The hard truth about hard work

I can’t count the number of times I have heard people including myself say that hard work and ambition takes you places. Or that there is no substitute for hard work or “I worked really hard to get where I am”. “No one gave me anything on a platter” I have heard people say. People also say that when big dreams and hard work are combined then the sky is the limit.

All the above is undoubtedly true. Hard work, ambition and dreams are all valuable character traits, no doubt about it.

A lot of people work very hard and all of them without exception have dreams & ambitions.

But is it really true that it’s only your hard work that got you where you are?

Let’s take a moment now to consider 2 hypothetical situations

Let’s call it: Family A & Family B

Family A:

A family of 4 living in Bandra in a 3 BHK.

Mom and Dad both work outside the home and work bloody hard.

They are either high or mid level salaried corporate employees or they run their own family business.

Kids go to an expensive IB school that parents work hard to send them to.

They have a domestic staff of 4: 2 home staff and 2 drivers.

Everyone leaves the house between 7 and 8 am and the parents come home only after 6 or 7 pm.

Mom and Dad are busy all day, in back to back meetings, answering emails, work calls, managing their clients and their bosses.

When they come home they interact with the kids, help with homework and maybe answer a few work emails.

They go to bed around 11 pm dead tired after a long, productive and hard working day.

They have big dreams for the future.

Both parents are well educated, come from middle class or upper middle class backgrounds. They have either started their careers as trainees and are now successfully climbing the corporate ladder or they trained in the family business and are now taking it to greater heights.

Combined income: 80 lakhs to 1 crore per annum

Cover: Good health insurance & P.F

Debt: Some credit card debt or maybe an EMI on a car or house.

Work hard and you will be rewarded

Family B:

A family of 4 living in Bandra in a 80 square foot room with no indoor toilet.

Mom and Dad both work outside the home and work bloody hard.

Mom is a domestic worker.

Dad is a driver

Both kids are in the local BMC run school.

Dad and Mom get up at 4 am to fill water.

Dad takes kids to the shared toilet that is about 300 metres from his house.

Mom finishes filling water that they need for the day because they don’t have any running water.

Mom bathes both kids and gets them ready for school.

Dad gets ready for work.

Mom packs leftovers for Dad to take to work while Dad feeds kids breakfast.

Dad has to leave his home by 6AM to reach work by 7AM.

He walks to the crowded bus stop and waits in line.

Mom walks the kids to the bus stop that will take them to school or they go to school with other kids from their neighbourhood in a shared auto.

She goes back home & finishes her home chores.

She then walks to the building where she has multiple jobs.

She cleans and sometimes even cooks in about 3 to 4 homes. She gets a meal at one of the homes and maybe a cup of tea in another.

She works tirelessly, rushing from one home to another, always on her feet.

She comes back to her own home in the middle of the work day to feed her kids who have come home by 1pm.

Mom leaves her last job around 5

On the way home she stops to buy groceries for dinner.

She can’t afford to buy too much as she has no place to store or refrigerate food.

So she buys just enough for a day or two.

Mom reaches home at 6 & starts cooking dinner.

Dad meanwhile has reached work at 7AM.

Dad makes many runs throughout the day.

He drops his employer’s kids to school, drives his employer to work and to various meetings.

He drives up and down all day. Running errands for both Mom and Dad of family A.

He eats his carried lunch wherever he is, it all depends on where the employer happens to be at lunch time.

Finally his tired & busy employer calls it a night and heads home around 7 PM.

Dad parks the employer’s car and heads for the bus stop, reaching home only around 9 or 10.

Most times the kids are asleep by the time dad comes home.

Dad and Mom eat dinner.

They go to bed around 11 pm dead tired after a long, productive and hard working day.

They both have big dreams for the future.

Both had similar backgrounds.

Both had farmer parents, who were not stakeholders in the land they tilled.

They both dropped out of school in grade 5 and 6 respectively so that they could earn & help their respective families survive.

There was no money in farming so they fled to urban India for a shot at a better life.

Combined income: 4 lakhs per annum

Debt: Owes his employer or the local money lender 1 Lakh for medical expenses of his parents back in the village.

Cover: Zero health insurance or P.F.

Medical expenses depends on the largesse of his employer.

Work hard and you will be rewarded.

I think we can agree that all the adults in both families work hard. I would in fact argue that the adults in Family B work a bit harder.

Their hard work is compounded by the fact that they know they are just one Jenga tile away from collapsing and self destructing.

The key difference between the two families is that the people in Family A are going to grow stronger and grow upwards. Like a well nourished tree. They have all the resources needed for upward mobility.

Family B on the other hand are probably going to remain stagnant. Akin to running in one place and getting nowhere. Doomed to remain where they are crippled by lack of opportunity and the circumstances of their birth.

No amount of hard work is going to bridge the gap between Family A & B.

So clearly it’s not just hard work, is it?

Wouldn’t you agree that luck plays a huge & integral part of who and what we are today?

Chances are that the people who are reading this are similar to Family A.

People like me, who have had the advantage of opportunity, education and the good fortune of being born in a certain well heeled strata of society.

He or she starting the ostensibly 100 metre race, 50 metres from the finish line.

Family B starting what is meant to be a 100 metre race, 5000 metres from the finish line. No amount of hard work is ever going to be enough for them to get to be within viewing distance of their competitor, let alone be at par with them.

In fact in India, just having an good education in English automatically takes you streets ahead of everyone else. And chances are that if you had an education in English you would have had all the other advantages of your socio economic class. “Roti, Kapada aur Makaan”.. Fed, Housed & Clothed.

So when we go on and on and brag about our hard work, we must also understand that economically & socially disadvantaged people are not any less hard working. That in fact they work twice or thrice as hard. The farmer, the woman who comes to collect the trash, the food delivery guy, the driver, the plumber, the factory worker, the mine worker, the carpenter, all of them work bloody hard but the difference is in the size of the reward.

The reward most often isn’t proportional to the level & quantum of work.

The reward is in fact, many a time even inversely proportionate to the amount of hard work.

The fact is that hard work actually plays a very teeny tiny part of your or my success story.

The bigger and greater role is played by good luck.

It’s time we begin to understand and appreciate that lack of dreams, ambition & hard work are not the reasons for the poor remaining poor. Its bad luck and our knee on their backs. To my mind luck shouldn’t play a role in a person’s basic right to earn a salary that will give him or her a decent quality of life.

The poor are poor because the rich keep them poor. It’s as simple as that. Inequality is caused by each and every one of us, we have all been and continue to be guilty of perpetuating this inequality, me included.

If we really believe that hard work will be and should be rewarded, then its time we as a society take our knee of the back of the poor and reward hard work across professions more equitably and fairly.

Right from conception & the health of the pregnant mother to the present day, members of Family A & Family B have radically different and unequal experiences. These experiences fortunately or unfortunately chart the course for the rest of their lives.

Where you are born is where the story of your luck begins, and it’s about time we recognise that.

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