What’s your idea of a good workday? Do you value producing good work, having a fun time, spending time with loved ones, or doing activities you enjoy?
At this point in my life currently, my focus is on producing good work. I understand that this is not universal among all people, but as a young, ambitious man with a lot of goals, my decisions and values revolve around producing good work.
I wasn’t always like this. In fact, I’m still evolving from my past emphasis on leisure and novelty towards consistent, good work.
I remember years ago, I went to an undergraduate, research conference. The keynote speaker spoke about the hard work involved in organizing the conference. But, then, he remarked what a blessing it was to end a day feeling exhausted from good work. To lay one’s head and fall asleep immediately with a sense of satisfaction. A satisfaction that does not stem from acquiring fame or wealth but from having done a good job.
This idea of the virtue of tiring work in itself was a revelation to me.
Growing up, I had watched many adults including my parents toil every day in their small businesses. My parents were proud of the work, but at the same time, I saw a lot of bitterness and stress. Like many immigrant families, the prevailing feeling was that my parents worked so hard so that their children could get a better education and have less exhausting, lucrative careers. Personally, as a child, I blamed the excessive amount of work for a lot of the family problems. Our business was the reason why my parents had to work late, why they couldn’t attend school activities, and why they fought over finances. This experience also shaped my earlier values away from entrepreneurship and hard work in general.
Instead, I sought out the easiest route in my life whether it was academics or work. For me, leisure time was a great luxury and prize that I safeguarded and hoarded. I hatred any challenging work whether it was learning piano or doing research.
Also, when you see work as a necessary evil, you value a job based only on its financial rewards. I think this is the reason why most employees seem lazy and do the bare minimum with their work. Their thinking is constituted by, “why should I do more work if I’m not getting anything (i.e. cash) out of it?”
Starting in graduate school, my perspective shifted dramatically especially on entrepreneurship and work. I realized that leisure by itself is boring. The pinnacle of success isn’t showing up to an office and having nothing to do. It’s being able to choose when to go to the office and have engaging, creative, and meaningful challenges to solve.
I think a lot of young people having never engaged in meaningful work or thinking such work is not a realistic career option end up chasing after get rich quick schemes. I know I fell into that camp early on. On my RV adventures and research for internet marketing, I came across a ton of people who dream about generating passive income and having the freedom to pursue their real “passions” which usually involves traveling.
Having traveled a lot though, I can say traveling is really great but also can be just as demoralizing. If anything, you experience the highest highs and lowest lows. It’s rarely ever boring, but it can also seem rather meaningless at times.
In the end, I believe there’s a distinction between working hard and working smart. The ideal career or work involves both where you put in a lot of hours and also use your intelligence to solve ever harder challenges. The problem with my parents was that the nature of their work never changed. The problem with get rich quick schemes is that they promise a smarter wy to get wealthy without the hard work, but that’s impossible.
Furthermore, attaining great leisure can be rather meaningless by itself. I see young people my age who willingly choose a life of vagabond homelessness and wonder how could they prefer that? Freedom is good only so far as you can exchange it for meaningful responsibilities. A lot of people in fear or confusion end up believing that they don’t have any freedom and instead spend their time on mindless consumption whether it’s surfing the internet, excessive amounts of video games, or being addicted to news and gossip.
These days I aim towards what the keynote speaker said. I want to continually be building every day. I aspire to be a producer rather than a mindless consumer. I want to work hard with a laser focus but also work smarter with projects that deepen my skills, relationships, and knowledge. By no means, am I perfect at any of this. But at the very least, I’m cured of that early cynicism and and servant-like mentality that values work only as a means to a salary.