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  • Writer's pictureKarl Walker-Finch

Hard work is overrated

Hard work is universally lauded by the superstar elite performers the world over, so on what authority can a tyrannically typing tooth-tickler dispute this apparent fact of success?

I love podcasts, particularly those centred around personal or professional development, I've mentioned The High Performance Podcast here before, The Diary of a CEO is another fave, or on the dental side Jaz Gulati's Protrusive Dental Podcast or Chris Barrow and Ashley Latter's Two Reds always offer valuable lessons from innovators in our field. In every single one, the guest always credits hard work with being one of the driving forces in making them who they are today. Nobody ever reaches the top of their game and telling us that they didn't need to even try, to get there.

Ben Hunt-Davis is a prime example of this hard work mindset. He talks about how hard he and his fellow rowers worked hard for nine years before their Sydney 2000 Olympic gold medal but that's not the full story.

Focussing solely on hard work in successful individuals only gives us one side of the coin. Just because every Olympic medal winner drinks water, it doesn’t mean that drinking water will make you an Olympian. Water is an essential ingredient for life of course, just as working hard is essential for us to become the best version of ourselves we can be, but simply drinking more and more water will not make us run any faster or jump any higher.

For every one person who’s "made it to the top", there are 99 others who worked hard and didn’t get there and the answer isn't simply working harder. To take the water metaphor a step too far would be to say that constantly adding more water will only result in drowning.

What matters is not how much hard work we do, but what we work hard on. Ben Hunt-Davis went through two Olympic Games where the team underperformed (his words) despite immense amounts of hard work, it wasn't until two years before Sydney that they focussed their hard work on the sole question "will it make the boat go faster?" that their efforts started to show real improvements which ultimately led to their Olympic triumph.

Trying to cram more hard work into a finite amount of time will lead to exhaustion. Trying to work hard on too many different things leads to an inability to do anything well and so we will struggle to make a viable difference anywhere in our lives. We know hard work is important, but it's about working hard on the right thing.

Limiting the number of things we're working on allows us to do each thing well and to maximise the benefits from each thing we do, for ourselves and for those around us.

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