Ashutosh Priyadarshy, CEO @ Sunsama
October 29, 2020
Hard work looks undesirable to an outside observer. It looks boring, repetitive, and, austere. Oddly enough, the person working hard doesn't find it so bad. The repetition that looks boring to an outsider is the foundation for intuition and inspiration that leads to great work.
The most damning observation of hard work is that it's relentlessly repetitive and each work day looks boring and uniform. But over time, repetitive work in a single domain creates an intuition that compounds over time. This intuition increases the surface area in which breakthrough ideas take hold, which are necessary to great work.
Consider two startups solving the same problem, one that talks to 10 customers and one that talks to 1,000 customers. Both companies should be be able to articulate the customer's problem but I'd bet on the startup that talked to 1,000 customers to build a more successful business because they'll simply know their customer better. The sheer repetition of talking to a thousand customers creates an intuition that leads to better choices that compound with every decision they make along the way.
It doesn't seem to matter much whether you are a startup talking to customers everyday, a scientist running experiments in a lab, or a quarterback watching game film. When you've had endless reps, the chances you'll have a breakthrough insight increase. Imagine a veteran quarterback who has studied defensive alignments every day for years. In a critical moment, he's more likely to recognize and exploit a weakness in the defense's alignment than a rookie quarterback.
Surprisingly, a person immersed in this kind of repetitive work won't see the work as repetitive. The reason they're able to do it over and over for years at a time is because they're intrinsically interested in the subject and endlessly fascinated and attuned to the nuance and variation of each iteration.
The good news is that hard work is a characteristic that can be practiced and improved with time.
To start, you need a reason to work hard, and that's hard to fake. Hard work doesn't seem to be worth pursuing until you've got a desire to do something that transcends your current ability, knowledge, or ambition. Which describes most work of significance.
If you've got a reason to work hard, you should surround yourself with other hard workers. I didn't do a single minute of hard work until I got to college. Luckily, all of my closest friends ended up being some of the hardest working people I've met (to this day). Just being around people who work hard is revelatory because you realize there's no magic. It's just patience and endurance and you get better at it with practice. Ideally, you'd start practicing as early as possible because it's a change that happens slowly.
The other thing you can do is convince yourself that working hard looks like a bigger sacrifice than it actually feels like. Empirically, you can do this by reading about the lives of people who did great work and see if they lived meaningful lives despite routine and uniform days. The experiential option is to do just enough hard work that you realize you haven't really lost anything.
Hard work isn't required for great work but it does make it more likely and more fulfilling.