Today’s culture is saturated with articles, clever memes, and podcasts that idolize terms like “grind” and “hustle.”
Personally, I believe that assuming the responsibility to work hard for your dreams is one of the key elements of success, but at the same time, it’s equally important that we understand how to work, why we are doing the work, and what price we’re paying for the time and energy we invest in the work we do.
I am writing these words as my girlfriend is getting dressed for us to go out. I woke up 4 hours before her, after only 5 hours of sleep, in order to write my articles, edit them, and schedule them to be posted.
I woke up long before the sun was up in order to reply to my e-mails, check my stats, and figure out the day’s strategy.
I’m all about the grind. Always was. Mental laziness has this strange side-effect on me; it makes me anxious to the point of me wanting to jump off a building.
Nobody Cares, Work Harder
When I first started blogging, I’d work 16 hours a day. I’d go to bed at 5:30 a.m., delighted that I had been up all night, networking, replying to comments, earning money.
My work was the first thing that I thought about when I woke up and the last thing on my mind when I fell asleep.
My system was far from effective. My plan was to work hard for ten years or so, make millions of dollars, and then retire.
I functioned on a diet comprised of fast food and drinking a gallon or so of Coca Cola. I barely got five hours of sleep. I never exercised, never drank water.
My mental health collapsed as I felt I was carrying the world on my shoulders.
At the end of it all, after six years of blogging, my energy levels had become terrifyingly low. I had no inner fortitude, no social life. I was also financially illiterate, meaning that even though I earned about ten times the median income in my home country, Romania, I’d waste all my money away.
I was a degenerate gambler, an avid smoker, and so creatively bankrupt that I could barely write 200-word “essays” inspired by quotes I stumbled upon on social media.
It took me most of my twenties to realize that I was pushing very hard on a door that read, “Pull.”
Conquer the World or Die Trying
In this 24/7/365 world we live in today, there’s no off switch. There’s no downtime. There’s only the hustle.
Everyone’s trying to conquer the world or die trying. The dopamine rush, the goals, the business ventures. Always busy. Always doing. Always achieving.
These days, everyone’s got a side hustle. These days, everyone’s trying to emulate Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet or what have you.
And it all starts so early. A cousin of mine is 12, and he’s already got a YouTube channel. He knows more about cameras than I do. He knows how to edit his own videos. He hasn’t hit puberty yet and is already addicted to the hustle.
In today’s society, as we are overwhelmed by what we perceive to be an ultra-competitive environment, we’ve become obsessed with productivity, success, so much so that we’re taking nootropics while listening to binaural beats to get us into a flow state.
But aren’t we all moving too fast? Sure, we get a lot done, faster than ever, better than ever. But at what cost?
To paraphrase Tony Robbins, success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.
What about mindfulness? What about being grateful? What about taking some time to just walk around and notice the magic and beauty of this world?
Everyone’s telling you to do more, to stop complaining, to sleep faster, to hustle, hustle, hustle.
You either conquer the world or die trying.
This makes me wonder… what would happen if we didn’t do all that? If we took our time?
Isn’t that what being an adult is all about? Fighting with our heads? Being strategic about our efforts?
Isn’t meaning more important than achievement?
If you make a million bucks because everyone’s doing it, is it an achievement or a failure?
If we never stop to ask ourselves why we do what we do, do we still derive pleasure from all this 24/7/365 hustle?
This is not, in any way, a criticism of being a high-achiever. Not at all. But to try to conquer the world because everyone’s trying to do it?
Without purpose, how do you even know you’ve reached your destination? You ever just get in your car and drive 200 miles to nowhere in particular for no reason at all?
If we don’t have a destination in mind, what happens to the journey?
If there’s no reason for victory, what happens to our desire to win?
It’s okay to hustle, it’s okay to work on a side hustle. But if you do it just because everyone’s doing it, isn’t that just as mindless as not doing anything at all?
The same level of ignorance, different flavor.
You can either conquer the world or conquer your desire to conquer the world. Either way, it takes an awful lot of effort.
But this is what it’s all about. It’s hard because it means something. It’s hard because it requires a lot of patience. It’s hard because you’re afraid to do it, because you don’t want to do it.
If you don’t put in your 10,000 hours of procrastination, do the 10,000 hours of work matter anymore?
If there’s no struggle, does the victory mean anything anymore?
If we never stop, how do we even figure out if we’re headed in the right direction?
It’s Day to Day Life That Wears You Out
The daily grind wears you out. It becomes a vicious circle of eat, sleep, work, repeat. You cannot focus on your long-term goals, and it doesn’t even matter.
Success is not hocus pocus, it’s simply the ability to focus.
Without that, hard work never seems to pay off.
Without that, motivation is fickle, energy levels are inconsistent at best and non-existent at worst.
Not being able to focus on long-term goals means that you cannot optimize your strategy. In some cases, there’s no strategy at all.
That’s how you dig yourself a hole, and instead of finding diamonds, it becomes the hole they’ll plant you in. You can almost feel how they’ll be throwing dirt on top of you.
You must work incredibly hard towards accomplishing your goals, but you can do so without having to “grind” every single day.
Sheer power of will is mostly wasted energy, and I believe that we become adults when we realize that the real battle goes on between our ears. The mental battle of optimizing a system, of figuring out a strategy.
Here’s an example: I’d spend 8–10 hours a day commenting on blog posts. That’s all I needed. Everything else was secondary, including creating new content for my blogs.
I’d comment something on every single article I found. Every single one of them. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what they were writing about, I’d say something. I attracted a lot of folks who were not in my target audience, a lot of people who didn’t enjoy my writing. Well, the few hundred short blog posts that they could find on my blog, anyways.
All that time, I didn’t improve as a writer, I didn’t build genuine relationships with others.
When I woke up, I was staring at a collapsed house of cards.
Time as an Investment
Time is the most precious commodity there is. Most people simply spend time, without realizing they can never get it back.
But time can also be invested.
We invest our time by working on becoming better at our work, more effective, to develop different skills.
I was so obsessed with the daily grind, with bulldozing my way to the top that I was wasting most of my time.
Hard work is, indeed, an important aspect of success. But working hard towards what?
If you are hungry, you can either go hunting, or you can learn to domesticate animals.
Progress beats both hard work and talent. Progress is a time investment that will pay off dividends for a long time.