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Why Hard Work Might Not Pay Off (and What Will)

Hard Working Business Man

“Man is only truly great when he acts from his passions.” ~Benjamin Disraeli

At a young age I was told, “Without hard work nothing grows but weeds.”

I was also told, “With hard work it was possible to achieve the American Dream.”

I was not sure what the American Dream was, but I did what everyone around me seemed to be doing. Working hard. I did well in school, helped my mother at home and my father at his place of business.

The world looked incredible to me growing up, and I was so passionate about waking up every day and exploring. I wondered why my parents and the other adults around me didn’t seem to be passionately alive.

Didn’t everyone see what an incredible world this was?

There was a glimpse of this passion they once had in the boxes of photographs in our living room closet. I would look through them on Saturday afternoons while babysitting my siblings so my parents could take a nap and rest their weary, hard working bodies.

In the photos, they were young and full of raw passion. My favorites were of my mother at around twenty years old, dressed up in a leopard velvet fitted suit, working at Oleg Cassini, a NYC fashion company. Smiling.

My Dad’s photos were of him as a young twenty year old in full military uniform on a US Navy ship, somewhere far away, looking over the side rail in contemplative thought. Thinking. His favorite thing to do, an intellectual. Looking far off into the distance. Tall, slim, and handsome.

“When did they let that go?” I used to wonder. “When and why did Mom stop dressing up and working, and Dad stop writing and thinking, taking quiet contemplative time for himself?”

Mom resigned herself to working hard at home with lots of kids to raise on a dead end street in the suburbs, which she hated. Dad worked a series of jobs in the business world that he was completely unsuited for.

Mom let us all know how miserable she was by her lethargy, and Dad’s anger and rage let us know just how discontent he was. I know they were doing their best to keep it all together.

Yet passion was nowhere to be found.

What did I do? I followed in their footsteps. I got engaged at eighteen and stayed in the suburbs, which bored me to tears. I worked a well-paying job in finance that I was ill suited for.

I was living the American Dream they told me about, only it was more like the American Nightmare.

I found myself crying on the way to work every day, with no joy to share with my child. I found myself longing to leave my marriage, which I’d entered to please my parents, and get to know myself and what would make me happy.

No one had ever asked me what I was passionate about, and I’d never thought of asking myself.

The realization of what former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said hit me. A great man or woman acts on their passion. I realized my greatness was in the one place no one told me about. In acting from my passion.

For me that was writing. When I write I feel great. I feel passionate and alive. Just like a kid again. So that’s what I did. I moved to the city and studied writing as if my life depended on it, because it did.

You may have some troublesome thoughts about the conflict of working hard vs. acting from passion. I know I did.

If you’re not doing hard work, you may feel lazy or guilty. Or like it’s too good to be true. Following your passion seems like it’s easy, yet it can be hard work too. But it’s the kind of hard that’s fueled by pleasure and passion.

Or maybe you want cold hard cash. You want stuff. You want to support yourself and your loved ones. So you take the work that you can get, or that makes the most money, or do what someone else wants you to do.

Yet, what happens if you act from passion first? Get happy first? Before you decide on a career or take a job or get into a relationship. Or move to a city or countryside. What happens is that everything flows more easily from this place. Sure, you could work hard, just put passion first.

How do you begin acting from your passions?

Put passion first, even if it’s only in your thoughts at first.

When you want to discover and act from your passion, you may have thoughts that challenge this new way of letting go of “hard” and gliding into joy and passion. So develop a mantra for yourself that you repeat, about giving yourself permission to put passion first.

Hide from those that bring you down.

Steer clear of the “hard work and little passion and play” people. Seek out those that understand how acting from passion first enhances your life and the life of everyone around you.

Accept how hard your work and life really are and must be for now.

Know that sometimes life is hard. And work is hard. World and life events and tragedies bring us down out of happiness and passion. Know that this is necessary so you can see the contrast of living from passion first to living from the work hard place.

Remember, when you have passion about something you are more willing to take risks. Everyone can decide to work hard, but passion means something different to each person. Follow yours.

You can have one leader that leads with hard work and another that leads with passion. Which one do you want to follow?

Ask yourself some tough questions.

What do you feel passionate about?

If you have no idea, remember what you loved doing as a kid. What were your favorite toys and games?

What activities do you partake in that, when you do them, you lose all sense of time?

What do you really want to do but are afraid to say out loud?

Close your eyes while contemplating this question. Feel the answers in your heart instead of thinking them with your head.

Passion is not always strong and powerful. It can be calm and deep. Don’t worry about motivation. Once you feel the passion for something, the motivation comes with little effort.

Queen Victoria invited Disraeli to become British Prime Minister, and they soon struck up a remarkable rapport thanks to Disraeli’s charm and skillful flattery.

