You have either decided on your primary skillset or it has decided on you. This has already happened.
Welcome back to The Octopode. If you’re joining us mid-topic, here’s a summary:
Last week I made the claim that the value of hard work lies in the way it forces one to culture self-esteem. I then drew a direct line between everyday modesty and the denial of the self. Today I’m going to proceed from this premise to make the original point clear.
In another topic I recently I stated, “Emotionally, the value of successfully working toward a goal is far greater than the value of successfully achieving that goal.” In that statement I was invoking the value of hard work, though tangentially. I was implying that the act itself carries great value, and it does. The mechanism by which it does this is by culturing self-validation, and proving to the self that it has value by proving that it is effective.
The formula is very simple: Stated Goal + Hard Work = Accomplishment ±Result
Like a proverb, the above seems simple and intuitive, yet in application the effects are broad and deeply significant. It is a basic truth of our psychology and a fact of nature, not nurture. That is to say that it’s as human as farts and you don’t need to be told how to do it.
The plus-or-minus symbol preceding the Result in the formula is of great significance. The result of the hard work, while important, is not required for this formula to work. Cumulatively, human societies put far too much emphasis on the result of labor rather than the labor itself. Consider the way this devalues the work itself, and by extension, the worker. Imagine how crippling total primacy of the result would be for the one who undertakes the task of reaching it. And this is true of the writer who is so concerned that their book must be a success that they find themselves unable to write at all, to the farmer who isn’t sure that their crops will yield enough to pay for the winter’s resources and spring planting. The threat of a failure that to some extent is beyond the actor’s ability to prevent takes away their ability to act, for fear of consequences outside their purview and prediction, always looming and developing.
But it is in the work itself that the value is received. And there is where the emphasis should always be. This is because the work is the more significant accomplishment. The writer who failed wrote a book. Yes, the market rejected it. Or the editor did. Or it sucks, the author realized after the fact. So? These outcomes were uncontrollable from the get-go. The writer succeeded in doing what they set out to do: write. The farmer is similar. Though his failure will result in more concerning outcomes, and this makes it difficult to de-emphasize the result, he has still done what he set out to do. He has toiled hard and farmed the best he could. He may now be faced with poverty, but he has validated himself and, hopefully, another opportunity to make his house whole again will come to him soon.
The writer whose book fails and the farmer whose yields fall short of budget have reached accomplishment, and if they bemoan themselves or become angry with themselves, it is because of only two possible reasons: they did not do their best to begin with, or they put too much value on the result.
I know, I know. It’s easy for me to say, since I’m not a farmer trying to support a family. And you’re right, and I have no defense for this. But I hope that this example helped pare away the fluff surrounding the concept of self-validation that I have attempted to elucidate.
Hard work takes time, and whole-self dedication. It requires that one apply themselves rigorously. And afterward, you feel positive. Not just because you have this thing you’ve worked on, but because you have worked on this thing. It validates you. It forces you to acknowledge the efficacy of you, even if the work does not lead to a useful result. It is a mirror that shows you the value of doing.
There is this psychological concept of flow as a state a person enters into when applying themselves fully. It is the basis of occupational therapy. There is a peculiar set of things that occur to someone who is in flow, or in “the zone”, as some call it. It is a profoundly positive thing, and the basis of self-esteem. The proof that you are capable, effective.
And that is the grounds upon which my original claim lies. When you work hard, you prove your value to yourself whether or not you want to believe it. Even the self-deprecatory or self-hating individual must go out of their way to devalue themselves after working hard and truly applying themselves.
Those of us who loudly endorse the value of hard work do so because we have felt the way it fills us with esteem. The way it gives meaning to everything in our lives. And we despair to see it lacking in others. Some would go so far as to say that there is a great sadness in the world that comes on the back of modernity directly due to the leisurely lifestyles of the privileged in a world that no longer forces them to sweat and bleed just to get by.
What do you think?
Today I’m going to bring up a very old value and explore it with you a little. What I’d like to discuss is the idea of the value of hard work.
What is it? Where does it come from? Why do those of us who know what it is feel so strongly about it?
I have developed a theory about it, and it’s coming today because it flows naturally from the assertions I’ve made in this blog in recent weeks. I propose that the reason those of us who value hard work do so with such force, is because it prompts us to short circuit the guilt and self-denial that robs us of the ability to achieve real self-esteem.
It comes down to being able to savor your own accomplishments. We all know people who can’t do this. You might be one yourself. Always giving credit where it’s due unless in regard to your own achievements. Mild rebukes to appreciation like, “Nah it was nothing,” or, “I was only doing what anyone would have done,” or the like are assumed to be expressions of modesty, but are they really? Is modesty even virtuous?
To that last question I would answer: sometimes. As long as credit is given where it is due. Being unpretentious is fine; it is a form of honesty. But denying the value of your deeds is not.
These folks tend to be assiduous in giving credit where it’s due because they believe in the principle of doing this, and this underlines the significance of their own rule of not accepting credit for their own labor and/or wise/generous choices. They know that a good turn deserves appreciation, and so their denial of it holds meaning.
They tend to be achievers too. Do-gooders are often this type. Looking out for their fellows, and keeping themselves in order well enough to continue in this fashion. Stringing along accomplishment after accomplishment, and sidestepping the reward offered by those whom they have helped.
What they are really doing here, is denying the self. They are committing themselves to the absolute altruistic ideal that the self does not matter, only what one can do for others. They are acting “selflessly” in an effort to do the right thing, and therefore it would be the wrong thing to accept credit for it. And indeed, we live in a culture that greatly values denial of self, destruction of pride, omission of ego, and total dedication to the betterment of anyone but oneself. That is a rather involved subject for another discussion perhaps, but for the sake of this conversation let’s just agree that accomplishments are good, helping others is good, giving due credit is good, and holding oneself accountable for all one’s good deeds, is also good.
There is nothing morally positive about discounting one’s achievements. Modesty, when it is a denial of reality, is a corollary of self-killing altruism. These people throw away the value of the good they’ve done and believe this is a righteous act (notice also that acting righteously is itself a contradiction of modesty). They work to do what they say they believe is right, then belie the same act’s rightness by blanking out the goodness of the act. It is a lie, and it is done under the pretense of a lie, which is rooted in self-hate.
And the negative effects beyond this are long-reaching. It may result in an irrational fear of death due to failure to meet real goals, as per the topic discussed here in the last two weeks. It may result in failure to state one’s goals and think them through, preferring to evade that kind of self-oriented thought. This results in a life filled with a long string of small accomplishments and the failure to do what is truly important to the individual. And the scope of one’s own life is not considered, since no goal-planning is effectively conducted. We talked about the value of this in the Grok Death topic.
Today I’ve drawn a line between self-hate and what is typically considered virtuous modesty. This is the first step in making the point I stated at the beginning of this entry, which is that the value of hard work lies in the way it forces one to accept self-esteem. Next week I’ll tie up these assertions to show the mechanism.