I used to dislike to work. I saw how most people lived their lives, slogging through work that they hated, and I was determined not to fall into that trap. I made the mistake of generalizing, lumping all work together in the same bucket.
Since then, things have changed. In terms of monumental personal life changes, becoming a hard worker is the most recent one I’ve undergone. About a year ago, for reasons I touched on in this post, I decided that it was imperative for me to become a hard worker. I didn’t do it because I had suddenly fallen in love with work, but rather because I had began to feel as though I was behind. And believe me, it wasn’t love at first sight.
To fall in love with hard work, you must understand why it’s necessary. When I was young I was told that sugar was bad, but I never understood exactly why it was bad, so I kept eating it. Only when I learned how it chemically affected my body did I finally give it up. The same is true of work– if you don’t know why you have to work hard and love it, you’ll probably never actually do it.
Work is your gift to the world. That sounds corny, but it’s true. And believe me, you owe the world a gift or two. Think of all of the various things that millions of people around the world have done for you to enjoy the life you have. They made up languages, invented stuff, procreated at the exact right times to create your ancestry, and managed to not kill each other in the process. We’re lucky to be here, and the high standard of living we all enjoy now is only because of those who came before us. Some, like Einstein, had huge impact, but even people you don’t notice, like the janitors, are making your life better.
In the same way, you have an opportunity to make people’s lives better. You might shoot for the stars and try to change all of humanity, or you might have a menial job and just decide that you’re going to work your hardest at it to give back through it. I bring all this up is to illustrate that work doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It always impacts other people.
Let’s say that you don’t really care about paying things forward to humanity, and really just want to live the best possible life. Surely that means that you should just make a bit of passive money and go live in Thailand, right? Well, no. You can get superficial pleasure from anywhere, but in my personal experience as well as through conversations with other high performers, I’ve come to realize that deep lasting satisfaction comes from setting challenges and meeting them. Humans are wired for growth. And, sure, you can grow at any pace you want, but I’ve always believed that if you’re going to do something that you care about, you should do it as well as you possibly can.
Work is a trial. It’s the process of pushing up against resistance and conquering it, and then waking up again in the morning and doing it again. But it’s not a bloody battle of attrition, it’s a basketball player hitting the court every day, knowing that whether he’s practicing with teammates or playing against another team, he’s putting himself to the test and giving himself a chance at glory. That’s how I feel when I work. It’s hard, but it’s exhilarating. I fee like I’m running down the court, improvising as I go, posting up as many points as I can until the buzzer goes off.
Your work is a true reflection of you. You will be judged by it, and as nice as it is to say that you shouldn’t care what other people think, probably most of the people that you respect are very hard workers. If you want to befriend and spend time with these people, you will have to be respected by them. They don’t care what your work is, only that you crush it. It’s one person who’s taking on the world giving a nod to another person who’s taking on the world.
It’s much easier to learn to love work if you start with something that you like, or at least something that you believe in. I have friends who love internet marketing, but most people who get into get-rich-quick fields like that hate it. They want the money, but they hate the work. You can work hard at it and learn to love it, but it’s not an efficient path. Pick something that you like to do, or something that incorporates something that you like to do.
I like programming and I like building things, so programming was a good choice for me. When I started making SETT I was a bad programmer and certainly didn’t love all of it, but there was a seed of love somewhere in there. Maybe for you it’s writing or woodcarving or photography or grouse mating. If you want to learn to love working, pick something you like. If you can’t think of anything you like that will make money, just pick something you like that won’t make money. The skill of work is universal. I’m a mediocre programmer, maybe a four or five out of ten amongst people who work at programming. But you know what? I’m now really good at building programs, because I’m so good at working. So learn on a hobby if you have to. Maybe it will suprise you and turn into a business, but even if it doesn’t, you’ll have built the work habits to crush that next idea.
