When Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off Stop And Do This

When Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off Stop And Do This

It is hitting me like a softball in the groin today that hard work doesn’t pay off.

Studies prove it.

Year on year wage-earners are working harder for longer and making a lower percentage of the money [1].

For my entire life I have been attempting to make myself successful and it has never quite happened. I have never quite hit the sweet spot. And it was painfully obvious to me that hard work doesn’t pay off. 

  • As an actor, I got to tour England and was eh, okay. But I never became famous.
  • As a writer, I have a flipping great novel that I’ve completed but I haven’t managed to find an agent for it (this making me less of an author than the exceptionally talented authoress Katie Price—though perhaps she worked harder for it).
  • As a commentator, I get to commentate some pretty great tournaments for basically no money.
  • And as a blogger… well, I’m working on it.

My life has been a constant attempt to become successful, and never quite making it, while getting exceptionally good at lost of different things, and then never actually being able to capitalise on them.

I have worked so hard it burns in my soul. It’s never paid off.

According  to jerk billionaires—like real estate investor Sam Zell—, we non-one-percenters earn less because we work less [1]. He says we will make money when we stop procrastinating.

But obviously he (like most billionaires) is a conceited asshat.

Face it: Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off. Period.

It’s time you admit that hard work doesn’t pay off. 

Obviously there are some famous stories of hard work paying off, such as the Chris Gardener story.

But they are the exception.

We people who actually have worked hard know it does not pay off.

Sure, there has been a fair chunk of scientific research that suggests hard work is important. K. Anders Ericsson [1], for instance, showed that working hard can be more important than innate ability… but only in some circumstances. And some famous people who did work hard and get rich out of it  but they are one in a million, literally.

We know for a fact that working hard for a company will not get you promoted.

Employers state that working hard alone doesn’t mean diddly squat. What bosses are really looking for are people who create new openings and new opportunities for the company [2].

In other words, they’re looking for creative people.

And that is also one of the main reasons hard work does not pay off, because when you work too hard you inhibit your creativity.

The New York Times published an article in which they state:

“…regions of the brain associated with executive decision-making and goal-directed behaviors had shriveled… the rodents were now cognitively predisposed to keep doing the same things over and over…‘Behaviors become habitual faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach,’ Dr. Sousa said. ‘I call this a vicious circle.’”

Hard work makes you stressed.

When you are stressed you are less able to function (cognitively). In turn, your work will be less effective and you will be less likely to succeed.

So hard work actually makes you less creative and less productive, and because of that, you are less likely to succeed.

But if hard work doesn’t pay off, what does?

Letting go. That’s probably why so many managers and CEOs are trying to make employees more relaxed at work, such as by teaching yoga at the office.

Hard work doesn’t pay of so quit and let go already  

Looking back at my life, my successes have been in things I do because I love them, and I have failed at things I’ve tried too hard to control.

Let’s start with the trying too hard bit.

For instance, my career as a freelance media specialist. Failed. Why? Because I tried too hard. My ambition was (is) to become an independent media consultant, helping people with my site PMHarrison.com to build their online brands. But it blew up like the Hindenburg because I was too darned controlling. I tried to find perfect clients, to represent myself as my brand perfectly, and to please everyone. I tried to be perfect. Tried too hard. Fell to pieces.

On the other hand, this weekend I was commentating a pretty big Street Fighter tournament in Toronto (thus making me the only spiritual blogger in the world who is also a gaming commentator, or so I believe).

Do you know how hard I tried to become a gaming commentator?

Not hard at all.

I was playing games with a group of people in our local gaming scene. We started running tournaments. And because I have a background as an actor and a journalist, I figured I might be the best person to do the commentary. And so I did.

At no point did I work hard. In fact, I didn’t work on this at all. I simply saw an opportunity, suggested that I might be the right person for something, and did it. And I continued to do it because I love it. And that led to success.

[bctt tweet=”Let the beauty of what you love be what you do—Rumi ” username=”t_d_meditation”]

  • I failed at the thing I tried to succeed in.
  • I succeeded in the thing that I just did for the love of it.

