Is Hard Work Really Worth It?

The following article is from Melanie, our staff writer. Melanie is in the beginning phase of her journey to Financial Freedom and she’ll offer a refreshing point of view for us.

hard workI’m not afraid of hard work. Actually, I embrace hard work and wear it like a badge of honor. Ever since I became serious about paying off debt, I’ve pushed my limits and did things I previously would have written off.

I have cleaned houses, worked holiday parties for the rich (and not famous), washed dishes, and other bizarre tasks.

I look at all opportunities equally — because in the end, money is money right? I also don’t think I’m above doing certain jobs, because I know it’s all honest work that will help me achieve my goals.

But while I’ve been working my butt off, taking a variety of gigs, some which were downright unpleasant, I’m wondering — is hard work really worth it?

Yes, the extra gigs have helped me pay off more debt and fund some other life goals. But in the scope of things, it still doesn’t seem like enough.

Perhaps this is my own fault as I say yes to low paying work, or focus on easy-to-get gigs, rather than focusing on growing my client base and raise my rates.

Either way, a big goal of mine is to make more money in 2015. I know it seems like a trite goal to have, but now that I’m my own boss, it’s on me to make it happen. I want to continue to accelerate my debt repayment and in order to do that, I need to make more money.

In my brain, making more money means working harder. I associate hard work with blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve glorified the idea of hard work and building things from the ground up.

But let’s be honest — sometimes hard work doesn’t get you anywhere, or it takes a long time to make an impact. Sometimes hard work goes unnoticed and is underappreciated. Sometimes hard work just leaves you tired and feeling like, what is the point?

While I still believe in the power and merits of hard work, I recently came across something that completely changed my perspective.

My Turning Point

I read a post from one of my favorite bloggers, Paula at Afford Anything. In the post she describes traveling for a month, barely working, and yet it hardly affected her business and money making ventures.

She even admitted that she wants to work as little as possible while traveling. My initial defenses wanted to judge. How could you not want to work? Hard work equals success.

But the more I read, the more I realized I was just jealous. What if I’m just the sucker that works hard and barely gets ahead?

I let myself entertain the idea of “working as little as possible.” What would that mean? I think what it really means is that you are working smarter, not harder. That you are not tied to your business and that you have a means to make money passively.

I then started to question how much I work — I’m a certifiable workaholic who barely knows how to relax. I don’t even know what to do when I’m not working. Yet, I’m still human and feel the pangs of burnout when I go too far.

After really thinking about the idea of hard work, I realized that I wear it as a shield — as a way to prove that I’m “good enough” or “worth it”. But in the end, hard work does you no good, if you can’t enjoy life. Hard work does you no good if you are barely getting ahead.

So in the new year, I’m shifting my thinking to how can I work as little as possible? Meaning, how can I make what I’m making now and more, with less work? How can I build passive income?

I plan to do this in a variety of ways:

Raise my rates (I’ve done this successfully for a few clients!)

Create a digital product, like an ebook (create once, can sell multiple times)

Pitch bigger clients/projects, instead of going after the small gigs

I think that I can achieve more work-life balance and grow my income by thinking this way. While I still pride myself on being a hard worker, I think there is something to be said about working smarter for your money, not harder.

Do you think hard work is worth it? What ways will you grow your income in 2015?

Photo credit: flickr by chadskeers

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Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master.

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34 thoughts on “Is Hard Work Really Worth It?”

  1. I have had a 9 to 5 since young and worked in a variety of banking/finance companies. Not all roles are created equal even within the same company. For example I joined a global (US) bank back in 2010, at entry level I worked very hard, 45 hours a week and was on 50k. Once I was promoted to manage my team I was doing 35 hours and made 70k. Even though financially I wasn’t much better off my life dramatically improved, less stressed and a lot more time to enjoy life. Then I made the mistake of taking another promotion and got back to doing client work, increased to 50 hours and while I was on 100k, I hated life and eventually moved to a smaller competitor for the same salary.
    So in summary I believe it really depends on the nature of your role within a company and the company size/culture. If you play your cards right you can make a good living while not working many hours at all with paid annual leaves etc.
    There are lots people who wants to get to a stage where income is passive, so that means their markets are saturated, much like the 9-5 job market. Also, to get there requires hard work as well and could end up nowhere or worse than a 9-5. It really depends on your risk appetite and life goals.