Many years ago I had a friend named Erik, who was a hypnotist. I remember telling him once about how I hated doing my dishes and how I would let them pile up for over a week before finally cleaning them. He told me that whenever I’m doing something, I should always focus on how I’ll feel when it’s done. Don’t think about scrubbing gross dishes, think about how clean and nice the kitchen will feel. The same goes for work. Think about how you’ll feel if you gve your project 100% and it becomes successful.
For SETT I think about how it will feel to see communities sprout up all over the internet, thanks to SETT. I think about the millions of readers of diferent blogs who make not even realize SETT is powering the blog they’re reading, but they’ll love that experience and become more engaged. I think about how I’ll have the experience and credibility to help other entrepreneurs. I think about how I’ll still live in my RV and serve as a living example of the beauty of minimalism. I think about how I’ll make enough money that I’ll be able to fly friends and family all over the world and show them some of my favorite places.
We all have different goals, but when I think about all that, I’m filled with excitement and motivation. That motivation is the fuel for my love of work.
Equally important is realizing that you will not reach your goals if you don’t work harder than you currently know is possible. When I was twenty or so, I was cocky. I told plenty of people that I’d be a millionaire by twenty-five. It was so set in stone that I would be a millionaire that I didn’t really even try. I was special, and people like me became millionaires. Special or not, I didn’t become a millionaire because I didn’t work hard enough at it. I had amazing opportunities– I could have easily been rich if I had worked hard.
Your mind must accept a very absolute truth: if you work extremely hard, you’ll probably get most of what you want, but if you work an average amount or less, you will not get what you want. Now look– you can be happy with nothing. I’m not saying you can’t be. If I was put in solitary confinement on Alcatraz right now for the rest of my life, and you could watch me through a video camera, you’d see me smiling the whole time. Happiness is great and it’s important, but it’s not all there is, especially your own personal happiness. Your goals don’t even have to be financially motivated– Ghandi didn’t want money, but he worked extremely hard. The point is that hard work is a non-negotiable ingredient of any big goal. If you don’t have big goals, then fine… don’t work. If you do have big goals, there’s a good chance you need to step it up and work a lot harder.
It’s also important to address the work hard vs. smart issue. Shouldn’t you just work smart? Yes, AND you should work incredibly hard at the same time. If you can work twice as smart as someone else, getting the same amount of work done in four hours that he would do in eight, that’s awesome. But you should then work twelve hours a day so that you’re getting six times as much done as him. Don’t make the lazy choice of choosing one or another. Work smart, and work incredibly hard at it.
I stress all this and go on and on, because you need to realize that hard work is the only answer. It’s not one of many options, it’s the only option. When I explored Airman’s cave, it took eight hours to get to the end of it. I was colapsing involuntarily, dehydrated, starving, and exhausted. If there was any option besides crawling miles back out to the entrance, I would have taken that option. But there wasn’t, so I did it. That’s how work is– you need to mentally make it your only option, so that you push through it. And although you will eventually love work, you won’t love it at first, but you will need to do it anyway.
The other reason I bring up understanding that work is the only way is because a big part of loving work is eliminating mental friction. When I had one way to get out of the cave, I focused on making my way through that tunnel, inch by inch. I didn’t think about how much I hated it, because what would be the point? Same with hard work. You don’t want your subconscious to distract you by offering alternatives. There are none. Work hard.
The biggest way to reduce friction is to adapt your work style to start with a plan every day. When you wake up in the morning, write down what you will do that day. If anything is unclear, set an alarm for ten minutes and don’t stop strategizing on it for ten minutes. Let’s say that I know I want to work on SETT, but don’t know what specifically to do. If I just start working, there will be a lot of friction as I try one thing, jump to another, check something else, etc. If I take ten minutes and force myself to think it through, I probably won’t have any good ideas for the first four or five minutes. Then I’ll think, “Oh yeah… the way I’m handing guest votes needs some work.” After that I might think of a good way to handle the votes. Then I think about how I could reorganize the database, which would fix the voting issue and another issue at the same time. Taking this time helps you develop a good gameplan. If you don’t do this, you’ll find yourself constantly pullling out of “the zone” to decide what to do next. Work is most lovable when you’re in the zone, so you want to stay there.
