There’s an idea of what Instagram tells you hard work is—a coffee mug with a witty saying, gallery wall above your shiny white Parsons desk, and clutter-free desktop taken by perfect lighting. But can I tell you something about that idea? It’s not real. Hard work is so much more than a pretty #hustle. Hard work is really, really hard.
I remember when I was 16 and a newly minted resident of my beautiful city. I had no friends and nothing to do, so I started writing for a tiny publication run by some college students that worked to empower ambition in young women and girls. It’s where I found the words that mattered to me. I realized that I had to discover all of them and decided to get involved in every way I could.
The next four years were nothing short of thrilling, yet also absolutely crazy. What started as a tiny publication quickly became so much more. Some of you reading may have heard of it or even been involved—there were relatively high-profile interviews with my career crushes, major conferences planned, speaking events, a rebrand. You can Google all of those things.
What you can’t Google is the time an issue of the magazine I was running was set to launch the weekend of my high school graduation. Unfortunately, a deadline doesn’t change just because you’re celebrating a monumental accomplishment. I stayed up until early morning hours that whole week trying to finish everything in time and crashed the morning after my graduation. I was too tired to spend time with all my family that had flown in to even go to the zoo.
You probably also never found out about how I would stay up every night my freshman year of college until three in the morning trying to restructure and grow that magazine, only to wake up five hours later to go to class and then to the office, or maybe into Manhattan for one of those coffee networking dates that usually ended up feeling fake but also tricked your ego into making you feel important. And if you didn’t know about that, it must be completely unknown that during the spring semester, I spent eight weekends in a row away from college because my mental health was on a major decline. I felt like I needed to be better but just couldn’t figure out how between classes, helping run a start up, freelancing, and being only 19 and living in New York City.
Even though I’m back in Austin now and my overall health has become a higher priority, the days still happen (a lot) where I find myself overworked, overstressed, and entirely underwhelmed with myself. I have too many friends with book deals, amazing small businesses, and well-curated Instagrams. I forget about the internships and creative contract work and fascinating college classes—the things that have taken all my energy but also given me so much joy. I forget because it’s 6:40 on a Tuesday, and I’m already showered and in (mismatched) pajamas. Because I’m not writing a book or running a small business or curating a pretty Instagram. I call the things I have accomplished luck and knowing the right people, even though my success truly was earned.
That’s the thing about working hard—it all seems easy in hindsight because you’ve already done it. But in the moment, you make sacrifices while not sure if there will actually be a payoff. Sometimes there really isn’t one and you lay in bed two years later wondering if things would have been different had you just sent the follow up email or followed your gut while planning that one event. And then sometimes, if everything in the universe has lined up just right, you find yourself, a girl who’s had a speech impediment all her life, be told how eloquent she is by a major Disney VP.
I see so many people post about opportunities they’ve been given as if it just fell out of the sky and others need to know how impressive they are for catching it before it landed. For as chic as it is to work hard right now, it’s really just the highlight reel that people are really interested in. And sure, the social media likes and comments fill you up for a little while, but then you’re left feeling like you have to do something else, something more interesting and competitive, in order to keep up with the demand. That or you ride the wave for as long as possible, identifying with your destination more than the process. Both of these are so dangerous because it means that there is a huge misconception over success and what it means to work hard. We need to be candid about how we get to where we are because by pretending it was anything other than an insane grind and a little bit of luck, we are disrespecting the process and discouraging others.
The payoffs of hard work will be both good and bad, and you get to leave them in the past. But your ego? That will catch up to you eventually. And when it does, you better hope that you have something to back it up. Don’t just be the person who can out-talk others and hide behind nice words of self-congratulations. Don’t just be the one with natural talent but no real work ethic because you don’t think you need one. Don’t be the person crediting themselves for the work of others. Be the one who can out-grind, for better or for worse. That’s the person people want, even if their pajamas don’t match.