Vince Lombardi once said that “the price of success is hard work”. John Carmack said “focused, hard work is the real key to success”.
And if you search for quotes about hard work, you’ll find many examples of famous, successful people talking about the importance of hard work in achieving success.
But is that really true? Is hard work the key to success? Or are there other factors that play a larger role in determining whether somebody is truly successful or not?
This article will look to tackle the meaty question of whether or not hard work is the key to success, along with other related questions around the topics of work and success.
Let’s dive in.
What Is Success?
In order to answer whether or not hard work is the key to success, we need to start with a shared definition of what success actually is.
To start unpacking this, I think it’s important to state what success is not. In American society, I think that success is often viewed from the lens of extrinsic and monetary accomplishments.
So, the higher your title at work, the more people you oversee, the higher your earnings, and the more stuff that you possess, the more successful that you are seen to be.
However, I find that view of success to be hallow and lacking.
Some of the emptiest people that I’ve personally met are those that by the standards listed above, would be considered most successful. Yes, they have a lot of money and a good title. But the people that I’m thinking of lacked meaningful relationships, were self centered, treated others poorly, and didn’t have much of a life outside of their career.
So, I think a definition of success needs to be more thoughtful and well rounded.
Additionally, I think that success is actually very personal. The extent to which somebody is successful is based upon their own personal mission, vision, and values and how they are living according to those.
And lastly, while I do that that success is personal, it can’t be all about the self. I believe that in order to be truly successful, you do need to strive for and achieve some type of positive external impact on others.
With that being the case, to me, success is the extent to which you attain your vision of a good life, and positively impact others through that vision.
Something that’s important to call out with regards to that definition is that the foundation of success is having a vision for what a good life looks for you.
Basically, the idea is that is you don’t know what you’re aiming for, then how can you know whether or not you’re living a successful life?
So, the key first step is to know what the good life looks like for you, how you want to impact others, and what you want to do with your life.
Then, when operating from that place of know what success looks like for you, you can work to go out and achieve it.
Is Hard Work The Key to Success?
While hard work is a critical element to achieving success, hard work itself is not the key to success.
And there are a couple of key reasons for that:
1. You Need To Know What Success Looks Like In Order to Achieve Success
As we talked about in the last section, in order to achieve success, you need to know what success looks like for you personally.
And, unfortunately, there are quite a number of people that don’t know what success truly looks like for them.
While I couldn’t find a specific number to quantify the percentage of folks that don’t know what success looks like for them, I do know of many people in my own life who have no idea what they’re striving for.
And I also know people that are hard workers, but that are striving for things that are not their own.
So, without the foundation of knowing what you’re working towards, working hard cannot bring you success.
2. You Need To Be Working on the Right Things to Achieve Success
Once you know what success looks like for you, you need to be prioritizing and focusing on the right activities in order to achieve success.
A fundamental idea of Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism is that you can make the highest possible contribution by doing less, but by doing it better.
According to Greg, if you stretch yourself too thin and commit to too many activities, or the wrong activities, you won’t be able to make meaningful progress on what’s most important to you.
So, even if you work extremely hard, if you’re working on too much, or are not disciplined in picking the right activities to move you towards success, then you may get stuck spinning your wheels.
To summarize my point of view here, I do believe that hard work is a critical element to success. Hard work, with a strong vision of what success looks like, and a focus on the correct activities, can accelerate you towards what you want to achieve.
However, hard work alone isn’t the key to success. It needs to be channeled in the right direction and on the right activities for you to reap the benefits of your efforts.
Can You Have Success Without Hard Work?
It may be possible to have success without hard work, but I think that you’re more unlikely to achieve success without hard work.
First, let’s look at how you may be able to achieve success without hard work.
There are a couple of ways that come to mind for me. The first is if you have a really strong starting advantage towards achieving success. Let’s say that you come from a family with a lot of money, and your parents are going to give you money and resources to start a project that you’re interested in. That would be a great advantage for you because you’re minimizing your risk and starting with resources to put towards your vision of success from the start. With that advantage, you may not need to work quite as hard to get what you want.
The other way that you can achieve success without hard work is with a really clear vision of what you want, really disciplined execution towards that, and patience. As I mentioned, I think hard work on the right things can accelerate your results. But, if you’re not looking to work hard, you may still be able to achieve the results with the disciplined work at a slower pace in the right direction.
Ultimately, I do think that achieving success is far more likely with hard work. Hard work means that you can get more done. And if you’re focused on the right things, getting more done can mean more results faster. And when you see those results faster, it encourages you to keep pushing and keep going to achieve more of those results.
So, hard work on the right things can create a sort of flywheel effect where the results of your efforts compound more and more which encourages you to put more work in, which moves you in the direction of success even faster.
Why Is Hard Work Important For Success?
Hard work is important for success because, if you’re focused on the right things, it can accelerate the timeline of seeing positive results.
As you see more positive results, more quickly, it encourages you to keep working to get more of those positives results.
Over time, the positive results that you achieve build and you get closer and closer to what your own vision of success looks like.
Is hard work the key to success?
On its own, no, I don’t believe that it is.
In order to achieve success, you need to know what success looks like for you. And you need to focus on the most impactful activities to achieve that success.
But, with those foundational elements in place, hard work can help accelerate your ability to achieve to see positive results, which will encourage you to keep moving forward, and ultimately lead to the success that you want to achieve.