How to work hard and smart to win big

This post is not for you.

If you’re allergic to hard work, this post is not for you. If you have a chip on your shoulder or you feel entitled to the success you have yet to earn, this post is not for you. In fact, if you’d like to do things in life but have no interest in putting forth the necessary effort…you guessed it, this post and you…they mix like oil and cheap protein powder.

Much like last week’s blog on the value of being optimistic, the willingness to work hard is a critical characteristic to have if we are to truly succeed. What good is it to have hopes and dreams without a strong desire to work hard towards their realization? It’s a combination that will leave the strongest-willed individual in a den of despair and a frame of frustration.

Having a strong desire for more in life is human nature. We want more money, a bigger house, a better car, more friends, and more status. And who can blame us? In this era of uber-connection, we can easily reach out to our celebrities, athletes, and entrepreneurs. Which leads us to feel as if we’re only a day or two away from becoming the next big thing. This brings to mind Brad Pitt’s thoughts in Fight Club. Many of us seem to feel entitled as if these magical gifts would eventually be bestowed upon us if we only dreamt hard enough.

I’ll be the first to admit that we also live in an age of people being famous for being famous. Not everyone living a life of luxury has applied the mortal formula of dedicated work + time = success. But why? Could it be the aforementioned societal obsession with success? The thought that any of us could be the next big thing? Perhaps the thought of being discovered overnight is so attractive because we think it requires no hard work.

We dream of the overnight celebrity, but what we fail to see in our glamorized, made-for-goldfish-attention-span YouTube clips are the thousands upon thousands of hours of intense, dedicated work to the celebrity’s craft. Perhaps if we were to peel back the glitter and glitz cellophane we could see the blood, sweat, and tear-stained skin. Maybe then we could begin to value hard work.

First, dream, then hard work.

If only it were that simple. We all have dreams of becoming more. After all, our dreams are what save us from our lives of hamster wheel 9-to-5s. How can we be expected to go back to work on Monday without our dreams of a better life – which should be happening any day now – allowing us to hit the autopilot switch the moment we clock in? Our dreams allow us to, well, dream. It seems so simple. But think about it. How many of you have something you’d rather be doing for a living than what you’re currently engaged in?

I think while many of us have a dream, they often go no further than the ethereal. The dream is kind enough to hit the autopilot at work, tuck us in at night, and provide just enough hope so we willingly jump back in the wheel once again as the alarm sounds. But a few of us wake up. A few of us realize we have to put in work, lots of work.

I can hear the tech-savvy or the entrepreneurial folk cry out. Yes, the internet and our technological revolution provide us the means to curtail some of the hard work, but they’ve not replaced what a good amount of elbow grease can bestow. A virtual assistant can help with the tedium, but you are still in charge of the big stuff. Achieving great heights is often achieved through great sweat. Fortunately, we are not blessed enough to hire a VA to make us rich and famous, yet. I’m sure somebody’s working on an app for that, though.

So we have a dream. Some of us buy into having to apply effort to make it happen. Awesome. Then what?

Well, the Olympics are happening right now. Surely the amazing athletic endeavors currently taking place came from hard work. And I bet that each athlete first realized their dream. Then, they simply went to the gym or arena and began working really hard. They did all the reps, lifted all the weights, and finished all the works until the Gods of success said, “Hey, you. I’ve been watching you and all that hard work. You wanna win some gold?” That’s gotta be how it happened, right?

Dream, effort, intelligence.

I’ve yet to hear an athlete say, “Oh, I dunno, I just went to the gym, worked out all the time, and blammo! I won the gold.” No, there is a high amount of smart work required, as well. The saying, “practice makes perfect” is wrong. Rather, “perfect practice makes perfect” is much more appropriate. We have to undergo a mental shift. We have to not only accept the physical effort our dreams require, but also the mental fortitude upon which our success is founded.

We have to develop an unrelenting ability to identify our overall strategy as well as include the tactics we’ll apply along the way.

Let’s make it more general and easily applicable. Think of it as having a specific outcome in mind while knowing the actions we’ll perform to reach it. This can be applied to any dream. By doing so, we take the dream from the ethereal and we make it real. We turn it into an actionable plan. We identify measurable goals to reach along the way by using our mind and we fulfill them with our might.

