What I’ve Learned About “Hard Work”

In high school, I wanted more than anything to make it to the NBA (I never did).

I’m going to make the NBA because NODODY is gonna work as hard as I do. NOBODY!

I spent several hours each day working on my game. I would perfect my jumper, my ball handling and new moves I picked up from my favorite players Chauncey Billups and Kobe Bryant.

I was so committed to “working hard” that I would pass on going to the movies, the beach and playing at open gym. I had to improve my game. Yes, I passed on playing basketball to improve my game. I have no doubt that I spent more time than most on my game; however I spent very little time, putting it all together and playing in actual games.

So when the season came around, I struggled. I was still learning how to incorporate all my skills into a five-on-five game, rather than the imaginary one played out in an empty gym or my back yard. By the second half of the season, I would begin to play well, but I still wasn’t utilizing my entire skill set. I would have been a much better player on the court, if I committed less time to “working on my game” and more time playing at open gyms and other 5-on-5 games.

It’s like a writer spending 95% of his time reading books and learning new words, and then the remaining 5% on writing. Sure reading a lot and knowing a lot of words is helpful, but only if you can incorporate them into your work. You become a better writer by writing. You become a better 5-on-5 basketball player by playing 5-on-5 basketball.

Go figure.

“I am also living in the future.”
- Mike Birbiglia

I thought that the way to be good at 5-on-5-basketball was to avoid playing 5-on-5-basketball. If someone were to ask me in high school, “Are you stupid?”

“No.” would have been my answer.

Living in the future, I would have to say… that yes I was stupid in high school, but the past is often scrutinized and rarely praised on the high horse of the future.

Knowing that I have the potential to delude myself into taking the not-so-smart approach to goals, I use the following to learn from my past mistakes concerning “hard work”.

  1. Don’t throw a hard work pity party. If something doesn’t go my way, my initial reaction is to watch an indie romance flick, cry at the end and then wallow about the tragedy of hard work not paying off. It is embarrassing that I have this desire after setbacks, but it is more embarrassing to deny its’ existence and have one of my friends walk in on me crying at the end “Garden State”. Instead of denying it, I accept that I have an affinity for self-pity and dark romantic comedies and use it as a signal that it is time to try a different approach to my goals.
  2. I need help. I can’t shoot hoops in my backyard all the way to the NBA. I need other people to play against. I need guidance from my coaches at open gym. I can’t write thousands and thousands of words on my Mac all the way to a job at the New Yorker or a 6-figure book deal. I need guidance from those that have done it before. I need support from friends and family who care about me. I need to send my work out for others to see and risk failure. I can’t just “work hard” and expect it to work out.
  3. All work is NOT created equal. Two hours of writing does not yield the same result every time. Sometimes I will write 1000 words in two hours. Other times I will write 200 words. In the past, I strived to spend a fixed amount of time writing each day, rather than producing a fixed amount of words each day. In order to get better at writing, I must write words, not set the intention to write words; therefore I strive to write 1000 words a day. This may take two hours, thirty minutes, four hours, one hour or five hours. The time does not matter. The words matter.