  2. I feel like this post speaks to me. I tend to hustle and work really hard. I juggle quite a lot of gigs and feel burned out whenever I push myself too hard. I’ve always though that working hard makes me a better person. But, you’re right. You can never push yourself so hard. If you do, life may pass you by. I’m looking at sources of passive income this year that can help me work less

  3. Hard work is an important behavior. But I believe smart work is what becomes paramount to success. I’ve been in organizations where everyone worked hard…but they did not work smart. It was a very dissatisfying experience. Despite hitting goals, we could have gotten there a lot more efficiently. The “body count” was high.

    Megacorp bureaucracies often have people in them who work hard. But few really step back and challenge the status-quo to get the organization working smart.

    So I challenge you to not focus only on hard work – but rather on the smart work. Make work worth your time. Make sure your activities (and time spent doing them) result in the the highest ROI.

    I’m convinced that working smart definitely translates to working less hours – and in some cases, working smart translates to not working at all ( for example: hiring professional manangement, outsourcing processes, etc)

  4. As a senior citizen I look back in amazement how stubborn I was regarding certain financial decisions, believing much of the time I just had to work harder. No that’s not the answer. I believe the answer rests with “Work Smarter.”

    If there is one area that is so different from my 40 years in the work force, it is the force of the internet. I would tell the younger generation to embrace the internet and take advantage of the wisdom and possibilities therein. I think Joe Udo’s blog is a fine example. This would not have been possible 20 years ago.

  5. It’s a give/take thing. OK for instance, when I was working on those articles I once emailed you about (wink wink), to me that was totally NOT worth the effort just to make $30. It was agonizing and time consuming (and I haven’t been hired back since). But this past week I’ve been cat sitting for $20 a day. Seems like hardly anything, until you look at how easy it is and how it doesn’t suck up my time too much, or energy, or leaves me drained. So I ask myself that question when I look at side hustles. In the end if it takes your time and energy away from work you could be doing to better your business, it’s not worth it in my opinion. Does that kind of help?

  6. In the UK, tax plays a big part in how hard I am willing to work. I can pay 40 – 60% tax on any extra work I take on so unless it is something I want to do I don’t feel it is worth it.

    My spouse does not earn so it makes much more sense for me to deploy money under her name into income producing that require no work on our behalf as the income is tax free.

  7. Two more great quotes for the list:
    “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

    “The three chief virtues of a programmer are: Laziness, Impatience and Hubris.” – Larry Wall – from the book Programming in Perl, Preface, Page xxi

    The lazy and impatient programmer will find the simplest solution to a problem, and the laziest lumberjack will use a sharp axe to fell a tree in the fewest strokes

    Success often has less to do with hours invested, than in hours invested before you begin

    Like you, I’ve worked a wide variety of unpleasant jobs. But for what I could learn from that task to help with the long term goal, seldom for the money.

  8. I like the work ethic that I picked up by having hard jobs and responsibilities early on in life. I think it help shaped who I am. At the same time I have come to admire smart work as well. So many bosses get focused on 40 hours of “attendance” instead of 40 hours of productivity. I don’t care if my employees are here 40 hours if I can have them produce better work in less time. Same goes with finances. We work so hard to earn money and then most times spend it or are in debt and never make our money work for us. A lot of times we make our lives harder than it needs to be. Each generation has retired earlier than the one before and I will be happy to continue that trend. Grandpa at 66, dad at 59, me at ?….hopefully 50 if I can continue the current pace. Great article.

