“I got six jobs, I don’t get tired” Kevin Gates sings in one of his early songs. And while Kevin Gates is problematic for a number of reasons, that song was a banger when it came out. It hits on a theme prevalent in a lot of hip-hop, and in our culture as a whole. That if you work hard, like really, really (get it?) hard, then you will get ahead. It kind of makes sense for those at the top to want to put out a narrative about how all their hard work paid off, but it simply isn’t true. Even in the music industry, or the entertainment world in general, it takes a great deal of luck and a lot of support to make it to the top. No one does it alone, and society does not reward hard work with high rewards. So, where does this myth come from? And what do we do about it?
Allow me to rant for a minute (it’s my blog, I’ll rant if I want to). Elon Musk is not a self-made man. He was born to incredibly wealthy parents (who got their wealth from mining precious rocks, of all things, so not a particularly moral business). Jeff Bezos got hundreds of thousands of dollars in a loan from his parents to start his business up (and tried to set it up, from the get go, to avoid taxes. Fun!). Bill Gates’ mom got him connected at IBM before Microsoft was barely off the ground. There are no success stories out there about someone making it big through sheer effort. Every athlete highlights the support they had from parents or from early coaches. Bo Burnham, in his comedy special Make Happy, talks about his road to success as “I had a privileged life, and I got lucky, and I’m unhappy.” And I love that speech (the whole special is great) because very few public figures are willing to admit that they didn’t make it on merit. Many successful people will admit they didn’t make it alone, and highlight how important supportive people were, but very few acknowledge that their path to success can’t be replicated because they didn’t actually control it. Most athletes end their careers either on the bench or due to an injury. Lots of actors out there are struggling to make ends meet working low-budget plays or doing voice-over work as their dreams fade away. They are all working hard. Some of them are probably working harder than the people who found fame and fortune. When I was a coach I’d often have to sit down with players who were unhappy about playing time. One of the arguments they always made was how hard they worked. They got to practice early, they got extra reps in the weight room, they were trying so hard. But in the world of sports, there’s often just someone better than you. You can try so, so hard, but if you’re 5’3 you’re not going to make it in the NBA, hard work won’t mean anything. Athletics is an unforgiving example of this, but the same premise is true for pretty much every career path. It takes a village and some stupid good luck to make it big.
Alright, well, how come there are so many self-help books with a path to success? So many YouTubers and TikTokers out there marketing how to get to their level? Those people are just cashing in. All those self-help books that sell literal millions of copies, they don’t produce millionaires for each copy sold. They’re selling a fantasy, a carefully crafted narrative that has a start, middle, and end, and is based on logic and reason. That’s not life though! It’s weird, and messy, and insanely complicated how many variables we all need to juggle at one moment in time. Research shows us that regular folks gain wealth over time not through hard work, but through methodically plodding along, only getting jumps at certain times through somewhat uncontrollable means. The average person not born into a wealthy family gets ahead financially by getting a raise, switching jobs to higher pay, or inheriting money from a family member. Those are the statistically validated ways to get ahead. Kinda lame, right? Which is why the story of working hard sounds so much better. It promises some version of control over the future, but that control is an illusion. Grinding doesn’t mean your boss won’t promote their golf buddy instead of you, grinding doesn’t mean your company won’t turn record profits but claim there is a freeze on giving raises, grinding doesn’t guarantee anything other than you being exhausted and working towards a goal that you can’t actually control.
Quit grinding. Don’t listen to people who promote grinding as a way to get ahead. Set process oriented goals, not results-based goals. And don’t neglect rest and recovery, not getting tired makes for a good hook in a song, but like, everyone gets tired. Get good sleep y’all.