This past week I spent some time with a colleague whose company recently turned 20 years old. His company has experienced the ups and downs you'd expect but has matured into a very successful and respected organization that is now publicly traded with thousands of employees around the world. I was thinking about something he said when he was asked about the journey - "I'm not a visionary, I've worked hard".
There are many people we might consider visionaries that work very hard so his comment was not inferring that somehow these two things are mutually exclusive. The thought behind his comment was more about the fact that commitment and passion for a cause or purpose are perhaps the most essential ingredients to success than simply having the vision for it.
It's like the quote I saw this week on a billboard - "Unless YOU work hard, nothing in your life will".
We get this mental image of long hours and tedious work when we hear the phrase "hard work". It does involve that for sure at times but it is so much more. Hard work, as a principle, is connected with effort, continued learning, shared experiences, perseverance, patience and a ruthless effort to eliminate hurry from our lives. It's not necessarily about being a visionary as much as it is about having a vision of what great looks like.
That said, there are some things that hard work isn't that are worth noting;
Hard work isn't a license for entitlement - sometimes we confuse the amount of effort with the respect or rights we think we deserve
Hard work isn't a reason to assume success will come - how many of wish we knew then what we know now? The school of hard knocks is real and smarter decisions, better advice and perhaps more patience would have yielded different results
Hard work doesn't take things and people for granted - we often undervalue and sometimes even despise the work we do and even the people we do it with because things can get so hard - too often it's much later that we realize our mistake
Let me tell you one more story about the principle of hard work.
The Greek coup d'etat of 1967 impacted many more people than just politicians and those suspected of having certain sympathies. Many people with good jobs found themselves out of work simply because they held positions in specific industries that the right-wing military leaders wanted to have control and influence over. One such industry was shipping and my father, who held a senior management role, suddenly found himself unemployed and unable to find meaningful work for some time.
Eventually, like so many others, he immigrated to the US in 1970 in hopes of establishing a new life and a desire to be part of the "land of opportunity" that the US was often referenced as. My mother, sister and I joined him in 1971, one year later after he arrived and had found work and what would be our new home. Growing up I remember many stories he shared about the experience of coming to a new country to make his mark.
One of the most memorable stories was about a distant acquaintance that had been told stories about how much opportunity there was in the US and how money grew on trees and was so easy to come by in America. The story goes that when this person finally arrived in America by ship he walked onto the pier in New York and a few feet ahead he saw a wallet on the ground. He picked up the wallet and looked inside to find hundreds of dollars in cash. The wallet had so much cash stuffed into it that it couldn't flap over and close. He was amazed that the stories he had heard seemed so true; that money was everywhere to be found in America. He was so amazed that he threw the wallet and all the cash inside it over the pier into the ocean and exclaimed: "I've only been on American soil for a few moments and if this is what it's like then I'll have much more to look forward to".
This person's rash decision cost him dearly. The tale goes on to say that this person worked with a sense of entitlement, constantly expecting more from others and never really invested the time and energy to realize his own personal "opportunity. Eventually, this person died without very much to his name.
Each time I've heard this story I've thought about how ignorant this person was but the truth is, like him, we too risk taking things for granted. Such things as the work we are so fortunate to have, the skills and experiences that continue to shape our career and the people that help sharpen us and make us better.
Is there any substitute for hard work?