Is Hard Work Overrated?
Yes, that headline is clickbait. But this line from a recent podcast struck a nerve with me. The more I thought about it, the more the reasoning resonated with and applied to me.
Hard work is table stakes. To have a meaningful career, other factors combine to create exponential success. Taken to the extreme, I have zero doubt that the lineman with no college or high school degree works hard. I’ve seen it firsthand my entire life. But, other factors, even some starting at birth, drive career outcomes.
What you work on matters. When I get asked for career advice, something that will always be odd to me, my number one piece of advice is that the game you play - meaning the industry or focus you pick - is more important than how you play the game.
The energy transition represents a good example. The industry tailwinds grant a lot of leeway for mistakes and a multiplier on any success you may have. I picked it almost 15 years ago because I believed in the long-term opportunity. I looked wrong for about a decade.
If what you work on is 1a for success, who you work with is 1b. We’ve all had a boss, mentor, or colleague who helped us find the next thing or pulled us to wins. Without those people, exponential success is impossible. We need people to take chances on us, to push us beyond what we think we’re capable of, and to share our stories with their network.
In my case, I joined a startup, unknowingly realizing it was full of people who would invest in my success for the next decade plus. We can’t succeed without that kind of investment. I couldn’t have known the types of people that worked there, leading me to the last point.
The final piece of the puzzle is luck. Every career has a dash of luck sprinkled into it. Most of you probably live or were born in the US or the EU. Most of us don’t regularly think about that massive stroke of luck.
Or maybe you were born into a household that could afford to pay for your college, leaving you debt free to start your adult life.
Or you had parents who sacrificed everything to ensure you could reach the next level to ensure you didn’t have to. We don’t pick where we are born or who raises us; those factors play an outsized role in our outcomes.
So, is hard work required for success? Absolutely.
But there’s a threshold. We can’t not work at all - progress requires action. However, hard work alone doesn’t get us where we want to go. We need to play the right game with the right people and have luck on our side when we roll life’s dice.