I have met a lot of people at my time at Lincoln and Catlin. Some of them I have written about – personalities, experiences, etc. One comes back to me. Her name is Caitlyn, and yes, I did write about her in this essay. She was the example of the “hard worker.”
The other day, I was listening to a song called “Hard Work Pays Off.” It’s a stupid, trashy, catchy rap song, but it got me thinking. Does hard work pay off?
I was listening to this song and I started to wonder if it was an accurate message. “Hard work pays off” is a message that we are told so many times throughout our lives. But is it true?
This question made me think of a book I read a few years ago. I read it as an assignment for Impulse – a young adult improv troupe I was a part of for three years. You don’t need to know anything about the book except for the title. The title is “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” This title came from a quote by Steve Martin – famous comedian and actor. Martin says that every day people ask him, “How can I get on SNL? How can I be Famous? How can I get in a movie?” He says that when they ask him this question what they are really asking is “Where can I find a good agent?” “How do I learn where auditions are?” “Should I move to LA?” “Who in town gives the best headshots?” People want to know about the logistics of how to become famous. What he tells them angers them. He says don’t worry about the logistics, the agent, headshots, the audition times. Become so good they can’t ignore you.
This I find to be very true. Everyone has their excuse, including myself. As an actor, I was not cast in big main stage shows. I took a lot of auditions and got few roles. At the end of the audition I tell myself oh if I had an agent. Oh, if my headshot was a little different. Oh they went with someone else because he was a bit taller or shorter or had different hair color yada yada ya. But in truth, if I was so good they couldn’t ignore me, I would have gotten more parts.
This is where hard work pays off. You need to work hard to be so good. So when I call Caitlyn a hard worker, you would think I would be giving a compliment. I am, because it is a valuable skill. However, in order to be a successful hard worker, you have to take into account another thing: appearance.
Don’t worry. I’m not talking about physical appearance. Rather, I am speaking on how others perceive your actions. Caitlyn and other hard workers will often make a cardinal error and think that hard work is everything, when in reality, perception of your work plays a huge role. To understand what I am talking about, let’s investigate true stories about this girl named Caitlyn. Yeah I probably should have changed her name but screw it it’s too late, let’s get into it.
- Caitlyn posted on her snapchat story telling underclassmen to buy the books which she had bought – these were books that her history and math classes and science classes had told her to rent, and she had decided to buy them in order to be able to write in the books. The problem is, it is so unnecessary to have ever even opened these books. I didn’t open most of the books in the picture and had scored better in the same classes. What she was told to do and what she needed to do were divided.
- She worked hard, and let everyone know it. She would come in and talk about how sleepless her nights were. How stressed out she was. How many things she had to do. She became labeled as a hard worker (not a good thing).
- She didn’t achieve great grades – a tell tale sign of a classic hard worker.
- She became angry at others who got ahead by working less hard than her. She posted on instagram the following message after she was denied a job that Stuart – one of my best friends – and I both got over her
In these four things, you learn the four downfalls of a hard worker. First, they work hard, not smart. Tasks that one is told to do may not be necessary to achieve the ultimate goal. In school, the ultimate goal is an A and she would forfeit the A in exchange for burning out on needless tasks. It is critical to know what tasks are necessary, as this will conserve energy and allow for more strategic success. We all have limited time on earth, spend it doing what will make you successful or advance, not doing what you are simply tasked with. Second, she labeled herself as a hard worker. This is a taxing label because not only are people turned off by following the overly stressed but being labeled as a hard worker comes with expectations. You are expected to know things and be able to achieve success that when you fall short your credibility is questioned. Third, she made the classic mistake that many hard workers make: separate work from result. Many hard workers feel that just because they are working so hard, they will succeed because they are getting a participation medal. They think that they are working so hard things will come to them purely based on hours put in. This is not the case. You are rewarded on results – in high school, this is a letter grade – and this should be your referendum on how you are working. Don’t base your success on hours punched, base it on real results and markers of success. Lastly, comes the judgment. Hard workers expect them to be the best at everything because they grade themselves on hours punched. So when other measures of results – job applications, college acceptance, etc – come down the pipe and they lose, they blame the system instead of how they work. When I got the job with Stuart, she was pissed because she clocked so many more hours than us in the library. But this was the wrong measure of success.
When I came to middle school, I was a hard worker. I was homeschooled. I knew a lot. I could work hard alone in a room because that was all I had done. So when I did poorly, my credibility took a hit. In high school, I was friends with people who weren’t perceived as hard workers or nerds. And this paid off. Because if I didn’t do well nothing happened to my credibility and when I did people took note. When Caitlyn did well people just said well of course she did, she hasn’t slept in 15 fortnights. This is what Boris Johnson did – UK PM. He set his expectation that others have of him at a very low level, so when every else failed, the UK said “fuck it” let’s let him try.”
When I got into UChicago, the next morning at school people were shook. They had seen me get 3s and 4s on math tests. They had seen me ask a few dumb questions in math. They thought I didn’t work as hard or wasn’t as deserving. What they didn’t see – what I kept out of view – was the hundreds of hours I had poured into things that my research showed colleges cared more about: nonprofits, national recognition, continued work on things like blogs and newspapers, letters of recommendation from powerful people, good essays, etc. I had hidden from view the things that I thought would pay off from a real-life measure of success. So when Caitlyn got into a mediocre school, people were shook and felt bad for her, as though she deserved more for all the hours she logged.
This is because she didn’t do what Steve Martin told us to do. She punched hours, she didn’t work hard to make herself unignorable.
I have many failings, and we will learn more about them together, sorry for the “bigging up my chest” as Drake would say. More to come.