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Why Working Harder Doesn’t Equal More Success

  • Career

There’s a belief many of my clients struggle with—that the harder you work, the more successful you will be.

This “rule” is rooted in American culture and its glorification of an extremely hard work ethic. As the daughter of a dairy farmer, I am quite familiar with this rule. It was practically ingrained in me since birth.

However, the fundamental problem with this rule is that it fails to account for your work experience. And that’s because it’s also rooted in an even more common belief—that achievements matter more than the path and process you took to get there.

When you continually work hard for the sake of achievements, it’s not uncommon to feel something isn’t right or that your career or life is lacking in some way. And if you experience undue stress in order to reach that goal, the quality of your work is simply not going to be as high as it could have been. Plus, working this way is just bad for your brain and overall health.

If you struggle with this rule, as well, I have good news for you: Today, I’m going to help you break this pattern of thinking. Because, ultimately, it’s holding you back.

How to Break Your Rules

Here’s the thing: Working too hard is not great for your health—at all. However, most of my clients have a difficult time believing work can actually be generative and energizing. They’re so used to doing work that’s exhausting that they don’t know any different. 

Reversing this mindset won’t be easy. It will require you to slow down, pause, reflect, and increase your self-awareness, which can seem counterproductive and even impossible when you’re focused on working harder.

Here are two new rules you can experiment with:

  • Working harder hinders greatness
  • Joyfully hard work is the path to greatness

My goal for myself and my clients is to do joyfully hard work. This kind of work is challenging, exciting, and energizing. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t require a lot of effort—it certainly does—but it’s effort that’s aligned with your Zone of Genius (which means it feels good).

The following three steps can help you find joyfully hard work. 

3 Steps to Finding Joyfully Hard Work

1. Revisit your definition of success.

Most people are working towards more money, higher credentials, and/or increased fame. Take a step back and ask yourself if these are true drivers of happiness for you. Be honest with yourself. The science of happiness is pretty clear on the fact that external rewards don’t really correlate with internal fulfillment, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true for you, too. Figure out what would really make you happy, then start working toward that. If you’re having trouble specifying your personal definition of success, I’ll give you a hint: Most people typically mention purpose, fulfillment, positive relationships, and time with family and other loved ones. 

2. Reverse negative chatter.

Take careful inventory of your thoughts in moments when you’re pushing yourself. What are the messages you’re telling yourself? Are they creating a negative experience and contributing to your stress? Flip the switch and start being purposeful in sharing positive messages with yourself.

3. Book thinking time in your calendar.

I can’t tell you how few people do this. It’s simple and incredibly powerful. You need time to reflect, brainstorm, do your greatest work, and have the greatest ideas. And remember: Treat that time just like you would any other important meeting on your calendar. 


Being successful doesn’t require being miserable, nor does it require piling your plate way too full and working incredibly long hours. I’d argue that doing those things actually hinders your success. It’s about time we all break societal norms and find work that challenges us and brings us joy. 

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