Hard Work Is Meaningless Without This

Hard work will get you anything. Or anywhere. So the saying goes.

You can climb that ladder. Buy that plane. Build that wine cellar in your basement.

Hard work will let you live out your fantasy.

But imagine if you live on the side of the 23,600 ft massif of Nozing Kangtsang, between the Tibetan capital Lhasa and Mount Everest to the south. And your job is to watch over a flock of 60 goats and sheep.

To say you endure cold winters is a gross understatement.

You and a handful of adults and children, including a newborn hidden inside a blanket, live in a one-room house. You use juniper branches and yak dung to build fires in the open floor pit in the middle of the room.

You MIGHT have a color television. Or mobile phone. More than likely you don’t have a car. A good year is when only seven of your sheep die.

Then there’s the Chinese government who could at any time order you out of your ancestral home to make room for commercial projects. They’ll compensate you for roughly $1,000.

Refuse to move? Then they’ll bulldoze your home and pay you nothing.

So what do you think Tibetan farmers fantasize about? Surviving the winter? Growing their herd? Finding a cure for their respiratory problems caused by breathing in yak dung smoke?

Will putting in longer hours help them? Possibly. But twenty years of hard work in rural Tibetan landscape isn’t the same as twenty years hard work in America.

The Thing You Are Forgetting

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: why are they in this predicament and we aren’t? If you live in America like me, working harder usually equates to a success that allows us to fulfill our ever-expanding fantasies…

Then we usually gloat as if all control was in our hand. As if we were the singular and solitary reason for our success. If we are guilty of such thinking, then we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Where we live and when we live makes all the difference in our standard of living. And interestingly enough, both of those aspects are completely out of our control until we become adults. Even then, if you don’t have the resources, like most Tibetan herders, you will have a very difficult time changing your circumstances.

We should be humbled by this thought.

If you liked this post, then you’ll probably like How to Put a Bullet Through the Head of Job-Loss Anxiety and 7 Ways Writing Saved My Life.

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  1. says


    I will go a step further by stating that even in America – meritocracy is dead. The idea that just because you ‘work hard’ you’ll be able to live a secure financial lifestyle. This is wrong, dead wrong.

    Though working hard is a fundamental that must be considered to succeed – you must never forget the privilege some people carry over others. The one with more privilege automatically has other options available to forego a path they want to pursue. It’s inequality at its finest.

    For example, 1% of Americans own 42% of American’s wealth. The automatic disparities can be seen from this example alone.

    How many people do you know work really hard and have yet to make it? I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard – I’m saying that you’re right: Working hard combined with the privilege you carry will bring you farther into life.

    Therefore, we must appreciate the privilege we have on a daily basis.

    • says

      So true. Ever read Gladwell’s Outliers? He makes the point that privilege is often a factor inside someone’s success. It’s the accumulation of advantages, which don’t exist for someone who grows up in the slums of India or America. Thanks for the solid thought.

  2. says

    We do gloat as if all control was in our hands. However, with maturity and experience this is perhaps how our wisdom is developed – as we develop a sense that it is not.

    We are very fortunate to be born in places and in circumstances that are statistically privileged. We are also very fortunate to “stand on the shoulders of giants” when it comes to realising our ‘success’.

    I wonder if Tibetan farmers think of their lives as ‘hard work’ or just ‘life’?

    • says

      Great question. I’d wager they’d say “just life.” Which leads to another question: do they think they are entitled to success because they work hard like us?

      Another response to this recognition of our privilege would be to provide resources for those who don’t have these advantages. I’m not thinking about Tibetan farmers as much as I’m thinking of people who want to start a business but don’t have the resources. Think Kiva.

      Thanks for the great comment, Mark.