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Breaking the Grind: Why "hard work" is not taking you anywhere

I'm writing this piece as a way to break free from my own bad habits, and I'm hoping it'll strike a chord with anyone who's been down the same road.

Just last week, I was at the Conscious Entrepreneur Summit, amongst some of the brightest minds out there. But the irony is, in the two weeks since then, I've been pushing myself too hard, overworking without knowing when I'll get a break.

In our society, the narrative that hard work equates to success is pervasive. It's an idea that is exalted in the American culture to an extent that I haven't encountered elsewhere. Here, individuals often link their self-esteem to the extent of their labor — the "harder" they've worked to attain their status, the more worthy they deem themselves.

As an immigrant, I fell into this trap pretty quickly. I mean, it's easy to base your worth on your work, especially when you've started from scratch and managed to achieve a whole lot in a short span of time.

But here's the kicker: as I'm writing this, I realize I'm stuck in a scarcity mindset. I'm trying to validate my worth through my achievements, and that's not a healthy road to be on.

This mindset is a self-made prison. It drives a wedge between us and others. When we tie our worth to work or accolades, we end up doing three things that hurt us:

  1. We feed our subconscious with the idea that we'll never be good enough since there's always another goalpost ahead.

  2. We start comparing ourselves to others, either pushing people away by feeling superior or chasing after them, thinking they're gods.

  3. We trap ourselves in a never-ending cycle of busyness, running after achievements that, in the end, don't really fill the void.

That's why I've been thinking about a new approach to hard work. Looking at successful people and drawing from my own spiritual journey, I'm redefining what hard work means.

The Work Hard The Right Way Theory

I've been cooking up a theory on hard work. After attending that summit and hearing so many inspiring leaders talk about conscious development, I'm convinced there's something to it. I'm calling it the "Work Hard The Right Way Theory."

The idea is simple: there are three types of hard work, and understanding the difference between them can either keep you stuck in your current place or propel you forward in a meaningful way.

Physical Hard Work

First up, there's the type of hard work we're all familiar with: labor. It's been drilled into us since we were kids. We've all praised it, been burnt by it, but we still cling to it like it's the holy grail.

I'll call this physical hard work. This hard work is seen as the most legit form of struggle. Whether you're a farmer working long hours under the sun or a coder pulling all-nighters, this is the type of work we're taught to rely on.

But here's the thing: this type of work, while important, isn't the be-all and end-all. In fact, it often holds us back more than it propels us.

The irony of physical hard work is that it doesn't really move you forward. It just keeps you in place. Most of the time, this is the type of work you can optimize, delegate, or build systems around. Yet, this is the work we often take the most pride in. We hope to earn a pat on the back or an award for our efforts.

Imagine a hamster on a wheel, always moving but stuck in the same spot. This is how many of us live our lives, always busy, always tired, and, ironically, always in the same place.

This mindset is tearing our societies apart. More and more people are growing frustrated, working their fingers to the bone and still struggling to make ends meet.

In a climate where folks are growing increasingly disillusioned, it's easier to point fingers and lay blame elsewhere - on different groups, on the system, even on fate.

That's the downside of having been sold a single story about hard work and success. After all, we've been told our whole lives that if we put in the work, we'll get the reward. So, what happens when the reward is nowhere in sight?

Mental Hard Work

Next, we have mental hard work. This is the kind of work mastered by those who excel in professional settings. You might know it as "working smarter, not harder", but there's more to it than that.

I'm not a huge fan of the "work smarter" label because it suggests that all we need to do is build systems to optimize our work. While that's a good move, focusing solely on it can land you back on physical hard work.

Truth be told, you can spend an entire week setting up systems, freeing up space for more creative work, and still trick yourself into thinking you're making progress. I've fallen into this trap myself multiple times. It's something I'm still working to recognize.

But remember our hamster friend running its endless race? Even the sleekest, most high-tech wheel is still a wheel. Increasing efficiency doesn't necessarily mean moving forward. It might just make staying in place look more impressive.

But here's the kicker: mental hard work isn't about streamlining your to-do list. It's about confronting tasks that cause a knot in your stomach, not due to physical exhaustion, but because they're outside your comfort zone.

These are the tasks you've been avoiding, the phone call you've put off, the networking event that scares you, or the conversation with a stranger that could change everything.

This is the mental hard work that the most successful people have mastered. It forces us to grow, to push beyond our usual limits. And that's when true progress happens.

Mental hard work is about tackling those tasks that you've been putting off for weeks or even months. The ones that you know won't take long to complete, but you've been avoiding because they feel uncomfortable or challenging.

