Let me tell you a quick story.
In 2008 my dad surprised me with tickets to a Chicago Bulls game.
They were playing the Denver Nuggets and honestly it was one of my favorite memories as a kid. I remember everything from that night- Jr Smith’s electrifying performance (I believe he had like 45 points), the hotdog my dad bought me followed by an argument about mixing ketchup with mustard, and the magic that a young fan gets from watching almost supernatural beings compete at the highest level.
On the drive home I was hooked on basketball. All I wanted was to become an NBA player. I stayed outside until three in the morning putting up shot after shot in the middle of an unforgiving Chicago winter. It was so cold that I had to keep pumping up the ball because it was deflating every five minutes.
I probably would have kept at it until the morning, however my neighbor’s lights flashed on and I ran inside in anticipation of being yelled at.
For one night, I wanted to be a professional basketball player more than anything in the world. I probably would have traded my soul for it. This desire consumed me for a long time- until it didn’t.
If that night taught me anything, it’s this; success is an irregular variable
Our society perpetually promotes a narrative that hard work=success.
If you put in the hours and demonstrate your virtue, then the rewards are inevitable. We crave the gratification that comes with time.
Sometimes the dice just don’t roll in our favor.
I spent my entire life playing basketball but was never good enough to play in college, let alone the NBA.
I spent months preparing for an interview at one of Silicon Valley‘s tech giants and didn’t get it.
I spent years chasing an unrealistic physique that really doesn’t exist.
I was willing to put in hard work to the best of my ability, and still, I failed.
And all I could ever think was,
The Problem With Hard Work
Hard work is a misunderstood concept. If you ask a lot of industry leaders, athletes, or motivational speakers what it takes to succeed, they are more than likely to say “working hard”.
The disconnect occurs when we associate hard work with time.
After a certain period of time we expect to see results at the gym.
After a certain period of time we expect to get a raise and promotion.
Some of the hardest working people I know are undervalued and underpaid. They have put in the time and the hard work but still struggle in the same ways as everyone else.
So, how can we be successful when hard work doesn’t pay off?
Chase The Dream Not The Destination
I empathize with anyone who has ever watched one of their ambitions die. Whether it be a sports dream or career aspiration, it’s never easy to realize that something you have worked hard for may never come to fruition.
The ordinary person will take this hit and let it drag them down. They will view the investment of time and resources as a waste. They will blame it on circumstance or disadvantages.
Extraordinary individuals take their failures and get better.
Anything worth doing is going to be difficult. As a kid, I couldn’t grasp what every professional athlete was able to understand from a very young age.
It isn’t just hard work or dedication that led to their success. It was thousands of little decisions that allowed them to take total control of their ship and right its course.
Greatness comes from the ability to chase a dream at all costs. You can’t get caught in perpetually desiring the destination, whether it be fame, money, pride, etc.
If you do, you are not acknowledging the self-awareness that fuels improvement.
When I realized that college basketball would never be in my repertoire, I switched my focus towards another sport and ended up rowing for four years instead.
When I failed my interview for one of Silicon Valley’s tech giants, I realized that a job doesn’t define your career, doubled my writing output, and began crafting a personal brand.
When I decided that my fitness expectations were unrealistic, I started looking at performance metrics rather than aesthetics.
The hard work hasn’t always paid off. But my willingness to adapt and keep moving forward no matter what has.
At the end of the day, just be aware that hard work and success are not interchangeable. The idea that diligence alone will result in some sort of reward is a narrow-minded approach to your goals that doesn’t consider external factors. The truth is, remarkable things often follow a nonlinear path that is paved by a variety of influences.
How you respond to failure when hard work doesn’t pay off is the key to changing your narrative.
This article first appeared on Jonahmalin.com.