There is No Secret to Success. There is Just Hard Work.

The Hero’s Journey is a common structure used to tell the story of how a normal individual follows a journey to achieve extraordinary success. There are normally 12 steps to the Hero’s Journey, this is the quick summary:

  1. The unknowing hero is presented with a call to action, which he/she initially rejects, before finding a mentor and going on the adventure.
  2. He/she endures a series of trials and tribulations, often facing a major life altering ordeal or crisis such as the death of a friend or the mentor.
  3. With renewed energy after the crisis, he/she eventually conquers the original challenge and return home victorious.

The story of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars follows this pattern. As does the story of Harry Potter, the Lion King, and almost every Superhero origin story ever written.

Unfortunately, even the most well written stories attribute the hero’s success to a unique talent a hero had within, that no one else can match.

These hero stories grossly overlook the trials, tribulations, and hard work, our favorite heroes have endured to achieve that success.

These stories often paint these challenges as one-time painful moments, versus the years and years of ongoing struggle these heroes actually endure.

In the real world, innate talent is a commodity. Hard work is what differentiates the chumps from the champions.

The Research

Anders Ericsson is a Professor at the Florida State University and a world renowned performance psychologist. In his recent book Peak, he busts the myth that success comes just from pure talent.

“If you don’t try hard, no matter how much talent you have, there’s always going to be someone else who has a similar amount of talent who outworks you, and therefore outperforms you.”

In a world where you are one in a million, there are 7,000 other people like you.

Instead, Anders believes that the worlds top performers achieve success through a term he calls Deliberate Practice.

“Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities… [f]urther thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.”

There are numerous examples of this across all disciplines.

In Sports

Kobe Bryant became one of the NBA’s best all-time players by starting practice three hours earlier than everyone else, even when he was injured with a cast on his wrist.

Bill Belichick, Head Coach of the New England Patriots, is one of the NFL’s best coaches ever because early in his career, he did what no one else wanted to do, study and analyze game film, out-preparing opposing coaches.

His quarterback, Tom Brady, follows a strict diet regiment, and schedule which is planned out a year in advance. At age 39, Brady remains one of the best quarter backs in the league. Most players of his caliber would have retired 4+ years ago. Together, Brady and Belichick have won 4 Superbowls and boast a 70%+ game winning percentage.

In Music

Mozart achieved success not because he was born a great musician. His father Leopold trained him to be a concert pianist and composer since the age of 4.

Elvis Presley, who has sold 500 Million+ records (the most sold in the world by a solo artist), honed his craft by performing shows almost daily — doing 315 shows in 365 days in 1955, sometimes doing two or three shows in the same day.

In Business

Gary Vaynerchuk continues to work 18-hour days building VaynerMedia, his $100MM (and growing) agency, even though he could easily rest on his laurels of being a 4 x New York Times Best Selling Author and making passive income from his investments in Uber, Facebook and Twitter.

Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo, attributes her success to the 130-hour a week work-weeks while at Google.

"The other piece that gets overlooked in the Google story is the value of hard work. When reporters write about Google, they write about it as if it was inevitable. The actual experience was more like, 'Could you work 130 hours in a week?'

Elon Musk works between 80 to 100 hours a week running Tesla and SpaceX, even when his net-worth would easily allow him to elope to a beach and never be heard from again. For the record, Elon says he’d have to be on serious drugs to live that kind of beach life.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As Ryan Holiday (4 x NYT Best Selling Author) says, “most successful people are people you’ve never heard of. They want it that way. It keeps them sober. It helps them do their jobs.

Behind the scenes there are many others who have silently honed their craft over decades, but do so without the instant gratification of fame to go along with their fortunes and accolades.

This is not promoting workaholism

The rebuttals to these “insane” work schedules are all fair and should be acknowledged.

One should “work smart”.

Working hundred hour weeks is unsustainable, and ultimately leads to poor health and poorer production.

People begin counting hours and lack of sleep, not results, as a badge of success.

