What Does ‘Hard Work’ Actually Look Like?

Working hard doesn’t always “look” hard.

We hear a lot about success depending on how “hard” we’re willing to work.

But what does it actually mean to work “hard”?

It certainly can’t mean pushing yourself to the point of burnout and despair simply to achieve the results you want. No creator has ever come back from burnout not regretting their previous choices.

So if hard work doesn’t look like the stereotypical movie montage of a writer pulling four consecutive all-nighters to meet a deadline or make time for pursuing their “dream,” what does it really look like?

Maybe, from the outside, it just looks like every other job.

Working hard doesn’t always “look” hard.

Today, if you tell someone you get eight full hours of sleep every night, have time to rewatch all nine seasons of The Office on Netflix (again), and find time to make healthy meals and exercise most days of the week, you automatically give off the impression that you’re doing the absolute minimum amount of work.

But working hard does not mean getting up at 4am or working 14 hours a day or being “too busy” to make your health a priority.

From my perspective, the creators who work tirelessly within a certain window of time (e.g, 8am to 6pm) and then leave their evenings and weekends open for rest and restoration, are the ones who are able to make more high-quality things over longer periods of time.

Of course, “hard work” plays out differently for everyone. I choose to put an hour or two of work in on Saturdays and Sundays so I can have a little more wiggle room during the week. That’s my choice. But that’s not the best strategy for everyone. Many people prefer to work 10 or 12-hour days four nights a week and have their Friday nights and weekends completely free. That’s what works best for them.

There’s no “one way” to define what it means to work hard. But it’s possible to work long hours, seven days a week, and spend most of your time feeling exhausted and hating what you do. I call that working recklessly. There are a lot of people who say this is how they work and it’s how they “found” and “maintain” success. But I don’t know how they stay happy and motivated if they really do follow a schedule like that.

If you want to be a successful creator — writer, artist, designer, whatever you want to do — work hard. But also take breaks. Do things that relax you and keep you healthy. Spend time with your loved ones. Keep in close contact with your friends. A good, successful career really is about balance.

How you achieve and maintain that balance, in the end, is up to you. It might take awhile to figure out how to make it all fit together. But you’ll be glad you took the time to make it all work.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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