4.10. “Hard Work” and “Smart Choices”

Don’t be fooled by bogus arguments that pretend everybody “deserves” their lot in life.

In our society, there are few things more celebrated than being a hard worker.

We base a lot of our judgments about other people’s character on whether or not we perceive them to be working hard enough.

We’re taught from an early age that if we “work hard” and make “smart choices,” we’ll succeed in life.

Which raises the question: why—if working hard is so obviously the main determinant of who succeeds and who doesn’t—do we have to work so hard to convince ourselves of that?

The fact is: there’s no inherent benefit to working hard.

It pays off sometimes…and other times, it doesn’t.

It’s worth it sometimes…and other times, it isn’t.

Ask yourself: who benefits from this cultural insistence that we should always unquestioningly work hard?

Our elites do.

We live in a society with tons of inequalities.

When millions of people are starving, homeless, and unable to afford basic medical care…the people who wine and dine, live in mansions, and are pampered at every turn have to have a story about why they should get to keep all their luxuries, even though other people are dying from neglect.

They need a story that explains why they deserve all their cool stuff…and other people deserve to suffer.

That’s what the “hard work” narrative accomplishes.

It pretends our society is so fair that your success or failure is a direct result of how worthy you are.

It locates the cause of our inequalities in the integrity of individual people, instead of a biased society that systematically favors certain people over others.

The reason they have to work so hard to push this argument is because it’s so obviously self-serving and untrue.

We all know our society isn’t that fair. We all know that certain people have unfair advantages over others. We all know that some people succeed despite not having to work very hard…while many others don’t succeed, even though they work their butts off.

We all know that a truly fair and just society wouldn’t tolerate people dying, so the rich can get a little richer.

Their argument is a lousy one. All they can do is try to make up for the low quality of their argument by bombarding us with it over and over again—through politicians, through the media, even through our kids’ stories.

But that doesn’t mean you have to believe it.

Focus on working smart, rather than working hard.

Pick and choose when to work hard.

Pay attention to whether or not you can reasonably expect to get some real benefit from working hard.

You don’t have to give everything 100 percent effort. You only have so much time and energy. Your odds of success are increased when you use those finite resources prudently.

But above all…don’t be fooled by bogus arguments that pretend everybody “deserves” their lot in life.

Don’t act as if people’s success or failure tells you the slightest thing about their personal character or worth.

And don’t support cruel, heartless policies that prioritize the luxuries of the wealthy over the lives of everybody else.


This is the 70th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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