It was 6.30am when I took my daughter to wait at our condominium block for the school van. It was still dark, serene and quiet, until….
“I AM NOT GOING TO SCHOOL TODAY!” stomped a little six-year-old girl whilst exiting the lift with her mother.
I could see from the corner of my eye – her mother trying to reason with her.
She threw a tantrum and started wailing, “I HAVE DECIDED NO SCHOOOOOOL MUMMY!”.
Her mother stood steadfast and did not budge. She did not look angry or annoyed.
Ten minutes later, their van arrived.
The little girl’s mother dragged her slowly towards the van, while she tried to wriggle to escape.
Thank goodness for her mummy’s size, I thought. “NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOOO’, screamed the little girl.
Her mother was clearly determined to get her to school and she was very determined NOT to go to school.
Finally, they made it to the van.
She gently picked her child up, put her in the seat and shut the door firmly.
She then walked away without waiting for a goodbye and went into the condominium block with a calm face.
Just like that, the morning drama ended for us. And that is when something occurred to me.
This mother wasn’t heartless. But it must’ve been very hard for her to choose between being caring and instilling discipline for the benefit of her child’s future.
To choose the latter meant she needed to stay calm and not be defeated by her wailing child.
It must’ve been hard for her to put her child into the van and turn around without even saying goodbye.
It must’ve been hard, but it needed to be done.
This incident led me to reflect on what “hard work” really meant.
The idea of “hard work” that our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents had, may be very different from the “hard work” that we know today.
I asked my dad what he thinks hard work is, and he said “It’s going to work regardless of the weather – be it rain, sunshine or typhoon. Whatever it is, you need to get to work. Because if you don’t work, you don’t get paid and you earn less.”
My dad was thinking from a business perspective.
Working hard meant making more (not in dollars and cents) but in producing more, in his case, it was continued service to his customers and daily retail transactions.
Going further with this concept where hard work = producing more, can also be seen in the life of a farmer, fishermen, or factory worker.
Whether they are deemed as ‘hard working’, usually depends on how much they can produce daily.
The more they produce, the more people will be in awe at how hard they have worked.
Today, when we see someone staying back in the office, working till midnight and coming back even on weekends, we tend to say, “Wow, she / he really works hard!.”
That makes me wonder. Really? Is that working hard or is that working long hours?
If the mother in the scenario above took a mere 10 minutes to resolve her child’s issue, does that make what she did easier?
What if she took nearly 45 minutes to get her child into the van – will we only then say she did something hard?
I think ‘time frame’ in this instance does not determine whether the work is easy or hard.
What that mother had to do that morning was hard. Making a decision between giving in and disciplining a child is tough.
Holding back emotions while sticking to her decision for the long-term benefit of her child is a difficult thing to do.
Our future in the workplace is not about time. The future is about work that’s truly hard and not just time consuming. It requires us to push ourselves and not just punch the clock.
— Seth Godin
Push ourselves and not just punch the clock.
That statement truly resonates with me. I then started to explore articles and books on what ‘hard work’ meant today.
Through reading and a combination of with my own thoughts, I believe some examples of ‘hard work’ of today is…
- Making good decisions with limited data
- Making difficult decisions while managing your own emotions. (Eg. Quitting your job to set out on your own)
- Inventing new services that have not been heard of but you believe will be useful
- Asking senior management to abandon previous processes that have worked in the past to shift to something new but risky
- Giving your boss honest feedback
- Giving difficult feedback to a team member that he/she needs to hear
- Saying ‘no’ to a colleague or boss when you are overloaded with work and need to be effective
- Being truly honest with your feelings about certain tasks that are given to you
- Being open to constructive feedback which is critical for moving forward
- Declining the next big project to fulfil your promise to your child for the vacation he/she has been waiting for
- Suggesting a solution that is innovative, without any benchmark data, only a ‘really good hunch’
The ‘hard work’ of today is not time bound and can be quickly done.
But it can be more difficult, risky, frightening, and sometimes even emotionally challenging.
Have you worked really hard lately?
Sarah Hidayah Mubarak was made to sell fries at the roadside by her parents at the age of 15 to teach her about life. Her unique insights come from the fact that she has lead many lives: fitness instructor, failed entrepreneur (twice), and even a door-to-door credit card sales person. All this, before discovering her passion in people which led to steering talent and development efforts at MISC. She also reads more than she eats. To get in touch with her, email email@example.com.