Facebook is on the verge of an IPO that will instantly create an estimated 1,000 new millionaires and make Mark Zuckerberg worth an estimated $20 Billion. This striking reality begs several questions, perhaps most notably ‘Why him?’ Was Zuckerberg the only person with the requisite technical expertise to make something like Facebook work? (No). Was he the only one with the idea? (Again, no). Then why him? Chalk it up to Providence or serendipity, but opportunity and preparedness came together in his case – catalyzed by a tremendous amount of hard work invested by Mark and many other people. Nine years later, here we are.

Let’s be honest, it can be hard not to feel jealous when confronted with such objective success. In fact, our own insecurities are piqued by much less dramatic examples in the lives of people around us every day. But here’s another relevant question: For all of Facebook’s success, how many other wanna-be social media magnates saw their pet projects flitter out? You can probably name several without even thinking, and the answer is literally hundreds! Chances are, many of those people worked just as hard as Zuckerberg and his team! So why Mark? Why Facebook?

 

This example illustrates one of life’s hard realities: Working hard is necessary, but not sufficient. Stop! Take a moment to internalize that, because it’s a hard pill to swallow! Working hard is necessary for living a successful life – you’re obliged to do it if you want your dreams to come true – but it’s not sufficient. That means once you have worked hard – maybe even harder than you ever thought possible – you’re still not entitled to anything.

Ouch! Can that be true?

Yes, it is.

I ran headlong into this truth during my first year of law school, and the collision hurt! Anyone who has experienced law school final exams will confirm that there are few gauntlets that are as cognitively intense – especially that first semester of first year, when most students still don’t realize what they’ve bargained for. In my case, after a month of studying literally 10 to 12 hours a day, 7 days per week, I achieved exactly ZERO As.

I did manage a few Cs though!

At first, I thought there had been some mistake – that these were somebody else’s grades. Upon picking up my exams, however, my fears were confirmed. Despite working harder than I’d ever worked, I performed worse academically than I thought possible. I felt like a total idiot, and even considered dropping out of law school. It’s even more humbling to admit that, despite stepping up my game second semester, learning from my mistakes, and performing notably better, it wasn’t enough to save my near-full tuition scholarship. Working hard was necessary, but not sufficient.

I learned an important lesson that first year of law school: We should be intentional about being hard-working people because, though it can be difficult to come to terms with what working hard does NOT guarantee, there are at least three important benefits it does provide! Here are a few truths about working hard:

Things Working Hard Does NOT Guarantee:

  1. The ideal opportunity will come along – Guess what: That ship you’re waiting for may never come in.
  2. You will be insulated from tragedy – If you’ll permit me to ‘aphorism-ize’ (according to my spell check, this is actually a word) Matthew 5:45, the rain falls on the righteous and the wicked!
  3. Life will be fair – It’s not. It never will be. And, our politicians can’t fix the problem through legislation.

Benefits Working Hard DOES Provide:

  1. More opportunities will arise – It’s inevitable. Working hard exposes you to new people and ideas, demonstrates your commitment and reliability, and results in invitations and possibilities previously unseen.
  2. You will be more prepared for the opportunities that do arise – My dad used to tell me “it’s easier to steer a ship that moving” and that logic applies here. In addition, when you’re working hard, you’re building your capacity to add value to other people (and organizations) and, perhaps more importantly, demonstrating your willingness to do so. Yes, a good work ethic does still count for something!
  3. You can live with less regret – You’ll inoculate yourself against many of life’s haunting ‘What if’ questions: What if I had gone out for the team? What if I had started that business? Gone back to school? Studied abroad? Gotten in shape? Forgiven that friend? … What if I had worked hard and given it my all?

So, how has recognizing and applying these truths about working hard played out in my life since that fateful first semester in law school? Straight As in business school; 2 professional publications; A great job offer; Several amazing mentoring relationships; The opportunity to write a book with one of my mentors; 5 months in Europe with my wife … The list goes on. These successes necessitated that I continued working hard, despite difficult disillusion. Yes, the failure was deflating, but a sustained commitment to working hard eventually led to reinvigorating successes. Working hard is not a panacea, and it does not entitle you to anything; however, every person should aspire to become (or continue to be) a hard worker because its eventual benefits are undeniable (and there’s really no substitute for it)! If you’re in a difficult place right now, press on and keep working hard. Chances are something good is just around the corner!

Leave a comment: What benefits have you experienced when you committed to working hard despite disillusion or difficulty?

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