On finally achieving his long ambition, to become Britain’s Prime Minister, Disraeli declared, “I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole.”

Find your own greasy pole, the one you are more than willing to climb, using passion as your inspiration and motivation. For whenever something great was accomplished in the world, it was done with passion.

What are you doing to find yours?

Hardworking man image via Shutterstock

About Esther Litchfield-Fink

Esther Litchfied-Fink blogs about writing at EstherFink.com, where she writes about finding your passion in life no matter what, and helps you write what’s on your mind.

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  • Agnes Rabolli

    Thank you for breaking down how to find ones passion.

  • Daria Wells

    Is there any other way one can find one’s passion without having to go back to childhood “likes”? I had a horrible childhood where I was discouraged from enjoying anything or following my own path. Perhaps just being aware of what you enjoy now? Any suggestions otherwise anyone?

  • Joni Goodman

    Passion a topic so vitally important for lasting, sustainable success. Thank you for sharing your story and these key reminders.

  • You’re so welcome.

  • Daria, so glad you brought this up. So many people have told me this. One person just said that he does not remember much. As you said, taking the time to be aware of what you enjoy now is a great place to start. Taking the time is the key – and sitting down and writing down what makes you feel alive and happy.

  • You’re welcome Joni. Thanks for reading!

  • Chloe Kunstler

    I love this article! I’m currently resisting (socially-driven) expectations that I enter a “practical” job. Friends always ask what I’m up to, wanting one word that sums up my career choice. It stresses me out just thinking about it! Your message is so great, that wanting to find my passion doesn’t come from a desire to do nothing but a desire to do the right thing for me. Thank you for this!

  • So well said Chloe. I love the point you made about the difference between doing nothing and a desire to do the right thing. So true.

  • Leah Gottfried

    Thank you for this post! It’s just what I needed today. So many of us fall into the trap of doing things we don’t want, or doing things that are expected of us instead of listening to ourselves.

  • Barbara Rypinski

    An excellent article, overall. Challenge for the future — review the changes in public schooling & the lack of diversity for non school activities for our post 2000 children/grandchildren (both parents working, often away from home 60 hrs/WK due to commutes) & reevaluate your “find your passion” questions in conjunction with the thought that the respondent has grown up with microwave dinners, video games & screaming refusal to do their homework, much less get housework done, learn hobbies or ever be exposed to most creative skills, from carpentry to sewing, garden to cooking…
    🙂

  • Yes. It takes time to actually stop and listen to what it is that brings us passion and then to act on it.

  • Barbara – how true. I love what you wrote. Yet there is this little tiny hidden voice inside us that whispers what it is that brings us passion. The schools should definately give voice to this – yet if they do not, we can remind each other, our family and friends to do this by changing the conversation. Instead of “what job do you have” we can ask ” what do you love to do”. : ) Thank you so much for your insightful comment.

  • Kristine

    Thank you Esther! So beautifully written. What a great world would be like if we could all be uplifted, motivated and inspired by our passion.

  • Sherman Smith

    Hey Esther!

    That’s the one ingredient that many of us leave out. PASSION! Without passion we tend push ourselves to the ‘dark side’. We bask in negative feelings such as depression and anger. But with passion we can balance ourselves to be more stable and enjoy life a lot more.

    Thanks for sharing Esther! Have a good one!

  • Thank you Sherman for your comment. You got it – it really is an either or thing – the passionate life or the ‘dark side’, lethargy, negative feelings. YES! Here’s to a passionate life. : )

  • Kristine – so true. Imagine people walking around as you said, uplifted, motivated and inspired by our passions. How amazing would that be. What would it take to make this happen on a global scale and I wonder why it’s so elusive to so many people.

  • Shyneth

    So true! Love and Passion should rule the world. How wonderful our life would be if we choose our decision out of passion. Doing our passions shows that we are unique individuals. Uniqueness is a beautiful thing. Personally, I am trying to do away of what is norm, to follow my passion but it’s hard sometimes when people around you is not that supportive.

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  • Lacy

    Wonderful! You described so vividly what happens to many people. I’d have to say.. now that I’m in my late 20s, I’ve started questioning whether I should just “grow up” and get a boring but well paying job. It’s a hard cultural norm to fight, but in my mind there is nothing more important that feeling ALIVE, and that only comes through living a life you are passionate about!

  • Sharon Koshy

    I love this Esther! Yes we all must live with passion! Beautifully written. 🙂

  • Lacy it’s a hard deicision so many people face. I have to believe that there is a way to have both – a life of passion, doing things you love and the kind of financial income you want. It may not happen right away yet so many people that follow their passions turn it into an income. Good luck!

  • Hi Sharon! Thank you.

