Late this summer, UK author Kate Lister had a realisation that resonated. On Twitter, she wrote: “How old were you when you realised your original plan of being really nice, working really hard, & taking on much more than you should in the hope you would be automatically rewarded for this without asking, was totally shit?”
Despite adages and advice that tell people from a young age hard work will get you everywhere, it really won’t, says Jeff Shannon, an executive coach, and author of Hard Work is Not Enough: The Surprising Truth about Being Believable at Work. He believes “hard work is a good start”, and early in your career, it can certainly help you establish yourself in a job.
But it’s not enough to take you all the way to the top. “At a certain point you look around and realise, wow, everyone works hard at this level. Expertise and hard work just become the expectation, and will not help you up the ladder.”
So, yes, it’s unfair the system doesn’t simply value hard work flat out – but it’s an important reality for workers to grapple with, especially if they’re struggling to climb the ladder. To really get ahead, you need to be doing more than just your job. Realisations like Lister’s often come on the heels of watching colleagues with similar (or fewer) abilities soar, while your career stagnates. More often than not, those who rise are the ones willing to politick their way to the top, while you were too busy just working hard to notice you should be working the room.