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 apparent to me that hard work doesn’t pay off.

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 profit through them.

I have put so much effort into my work; 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 don’t try as much as they do [1]. He says we will make money when we stop procrastinating.

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

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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 perseverance being rewarded in the end, such as the Chris Gardener story.

But they are the exception.

We people who actually have tried our best time and again have not gotten the rewards we deserve.

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

We know for a fact that putting in extra effort for a company will not get you promoted. And while you might think it is just because you are unlucky, there is another reason [and if you do indeed think luck is part of it, please read my article about why you are so unlucky in life].

Employers state that working hard does not get you promoted. What bosses are 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 labour away non-stop, 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. [one solution is to overcome stress and anxiety at work]

So straining for your career 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.

Work Smarter, Now Harder!

work smarter not harder meme
work smarter not harder meme

Putting in too much effort is not worthwhile

Looking back at my life, my successes have been in things I do because I love them, and I have failed at some things I tried too desperately 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 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?

It was easy.

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 was I putting in effort for this position. I didn’t try 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.

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 don’t enjoy, we fight with ourselves, part of us wanting to work hard the other part wanting to quit and give up.

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 to get into the state of flow (Zen-state).

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

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 practicing mindfulness 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 tirelessly 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 put in less effort for more reward

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 put in the effort in their career but are not able to escape poverty anyway due to lack of economic opportunities. [5]

Hard work doesn’t pay off.

Toiling away tirelessly will not get you the profit and rewards you want.

What will pay off?


Energy in droves.

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

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

Working hard implies striving. It implies fighting. It 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.

We are not going to “work hard”. Because working hard will not pay off. I personally put a ton of effort into 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 didn’t even try at it. BUT: I did pour an absolute bucket load of positive energy into it because I love it.

There is a significant difference here.

Do you see the difference?

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

Honestly, just do what you 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 stop putting so much effort into something I don’t enjoy, and do what I love instead.

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

Make love, not hard work


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

Write a comment and let me know.

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Written by Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.