If we fail to apply our knowledge to our plan, we’re merely running in place while we push against a door clearly labeled “pull to open.”

All work, no play.

I believe life is about balance. We can occasionally tip the scales in one direction or the other to gain experience or growth, but we must inevitably return to equilibrium or risk our safety. Coincidentally, we’ll be covering the need for balance in about 4 weeks.

But I mention it now because I see so many people who live unbalanced lives.

They have an abundance of stress but a lack of joy. An abundance of responsibilities but a lack of relaxation. An abundance of work but a lack of play. If you feel like you may suffer from imbalance, click here to take a quick quiz to see if you’re a workaholic (courtesy of Workaholics Anonymous via Precision Nutrition).

Once we’ve identified the dream, realized we need to work hard, and understood the importance of working smart, we have to keep in mind the importance of balance. Was it John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans?” Smart guy. While you’re busy at the grindstone, with your head down, don’t forget to look up at the sky from time-to-time. Don’t lose touch with the journey on the way to your destination. Because if you do, and you’re lucky enough to reach your destination, you’ll arrive empty hoping for a fulfillment which was waiting for you to recognize it all along. 

I used to be guilty of this. I used to feel like I wasted much of my 30’s and all of my 20’s. This led me to have a tendency to put the pedal to the metal, redlining my efforts with zero regards for what my body was telling me. Because I love what I do, I could maintain that break-neck pace for long periods, too. If you’ve been reading or watching me for long enough, you know where that led every time.

Looking back, I remember being pissed off as I watched movies, obsessing over all the time I could be spending on work. Now, I focus on my work. I plan my work and work my plan, so to speak, so when the time to relax comes I feel I’ve earned it. It’s important to develop a joy for planning. It’s crucial to find meditation in hard work. But it’s infinitely more important for your quality of life to remember that we’re all only here for so long. As long as you’re taking steps in the right direction every day, be they large or small, you’ll get there. But what good is the destination if you don’t enjoy the journey? What good is a dream if you don’t turn it into a plan? And what good is a plan if you don’t work at it with effort and intelligence?

I have a dream.

If you’re lucky enough to have a dream and to want to act on it, listen up. Get out a sheet of paper. Grab your favorite writing utensil. Write down your dream at the top. Then brainstorm on ways to get from where you currently are to where you want to be. The level of frustration you currently have should not hold you back. Allow it to become your rocket fuel to propel you forward. As you brainstorm, there are no wrong answers. Write everything, no matter how crazy. No judgments, no hesitation.

Once you’ve got a good amount, in the neighborhood of 15-30 different ideas, start organizing them into an actionable plan. What’s possible now, or soon? What’s possible after that? What can you do with what you have? The questions you ask are not what’s important. Neither are the answers.

The most important point of this exercise is that you’ve made a decision to begin acting on your dream. It may seem infantile at first, but it’s your seed. If you continue to care for it, it’ll grow. If you trim the branches and nourish it, it’ll flourish. Soon, you’ll realize a few months have passed and you’re still working your same job.

But something will have changed. You’ll have begun the process of working hard and working smart, and your dreams will be a few months closer to you now than if you had never started. Make the decision, make the plan, put in the effort.

Dreams take time, but that’s part of the fun. As they grow, they allow us to grow right alongside.

Fresh Evolution Fitness is nowhere close to what I want it to be, but at the same time, it is. I impact people. I see the smiles. I see the gratitude. I can tell you how much I’ve grown in the process. There have been long nights, heartbreaking moments, deep introspections, heavy lifts, and lots of reading…but I wouldn’t change a thing because I’ve loved every second of the journey. And I can guarantee you will, too.

A wise man once said that we overestimate what we can do in a year, but that we underestimate what we can do in 5 or 10 years. Remember to not allow the yearly expectations to frustrate you. Focus on being better in a year than you are now and you’ll succeed. Feel the excitement and possibilities the underestimation provides. Think of where you can be in 5 to 10 years and realize that you’re probably undershooting your potential…as long as you put in the hard work and the smart work to win.

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Above all else, go work your dreams!!

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