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Hard Work & Fairness - The Real World

by Jack Osborne

When my three children were living at home and still in their “development” stages, I struggled with the difficulty of imparting to them the fallacy of two generally accepted concepts.  The first is that hard work has meaning or value to the world at large.  The second, and somewhat related, is that the world is “fair.”

To children, and surprisingly a large percentage of adults - even those in positions of responsibility and authority  – both of these concepts are accepted almost as universal truths.  These people believe that,

  • Hard work is a critical measure of success, and

  • The world is fair – specifically, anyone will be rewarded for “hard work.”

Sadly, the reality is that both beliefs are essentially fairy tales, which are propagated by:

a) Well-meaning parents

b) Disney movies and the like

c) Friends, family, and associates who also believe in these fallacies, and often

d) Society at large. 

To accept both as fact and “Truth” is so easy, and so comfortable.  However, to have the maturity and wisdom to reject both as delusions, is healthy and gives one an advantage in the competitive pursuits of everyday life.

The reality is, the world is unrewarding of hard work and indifferent about fairness.  These are brutally and sobering conclusions, especially if you have spent a goodly portion of your life working hard and trying to be fair.  I am not suggesting that once this illumination dawns on you that you then proceed to not work hard, or worse, to be unfair.  Both are still attributes of productive people, and people who wish to be admired and accepted by others.  Plus, hard work still can be appreciated personally for the effort one puts forth and the joy one receives from being engaged and committed to something.  But this personal satisfaction is much different than expecting the world to recognize your hard work as success.

The real and sobering “Truth” is that the world measures success by achievement, rather than by hard work alone.  Generally hard work is an ingredient in achievement, but not a guarantee.  Hard work quite simply is just that – hard work and nothing more.  To believe that hard work is an accomplishment to anyone other than one’s self is to err grievously.  Sometimes other ingredients to achievement are luck, (good) fortune, providence (being in the “right” place at the “right” time), and your starting point, e.g. genetic makeup, inheritance, social position, etc.  All of these can be factors for which you have no control whatsoever.  As such, you cannot depend on them.  But you can recognize when they occur and not deceive yourself into thinking that you controlled or influenced their influence in your success.   What you can, and must, do though is clearly understand that the only important measurement is achievement, however it is fulfilled.  To the world, winning is everything, and winning is all about achieving!  It’s concrete, it’s solid, it’s undeniable, and it can never be taken away from you, or from your reputation. 

A classic story is of Queen Elizabeth being informed of the outcome of an America’s Cup sailing competition.  She curiously asked who came in second, and was told dryly, “Your majesty, there is no second!”  In sports, as in any other public activity, winning – achievement - is the only measurement of success.  “Working hard” is not memorable or remember-able.

This is where the fairness concept enters.  To accept that achievement is everything, and yet sometimes is bestowed capriciously – or not bestowed - seems almost, well … unfair.  The feeling of many is that if you work hard, especially for long periods, then you somehow have “earned” achievement (success), and to not actually achieve it is a violation of a basic tenet.  Again, a reality of life is that unfairness is common, ubiquitous and pervasive.  In fact, there is no rational reason to expect fairness from the world, and fairness is not delivered by the world simply because one wants to believe in it as a Truth.

So what is the point of this essay?  Is it an attempt to destroy our most basic and beloved simple beliefs?  Is it to squash our hopes that we can get ahead by dedicated effort, and that we will be rewarded accordingly? Or is it simply to confuse us with arguments that are counter to human belief?  No! The point is that those who learn to distinguish between common perceptions of the world, which have become cultural lore but which actually are falsehoods, from the real Truths of the world, are miles ahead.  There is no greater advantage in life’s competition for the spoils than of being able to separate fact from fiction, and see real Truths so clearly, in ways that are not obvious to others in the game.  This is true in sport, in business, and in all facets of everyday life.  True success comes to those who take the correct shortcuts, because to them the paths were obvious.  They achieve, while others merely work hard.





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