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Why Hard Work Doesn't Always Equal Success

We live in a culture where we aren’t necessarily reinforced for hard work and dedication, but we equate success with taking our work to an extreme. We may find that we are praised and rewarded for the ability to take on immense amounts of stress and long hours, as well as forgoing our social life for work. However, burnout is real. Working around the clock and constantly feeling stressed isn’t sustainable.

Below are five tips to help you give up the idea of "working hard," and instead start working smartly and efficiently.

  1. Define "Hard Work"- Real talk, what does “hard work” even mean? Is there a way to measure if you’re actually working hard? It’s an arbitrary standard that can change depending on the day, and is different for everyone. We recommend defining what “hard work” means for you. Start by setting concrete goals that align with this definition so that you can actually determine whether or not you’re meeting this standard. Outline your long-term work goals, then break those into more manageable short-term goals.

  2. Create Timelines- Estimate a deadline for when you'd like to achieve the long-term goal. Then, work your way backward to figure out when each smaller goal needs to be accomplished to meet that deadline. Use this guideline to create your to-do list day-to-day.

  3. Evaluate- Assess your progress in meeting your timeline. If you find that you aren’t meeting your timeline, figure out why. Is it because you aren’t putting in the time to get tasks done, OR is it that the work is more time consuming than anticipated? If the problem is the latter, it is important to revaluate and restructure your timeline.

  4. Shift Your Mindset- If you aren’t reaching your goals because unhelpful behaviors are getting in the way (e.g., avoidance or procrastination), this is an indication that your mindset about the work may be impacting your progress. Check out our previous blog post [] to learn more.

  5. Address Feelings of Guilt- Many of us have the tendency to make ourselves feel guilty when we don’t achieve our goals. We may think of this guilt as motivating because it will stop us from making the same mistake again. Or, we look at the guilt as a punishment for not doing what we intended. However, guilt can hamper motivation and progress making the situation even worse. Let me explain:

  • When we don’t reach goals, we may admonish ourselves and say, “I SHOULD have worked harder!” However, this demand isn’t helpful because we can’t change what happened in the past- we can’t go back in time and make ourselves “work harder.” When we're feeling guilty, we may also be equating our value with success at work. When a goal isn't reached we may think, “I’m a COMPLETE FAILURE, because I did not meet timeline.” Equating our worth with work also isn’t super helpful, because what we do at work doesn’t equal our value as a person. A person’s value doesn't go up and down based on what was accomplished at work. In a nutshell, both perspectives are extreme and lead to unhelpful feelings of guilt.

The more time we spend making ourselves feel guilty, the more stressed and upset we become. Then, we actually spend less time figuring out how to resolve the issue at hand. I’m not saying it’s a good thing when we avoid work and miss goals; but, there is a difference in feeling frustrated or disappointed (which can be very motivated) versus beating yourself up, feeling guilty, and diminishing your motivation.

“Hard work” certainly doesn’t have to mean working around the clock. Taking breaks and maximizing your life outside of work is important for your physical and mental health. We live in a world where we are always connected, and it’s difficult to achieve a true work/life balance. That being said, we don't have to let our quality of life fall to the wayside when working towards success. Gaining an understanding of your goals, what it will take to get there, and how you can measure your progress will help you to figure out how to best maximize your time both in-and-out of work.

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