This is all generally true. But this reasoning presumes a few things:

  1. The person does not enjoy, or is drained by, working hundreds of hours straight.
  2. They “work dumb” and inefficiently past 40 hours of work.
  3. They care about hours worked versus output produced.
  4. They never take a break.

What these critics fail to realize is that these top performers love their work. They get energized waking up every day, and look forward to moving closer to their goals of peak performance. The short-term pain of the grind is outweighed by the euphoria of pursuing their mission.

Example: Bill Gates (Billionaire, Philanthropist and Founder of Microsoft) loves working with scientists and field workers at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He could work less hours if he wanted to, and he takes more vacation than he did in his 20’s (where he took zero vacations), but chooses not to.

Knowing they will work many more hours than everyone else, they also work smarter than most of us, ruthlessly prioritizing their time, eliminating energy consuming tasks, and strategically re-energizing themselves through breaks.

Example: Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos and investor on our company) batches his work, and has an army of assistants to ensure he only touches top priority items. Gary Vaynerchuk was famous for his quote “Everybody has time, stop watching fucking Lost” and has setup the Office of the CEO to extend his reach at VaynerMedia.

At our company, one of our 5 values is “Results Trump Activities”. Top performers share this sentiment.

Example: Tom Brady knows that one day, if his performance slips as Quarterback of the New England Patriots, he will be cut or traded. Football, like life, is a results business.

While Bill Gates didn’t take Vacations in his 20’s, and to this day Elon Musk hates taking vacations, it doesn’t mean these individuals never take breaks.

Example: Gary Vaynerchuk takes 7 weeks off a year. Tim Ferriss (3 x New York Times Best Selling Author) advocates for taking frequent mini-retirements. Mark Zuckerberg took 2 months paternity leave to be with his newborn daughter.

When the heroes we look up to are working, they are 100% all-in.

This is why they obliterate the competition. The work hard and smart, and they love every moment of it.

Does this mean I should go work 100 hours a week?

It depends on what you want to achieve.

If you’re truly happy with your life and feel like you’re on track to achieve your goals, that means you’re probably working the right amount for your situation.

However, if you feel like you’re unhappy with your place and aren’t achieving the world-altering success you desire, the only antidote is to work harder.

Your desired output must match your input.

Musk acknowledges long hours are unsustainable, but attributes working at Tesla to the equivalent of being apart of the Special Forces versus the Army.

“Some people are working seven days a week — I do — but for a lot of people, working seven days a week is not sustainable… If you’re joining Tesla, you’re joining a company to work hard… If you’re at Tesla, you’re choosing to be at the equivalent of Special Forces. It’s cool to be Special Forces, but it also means you’re working your ass off. It’s not for everyone.

To change the world, you must be prepared to make world changing personal sacrifices. But it’s not for everyone.

Most people do not achieve the success they desire because they grossly underestimate the number of years of hard work they must endure before seeing an iota of success on the other end.

As Co-Founder of a company, I struggle with this all the time.

Some weeks I’m content to work 40 hours a week as I’m happy with where I am in my life. Other weeks, I fear I’m not living up to my big aspirations and realize I need to invest more hours into my work.

Even if it’s not always the most efficient, working hard is always safe a path to success. Even if we land on Mars, this truth will never change.

I wrote this story as a reminder to myself that there is no such thing as a secret formula to success. There is no innate talent to be magically unlocked.

There is simply hard work.


Daniel Rodic is the Co-Founder of Exact Media, which is transforming the world of direct mail by enabling brands owned by companies like P&G, PepsiCo, Unilever and L’Oréal to distribute samples and coupons using the excess space in eCommerce parcels that have already been shipped to consumer.

Daniel was named Top 30 Under 30 by Marketing Magazine, and represented Canada at the G20 Entrepreneurs Summit in Moscow and Beijing. Daniel served on the Leadership Council for the United Nations Media for Social Impact Summit and was a 2016 finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award.