Remember Hard Work?

Why this old-fashioned virtue can lift you out of the recession and propel you to the top.

by Jon Gordon

    There’s never been a tougher time to be a part of the job market, and people are scrambling to show employers they have what it takes.

    If you’ve spent the past year fretting about the job market, the economy, the stock market or the future, don’t let your fear paralyze you. Now is actually the perfect time to get ahead. And the secret to succeeding has little to do with an impressive degree (or pedigree) or with knowing the right people. In fact, it’s not a secret at all but something society seems to have almost forgotten about: hard work.

    If you think you’re already working hard at your job, think again. You can’t expect to show up each day and just do your job and think that’s going to cut it. What you have to do is make sure that you are never outworked.

    Think about the successful people you know. Celebrities. Politicians. CEOs. Yes, most are talented and special in some way, but when you look closer, you may realize they aren’t that different from the average person. What sets them apart? Their drive.

    Take actor and singer Will Smith, for example: When asked by an interviewer to explain his success, he responded: “I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked. You may be more talented than me. You may be smarter than me. And you may be better looking than me. But if we get on a treadmill together, you are going to get off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple. I’m not going to be outworked.”

    True, Will Smith is charismatic, funny and a great actor, but so are plenty of other people in Hollywood. The secret to his success, according to him, is his work ethic. While working hard may seem like a simple enough idea (and it is), most people just don’t do it.

    Now is the time to start. By really pouring on the “elbow grease,” you can not only set yourself apart from the less ambitious around you but also help pull your company’s tail out of the fire or maybe even start a thriving business of your own.

    Here are four guidelines for revving your work ethic into overdrive.

  1. Burn the midnight oil. Nobody expects you to work all the time, and like everyone else, you need the occasional break. But you shouldn’t bolt out of the shop at 5 p.m. sharp. These days, your willingness to go the extra mile—and the extra hour—won’t go unnoticed.
       With all the budget cuts and layoffs that have occurred in the past year, there is more work to be done than there are people to do it. That’s your cue to spend a few extra hours each week at the shop—or even at home in the evenings—striving to get the work done. If you’re having trouble getting all your work done in a timely manner, step up and take charge of the time crunch.

  2. Be willing to bear the load. If there are rumors of layoffs or pay cuts in your workplace, it is time to step up and take on new projects and extra responsibilities. No, they weren’t in your original job description, but they are tasks that must be done to keep the business running and your paycheck coming.
       If someone else steps up to the task, then you are being outworked. Continuously compare yourself with those around you. Are they working harder than you? Have they offered to take on more projects or extra work? If the answer is yes, then you have some re-evaluating to do.
    When it comes time to make decisions about promotions, the people who have taken the initiative and stepped up to help have a much better chance of being considered.

  3. Polish up your marketable skills. Yes, money is tight these days, and your time is probably even tighter. And the thought of adding one more thing to your schedule may send your brain into a tailspin. But if ever there was a time to add to your skill set, it’s now.
       Make a list of specialized skills that are important to your work and that could give you an advantage, then research continuing education in your area and online for increasing your talents and certifications. It’s a great way to increase your worth to your employer and to constantly keep yourself current.
       Companies still need the talents and qualifications that certain employees can provide, but they might not have the funds to keep everyone employed or hire new people like they used to. If you can work a little harder and offer your company those skills, you become a bigger asset. It’s like getting two employees for the price of one.

  4. Be a penny-pincher and a pitcher-inner. In a down economy, every single penny counts. Just ask your boss; he or she is probably spending nights lying awake trying to figure out ways to cut corners to keep the company running and you employed. Better still, don’t ask your boss; come up with cost-cutting ideas yourself. It will also show him/her that you understand how business works and that you are constantly thinking of new ways to improve the bottom line. And don’t hesitate to pitch in yourself—even if it means resorting to manual labor.


    There will always be someone who is smarter than you, who has more experience or who has a longer, more impressive résumé. But no matter what other people have, take a cue from Will Smith: Always, always work harder than anyone else. Hard work is a virtue that our nation was founded on, and it won’t let you down.

    Make sure that when others are sleeping, you are working; when others are wasting time, you are improving; and when others are scattering their energy, you are practicing and focusing on the skills it takes to do your job right. If you infuse your talent with hard work, passion and a drive for excellence, you’ll find yourself at the top of the ladder when everyone else is scrambling to stay on a lower rung.

Jon Gordon is a speaker, consultant and author of The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy and The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work.

Mr. Gordon’s new book, Training Camp: What the Best Do Better Than Everyone Else, was released in May 2009 and is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 225-5945. In Canada, call (800) 567-4797.

Mr. Gordon is a graduate of Cornell University and holds a master’s degree in teaching from Emory University. For more information, please visit

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