Success Isn’t Just About Hard Work

Edison was right saying: “There is no substitute for hard work”.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Its importance on the road to success is something one can’t deny, representing the basis of every achievement. And chance isn’t something anyone can count on.

Hard work can bring a person far.

Yet will it be as far as the person want it to be?

The concept we’re often missing is strategy, which goes along with fine timing.

A Cycling Time Trial

I’ll take this small example.

Something I’m used to, in a quite different context. Let this represent the race profile.

A regular time trial is indeed composed of uphills, downhills, and flat sections. The goal is trivial: being the fastest athlete to reach the end. If you ask random people what it would take to be the winner, they would tell you that it has to be the strongest.

Alright, that’s fair. If I want to be the fastest, I definitely need to push hard on my pedals and to achieve that, I need to work very, very hard.

This would be an acceptable answer if the path were straight and flat.
But it’s not. And neither is the road to success.

No Path Is Straight and flat

Throughout the journey of reaching my goals, I’ve always felt three different atmospheres, that are directly related to the road profile.

The flat section is the classical one. I work, learn, and everything goes as planned. It can sometimes appear monotonous, but it’s perfectly fine since I know where I’m going.

The downhill section makes things much better than fine. When I achieve goals and meet deadlines way too quickly, like if it were magical.

The uphill section happens when things get messed up. When I feel like the light at the end isn’t getting closer at all. When I want to drop everything. When I feel so slow and incapable.

The Bad Idea: Work Hard During a Climb

That’s when strategy comes in. What do I need to throw my efforts into if I want to be the best, and more importantly, when?

It may certainly appear as a dumb question. Common sense would say that I need to work the hardest when the road elevates the most. That could be where most of the opponents would fail. Therefore losing a whole lot of time, and allowing me to win.

This is in fact very wrong. The amount of strength you need to be at least as good as your opponents, or a tiny bit better is huge. Because everyone knows that it is a key part of the race. Everyone will push through and give the very best of themselves to reach the top as fast as possible.

So is this really where I should spend a gigantic amount of my energy?
To gain so little in comparison to the provided efforts?

Definitely not.

It’s not really about how much, but rather where and when.

A Better One: Aim for the Downhill

It doesn’t sound that fancy, I know. People prefer things like “Aim for the sky”.

But in fact, the speed gain that I can get relative to the road inclination at a given effort could be drawn like this.

If one dedicates all of his efforts on the hard part, he’ll surely win some time on his opponents. But he might as well be so tired afterward that he can’t keep up the pace to the downhill. Letting himself getting driven by the gravity. Alongside instant gratification that his hard work has brought him. As a matter of fact, he’s very likely to be overtaken by an outsider.

An outsider that came from nowhere. Who hid when it was hard, keeping a fast enough pace to stay in the game. Not being in the front so that he was able to spare some energy. And stroke right before and during the downhill, then pursuing all the way to the next climb, and to the finish line.

Being the first at a milestone is accomplishment.
Being the first to reach the end is success.

A Matter of Consistency

Working hard certainly contributes to success, no doubt about that. But without a fine tuning of the energy expenses, you’re very likely to miss your goal and get lost in the process. Feeling like a failure. Thinking that you could have given yourself to a higher extent.

But it’s never too late to change. It’s time to embrace downhills.

And Same Goes for Innovation

Picture a very competitive market, such as technology. If my goal is to build, say, a vibrant smartphone display. Everyone around is already making stunning products. And we’ve come so far that there are no more differences perceptible by the human eye.

Even if I pushed the hardest possible toward the direction of having the best-looking smartphone display, people could eventually notice a slight change, but would it be a game changer?

At this point, we’re exactly facing an uphill situation. Everyone knows that it’s a key point, everyone works hard. So I just stay in the group. Not the best, not the worse. Somewhere in the middle.

And then it comes to the field of long-mastered techniques, say power efficiency. My opponents are probably resting, just repeating existing techniques. Because they have already spent a whole lot of resources on the screen look. This situation is pretty much like a downhill. That’s where my focus must be.

Worst case scenario, I don’t find anything very attractive, and the peloton catches up. At least I tried, and I certainly won’t sell that bad, just somewhere in the middle.

Or I invent something incredible, leaving everyone behind.

This isn’t the right moment to rush. (Photo: Jens Herrndorff, Unsplash)

There are many paths to success. Working hard blindly will eventually bring you to the top, but can you hold it?

No matter how long the journey is, there’s no such thing as a good downhill. But only if you push twice as hard as everyone. With all the energy you spared, being the unknown guy back when it was the supposedly key section.