Hard Labor

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"You work too much." "You must be a workaholic." "Do you ever sleep?" "When do you take a break?"

Right now…

  • Someone is caring for a very sick, little girl with leukemia.
  • Someone is chasing down a very drunk driver.
  • Someone is taking care of their dying Mother.
  • Someone is cleaning out the kennel at a local shelter for the prevention of cruelty to animals.
  • Someone is trying to fix a highway in the sweltering heat.
  • Someone is counseling a child who has been molested.
  • Someone is offering care to the people in Pakistan that are homeless due to the flood.
  • Someone is running into a burning building to save a family.
  • Someone is still rebuilding homes in New Orleans.
  • Someone is helping a soldier deal with the loss of their limbs.
  • Someone is answering the phones at 911.
  • Someone is caring for the very sick and under-nourished people in the third world.
  • Someone is dipping into their meager teaching salary to buy art supplies for their underprivileged students.
  • Someone is trying to right a wrong.

I don’t work hard. Odds are you don’t work that hard either.

I half-jokingly tell people that I am "unemployable." The truth is, I have been that way since long before I owned my own business. Even when I was an employee of a company (small, middle-sized and large), I always acted in a highly entrepreneurial way. The clock wasn’t something I watched. I was busy trying to ship (to get things done). Why do something for most of your waking hours that makes you miserable? It’s easy for me to say that. I’m lucky… right? Maybe I am now (depending on which side of the grass you’re standing on), but I was always this way – even when I didn’t have a job or any money in the bank (in fact, I was in debt).

Forget your job.

I’m not sure when that little nugget got planted in my cerebral cortex, but I never really took a job (and when I did, it didn’t last). I was always looking for the work I was meant to do. I preferred to be on death’s door of desperation than take a job that I knew I was going to hate, or take a job just because the money made the most sense. It’s not an easy thing to say (or do). Many of you reading this may have family members and bank loans that are depending on your ability – each and every week – to bring home the proverbial bacon (and I fully understand that predicament), but I just wouldn’t/couldn’t do it. Good on you for going at it like that, I’ve never been able to.

Don’t think about your job. Think about the work you were meant to do.

OK, someone, somewhere blessed you with this day off. Do with these 24 hours what you will. I prefer to take an hour (sometimes two) every single Labor Day to ask myself this one question: "are you doing the work you were meant to do?" Knowing if you have the right answer is pretty obvious. I don’t consider being the President of Twist Image hard work. I don’t consider doing close to 80 speaking events every year hard work. I don’t consider Blogging hard work. I don’t consider Podcasting hard work. I don’t consider writing my business columns for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun every other week hard work. I don’t consider writing or marketing business books hard work. I don’t consider all of my contributions to industry associations and charitable organizations hard work. I love it. It is a pleasure. It is – without a doubt – the work I was meant to do. I also weigh my work against the amazing types of people I listed above. They motivate me to keep on doing what I love to do, because I am in awe of people who work so selflessly. They do the type of work that I could never imagine doing myself. I respect that beyond comprehension. On the other hand, I think about people who have a job and treat it like a job, and I always think about this: "they’re trying to make it to the weekend… I’m trying to make it."

So, as I wish you a very happy Labor Day, I’ll also ask you this one question: how hard do you work?


  1. Simply awesome post Mitch, really.
    I hope to be able to add something meaningful to it at some point, but for now I am simply moved.
    Thank you.

  2. On my monitor I have a piece of paper with the name Adonis Musati. He starved to death in South Africa, waiting for a work permit so he could send money home to support his family in Zimbabwe. I look at his name whenever I think I’m working too hard.

  3. Great post Mitch. I am reading Gay Hendricks “The Big Leap” today and contemplating how to move more into what he calls the Zone of Genius, and spend more of my time not working. Not “working” but being passionately engaged in doing!

  4. Mitch, this is such a timely post for me. As I work to get my blog more active, having been laid off from the job in January, I sometimes find myself contemplating whether I should just do a job again. But in the end, it’s not what I love and not where my passion is. Thanks for this great reminder today.

