E – Embrace Effort

We are what we do. Our effort speaks more about our true character than anything else we have or claim to have. Most importantly, what does your effort look like when the stakes are low? It has been said that the way you do the little things is the way you’ll do anything. The French poet Jean De La Fontaine over four hundred years ago gave us the quote, “By the work one knows the workmen.” A hundred years ago, the American entrepreneur Henry J. Kaiser, who started over 100 companies, suggested, “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.” In other words, as Sam Ewing observed, “Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” Finally, William James considered “Effort is the measure of a man.” We come to know others and ourselves by how we show up in the context of work. What kind of worker are you? Do you enjoy working? Do you see yourself as a person of effort?

Embracing effort is connecting with Chapter C and Cultivating Conscientiousness. Moreover, effort is its own reward. Theodore Roosevelt pointed out the inherent value to effort when he said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Jeffrey Tucker in an article for The Epoch Times supports President Roosevelt’s sentiment suggesting, “All work is worthy and wonderful and everyone should experience as much of it as possible.”  The legendary performer Bette Davis gave us, “To be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given the chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life.”


Yes, effort is the essential element to establishing excellence. It is a necessary but not sufficient quality to performance. Unfortunately, hard work on its own doesn’t guarantee victory. Nonetheless, work is worthwhile because it creates deep internal satisfaction. As William James suggested 150 years ago, “Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” Reflecting on his own life, Charlie Munger has acknowledged, “It took a long time to get ahead. I will say, in retrospect, I’m glad it took so long because it was interesting.” Work may not feel good in the moment, but it makes any accomplishment taste better and it makes for better stories in retrospect than a life that is easy. As the former justice of the US Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor observed, “The secret to happiness is work worth doing.” Arnold Schwarzenegger, too, agrees writing in his latest book, Be Useful, “There is value and meaning in doing hard work for its own sake.”

Schwarzenegger learned that true confidence followed hard won competence. Competence that was created on the back of effort. Schwarzenegger writes, “New-money lotto winners and old-money rich people never got any of the benefits that come from working toward a big goal… They never got to learn the important lessons that struggle and failure produce.” When you get something for nothing, you can’t possibly value it as much as the person that gave their blood, sweat, time, and tears for that same thing. The sacrifice spent stimulates a savoring of the resulting success. Our efforts are the currency we contribute to what we earn. No sacrifice, no savoring. Additionally, without earning something with your effort, you don’t gain the confidence that comes from competence. If you’ve earned something, you know what you did. This serves as strength for future efforts. You realize you were good enough to get something done and can do it again. This is empowering. When you get something for nothing, you didn’t earn it. You gain no confidence from your non-existent efforts. Your abilities haven’t grown in any way. Instead of seeing your success as stemming from your own efforts, you reduce your agency and see the only path forward as being one based on luck.

Effort forges competence which creates confidence. This confidence can be seen as a quiet peace of mind that reflects the knowledge that you’ve put in the time to be prepared. Tim Grover writes in Winning, “The greats quiet themselves by thinking about all the preparation they’ve put in, the confidence that they’ve done the work and they’re ready.” Grover goes on noting, “Winners all understand one thing: There’s a price to pay, and you must pay it.” In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” The more work we put in to earn something, the more we value that something.

Effort is the single biggest factor we bring to the table of life. Effort is not just a great contributor to our outcomes. It’s what makes the difference. In Be Useful, Arnold Schwarzenegger writes, “If there’s one unavoidable truth in this world, it’s that there is no substitute for putting in the work. There is no shortcut or growth hack or magic pill that can get you around the hard work of doing your job well, of winning something you care about, or of making your dreams come true. People have tried to cut corners and skip steps in this process for as long as hard work has been hard. Eventually, those people either fall behind or get left in our dust, because working your ass off is the only thing that works 100 percent of the time for 1200 percent of the things worth achieving.”

