In Defense of Old-Fashioned Hard Work

Hard work delivers us from boredom, makes us grow, and earns the respect of those around us
BY Mike Donghia TIMEMarch 9, 2022 PRINT

Every generation thinks that the value of hard work is being lost forever, but something feels different this time.

Technology has removed the friction from so much of everyday life. Shopping online is way easier than going to the store. Social media and texting are way less complicated than in-person communication. And Netflix is the simplest way in history to entertain yourself for hours on end.

For all that has been gained from these innovations, they’ve also powerfully shaped our expectations.

We’re beginning to expect all parts of life to get progressively easier, and with that expectation comes frustration with the parts of life that aren’t as effortless as pointing and clicking.

At the age of 32, I’m finally discovering for myself how valuable hard work is and how many benefits it brings to my life. I’m now convinced that hard work isn’t an obstacle to a flourishing life, but a part of the journey that should be embraced.

I hope the 10 benefits shared below inspire you—as they have inspired me—to reconsider your own relationship with hard work.

What Hard Work Does

It keeps us from boredom. People talk about hard work like it’s something that you need to put up with. But truthfully, the hard and challenging things may be the only lasting source of satisfaction in our lives. A life of meaningful work and meaningful struggle is the very opposite of boring.

It builds character. It’s tempting to think that if we could just throw off the shackles of duties and commitments we would finally be free to enjoy life. But I’m not so sure we would. The weight of responsibilities and obligations that we carry don’t hold us back: They keep us from falling apart. They build our character in ways that make the good life truly possible.

It’s a chance to earn money, honestly. There’s an undeniable satisfaction in earning a paycheck because you showed up and did a job well. I remember packing fireworks into boxes for 40 hours per week as a high schooler during summer. It was one of the most mundane things I’ve ever done, but it was good, honest work that allowed me to pay for my first car.

It builds genuine pride. Another hard job that I’ve taken on is the role of father. Even with a great spouse to help, parenting without regrets requires sacrifice and lots of energy. But each year, as my kids get older, I take genuine pride—not in my parenting ability, but in my decision to take on the responsibility and be part of the amazing process of bringing another life into the world and doing my best to raise them well.

It pressures and challenges us to grow. Without the pressure of deadlines or the challenge of work that simply must get done, how many of us would consistently push ourselves past our comfort zones? In high school and college, I was grateful for the structure of having to show up for cross-country practice each day. Without that commitment in place, I would have likely taken the road of comfort and missed out on the many pleasures on the other side of all of that hard work.

It keeps you healthy and sharp. In the right dose, stress is medicine for our body. This principle can be seen at work in the way our muscles grow from exercise and our brains grow from reading challenging books. The stress of hard work can serve to help us grow both physically and mentally. And as an added benefit, the exertion helps us to sleep better at night.

It earns the respect of those around you. One of my main motivations at work is to earn the respect of my colleagues. Because I work on a small team, we depend on each other and work closely on various projects. If I was always taking shortcuts and avoiding hard work, it wouldn’t take long before I would earn a poor reputation. Hard work is one of the requirements for enjoying the fruit of good working relationships.

It allows you to be useful to others. There are many tasks in my life that aren’t fun and are easy to put off until later, such as paying bills, replacing the toilet paper, taking out the trash, and others. But if I don’t do them, it just pushes the work onto someone else. Instead of seeing these tasks as annoyances, I’m trying to see them as opportunities to be useful that require no special skills—just a willingness to do the work that others would rather not do.

It can be satisfying. With the right attitude and under the right conditions, almost all work can be made satisfying. For me, this usually happens when I completely lose myself in a task and stop thinking about the time or even how I feel—all of my focus is absorbed into solving the problem or accomplishing the work.

It enables you to enjoy leisure. Have you ever taken a week of vacation and found yourself eager to get back to the rhythms of everyday life? I know I have. After a while, eating out doesn’t deliver the same pleasure. The same goes for complete relaxation, which starts to feel a lot like boredom. I’ve found that I need the contrast of hard work to truly enjoy my leisure on a regular basis.

The best hard work is the hard work you enjoy because it connects back to your deeply held values. If you haven’t discovered what that work is yet, it’s never too late to start looking.

Mike Donghia
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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