  9. This is a good article, but the ‘hard work’ you talk about can mean so many things to so many different people. If you are your own boss and/or a freelancer, I would imagine a huge portion of your time is spent securing new work. This has to add stress on top of the normal day-to-day production of your product, and if you aren’t hitting your targets, the stress/uncertainty would be compounded.

    I work for an engineering/construction company and have been lucky enough to work all over Europe and now my wife and I are living/working in Africa. I currently work 50 hour weeks per our contract conditions, but we get paid for all 50 of those hours. That’s a 25% base salary increase on top of the hardship increase, free housing, transport, etc. In Romania, it was 60 hour work weeks. I’ve never had a job that wasn’t extremely hard in every sense of the word, but it has so far paid off handsomely. Not to mention the satisfaction of actually building things that make a difference to people’s everyday lives.

    I’m 29 with ~$100,000 in tax advantaged accounts and we have no plans to return to the US anytime soon. I’ve wanted to do what we are doing since I graduated high school and have worked toward it every step of the way. We are able to travel all the time to exotic destinations for pennies on the dollar while we are young. So for us, hard work is worth it right now.

  10. Hard work is vastly overrated. I believe in working smart. The payoffs are are much
    greater for working smart. Here is one principle that has guided me for many years:

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job working on the right
    project than a great job working on the wrong project.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    This discussion about hard work reminds me of this story:

    A student, most eager for enlightenment, went to the Master and expressed his desire to be his student and become enlightened.
    The Master welcomed his enthusiasm and told him he would be honored to help him.
    “How long will it take?” asked the student.
    “Usually about two to three years,” the Master responded, “but it depends on how hard you work at it.”
    “Oh,” the student declared, “I will work extremely hard. I will try to work at it both day and night.”
    “Well, in that case,” the Master advised, “It will take you at least ten years.”

    Bertrand Russell stated some time ago that North America’s attitude toward hard work and leisure was outdated and contributed to the misery in society. In his essay “In Praise Of Idleness” Russell stated:

    “The morality of work is the morality of slaves — and the modern world has no need of slavery.”

    I would like you to believe that Bertrand Russell borrowed this line from me, but this would sound far-fetched considering he wrote this in 1932, over eighty years ago.

    Here are some more thought-provoking perceptions about work, and hard work in particular:

    “You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid, monotonous work,
    chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid, and monotonous.”
    — Bob Black

    “Hard work is the soundest investment.
    It provides a neat security for your widow’s next husband.”
    —Unknown wise person

    “If hard work was such a wonderful thing, the rich would
    have kept it all to themselves.”
    — Lane Kirkland

    “If you burn the candle at both ends, you are not as bright as you think.”
    — Unknown wise person

    “All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.”
    — Aristotle

    “Sometimes it’s important to work for that pot of gold.
    But other times it’s essential to take time off and to make
    sure that your most important decision in the day simply
    consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.”
    — Douglas Pagels

    “Have you ever heard of a wage slave? Even worse . . . are you
    one? Wage slaves may live in big houses. They might drive
    Porsches. It doesn’t matter how “rich” you look, if you can’t
    walk away from your job — even for a second — because you
    would no longer be able to pay the bills, you’re a wage slave.”
    — Sara Glakas

    “I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man
    who devotes all the hours of the waking day to the making of
    money for money’s sake.”
    — John D. Rockefeller

    “The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with
    work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo
    of ease and leisure.”
    — Henry David Thoreau

    One more really important quotation by the author of “The 4-Hour Work Week”.

    “The fishing is best where the fewest go and the collective
    insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to
    hit home runs while everyone is aiming for base hits.”
    — Timothy Ferris

    There is a lot of merit to what Timothy Ferris says. I hit my home runs in the self-publishing world by working smart, by not working hard — but by going where the fewest choose to go. It’s all about creativity. Following this strategy has helped me become a 1-percenter in terms of income this year by working only a half hour to an hour a day.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

      • Ernie, appreciate your post! I’m a big fan of your books and lifestyle, thank you for providing a realistic pathway for people like the PF readers who aspire to financial freedom and security. A nice and meaningful surprise while reading Melanie’s thoughtful essay.

