Work, work, work, work, work. No, I’m not quoting the words to Rihanna’s 2016 hit song “Work,” and failing to give her credit. These words belong to the many proponents of meritocracy, an idea that suggests working hard in any endeavor will ultimately lead to success. Meritocracy does not consider how a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, religion or other social byproducts can impact effort and productivity. I have heard teachers, professional development experts, sports coaches, business consultants, and people from all walks of life proclaim that hard work is the only thing that can lead to success.
If a person suggests their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, religion or other identity marker influences the opportunities to succeed through hard work, then suddenly they are playing the role of a victim. The typical response among the experts is that we have to take 100% personal responsibility for our success and WORK! Countless speeches performed by top motivational speakers along with books influenced by the seductiveness of meritocracy claim that hard work can overcome any obstacle.
The truth is that hard work does not always lead to success. Many people work hard every day and remain unable to reach the level of financial security necessary to meet the needs of their family.
Are these the thoughts that ran through your mind after reading the previous sentence? “They should learn to live with less.” “They should ask for a raise or get another job.” “They should open another business.” Have you heard someone respond like this when hearing another person complain about not being able to make ends meet at home?
After my family had decided to leave the United States and many of our possessions behind, I argued that people simply need to learn to live with less. I did it and so you can also. The problem with that statement is that it is never that simple.
Multiple layers of complexity can influence business, individual, family, or community success. For clarity, I want to offer these three suggestions for any person who is serious about what it takes to be successful.
1. Define what success means to you. Is it money? Is it a new car or is it simply having a home, enough food for your family, and adequate clothing? Whatever it is, just be clear.
2. Work intentionally in collaboration with others. “Work smart, not hard” and share the responsibilities to meet objectives.
3. Acknowledge that identity markers do influence a person’s ability to work hard. Incorporate making an impact on social inequalities into your vision of success.
For the sake of maintaining our individual sanity and increasing profit margins in business we must acknowledge that working hard is only part of the equation. It’s important that we define success for ourselves, seek opportunities to work with others, and acknowledge that working hard is just part of the factors that can influence our success.