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Nothing engages our sense of national pride like “Hard Work.”  The two words sum up just about everything great about America: rugged individualism, freedom to excel, the pursuit of happiness, capitalistic opportunity, entrepreneurial resiliency.

Did I miss anything?

I like my “Hard Work” dripping raw with a side of “Go-get-‘em!” and a tall frothy glass of “can-do.”
Fills me right up.

Start talking about Hard Work and we can’t wait to tell you how we got started. That job we got so we could gas up, or pay tuition or rent or buy ramen noodles.  We’ll go on and on about it.  Let us compare our grinds so that we might determine whose nose was closer to that stone.

And how thoroughly we do honor that effort.

What lesson could possibly be more important than: The Value of Hard Work. Hell, it’s even in the Bible.  Actually, I think it makes up 75% of the American Version.

And so we teach our young people, as often as we can, the Value of Hard Work. We describe what it should look like by sharing our own first experiences:

Hot, cold, sun-burned, wind-blown, or frost-bit. We learned consistency and perseverance. We followed direction. We got up, got dirty, and got the job done.  Day after day. How those formative experiences did shape us.  The late nights cleaning tables or pushing a broom. The smell of the milk house in the morning, or hot metal, oil, and diesel in the garage at mid-day.  The growl and buzz of a saw or the flap and swish of a brush. A little imagination brings us back to the feeling of tension in our fingers and forearms as we gripped the rungs, pushed the mowers, swung the hammers, stacked the cases.

The memories are not hard to access. Indeed they’re etched sharply onto our very soul.

No matter the job, the way we religiously praise those (mostly physical, often mindless) efforts is integrally woven into the stories we tell about work and how it shapes our character, how it continues to ripple through our communities, how the ethos reflects the strength of our nation.

Legend has it “Hard Work” is an investment that pays off in (we tell each other), if not increased riches, then surely enhanced chances–and at least an empowered character.

The Work–especially early on–was not joyful. But it is the pursuit of happiness, after all, that we honor most.

So we continue to add, story by story, to the mythos: the cultural certainty that “Hard Work” will always pay off–somehow, someway–eventually.

Until then, we compare callouses and contusions, grease stains and wrist sprains.

The evidence of our efforts is recorded in our muscle memory and marked with the scars we’ve scattered across our bodies

Hard work dues are paid for with the body.

But why?

What about the mind?

How common is it that we compare:

  • The first thing of value we created?
  • The first value-added problem we solved?
  • The first time we discovered an inefficiency,
  • or learned how to repair instead of replace?
  • The first time we wrote something that convinced someone to give us a better deal or a better job.
  • The first circuit we wired,
  • or program we wrote?
  • The first time we made Work more profitable?

The stories we tell about the value of Hard Work are rich in the traditions of physical toil. But the honor we bestow upon this work is outdated—an emotional remnant of the industrial age. A time long past, when a person COULD actually pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. A time when physical labor was more valuable than today.

Solving and explaining, inventing and persuading, on the other hand, is the kind of labor that has the most value NOW.  And it’s long past time we recognize that. If we are to move forward, it is time we tell and value new stories.

Hard Work 2.0.

Mind Work.

Focused, Undistracted Work.

Deep Work.

The mark of this kind of work isn’t left on the body in the form of scars and callouses, but on the brain in the form of myelin and neural connections—invisible, but powerful.

Economies will always need strong hands and those willing to lend them, but the most rewarding jobs of today are built with strong minds.  Minds that perceive and consider. That analyze and synthesis.

Lo, the age of knowledge work is upon us.

Lend a mind.