It’s not just me, either.

Here’s what to do when hard work doesn’t pay off

Studies show that we are more likely to succeed in the things we love. Working for your passion is a big part of the success mindset.

In 2005 Steve Jobs spoke to a Stanford graduating class and said:

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do–Steve Jobs ”

When we work jobs we dont enjoy, we fight with ourselves, part of us wanting to work hard the other part wanting to jack it in.

Too many people make the mistake of thinking they’re lazy procrastinators for not wanting to work hard. Actually, it is usually just that a deep part of your mind is preventing you from working hard at the wrong thing.

This is backed by science.

Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says we need to love our work in order to get into the state of flow (Zen-state) [3].

“Flow” is that state of mind where you’re being productive with ease.

  • When we start with a negative mindset we automatically become less productive. Being positive boosts your productivity.
  • When we are positive and doing what we love, we are in-the-moment, goal-oriented, and more productive.
  • That”s why being passionate about work is a big part of the success mindset (see the link above).

You can achieve a similar state of flow by meditating at work. Meditation relaxes and focuses the mind so we are productive but relaxed at the same time. That’s one reason many managers suggest meditating at work.

Life is a lot like singing. Have you ever tried to sing properly?  I took 8 years of classical singing lessons between 16 and 24. Tried insanely hard to get good. Was trash (seriously, people jumped out of windows to escape the agonizing sound of my voice). Then I quit for ten years. Today, I just chill out and sing, and my voice now sounds pleasant. Why is that? Well, if you are stressed when you sing you will put tension on your vocal chords (the bit that produces the sound). That stress will prevent your vocal chords from vibrating freely. And it will ruin the sound. When you relax, on the other hand, your vocal chords relax. Then they can vibrate freely and produce a beautiful sound.

Life is the same. When you try too hard you put stress on yourself. That prevents you from moving freely. And because you cannot move freely you are limited in what you can do. So, stress directly lowers your chances of succeeding, just as stress prevents your vocal chords from vibrating.

And that’s why hard work doesn’t pay off. 

People are starting to realise hard work doesn’t pay off

With all this bad news you might feel like giving up.

You’re not alone.

People are starting to wake up to the fact that hard work does not pay off.

A poll by the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC),  revealed that 74% of Americans believe that most poor people work hard but are not able to escape poverty anyway due to lack of economic opportunities. [5]

Hard work doesn’t pay off.

Trying hard will not pay off.

What will pay off?


Energy in droves.

Now you might be thinking, “Putting energy into something and working hard at something are one and the same”. But that simply is not true.

There is a very important difference between putting tons of energy into something and “working hard’ at something.

Working hard implies striving.

Working hard implies fighting.

Working hard implies stress. Because when we think about “work” we think “stress”. It’s as though those two terms were synonymous with one another. Even people who enjoy their job tend to think about stress when they hear the word “work”.

So let’s just ditch that word, “work”.

We are not going to “work hard”. Because working hard will not pay off. I personally worked my butt off on my media consultancy. Failed. Miserably. Failed the way McDonalds salads failed. Wasn’t even a tasty failure.

Working hard did not pay off for me.

But as you know, my on-the-side commentary gig has been taking off. And I did not “work hard” at it. Did not work at all at it. BUT (I like big “buts” and I cannot lie). The big BUT is this: I didn’t work hard or try hard BUT I did pour an absolute bucket load of positive energy into it because I love it.

There is a very important difference here.

  • “Working hard” meant I tried to control my media consultancy and I gripped so hard it crumbled to pieces.
  • Positive energy and love, however, allowed me to throw myself at the commentary gig but at the same time have the freedom and flexibility to have fun with it and to let loose.

Do you see the difference?

It’s the difference between working hard and pouring positive energy into something.

Because hard work doesn’t pay off I’m just gonna do what I love

I’m convinced that hard work doesn’t pay off. 

Between this rant and the science, I am convinced that hard work doesn’t pay off and that I should ditch hard work and do what I love instead.

And here is how I define the difference.

