Coworker: I just graduated.
Me: Congratulations! That was a lot of hard work.
Coworker: Not really. But thanks.
Later my friend also reiterated that, while it was nice of me to encourage him, graduating wasn’t really that hard of work. WHAT? I felt like he would have had lots of times, lots of choices, where things could have gone wrong. If he hadn’t finished that paper… Gone to that class… Paid that tuition… If that wasn’t hard, what is?
Is what I do hard? What counts? Is there a higher level? And doesn’t just waking up in the morning and doing a semblance of a good job on the day count as hard?
This question bothers me because I’m trying to move upward, onward — especially in the rest of 2019 — and so of course I wonder, ‘Am I working hard enough?’
I’m polishing samples, screenplays and teleplays, and I’m working on ‘being a pro’ by entering contests, making connections, and getting a cell phone (!) (not yet functional but the dream continues).
I also want to continue to reduce my number of possessions and get my perfect shape and fitness level by my fall birthday.
And I get the feeling I’m probably not working hard enough. You might not be either. And I think that’s what unsettled me about the conversations above, what irritated me — If this isn’t hard work, then what is?
I’ve always been a hard worker at jobs and pretty steady at improving my life and hitting some goals, but I do wonder what is the ‘next rung up’ on the Hard Work ladder?
How to Work Harder For Your Dreams
- Find a crazy-awesome mentor. And you don’t have to know the person or be able to talk to them. Anyone can inspire you. I’ve been very inspired by Pete Buttigieg this year. One quote from his book, Shortest Way Home that really (really) got to me was, ‘I begin to realize that the job was not how much I knew, but how much I was willing to put on the line.’ Sometimes Sarah and I imagine a ‘roommate Pete’ asking about how our day and goals are going. Definitely an inspiration.
- Do the thing you know you should do. Often we know the next steps to take, but time passes between these steps. But if you instead make a list and have a set of goals for each week, you can start smashing into those obstacles at full speed (it’s better than it sounds). I knew getting back in the cell phone game could be annoying, but I’m finding out what doesn’t work (like my old cell phone) and then I can move quickly ahead.
- Imagine hearing about a person so insanely dedicated… then become them. I like to think about hearing some crazy thing about someone with the same goals as me. ‘He listened to 70 podcasts to learn more about the business side of Hollywood.’ ‘She’s cutting out sugar and only eating for six hours a day.’ ‘They got rid of 90% of what they own so they could travel more.’ The idea is to think about a case where you would be surprised if that person didn’t hit their goal. ‘They’re insane; of course they will.’ With this idea, you flip a good sensible plan upside down and imagine what a 85% crazier person would do. I’ve done all the things above and gotten results. And you can too.
- Take the leap. You can’t always tiptoe to success. Sometimes working harder means working bigger. Maybe it is that move, that college application, that moonshot. Little, steady steps will help you a ton, but if the day comes when you’re heart tells you that the next step is to leap — you must be brave and do it.
- Go big in all areas of your life. Sarah and I’s eternal question is, ‘Should you focus on one goal or do them all at once?’ I have finally decided that ‘all at once’ is closer to the truth. Or maybe it’s ‘your top three priorities’. Because an advantage there is you are winning all the time (and losing too, but we’ll get into that some other time 😉 ). If I’m eating well, I feel like taking a walk. If I take a walk, I think about my goals. Then I want to clean the house. And then write something. And then eat well… So I start to see myself as a whole new person and this person has to show up to each challenge. If I’m rockin’ writing, I don’t want to ruin my day with fried chicken. The ‘bigger’ I am in everything, the more I want to stay that way.
- Pick freakin’ scary goals. I decided to contact some managers, producers, and make some videos in the next three months. And for each goal, I asked myself, ‘How much does this number (of managers) scare me?’ If it wasn’t enough, I’d up the number. I’m not saying I’ll contact my eventual number, but I bet I’ll contact more than if I’d played it safe. Same way, I want to hit my perfect shape/fitness goal by Nov. 1st. Can I do it? It’s a challenge, but I think I can get close and it’s inspiring me every day.
- Hell yes or f**k no. I attribute this idea to artist Android Jones (from about ten year ago) but I know others have said it too. The idea (in the ‘harder’ context) is — does this help and service my goals. Go for a a walk? Hell yes! Eat a donut? F**k no! There’ll be times you decide go in for a peak experinece and take an evening or a meal off, but the rule should be that you only want things that move you closer to your goals. So give up Netflix for the season, cut out fast food, and say no to that party — and instead lean into being great.
- Challenge yourself. Whatever level you’re at, be dissatisfied. Not unhappy, just not satisfied. If one mentor or group of friends thinks you’re the best, find the next, more challenging ones (in a good way). As the quote goes, ‘If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.’ This goes for hard work too. Maybe you really need a new job, but even in your private life (or personal work), look for what a ‘next level’ writer, runner, bank manager etc. would do. See yourself as good, then keep pushing to make yourself better.
- Do what no one else is doing. Often in jobs, some fresh-faced kid will ask about an idea or process and the grizzled ‘old timer’ (in recent cases at my retail job, me) will say something like, ‘Tha’s a good idea, kid. But it would take too much time/effort/trouble to make happen.’ Now sometimes, it really is because the best process is already in place, but other times it’s because we’ve tried and failed in the past, or got tired of fighting that battle. But if one of those youngin’s leapt up and decided to own fixing that process, I’d really respect that. The same way someone who’s doing what ‘can’t be done’ should be respected.
- Lastly, put in on the line. All the time. Like the Mayor Pete quote above, ‘putting it on the line’ is hard. I’d rather think knowledge and good planning is all I need to create a smooth glide path to my dreams. Instead. The truth is that each day is a series of challenges. Just today I had challenges about honesty, ‘saying no so my yeses will have more impact’, diplomacy, lazy vs. efficient (twice!), pushing myself out of my writing comfort zone (this piece), leaving this list in (!), change, having to touch trash (the fault of small, hungry possums), trying new sites, talking to new people — and this was an easy day. But I am getting everything done on my list and moving closer to the life of my dreams. For me, ‘putting to put on the line’ is being out of my comfort zone, risking looking stupid, selfish, and delusional, and possibly being hurt. But the flip side happens as well — I become more smart, selfless, and visionary, expand my comfort zone (I now know how to enter a screenplay contest!), and I find out that asking never really hurts. Like Jack Canfield says, if you don’t get it, you didn’t have it before either: nothing’s changed.
But as you work harder, and challenge yourself, everything will change. And you’ll find yourself in a place where absolutely no one (not even yourself) can doubt that you are doing the hard work — and getting amazing results.