What Should You Do Or Not Do?


Monday, 9.17pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The most general law in nature is equity – the principle of balance and symmetry which guides the growth of forms along the lines of the greatest structural efficiency. – Herbert Read

Do you believe that if you work really hard at something you’ll be recognised and rewarded? That you’ll catch up with those in front of you? Overcome the benefits that people get because they’ve been born into wealthier families in the right parts of the world?

Maybe you will. The first choice you make, after all, is who your parents are and that sets an anchor – a point from where you begin and then you try and go as far as you must. Which for some people isn’t far at all. And for others it’s going to take a few lifetimes to get there.

I think the advice we get on what to do is too general, unrealistic even. Hard work is for suckers and let me explain why.

Work should be easy. If you want to build a house it makes no sense starting with your bare hands. There are tools out there that are better than your fingernails. Use them. In fact, you weren’t considering not using them. The last time you built a structure with your bare hands was probably a den, built from sticks stacked against a tree. But I’m willing to bet you aren’t living there now.

Work should be easy – if you’re spending too long on a spreadsheet, you’re probably doing it inefficiently. Ditto for putting up a stud wall or installing a washing machine or laying bricks. If you know what you’re doing then it’s easy. It takes time and sometimes you have to sweat a bit but if it’s really killing you then you should probably be getting some help.

But, if you want work to be easy you have to spend time learning, which can feel even harder. For a long time my only criteria for hiring analysts was if they could use the Excel function Vlookup – with the help of google and the rest of the Internet. If they could, then they could do pretty much anything. Or, more accurately, they could learn to do anything. The good jobs these days come down to being able to read, write, do arithmetic. Later on in your career it helps if you can speak to others as well.

If you want work to be easy you have to spend time reading and thinking. I learned today that what we call thinking is really just talking to yourself. That’s what I’m doing right now, except you can read that internal monologue as I talk to myself. We have a limited capacity for everything. Our capacity for speech processing, for example, is around two seconds of audio. We’re constantly swapping information in and out of the parts of our brain trying to make sense of things and the harder we make it the longer it takes to get done.

So you make it easy – by working harder on learning how to do that. If you learn your trade and learn it well then the work is easier to do. So maybe it should be learn hard, work easy?

Then again, you should work hard at certain things but not because they’re work. If you want to play an instrument then you need to practice. It’s the same if you want to write or paint or create something. I know a person who spends hours working on detailed art – and that’s because it’s a flow state where time ceases to have meaning and while it looks like hard work it’s something that doesn’t feel like it.

It’s not easy figuring out what to do. But maybe here’s the takeaway.

If you’re finding things hard, maybe you’re doing something wrong? And if that’s the case it’s probably something you can learn to do better.


Karthik Suresh

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