  11. I believe hard work does pay off, which is why I’m such a hard worker. Although there are times that I wonder. Like when I see a cousin on Facebook who I’m not close to, but had a baby at 16, and still in college, living off the government, travel to France, South Korea, Spain, I wonder where the money is coming from. Because in all honesty I work hard and I still haven’t gone to those places even though I really, really want to. I try to push these thoughts aside….

  12. I’m a true believer that hard work always pays off. You may not see the fruits of your labour today but down the road you will always receive the benefits of your hard work.

  13. Melanie,

    I am a believer in the fact that hard work well pay off in the long run. Hopefully 2015 well be the year you start reaping the rewards for all that effort. At the same time for all those side gigs you were working you should figure out the dollar value per hour of your time. Meaning if you were to put more time into your start up business would it fetch you a better return than washing dishes? Glad to hear you also enjoy Paula at Afford Anything.


    Mr. Captain Cash

    • I do still believe in hard work, too. Sometimes the fruits of your labor don’t come till much later also. I do want to work smarter, and not harder, and really try to achieve this elusive work-life balance. Or perhaps I am kidding myself and it just doesn’t exist?

      Thanks for bringing up the issue about my hourly rate. I think that’s the real issue is that I focus on “easy” gigs rather than go after things I know I could charge more money for. I want/need to change that!

  14. Longtime reader, first time poster.

    This was an interesting article in that it illuminates an increasing trend among millenials in that happiness should come before hard work.

    I’m 45 now, and like many was raised up to believe that hard work provides its own measure of happiness and (perhaps more importantly) meaningful purpose. Therefore, I don’t view cleaning houses or washing dishes as “bizarre” work. Most of us did menial jobs at some time or the other to pay the bills. Honest work is a good thing, and even if it doesn’t build a fortune, it certainly builds character (particularly at a younger age).

    Joe and Pete (of Mr. Money Mustache fame) have a few things in common that seem to have been missed.

    1) They are NOT retired. Neither is able to live off purely passive income at this point. Both have amassed substantial savings, but need to generate active income.

    2) They worked hard AND smart for many, many years. Both enjoyed lucrative engineering salaries for a long time. They lived beneath their means, and saved as much as possible. They did NOT suddenly decide to stop working, and simply hope for the best.

    3) They have highly supportive and/or like-minded spouses. Both Joe and Pete’ wives worked exceptionally hard and contributed mightily to raising investment funds. It is far easier to get to financial independence when you have two incomes coming in. The simple truth is, Joe’s life would be fundamentally different if he didn’t have a wife bringing home a check that covered the vast majority of their family expenses.

    For most, blogging isn’t that lucrative in the long term, and if you’re trying to work less now (as opposed to later), you face some potentially tough life choices. Many compensate via “geo-arbitrage,” which is a fancy term by Tim Ferris that means go live somewhere exceptionally cheap, like Vietnam or Costa Rica. There, 2k goes much further than, say, Vancouver or Chicago.

    Either way, I wish you the best of luck.

    • Thanks for commenting! So glad you decided to 🙂 I am absolutely not opposed to working hard — in fact, I love it. It does make me happy, but to an extent. Like anything you do a lot, it has diminishing returns. When I work 70 hours a week, but then spend money on going out a lot just to pretend I have a life, I am doing myself a disservice. My point in the article, that hopefully comes across, is that I’m not shy about working hard and not saying “no” to it completely. I do honestly feel like I could make more money if I did a few things differently — namely, learned how to work smarter and not just work my butt off for a minimal salary. I’m also talking about the avenues to which I am building wealth — for example, I have zero investments to my name — something I want to change, obviously! What I mean by working less is really focusing on earning more in less time. i.e. charge more and value my work. And knowing me “working less” won’t really be less, it would just give me more time to focus on my own things.