When you make your plan for the day, overload yourself. You can handle more than you think, and you never want to feel like you don’t have something to work on. Make a text file with a list and notes on everything you can think of that needs to get done. When you see it all, you will feel a sense of urgency, because there’s so much to do and so little time, but you’ll also feel inspired, because you’ll be able to see things that you can tackle immediately and are exciting. Those are the tasks that will get you in the zone, so go for them first.
Work seven days a week. Weekends are for suckers. Are you REALLY telling me that you’re not going to work on weekends just because everyone else takes those days off? Are you really THAT bound to the whims of the masses? Weekends are nice, yes, but are they nice enough to give up the 40% increase in time spent working? Not even close. You actually get more than a 40% increase, too, because you’re again reducing friction. Every single day you work, you were working the day before. You don’t need to catch yourself back up on things, because you were just on it. Momentum.
Work as many hours as you possibly can each day. Again, 9-5 is for suckers. Wake up when you want to (same time every day), go to sleep when you want to (eight hours earlier), and plan on working for almost all of the hours in between. I recommend one or two hours of reading every night because I’ve found it helps me sleep better, inspires me, and teaches me stuff that helps with my work. This is part of working smart.
That leaves fourteen hours. I have tea instead of breakfast (healthier according to the intermittent fasting people) to save time, usually eat a couple sandwiches for lunch at my desk while I do a Chinese lesson, and generally take 30-45 minutes for dinner. That gives me thirteen remaining hours in a day, and I try to fill them with work. Realistically, one of those hours is probably me being distracted by email or texts or something like that. Generally I can get twelve solid hours out of the day.
But this doesn’t give you much time to do anything else, right? Yeah, that’s the point. The default should be working all the time. When you start off, this is especially true, but once you love work you can give yourself a lot more leeway, because work will be your favorite activity. Once you get there, you’ll effortlessly maximize your time, because your innate priority will be for production.
Can you take breaks? Yes. But NEVER for low-quality consumption. Spend time with people you love and people who inspire you, but no one else. Don’t ever watch TV. Watch movies sparingly, documentaries more. Read books more than articles. Don’t eat crappy food, drink, or do drugs. Don’t party. Do experience masterpieces. I go to a museum, out into nature (it’s a masterpiece), or watch classical music/opera/ballet once a week. All of these things are the products of extremely hard workers, so you will benefit from them. Travel the world, as it will broaden your perspective and help you understand people. Work while you’re traveling.
When I first stopped eating sugar, normal food tasted pretty bland to me. Then, over time, my palate became more refined, and I could taste the natural sweetness of things like broccoli. You might say that all that stuff that I mentioned above sounds boring to you. I believe you, but all of the things I say not to do sound extremely dull to me. Who’s right? Both of us are, it’s just perspective. If you want to be a super hard worker, love the process, and reap the benefits it creates, then you have to make changes. If you didn’t have to make changes, you’d already be there and wouldn’t be reading this article. So you can keep eating junk food, watching TV, and partying, and you can have a really happy and awesome life, but you won’t get to be a top level executor. So make the decision, either way is fine.
This acclimatization process is extremely important. My favorite types of foods to eat now are healthy foods. A couple times a month I’ll eat something unhealthy, and can appreciate it, but I’m always happy to go back to eatng healthy. If I had kept eatiing sugar once in a while when acclimatizing to healthy foods, I would have never come to love them as I do now. If you don’t switch your entire life to productive activities, at least for a period of time, you will never love work because you will never bring your perspective around.
So look, it’s going to be hard to do this. It was hard for me, too. You go through a pain period of doing things you don’t want to do, but eventually you adjust and fully appreciate these sorts of things, and will love your daily activities as much as you loved your old ones, or more, and will be offering a superhuman amount of value to the world and will be running towards your goals at a speed you’ve never experienced before. That’s a really awesome place to be, but it’s not free. The cost is that you have to exercise your will power and make yourself uncomfortable. I’m not writing this article because I think that most people reading it will make these changes. I’m writing it because I think that one or two will, and if I can help make that big of a change on ever one person, I’ll feel a big sense of accomplishment, because their life and the lives of those they touch will be better.
