Hard vs Smart Work

The notion of hard work and the great American Dream were the by-products of the pre-Baby Boomer era, where persistence was believed to be the only work ethic that could put food on the table in a white-picketed fence house, if not status and wealth. That is a respectable ethic, to be honest.

However, today, things are obviously different. the average millennials today can barely pay rent, not to mention buy a house without substantial aid from their parents. We’ve just gone through (not yet so far) the worst pandemic of an era, and the most underlying threat of our period is perhaps the misinformation that comes with the information overload that makes it impossible for an average person to analyze and synthesize information they receive without the help of algorithms.

Today, we don’t need hard-working people as before. We need smart working people who know how to slow down, turn off their devices and synthesize, have conversations with themselves, and wield their autonomy ax like a bad-ass.

However, it is apparent to anyone who has worked in any sector that our American culture still and will incentivize hard work over smart work.

That is because smart work often requires a good amount of balance, reflection, self-improvement, and self-confidence that often comes with a series of individual’s complete work shutdown.

What do we often do on Slack on our time-offs? Do we leave our cell phone number for work emergencies, or a note saying “Oops, COVID happened. Will be spotty today.” or a more implicit “AWFK” as if it would kill us to just declare we are not available because we are taking care of our body and mind.

We are afraid of telling our colleagues we want to spend off-work time with family and friends because our culture put a red flag on that as if it was taboo.

We are intrinsically afraid of the punishment, real or psychologically, our culture has in store for us when we completely shut down or choose x over work, when in fact the downtime is what makes work even better for everyone! Thus, we are being drained like a battery that gets recharged halfway every now and then on a half-baked vacation until we run out of juice a few decades from now.

That’s when we find out that have never learned smart work, which turns out is so direly needed later in life.

What we also don’t realize is this state of being “on the fence” between work and rest is infecting our work culture at large. From a tired Dunkin Donuts employee who gives you your worst day (and mummy-dried munchkins) to a burned-out software engineer who leaves dying messages in code comments. we aren’t getting the overall productivity yield we really expect as a society with the “hard work at all cost” story that made this great culture thrive many decades ago.

This post was edited from the original posted on LinkedIn.



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I’m interested in Web3 and machine learning, and helping ambitious people. I like programming in Ocaml and Rust. I angel invest sometimes.