Schwarzenegger accepted early on in his development that “Pain was simply the price of the work that had to be done.” He adopted the belief that, “To do great things that last, sacrifices are necessary.” Achievers like Arnold are prepared to give to get. They want only the opportunity to try to accomplish their dreams. They don’t whine about the work or gripe about guarantees. They aren’t entitled. They are prepared to do their part. Schwarzenegger affirms, “Work works. That’s the bottom line. No matter what you do. No matter who you are. My entire life has been shaped by that single idea.” Jim Rohn in The Seasons of Life offered, “Massive action in the spring of life still is the requirement for massive success in the fall.”

Schwarzenegger realized that “The only way to achieve the kind of sustainable, life-changing success that I wanted was to do the hard, incremental work day in and day out.” Similarly, the late author Ernest Hemingway encouraged, “You must be prepared to work always without applause.” What does your effort look like when no one’s watching?

Sports are filled with stories of those with wild work ethics. For example, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan write about swimming legend Michael Phelps in The ONE Thing, “From age 14 through the Beijing Olympics, Phelps trained seven days a week, 365 days a year. He figured that by training on Sundays he got a 52-training-day advantage on the competition.” That’s commitment. That’s work ethic. The greats share a desire to do the work. The best are on a quest to do more than the rest. They consistently show up to practice sessions first and are the last to leave the facility. Their raw effort accelerates their development. They have been blessed or cursed with conscientiousness. Their willingness to show up and give their best efforts even on days when they’re not 100% physically, mentally, or emotionally engaged is a key differentiator in their development. High performers are masters of the mundane. They’re focused on fundamentals. They believe that boring is brilliant. They don’t mind putting their heads down and doing the work day in and day out. They know without a doubt hard work is the surest way to earn their clout.

In The Champion’s Way, authors Steve Victorson and Robert Yehling observe, “Another area that separates champions from elites concerns effort. While the nature of physical performance makes it impossible to achieve maximum performance every time, the champion will deliver maximum effort without exception. Effort is the blood of the competitive nature.” The best recognize that the single greatest contribution they bring to the table is their own conscientiousness. Their willingness to work sets them apart from others.

Writing about a businessman’s efforts long before he became successful in Peak Performance, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness wrote, “In whatever time remained at the end of his 70-plus-hour workweeks, he practiced his presentation skills and read the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review, and countless economics books. His friends joked that he was ‘anti-fun.’” Embracing effort is about being willing to make some sacrifices. It’s about being willing to put in more time than what others are willing to do.

The female multi-sport athlete that excelled 100 years ago, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, offered, “The formula for success is simple: practice and concentration, then more practice and more concentration.” What many accomplished people have learned is that there are no secrets to success and that the long way is the shortest way. A willingness to work harder than those around you is the most reliable route to distinguishing yourself.

Our effort is what makes the DIFference. Our effort can be applied across three dimensions: Duration, Intensity, and Frequency. Duration is how long we’re willing to work for a given session. The intensity is how hard we’re willing to push during a given session. Finally, frequency is how often we work. It’s not about trying to have the longest and most intense work session day after day. This only leads to burnout. The goal is to develop a work ethic that is sustainable and gives you the best chance to make progress over the long term. The duration, intensity, and frequency of our efforts can be adjusted to keep your effort being applied. This is the value coaches, trainers, and good managers bring to development. The idea of periodization in sports performance circles is all about adjusting a training calendar to allow skills and fitness to be slowly built and prepared for peak performance competitions. It’s not just raw effort all day, every day. Balancing the duration, intensity, and frequency of your efforts so that the sum exceeds that of others is the path to progress and distinction.

In Korean, the word “sugohaseyo” translates to “work hard.” It’s used to congratulate someone for work well done. The phrase has embedded itself in Korean culture where hard work is welcomed and appreciated. It can also mean, continue to work hard. It’s a bedrock belief that work works. It’s what is recognized and complimented as much or more than any accomplishment. The essential element of effort is available and accessible to all of us regardless of our background. The combination of availability of effort coupled with the impact of effort on establishing excellence is encouraging. As daunting as it may seem to realize the countless hours of conscientious commitment contributed to create high capabilities, it at least offers a clear, accessible, and proven path. When you embrace effort and cultivate conscientiousness, you’re making your mantra W2W H2H or Willing to Work and Happy to Hurt.