Here is a list of things I will not do, things that are about “working hard”

  • I will not be overly controlling.
  • I will not put stress on myself because it inhibits me
  • I will not make demands of myself
  • I will not “try” (which will make Yoda proud, at any rate, after all “do or do not, there is no try”.
  • I will not “work hard”
  • And here is what I WILL do:
  • I will pour positive energy into things
  • I will follow my passion
  • I will dedicate myself to what I love
  • I will share that love with others
  • I will chill out and enjoy my work occupation

[bctt tweet=”"Man is only truly great when he acts from his passions.” ~Benjamin Disraeli” username=”t_d_meditation”]

Make love, not hard work


You can “umm and ahhh” or you can put your money where your mouth is.

  • Are you going to quit working hard?
  • Are you prepared to dance with danger and take a risk?
  • Are you prepared to live for the work you love?

Write a comment and let me know.

Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book: Your Best Meditation

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. It is hitting me like a softball in the groin today that hard work doesn’t pay off.

  2. This is timely and thanks. Yes, hard work doesn’t pay off.

    I know it too well.

  3. Ez man. These asshat billionaires tell people that hard work is the key to success cuz they didn’t do anything besides that. They worked hard and, eventually, succeed. So from their perspective the key to success is a hard work. Sounds logical uh? The only issue is that no one really cares about tons of people who worked hard and didn’t succeed. No one asks them for an interview or shows them on TV. The same thing about following your passion and that kind of stuff. You was able to succeed by following your passion. Very nice for you. I know plenty of people who followed their passions in different areas and NOBODY GIVES A DAMN. They haven’t became successful, some of them can barely survive on the lowest income ever possible, and that’s after decades of following their passions and becoming good at what they do. Face it, not everything can be monetized well, not everyone is a business-savvy enough to do this, and the main thing is that not everyone gets lucky enough to succeed. Life is a consecutive chain of random events. If you play poker you can go all-in with trash hands and win 10 times in a row. And the same works in an opposite direction. I’ve read about Elon Musk recently. He worked really hard to make a product for his first company Zip2. They didn’t have any sales. He worked even harder. They didn’t have any sales. He was working for 18 hours a day and sleeping in the office. They didn’t have any sales. Then out of the blue an investor came and dumped $3mln into their venture even though they didn’t make any money back then. They hired top programmers and other specialists and then BOOM – they’ve got sales. Wonderful story of true hard work ain’t it? No. It’s a story of someone got lucky. If you ask a person who has won a lottery what did he do in order to succeed he will pretty much tell you the same stuff. Oh he worked really hard, he bought a ticket each day for 700 days consecutively and that’s the recipe of success. So all you need to do in order to replicate it is just do the same. You will do the same for 100, 700, 7000 days and… nothing? Why is that so? Cuz that’s not the only point. You need to work hard (very surprising), but that’s more like necessary condition than sufficient. If you work hard and/or follow your passion that doesn’t guarantee you will succeed. Nothing basically guarantees it. Course if you won’t try anything and will stay on the same job for whole life you won’t get anywhere. But even if you continuously try different things that only gives you a chance to succeed. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it will work out.

  4. I am usually very lazy in writing comments. But this article is just all I wanted today. Thanks for penning down so magically.

  5. I am feeling good after reading your article. Right now, I don’t regret for quitting my job, I don’t regret for letting go (so called) opportunities I didn’t like/love, I don’t regret having wife/girlfriend/children.

    I am in a position where I may not live a fast track life, but I have a roof over the head and meals. I do write tech articles, participate online contests, develop hobby projects, sleep to my hearts content, enjoy anime.

    I might not have a car, bank balances but I am exempted from the burden of waking up against my will every morning to slave off, have relationship troubles or taking care of kids. I should be grateful, I don’t need to compare me with others. Everyone is different, everyone’s life is too.

    Success & Achievement Does Not Measure Life, Peace of Mind Does !

Leave a Reply

Close Menu
More in let go, success
simple qay to change yourself -- buddha quote
How To Change Your Mind From The Outside In