      Lastly, my situation is MUCH different than Joe and Pete’s and I know I will have to work 100x harder and smarter to even get where they are. You bring up some good points about their situation, but at the end of the day, it did take hard work — and strategic moves to make it all happen. I’m looking to focus more on long-term wealth building strategies, over labor intensive short-term gains. Hopefully that makes sense!

  15. Amen! I used to pride myself in working 16 hour days and now I realize I’m just an idiot, haha… I mean, I get a ton of stuff done when doing that, but after having kids I’m realizing LIFE is much more important in the end. So now trying to find a way to balance it. Which, as you know, is hard for workaholics 🙂 But hey, we gotta start somewhere right?

  16. At the end of the day if you can get a business where 1) others work for you, 2) you are the owner, 3) things can be done remotely … then yes, this will work for you. The trick is finding those jobs. Jobs where you are 100% remote, and can sit at a starbucks 4 states away are few and far between.

    • As a freelance writer, I can work anywhere in the world! And plan to do so as I’m traveling later today! I don’t have others working for me though, and I’m very involved in my business — meaning it’s all creative labor, nothing too passive.

      • Yes, if you are the sole content creator, then yes, you can do that. If you are 100% online, then yes, you can do that. If you have clients that demand you be in the office, being in person is part of the job, or the fruits of your labor are tied to a specific location negate that ability. I am jealous of your situation but at the end of the day, I might retire quicker to a different life than you.

  17. Hm… I’m an economist and I’m getting only half salary next year (so I’m actually cutting my paycheck enormously).

    Because reward isn’t just money! There’s a lot of things that go into a utility function besides money. Charge more for jobs that aren’t any fun! Yes, charge what you’re worth for jobs, even the fun ones, but for jobs that aren’t fun, make sure that you charge enough that they’re paying you for that disutility.

    It’s easier to turn risks into measured risks when you have a nice safety net. You can ask for more when you’re not desperate and it’s not the end of the world if they say no. Because you can say no too. I can afford to cut my salary in half and move across the country for a year because even half my paycheck is pretty high. That’s the real reason to become an economist. 🙂

    • Wow, that’s awesome! So happy you can make such a big change and do it with confidence. I love that — charge more for things that are not fun! Brilliant! I’ll start adding a “boring tax” 🙂

      I have said no to a few things and it was hard, but it felt right. While I do need the money as I’m paying off debt, I need to focus my energy on things I enjoy/make better money. If not, then I should just go back to a job, you know?

  18. The key here is to become an economist – that is, get the maximum reward for minimum effort.

    That doesn’t sound very positive, though. It sounds like I’m advising everyone to do a half-assed job and call it a day. On the contrary, this means working SMARTER, not HARDER. It may not be necessary to spend every waking moment thinking about your job (or hobby, or whatever) to be “good” at it. In fact, very often it is quite the opposite).

    I think Tim Ferriss does a pretty good job at explaining this in his 4-Hour Work Week book that he has. He describes maximizing your efforts by devoting, say, 2 hours of completely dedicated work during a day that, in any other ordinary day filled with distractions, might take you 8 hours or more to complete. In other words, focus and get your work done as quickly and productively as you can, then move onto things that you actually want to do with your time, like travel or whatever other hobby or side business that you may have.

    I have employed a very similar philosophy for YEARS and love what it’s done to my stress level and flexibility to do things that make me happy.

    Work smart, not hard.

    • I think this is great advice. It’s been so hard for me to grasp though as I’ve always thought hard work = success. But not necessarily. I’m still overcoming an employee mentality in a lot of ways, and I want to embrace being the boss, making more money, and really owning my time. Thanks for your comment!

  19. I have always believed that hard work will pay off in the long run. I also follow Afford Anything blog and Paula lives a wonderful life. With that being said I believe that she lives that life because she was not afraid to take risk. Many of us are willing to work hard but not really to take any risk. At some point of our lives we have to find the courage to mix the two.

    • Good point about the risk factor! I think that is definitely part of it. To get big rewards, you have to take big risks. And sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.


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