Working harder doesn't make you more successful

I often see successful entrepreneurs tout "hard work" as the secret to their fortune.

I don't believe it.

"Working harder," on its own, isn't sufficient to achieve your goals. 

In high school, I worked at A&W and 7-Eleven. Later, I worked on construction sites, in a factory, and for a non-profit. I worked way harder at those jobs than I do now.

Building a successful business is more than just "brute force effort." As Ed Zitron says:

According to Huffington Post, successful people tend to wake up at 7am, based on the aggregate of the articles they could find. Gary Vaynerchuk? 6AM. Howard Schultz of Starbucks? 4:30am. Jack Dorsey? 5AM. None of these times actually matter, because getting up early is not actually an indicator of anything - there are plenty of people that wake up that early to go to one of the two jobs they have to have to pay rent, and plenty more extremely wealthy people who get up at 10am and make dorky, boring posts on Twitter.

For me, success has come from “consistently pushing forward, in the right direction.” To make progress, I wake up every day and push the rock a bit further down the road I want to go.

Success comes from consistently pushing forward in the right direction.

Before you can start taking action, you need to ask yourself:

"Which direction am I headed?"

Once you've figured out your trajectory, you can start applying consistent effort.

Most of my direction in business was determined by asking these questions:

  1. How do I want my life to be different?

  2. What do I want my average day to look like?

  3. What kind of freedom do I want?

  4. What are my values?

As an employee, my daily commute was a constant source of stress. It would take two hours a day. I'd return home feeling physically and mentally drained. I'd dread waking up, climbing in my car in the freezing weather, and battling traffic. I wanted my life to be different.

Here's how I wanted my average day to look and feel: waking up when I was ready, helping get my kids off to school, and then biking or walking down to my own private office that I'd rent downtown. On the way, I wanted to stop in at my favorite coffee shop and chat with friends.

I was also looking for other freedoms: I didn't want to ask my boss to go on vacation (that always felt a bit dehumanizing). I wanted to live close to the mountains and snowboard when it snowed. I wanted to make more money, pay off my debts, and provide a better life for my family.

And, after decades of working for other people, I'd determined the values that were important to me. Many of these learnings became the founding values that Jon and I outlined when we started Transistor (you can see them here).

I've worked steadily to achieve this vision from the age of 28 to now (41). I had many missteps but gradually made progress by building up my:

  1. Connections: who I know and who knows me.

  2. Skills: the value I can add to the world.

  3. Assets: money, equity.

  4. Portfolio: the things I've made (articles, podcasts, tweets, books, conference talks, courses, software).

It took ten years to go from starting this blog to founding a business that delivered the freedom I was looking for.

I've shared more of my journey in The Freedom Ladder and my annual reviews (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021).

Just because you're working hard doesn't mean you're making progress towards your goals. For example, one of my first businesses, a retail shop, took an incredible amount of effort to run but wasn't profitable.

Define how you want your life to be different, and then start heading in that direction. You'll make progress as you gradually build up your relationships, connections, skills, resources, and portfolio.

Justin Jackson

Published on January 8th, 2022
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