?  Well the more you work, for a fixed amount of pay, the less your time is worth.  So what we should really all be doing is working less and getting more done.

For those who would argue the moral imperative for hard work I’ll ask you why you love waste?  If I were to decide that I was going to set myself up a large printing press, circa 1780, and work for hours and hours perfecting my typesetting, I would not be viable commercial enterprise, though it may be a great hobby.  A cheap desktop printer could do the job a type setter and massive printing press, ignoring the consumption of resources beyond labor, at costs so much lower it would be a complete waste to do such a thing, but boy would it be hard work.  So hard work for itself is no virtue; in fact for it’s own sake, it’s often a complete waste of scarce resources.

For most things there is some accepted amount of work it takes to complete the task.  With the quality of the result held equal, we should strive to achieve that result with less and less “work” in the form of human effort, time, money, and material resources.  This is of course productivity.  This is getting more and more out of less and less.  This accounting in our daily lives leads to more free time, or more stuff.  I’d argue against the stuff and go for the free time, but that’s a personal value judgement.  Beyond this personal accounting, a world that can produce more with less is a world that does can consume fewer resources, that requires less human toil.  While many things stand in the way of such a world; don’t let yourself be one.