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How often do you think about the nuance involved with hard work?


Today is August 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do think about the nuance involved with hard work?” For those learning to leverage their mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality, reflecting upon the nuance involved with hard work is a strategy often used. Hard work is an absolute necessity to translate your dreams into reality. Working hard at hard work is another strategy people use to navigate the chaos. But like so many other Navigate the Chaos posts, there is a nuance here important to consider.


As F. Diane Barth wrote in "The Great Myth of Hard Work" an August 2012 Psychology Today article: “The myth that we can achieve anything we want if we just work hard enough, then, is just that – a myth. The hard work is accepting that everyone and everything has limitations. And finding ways to accept that limitations are just part of being human – not signs of failure.” Myth may be too strong of a word. The better reference with this nuance is that translating your dreams into reality will often take much more than hard work. Jeff Shannon, an executive coach, and author of Hard Work is Not Enough: The Surprising Truth about Being Believable at Work. believes ‘hard work is a good start.’ This is especially true for anyone launching a new career, regardless of age, as hard work can certainly help establish you in your organization or industry. If you desire to move up and grow, however, hard work is not going to be enough. As Shannon noted: “At a certain point you look around and realize, wow, everyone works hard at this level. Expertise and hard work just become the expectation and will not help you up the ladder.”


This may seem glaringly obvious if you stop and think about it for a moment since the other 364 Navigate the Chaos posts explain all the different strategies available for anyone willing to leverage their mind, body, and spirit to translate one dream after another into reality. It is clear to anyone who has reflected upon a number of the Navigate the Chaos questions and posts that hard work is indeed not the only strategy required to use to achieve your goals. It certainly is an important avenue to pursue but it is healthy to remember the nuance that hard work alone is often not enough. You will most likely need to combine hard work with any number of other strategies listed in the Navigate the Chaos series.


A reporter once asked American professional boxer, activist, and poet Mohamed Ali “How many sit-ups do you do?” Ali responded “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts." In a 2019 speech Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled Ali’s story and said “Now think about it. He doesn’t start counting. That is working hard. And so, you can’t get around the hard work. It doesn’t matter who it is.” This story reminds us to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. First, you need to work hard and continually discover new limits to what it means to work hard. Afterall, Ali never counted his sit-ups until he started to feel pain and that would change over time. Second, you need to acknowledge that hard work alone is not enough. You should remind yourself what Schwarzenegger said and that is ‘no one gets around the hard work.’ How often have you held these two opposing ideas in your mind simultaneously?


Today’s reflection ends on one additional nuance here and that is the difference between working at 99% capacity versus 100% capacity. In an Instagram post from July 2021, Marine, best-selling author, and motivational speaker David Goggins talked about this and said “It’s a very scary situation when you are confronted with trying to find more of yourself. When you believe you have given everything you have, your mind becomes dark. You believe that quitting or failure is imminent. The choices and options you have in front of you start to shrink. This makes it very easy to abandon ship. Before you abandon ship, know this…there is always one more door that you haven’t opened. Behind that door may lie failure and disappointment BUT it may also have success and accomplishment. If you never open that door because you are extremely tired, exhausted, and feeling like you have given everything you have, you will never give yourself the chance to find your true capabilities. In trying to find your true capabilities, it’s inevitable that you will meet failure and disappointment head on. This is the part that deters people from opening that door. The difference between giving 99% and 100% is a lot bigger than what we think. To find just that 1% more requires all of us to open that final door. Never be fooled by a 99% effort!”

  • How often do you think about the nuance involved with hard work?

  • How often do you hold the two opposing ideas (hard work is necessary but not the only thing you need to do) in your mind simultaneously?

  • When do you start counting?

  • How do you respond when the pain starts to kick-in?

  • Can you stay in the darkness long enough that your eyes adjust to the dark?

  • When you believe you have given everything you have, can you push yourself just one step further?

  • Have you ever pushed yourself to a new limitation? How did you respond?

  • Do you believe you have untapped potential yet to be realized?

  • Can you encounter failure yet continue?

  • Have you considered your capacity at 99% compared to 100%?