2 September 2018

Work Harder

With this article I want to prompt you to work hard(er). What does working hard mean? When I looked for different translations of German Strengt Euch an, I found several ones, which are all suitable: Work hard. Keep it tight. Push yourselves. Put some heart into it. Put some muscle in it. Put your backs to it. Make your best effort. Just play it like you fucking mean it. Obviously hard work needs your strength. It also needs your heart - motivation and dedication. It might test your limits, both physical and psychical ones.

Domesday BooksMy favourite example of hard work was writing books in the Dark Ages. Monks were copying books by hand, adding drawings and decorations as they went. An extreme example is the Codex Gigas, which was handwritten by a single, anonymous monk. Because the scribe was a monk he may only have been able to work for about three hours a day, and this means that the manuscript including decoration probably took at least 20 years to finish, and could even have taken 30. Now that is a whole lifetime for collecting and handwriting a single book. Imagine the dedication.

Maybe less extreme is the life of master craftspeople. Several years ago I wrote about a master craftsman hand-crafting rakes. He could retire any time, still chose to improve his methods and work hard all day.

Benefits of hard work
Most of you will agree, that hard work pays off. Here is a little TED talk by Richard St. John, who explains why it is so: Hard work is the real secret to success. I vividly remember a professor of Mathematical Analysis during my studies: At the beginning of a lecture he wrote a theorem on the blackboard, followed by an easy proof. The proof looked good and we students understood what was going on. Then he said "Was man leicht kriegt ist nichts wert" ("What you get easily is worth nothing"), pointed out a mistake in the proof and erased it. He used the remaining of the hour to sketch a valid proof which was complicated and much harder to follow.

PainHard work has more value
Theodore Roosevelt even said that "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty..." Maybe he was exaggerating, but a little pain never hurts. (Pun intended ;-) So is the motto in weightlifting training: No Pain, No Gain. Psychologist Katarina Veselko mentioned the topic in one of her talks. During the following conversation she explained: It not so much that we do not value things that are easy to get, it is more about the fact that when we need to invest a lot of energy, time, money, ... into achieving something, the result will be more valuable for us because we have invested a lot into it. It is some kind of Cognitive dissonance. She also believes that most things worth having are not easy to get; most things that are valuable to us are not achieved in a way that is always fun, fast and easy, but also includes obstacles and challenges.

Instant Gratification
The term Instant Gratification is often used to label the satisfactions gained by more impulsive behaviours: choosing now over tomorrow. And today it is harder to delay gratification than it used to be. We have been trained by technology and social media to expect results fast, without much effort. For example, there are more than 2 million hits on Google how to earn 5k extra, many of then offering "work from home, 30 minutes daily" up to "basically doing nothing". The same is true for losing weight without any diet and so on. If you want to read more on Instant Gratification and its problems, I recommend Courtney Ackerman's Definition with Examples.

It seems that working hard has become unpopular. Why work towards a long term goal when many things are handed over on a plate, or downloaded at the click of a button, or ours in twenty-four hours for just £9.99 extra? I do not think that life works like that. Why do I come up with this in my blog? I am writing this because I think we Craftspeople need to work harder. I am not talking about working more hours. In fact working overtime is against the idea of Craftsmanship because we need our free time to reflect, exchange and learn.

I am talking about pushing ourselves more: Following up on that refactoring you did not finish last week. Refactoring mercilessly, always pushing to keep the whole code base clean and consistent, even during architectural changes. I am talking about not accepting lesser standards because of low level, different or even obsolete technologies or environments. I am talking about overcoming pointless bureaucracy or managers who have no idea about code quality.

Defiance Cafe
I know it is hard. Years of arguments with colleagues, fighting superiors, struggling to grow and working broken processes have taken their toll. Sometimes I feel old. But I have to defy them. Let us continue pushing, trying to work harder and make an effort!

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