Maybe you’re that one person who will use this post to make their life better. So let’s say you’re now working 90+ hours a week. That’s a whole lot of time, and whenever you’re doing the same process over and over again, you’re building habits. Because of this, it’s important that you have a freakishly positive attitude the whole time. Here are the rules:
1. No complaining about work ever. Work is supposed to be hard. If you complain when it’s hard, then you don’t understand work. Anyone who has ever built anything great has come across something really frustrating that set them back. That’s the nature of work. You have to learn to love this. If you complain when things get hard, you will build a negative association with hard work. That’s the opposite of what you want to do. Instead, use frustration as a cue that your best is required. Understand that your ability to tackle hard problems with grace will define your nature as an executor. Rise to the challenge. Be thankful that you have something hard to test yourself with, and then make sure you pass that test.
2. Celebrate every victory. Even minor things, like fixing a bug, acknowledge to yourself that what you did was good. A simple fist pump will do. When you build something beautiful, take a minute to marvel at at, congratulate yourself, and then reward yourself by pushing forward more, to add icing to the cake. Yes, work is a reward. If you take a break every time you complete something, your days won’t be fluid. You have to work hard, complete stuff, and use that momentum to complete the next thing. Work is a very solitary process, so you must have a good relationship with yourself.
3. Tie your self esteem to your ability to create and follow good process. Results may vary, as they say, but process is completely under your control. Focus on it. Be obsessed with it. Did you pick big problems, tackle them with everything you’ve got, and put in hours? Then you succeeded whether you shipped your product or barely inched forward. You will have some days where you cannot be a champion and work hard. This is unacceptable, but will happen. It’s a paradox. When it does happen, be mad at yourself, and make it up the next day. Even if you have a real boss, you are still your own boss. You should have much higher expectations for yourself than anyone else has for you, and only you can hold yourself to those expectations. So even if no one is watching, you make it up when you mess up.
The beauty of work is that it tests you. When you mess up, you’re being tested to see if you can rebound fast. When you are stuck, you’re being tested to see if you can push through. When there’s fun stuff going on outside of work, you’re being tested to see if you can resist temptation. It’s not the universe or god testing you, it’s yourself. If you fail, you alone know, and you alone judge yourself. Work shows you your weaknesses, but it gives you the chance to fix them, too. It’s a beautiful thing.
Work is a skill. Like any skill, you’ll enjoy it more if you are good at it. And this is how you get good at it– you do it a lot, you dive deep into it, and you create a positive attitude around it. That’s all it is. I used to to be a huge slacker, so if I can do this, then truly anyone can. As I said before, I realize that most people will read this post and either do some of the things or do none of it. That’s fine, because this post isn’t for them anyway. They’ll criticize and talk about “…there’s more to life than…”, as if I didn’t just spend 10 years running around the planet getting tons out of life. I’m someone who spent a decade doing whatever he wanted, is now working extremely hard, and is telling you that living like this is really awesome. Take it or leave it.
The advice I give, especially on the amount of hours to work, is extreme and abnormal. But you know what? If you want extreme and abnormal results, then that’s how you have to act. I made the mistake of believing that I could get extraordinary results with average or sub-average effort. That’s not how it works. If you don’t want the results that the average human being gets, then you don’t get to do what he does. If you decide to commit to work, to follow the path that will lead you to eventually love it, you’ll have to push yourself hard to work even when you don’t like it. I managed to get through this only because I turned thirty and panicked, realizing that was nowhere near on track to reach my extremely high goals. I’m glad I pushed, though, because now I’ve become an excellent executor, and I love being this way. I get more out of life, but I get to give more, too. And that’s a good thing.
Whew… that was a long one! Sorry it was a bit rambly and probably has a bunch of typos. I didn’t take a lot of time to edit it because I didn’t want to take the time from SETT.
Picture is a crazy rainbow I saw when I left my RV for the first time today yesterday… at 8pm.