The Myth of Hard Work

treadmill hard work

Hard work and long hours have never been strangers to me. But out of the corner of my eye, I’ve always noticed those people who never seem to break that “career sweat.” Their success seems to come much more effortlessly. Sure, they stay late when they have too – but they don’t usually. I have always envied them.

How do they do that? Well it appears it is not so much what they are doing right as it is what I and others like me have done wrong. We have fallen for the “myth of hard work.” That is, if you work harder and put in the long hours, that will move you higher and faster up the career ladder than those who don’t. And that turns out be untrue.

As an employee, people who work harder than everyone else get passed over for promotion all the times. While other seemingly, less dedicated people zoom by them. And some good research has figured out why. According to consultant Harvey Coleman:

“Promotion only happens when someone in authority perceives you will fit in at the NEW job.”

So “hitting it out of the park” in your current job is less important than if it appears you can hit it out of the park in your next job. That’s a big deal because it changes your focus on what’s important if you want to advance.

Success is also more likely to come when you are (or at least act) with self-confidence and assertiveness. People respect people who stand up for themselves. While this is supposedly more of a woman’s problem, I know plenty of men who are also people pleasers and almost always “stand down” when dealing with authority.

Lois Frankel talks about this in her book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers. For example, instead of asking for permission to take a day off, (“Is it okay with you of I take Thursday off…”) a confident person just says, “I need to take Thursday off next week, let me know if that’s a problem.” When you ask permission, you make it easy for someone to say “no” and you put yourself in a one-down position.

In the belief that hard work will get you ahead, many people will “make miracles” for their boss or organization. In other words, hard workers will accomplish something incredible with very few resources. Everyone is amazed and a hero is born. The problem is, every time you do that you raise the bar. Today’s miracle becomes tomorrow’s expectation. When you don’t pull off the miracle next time, you become a big disappointment.

Being in the radio (and now podcast) business, I notice the words people use. And people who lack confidence talk too much. They over explain. Research has shown that short sounds confident. Use fewer words. Make your point and stop. Edit yourself. Say less.

Often there is an inner conflict within people who want to get ahead by pleasing others – they think they must be liked. And in order to be liked, they must sacrifice their power. Lois Frankel says:

“I don’t happen to think they’re mutually exclusive, I think you can be liked and get your needs met. I think [people] just need to tape over those old voices and those old messages around how they’re supposed to behave, and instead embrace their powers.”

Fear often seems to be behind that lack of confidence or inability to be assertive. The fear of getting fired, of not being liked, or frequently, some vague, childlike fear that something horrible will happen if you don’t do everything perfectly. Almost always those fears are unjustified. In fact, most often those fears are not even real. They are total imagination.

Psychologist Sheena Hankin defines confidence as a form of emotional maturity, an ability to manage all the negative feelings that people have calmly, quickly and directly.  In practice, here’s how it works…

When faced with the choice of pleasing someone else or doing what you want, Sheena says the best thing to do is ask yourself:

“What’s the right thing to do at this moment and time?” And if the right thing is to disappoint somebody let me do it kindly. But let me do the right thing, not what somebody else wants.”

Where do you stand on the “myth of hard work”? I’d love to hear your comments. Please enter them in the box below and feel free to share this on Facebook or Twitter if you like.

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photo credit: Lemuellz via photopin cc

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  1. Brian malhiot says:

    Wow I have done all this to myself. I see now that what i have been doing is misrepresenting who I am. Actually making it impossible to advance.

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