When, Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off, This Magic Hack WILL

hard word doesnt pay off

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 less 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 is painfully apparent 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. Still, I haven’t managed to find an agent for it.
  • As a commentator, I get to commentate on some 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 I’ve never quite made it.  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. Because the simple fact of the matter is that, for most people, hard work does not pay off.

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.

We know 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.

Bosses won’t promote you for working hard.

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.

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. Of course, one solution to this is to overcome stress and anxiety at work.

Simply put, straining for your career makes you less creative and less productive, and because of that, you are less likely to be promoted.

If hard work doesn’t pay off, what does?

So if hard work won’t make us more money or get us promote, or help with success in anyway way, what will?

work smarter not harder meme
work smarter not harder meme

How I Learned a Secret

Looking back at my life, I’ve succeeded in things I love and do for fun, and I’ve failed in things that I try too hard to control.

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?

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.

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

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.”

When we work in 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.

“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.

Try meditating

You can get in the 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 cords. That tension will prevent your vocal cords from vibrating freely. And it will ruin the sound. When you relax, on the other hand, your vocal cords 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 cords from vibrating.

Less effort, more reward 

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.

The difference between “working hard” and “putting in positive energy”

  • “Working hard” means fighting, striving, being stress, and trying to control things.
  • “Putting in positive energy” means being enthusiastic and enjoying your work.

Honestly, just do what you love

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.”

  • 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.”
  • 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

Make love, not hard work


You can “umm and ahh” 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 job you love?

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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.