Unlearning the Value of Hard Work

The hardest class I took in college was graduate-level Thermodynamics. Thankfully, it was hard for all of the right reasons: highly intellectual, deeply nuanced math, complex subject matter. These days, many courses are made artificially difficult by ineffective teaching. Not this one. Dr. VonSpakovsky was excellent.

The first homework assignment reviewed the entire undergraduate course. We had a couple weeks to work through the first 14 chapters of the text and an accompanying problem set. Two weeks. And yet, predictably, I pulled an all-nighter to get it done before the deadline.

Here’s the funny part: I started the day it was assigned and I worked diligently every day! I didn’t pull an all-nighter because I procrastinated. Rather, it was because I was “doing it right.” Meticulously neat. Figures drawn by hand using rulers and French curves. Notes of explanation on steps that were hard to follow. I handed in a 48-page packet that was more detailed in explanation than the examples in the text book!

I’ll never forget the look on his face as I handed in my monstrous stack of papers (my classmates’ submissions were 5-10 pages long). I was beaming with pride.


That was the grade. A check mark.

Don’t get me wrong, he pulled me aside to tell me what an excellent job I had done, poured compliments on my hard work and effort, and gave all of the feedback one would hope a caring teacher would.

Yet, my grade was the same as the 5-page submission of the student next to me.

We’re Oversold the Value of Hard Work

“Hard worker” is one of the most common compliments we seek. So much so that we commit ourselves to tasks and opportunities that we have no business being a part of BECAUSE they promise to require lots of hard work! Many of these things don’t move us any closer to our goals.

I believe that most opportunities are noise. They may be good, but they aren’t great. Let’s stop committing ourselves to so much that we can’t be truly excellent at the few things of incredible value that we should be doing.

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