#130: About Hard Work

You have to work hard. That’s the conventional wisdom, and I hate it. Not because I wouldn’t agree – you absolutely have to work hard to succeed as a writer or in anything else. The problem is that nobody knows what working hard really means.

Or more precisely, everybody has their own idea of what hard work looks like. For some, it may be spending 16 hours at the office every day. For others, it might be solving hard problems or making difficult decisions. It might be learning the new or dealing with the old. Some people focus on effort, others on results.

The value of such advice depends entirely on the context and circumstances of the person giving it. We’re not all the same, and what might be a heroic effort for one can easily be a terrible mistake for another. It’s a mess.

There’s another type of hard work that I think we should be a lot more concerned about than pulling energy-drink-fuelled all-nighters. The hard work of sticking with your project when nobody believes in you. The hard work of keeping going even if you have no idea whether it’s going to lead anywhere. The hard work of showing up every single day for 5, 10 and 20 years.

And most important of all, the hard work of keeping yourself going – physically and mentally. It’s like when you’re flying with an infant. In case of emergency, the flight attendants say, you must always put your own breathing mask first. Just like the kid won’t make it out of the plane without their parents, your unwritten stories won’t make it out of your head without you.

Work hard, but on your own terms.

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