Taking on these tasks will almost always push you closer to your goals -- sometimes even faster than you thought possible.

This is the kind of hard work that we need to encourage in our schools and teach our children. However, those who shy away from it often end up stuck in cycles of resentment, blaming their misfortune on external factors because they can't see that the hard work they've been doing is just a social construct designed to keep us small.

So, if pushing past your comfort walls is the thing that moves you forward, then what is the thing that propels you -- or as know in my world of spirituality, quantum leaps you -- into a much grander experience of life?

Emotional Hard Work

This type of work is what I believe we were all born to learn. I know deep in my heart that if there is a purpose in life, it is to expand without limitations.

The only way we can expand is to face our deepest fears and pains and to be able to look at them with forgiveness, love, and compassion, and to detach any emotional chokeholds they have on us.

Emotional hard work doesn't just accelerate you in life, it gives you an edge and a vantage point so elevated from the mundane that it shoots you straight into freedom.

This type of work is known in spirituality as shadow work, in medicine as trauma or mental healing, and in "what the kids are saying these days" as waking up.

And this will be the hardest work you'll ever have to do, and the most important one too.

I believe we are in the beginning phases of a new renaissance era, in which we are being forced back to face our humanity and our purpose beyond consumerism, hoarding tendencies (whether that's hoarding things, money, or titles), and numbness.

That's why companies and their workforce are facing unprecedented challenges. We are all waking up to the fact that we only have this one life experience and if we spend our whole lives chasing the carrot in front of us we'll never really know what we came here (planet Earth) to do.

At this conference, I heard over and over stories from "successful" entrepreneurs that had achieved great financial and status success and felt completely empty or full of rage. And regardless of how much money they made and how much they accomplished, nothing was filling that void.

When we do the hard work of looking at our own inner demons and deciding to work past our trauma, we are telling ourselves that we are worthy of love. This is something that only we can do for ourselves. No one else can make us feel loved if we don't do it first. And that is the most fundamental need we all have as humans.

No amount of physical or even mental hard work can get you to that place.

And what is the result of working on our deepest emotional wounds? Complete detachment from outcomes as they don't define you anymore.

This shift is more than liberating; it's revolutionary. The detachment from outcomes empowers you to approach life without fear or reservation. You can see more clearly, without biases clouding your judgment, and find the most direct paths towards your objectives.

But the most beautiful part of this journey isn't the efficiency or the achievements—it's the deep, authentic connections you form along the way. It's recognizing the miraculous life unfolding around you and realizing that you are an integral part of it.

Emotional hard work helps you not only see the miracles in your life but also allows you to be an active participant in their creation.

And the best consequence of feeling that detachment is that any outcome you seek is actually possible to achieve in an easier and faster way because you lose all emotional resistance to it. You can find the quickest and easiest path to it-- as you become capable to see things without any conditioning, programming, or bias anymore.

Illustration of the Societal Implications of Emotional Hard Work

The implications of embracing emotional hard work go far beyond personal growth—it has the potential to overhaul our collective existence.

When individuals start valuing their emotional journey as much as, if not more than, their external achievements, we begin to reshape societal norms.

Consider our current landscape. As more people grow dissatisfied with the rat race, tensions escalate. We see it in the divisiveness and social unrest brewing globally. But imagine what could happen if we began redefining success not by what we accumulate, but by the emotional hurdles we overcome.

This is the world I envision—a world where emotional hard work is valued as much as physical labor and mental acuity. Where introspection and empathy become pillars of success. Where we measure progress not by what we've amassed, but by the emotional chains we've broken. It’s a world that fosters unity instead of separation, understanding instead of conflict.

Conclusion and Call-to-Action

In sharing my experiences, my struggles, and my insights, I aim to encourage not only self-reflection but also collective action. Each of us carries emotional baggage, and each of us holds the key to unlock it.

The call-to-action is simple: face your shadows. Lean into the discomfort. Challenge the societal norms that glorify external achievements over internal growth. In doing so, you'll not only liberate yourself but also contribute to a societal shift.

We have a chance to redefine success, to create a world where love, compassion, and emotional maturity stand at the forefront. This isn't a path devoid of hurdles. But it's a path that leads to genuine fulfillment, deep connections, and a more compassionate world.

In the end, the most transformative journey isn't one that takes us to the top of the corporate ladder or the cover of a magazine. It's the journey within, the one that leads us to confront our emotional realities and embrace our humanity.

My hope is that we can all learn to stop deceiving ourselves and look to heal our deepest wounds. I believe our economic systems, our communities, and our humanity will benefit greatly from it.

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