Monday, October 15, 2007

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

There's a phrase I've had trouble understanding for most of my life: Hard Work. I hear it all the time, as in "she worked really hard to get where she is today." And there probably are very few of us who haven't received the exhortation "you're going to have to buckle down and work hard on this."

In its many guises, the term Hard Work always conjures for me the same mental scenes: shoveling dirt out of a ditch, slamming rocks with pickaxes, and human pack mules transporting heavy loads. What's missing from this picture? Any sense of joy, satisfaction, fulfillment and excitement.

But they must be there - otherwise, actors would not wait tables to finance their lives while going on auditions, mathematicians wouldn't continue to solve Fermat's last theorem, college students would stop registering for classes, and I would have never started writing a single play.

It's almost like we use the term Hard Work as a major plot point in a simple story about our lives. That story is really a fairy tale, consisting of the same motifs as Cinderella's resume: cleaned ashes from kitchen fireplace, kept physical order in country cottage, responded to customer's multiple requests (i.e., stepmother and stepsisters). We think that by grunting through life, we'll be assured our own versions of the pumpkin coach, couture gown, and glass shoes, not to mention marriage to the handsome prince.

I mean, Cinderella sure didn't get what she wanted by working. Someone came along and gave it to her, because she was downtrodden. Pretty much the same way that Extreme Home Makeover gives a custom-designed house to a "worthy" family down on its luck.

Truth be told, simple "hard work" is no guarantee of success - not even if you term success in a variety of creative ways, and not just by the barometer of money. I've come to believe that what most of us mean by Hard Work is really Work That Takes A Long Long Time - And Then We Get The Reward.

The tales we've been told are wrong, and it's tough to give them up.

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