  • jasonkramer

    I really have a hard time with things like this. I’ve only
    had one dream, one passion in my life and that was to get into the army. However,
    when I was 18 I got medically disqualified. This lead to roughly two years of
    deep depression. Even now at 29 I am not in a great state of mind.

    Granted I am far better off than ever before emotionally and physically. Additionally,
    if my financial plans work out, I may even be well off that way as well. Yet
    getting even this far was never due to me following my passion or dream. I lost
    that a long time ago and make a clear effort to stay away from all subjects
    related to the modern military. No, what got me this far has simply been trying
    things out to see what I can do to survive and enjoy.

    It may be contour intuitive to following ones passion, or even hard work, but I
    have learned a great deal about myself. With my poor work history I know I need
    work where I am the one and only boss. Thus I have been taking courses on day
    trading. I know I kind of enjoy writing from my political science major. I
    figured I should start a political blog, yet I’ve found it to be a lot of work
    that I did not like. Instead, I am working on writing horror stories and eventually
    a novel.

    None of this though was discovered through following my passion or hard work. Instead
    it all stems from me learning about myself. If you can locate your passion and
    are able to follow it, then you have my full support. But I also suggest people
    just experiment and try different things. Your passion may be long gone, but maybe
    there is something else that will catch your attention. The only other option
    is hard work and I think that has routinely been proven to be a losing strategy
    for most people.

    Things I have learned that I like are writing, structured
    dancing (salsa, ball room), hiking, solitude and spending time with very specific
    people.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    What a wonderful written article, Esther. Unfortunately, I sort of disagree. I feel that with hard work, it takes dedication and discipline to make your dreams come true. It’s up to you to go after what you REALLY want!!

    I’m currently working forty hours a week, and attending college as a full-time student. It’s stressful enough for me to study,as well as paying my bills and rent on time. My goal is to graduate next summer, with a Bachelor’s in Sociology, so I can focus on the next upcoming chapter: graduate school. I want to be a Social Worker, and work at an adoption agency. It’s a dream that I’m willing to accomplish.

  • Demmy

    To have worked but not have lived. Just paying our bills day in day out. We will face hardships no matter what we do; best we face those for something we are passionate about. I have done a job that I learned to like in time, which does give me some pleasure but does not make my heart beat. And what amazes me is when I tell people what I would really like to do they find all sort of obstacles to pinpoint at me. What this has taught me is do not share your dreams. Protect them. They are yours any how no need for others to know. People will try to bring you down because they themselves might feel unable to make the change they want for themselves and wish the same for you. Keep you goal in sight and work hard to attain that. It will be hard work well spent.

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  • Ooooohh.. this hits home. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with tired old stories that work has to be hard to be meaningful. And so I think I make what should be joyful and fun more difficult in order to follow “the rules”. I need to let it be okay that I want my passion and work to be easy and let it flow. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

  • Dacia, YES it IS ok to ‘want your passion and work to be easy and let it flow’. When you try that out it’s amazing to see that it really works!

  • Demmy – that is such an amazing point to add. It’s usually the closest people to you that pinpoint the obstacles – they say they want to ‘protect you’ from failing, to be realistic. I love that you said to protect your dreams and not share them. SO TRUE and SO SO SO important. I usually only share with people that are living their dreams with passion that would support mine.

  • It is hard work, of course – but when you are working hard on something you are passionate about it’s very different than living a life devoid of passion to ‘do the right thing’ and take a job/career etc that leaves you passionless. Thank you so much for your comment. Best of luck in graduate school!!

  • I love that you wrote to ‘try different things’ and that you learned what you like. It’s not always easy and usually not a direct path to discovering your passion but well worth it. Best of luck with everything you are doing.

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  • Trey

    I really needed this reinforcement tonight. Thanks for the post.

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  • Rohan Kale

    It is very easy for people in the west to say,’follow your passion’ and do what you love. West is stable, open to ideas and thoughts and rich. Most people around the world live in poverty, war torn countries and unstable economies. For them making it to the west is like achieving the biggest goal. How would a man follow his passion if he has no food and no opportunities. What if his society, family and friends destroy his passion. It is not as simple as do what you love and good things will happen. Some of us are just lucky enough to be born in the right environment.

  • mathildamoon15

    Well stated.

  • Angry Rationalist

    This post is as disconnected from reality as it gets. Do you know how many ‘writers’ bus tables and/or work retail? Passion does not pay the bills; get paying work, and do any passionate stuff on the side. Passion won’t pay for your groceries, your hospital fees, or the medicine your child needs.
    Not enough people read (let alone buy) books for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to live off writing. If you’re doing it—great, you won the lottery. But we don’t encourage our kids to bet on the lottery as a path in life. Passion isn’t bankable. Poe and Kafka both had talent and passion to beat the band; both died severely ill, and penniless.