Hustle or flow? What we're still getting wrong about hard work

For the longest time, I self-identified as a hard worker.

Whatever shortcomings or disadvantages I had, I'd make up for in nose-to-the-grindstone commitment.

14-hour days? Sure!

Grinding it out solo rather than asking for help? Of course!

Watching others get more recognition while doing a whole lot less? You betcha.

I never met a brick wall I didn't try to crash through--only to look back and see people casually strolling through the open door.

Even if you don't know my story, you probably saw where this approach got me: a one-way ticket to burnout. Twice.

Burnout was a gift that led me to challenge what I'd accepted for much of my career: that hard work is a valid measure of success.

Despite so many positive shifts we've made in flexible work arrangements, people still seem to put undue emphasis on working hard:

  • Measuring hours worked and number of coffees needed to function

  • Wearing lack of sleep like a badge of honor

  • Questioning the "dedication" of people who deign to leave work at a decent hour

These are the wrong measures. The people sleeping normal hours, setting boundaries, and treating their time like the precious commodity it is have the right idea.

We lionize hustle culture. But it's often an indicator that our energy is misplaced. We're rushing, pushing, and using up energy that could be much better spent.

The answer to a fulfilling, happy, and successful career is not hard work, it's sustainability and leverage: How can I get the best result with the LEAST amount of work?

I'm not suggesting we tick off our goals by sitting on the couch chanting "Om." (Surely I'd have reached all of mine by now!) Nor am I suggesting you slack off or act without integrity (if you're reading this, I doubt these concepts are in your vocabulary).

I'm suggesting that perhaps you're working hard in the wrong areas. You're hustling for hustling's sake.

Examine where you're putting your time and energy. Look at where you're working hard. How's it working for you?

I love when my clients get opportunities "out of nowhere." They seem to come out of nowhere because we're so used to making things a slog.

Yet, so often, it's when we ease up, take stuff off our plate, and start saying "no" that things fall into place.

It's setting up smart systems and acting with intention so that your limited energy gets you maximum impact. It's focusing on the 1 big thing that gets you 80% of the results rather than trying and failing to do 20 "should do" things that net you nothing. It's getting out of the weeds and into the big picture.

When you have plans, systems, and routines in place, they do much of the work for you. That's flow. It's a heck of a lot easier to operate from this place and exponentially more powerful.

Consider the distances you travel when you harness the ocean's current versus struggling against it.

Instead of working hard, consider the potential results of being thoughtful and strategic in the following areas:

1. Being laser-focused on what you want.

Not what's currently on your to-do list. Not what you should want. Not what you could do. What you actually want and WHY. Everything else is a waste of precious time and energy.

2. Having a concrete plan that maps out your big goals, baby steps, & habits.

How do you live a fulfilling life? One fulfilling day at a time. Purpose, Peace, and Happiness are not destinations that suddenly appear on the horizon. You create them one decision at a time in pursuit of your big-a$$ goals.

3. Building strong relationships with people you like who have what you want.

A strong network is like compound interest for your career. Find people that actively support your values, goals, and philosophies...and do the same for them.

I don't know about you, but I'm done working hard. In fact, when something feels like hard work, it's a clue that I'm trying to crash through a brick wall instead of looking for the open door. These days, I'm all about leaning into ease and flow: work that uses my strengths to transforms others' lives and fuel the life I want to lead.

It's NOT sitting on the couch eating bon-bons. But most days it doesn't feel like work.

So if you feel like you're constantly struggling, straining, fighting, grinding, and working hard to get results, I invite you to consider a different approach.

I'd love to hear your strategies for getting maximum impact with minimum effort in your career and life. Please share in the comments below.

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Author Bio: 

Before becoming a coach, Caroline worked in management consulting and financial services. She's made it her mission to help people grow, contribute, and get wherever they want to go.

Caroline wants women to recognize how much power they truly have to define their careers. The life and career you want really is possible once you have the roadmap. Take the first step by downloading her free guide: 4 steps to take back your life and design a career with purpose.

She’s also a tennis fanatic, aspiring Minimalist, FIRE (Financial Independence and Retire Early) enthusiast, and Aloha Spirit seeker 🤙. She loves to share stories from her unconventional life and career focused on freedom, creativity, fun, health, family, and community. If she can do it, you can, too.