Luck, privilege, and bias play starring roles in everyone’s success story, but rarely receive attention.
Hard work is a nebulous term. Too often, we take the lazy analysis tact of describing a key aspect of someone’s success as hard work. But ask three different people what hard work looks like and you’ll get three different answers.
It implies that if someone doesn’t succeed in the same fashion as someone else, well, they probably didn’t work hard enough. If only they’d put in x more time, written n more words, or made z more sales calls they’d be further along. Yet no one knows how many of anything it takes to achieve whatever is desired.
The truth is, had they experienced the same volume of luck, or started with the same level of privilege, or simply stuck it out long enough to overcome survivorship bias, they’d be a shining beacon of success.
This is the truth that lurks in the shadows of our capitalistic, meritocratic (whatever you wanna call it) system we live in. The haves boil their success down to hard work because they’re either unable or unwilling to admit the role that luck, privilege, and bias played in getting them to where they’re at.
They don’t want to break the illusion that they somehow deserve it.
No One Can Define Hard Work Consistently, So It’s Practically Meaningless
I’ve had plenty of luck and privilege throughout my life. I was born a white male in a society that values white males above all else. I’m tall and attractive (subjective, but quite true – look at me!), which has allowed me to overcome people’s ingrained, negative biases towards the short and/or unattractive. My family was mostly middle class, until my dad decided he wanted another family and walked out on my mom, my sister, and me, leaving us to adjust to poverty.
I’ve also worked “hard.” I somehow earned a degree in computer science with my deadbeat dad’s financial assistance. I guess he felt guilty for abandoning his offspring (although he didn’t afford my sister the same luxury because she “wasn’t nice enough;” his words, not mine).
I landed a job in government contracting and worked relatively “hard” my entire career. I finally made it up the corporate ladder to middle manager, burned out, and now I’m here wondering what happened to the last 20 years of my life.
If you pin me down to elaborate on my definition of hard work, you’d probably get a blank stare. Occupying an office and looking at a screen is hardly work. Getting handed things for being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people at the right time doesn’t seem like hard work either.
To me, hard work looks like earning my sleep. Doing things throughout the day that are mentally and physically draining. Where at the end of day, I feel ok to flop on the couch and watch Netflix for an hour or so before bed. This definition has less to do with equating to success and everything to do with simply being a healthy human in a modern world.
Sitting in a comfortable office chair all day answering emails isn’t hard work. Draining my knowledge into someone else’s profit machine isn’t hard work. Getting handed a piece of paper that I paid a steep price for isn’t hard work.
It’s all luck, privilege, and bias. I’m not special, but packaging everything I’ve accomplished as hard work sure does make my ego and bathroom area tingle.
We Never Talk About Everyone Else Who Do Work Hard But Never Get Ahead – Can We Start?
You aren’t me, but you’re probably in a similar spot as me. You’ve had different advantages throughout your your life and career. You’ve hit some tough breaks and scored some opportunity others didn’t have a shot at. You’ve also worked hard and might be wondering what the fuck it was all for.
This is the other side of hard work that fails to pay off. Many more people are on this side of the equation than the other. They didn’t get the same breaks as the others who crossed the chasm to success. So all they’re left with is an empty tank and a heavy regret burden.
And that’s the thing, the ones on the other side of the chasm could reach over and help others across, acknowledging the luck, privilege, and bias they received. But all too often, they’d rather bask in watching everyone else duel to the death to get across. Like a real world version of Squid Game.
Or they take advantage of our burning desire to get across. They set traps for us to fall into, like preaching the hard work myth. They give us cute motivational quotes, like follow your passion and the money will follow (ugh, what a fucking lie). Like selling us expensive courses and mastermind groups that essentially boil down to: do everything exactly as I did and if you can’t succeed just like me, you didn’t work hard enough you lazy fuck.
We’re beginning to see through the myth. We’re beginning to realize that hard work earns us nothing but a bullet through the head. And that’s if we’re lucky. Most of us will quietly succumb to The Progress Machine.
Redefining Hard Work Is A Path Forward But Not A Panacea
There’s not much we can do about individual privilege except helping others behind us. It’s impossible for someone else to recreate our life experience. Mainly because they’re not us, fucking duh. But we can be honest about it and do our best to provide others the same.
It also helps to spot bias. When some dumb fuck is choking on Jeff Bezos’ micro penis and lamenting his hard work ethic, you’ll know that’s another dumb fuck to ignore. Jeff Bezos didn’t work hard, he won the lottery and turned his back on everyone else who wasn’t so lucky. Now he’s trying to blast himself to Mars to get away from a planet he’s helped fuck up to the point of being unlivable.
We can also begin turning our backs on hard work for hard work’s sake. We need to define clear boundaries between what we consider work and not work. You can define work however you like, but there needs to be space to live, give back, and relax.
We need to make space to work on our physical and mental health. We need time for relationships. We need a generous amount of leisure, not just a weekend packed with all the things we wanted to do during the week.
No one is going to lift a finger to deliver any of this to us. Those on the other side of chasm will continue to sip champagne and watch us fuck each other up trying to get to them. Why do we want to be over there anyway?
We’re Going To Have To Do This Ourselves, Or Keep Getting Fucked And Fed To The Lions
Ask yourself what you want from your work and what work actually is for you. Keep in mind that work isn’t supposed to be fulfilling or fun or rewarding or make you bounce out bed with excitement like a psychopath, as most productivity dip shits would have you believe.
It’s fucking work. It’s shitty almost always. So think of it in terms or what you’re no longer willing to do. Or in terms of what you’re willing to struggle through. This is more helpful than psychotically mapping out your dream life. Because dream lives no longer exist, if they ever did.
That may look like shorter work weeks. It may look like refusing to do someone else’s shit work; you’ve got your own shit work to do. It may look like wiping someone else’s ass, figuratively, because you care about ensuring people are clean and healthy.
Whatever it is, if you don’t define it some greedy overlord will. You may not be able to pivot to your definition of work right away, but it gives a target to shoot for. It gives a narrative to set in your current situation, something to talk to.
It might also be helpful to figure out who you’re willing to do work for. Do you want to continue doing the same stupid thing for your current employer or is it time to go somewhere else? Maybe it’s time to strike out on your own? Maybe it’s time to take a break?
Finally, don’t hide your luck, privilege, and bias. Talk openly about it, and if you can, try to afford someone behind you a little of their own. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to bust through the problems we face now and the ones we will face in the near future. In short, be the opposite of the wealth hoarding assholes like Bezos.
Hard work has its place. But it’s not sustainable for any length of time. If we listen to fuck faces who preach the hard work ethic as a formula for success then we completely fuck ourselves and our future. Which defeats our vision of a less fucked future. Don’t fall victim to it.