  5. I work hard enough for the wrong reasons and as you stated, to make it to the weekend. But I’m trying to change that and have been working hard on figuring out my “personal brand” and applying it to something I love to do.
    I’m hoping to launch my blog soon, build some credibility and “forget my job”.
    Toujours un plaisir de lire ton “journal de bord”.

  6. I don’t work nearly as hard as I *think* that I do. Especially when I consider that I’ve been blessed to have the chance to do work I love. When I think about these “jobs” you’ve listed, it helps put my long days into perspective.

  7. Mitch,
    When your posts show up in my reader–they are not read. Saved, until I can focus on the post, digest it, and learn and share the powerful information.
    Today, I’m working on a whitepaper and pulling up a previous post of yours that referenced a dynamic book which changed the direction of the whitepaper for me.
    Many of your posts end up in my EverNote. Referred to again and again.
    Thank you for your labor of producing great thought-provoking content. I get that you love the work, but nonetheless, it takes a commitment of time.

  8. I’d also recommend that you read/check out The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. While it’s about entrepreneurship, it really changed the way I think about “work.” I would also recommend a double CD audio workbook by Dan Sullivan called, How The Best Get Better. Good luck on your journey.

  9. Like I said above. Do your “job” but spend your early mornings, nights and weekends on your “work” – you will be surprised at how much you can accomplish while everyone else is busy watching Minute To Win It.

  10. I knew I was on the right track in life when my mom suggested I get a real job.
    I admit, sometimes my finger gets a little sore from photographing, I can get tired from long days of writing and I’ll get a little hoarse from speaking and travel – but working, no.
    I’m always thankful to all those who have worked so hard giving us all the opportunity to build a life and career based on what we love.
    But, come to think of it I don’t think the ones that made a difference were working either.

  11. I think we all get down – from time to time – about how hard our individual lives are. It’s normal and it’s natural. It’s also important to get grounding. Whenever I’m on a plane and stuff gets wonky (flight delayed or I am tired), I just look outside at the ground crew – what a rough and ungrateful job that is (bless all of them!). It grounds me pretty fast.

  12. This is very kind of you, Elizabeth. I do spend a lot of energy thinking about this Blog, and I do ensure that every post is the embodiment of what’s happening in my mind and that it’s represented in the truest form that I can muster up on the keyboard.
    Joe, I appreciate the additional comment as well.

  13. Your comment reminds me that I need to be thanking the real hard workers just a little more often. It’s not only a hard and difficult job – most of the time – but it’s also a fairly thankless one too. It amazes me that we all know how hard being a teacher is and yet we pay them so little to educate the future generations. Seriously, what’s wrong with us?

  14. Did you ever have moments in the beginning of starting your company where it did feel like work? I know obviously you were doing what you loved, but when you forging out the foundation did ever get to you? I have a small company and their parts of what I do that take no effort and then there is also the opposite parts that drain me. I know I am doing what I was made for, but I’m not to the point of where you are at. Was there a process to get this point of not feeling like work or did you just make choice not do thing you do not love?

  15. Listen, you got where you are not because you are doing what you were meant to do, but because you have the ability to express very well. Meaning, every single time i see someone made it to where they wanted to be, is not because of their degrees, skills. Is because of their ability to be “people person.” and the fact you can write very well. That is all. You could had picked any other industry, and it will lead you there. Plan and simple. I have known people with tons of skills (more than you posses), but they are nothing if they dont have the power to COMMUNICATE with the mases, with people.
    I mean others can call this talent, gift, and others call it the skill of manipulation (not offense), been able to read people and give them what the want… well it is a type of manipulation. Call it whatever you like. People who success in life, have that.
    If you can’t talk a good game, you go no where. Once a professor told me, if you can’t read, analyze (manipulate) people, you will never get ahead in life. I got upset when he siad that. My come back was.. IM A GOOD PERSON! but he was right. Manipulation can get you anywhere. Some do it for evil, some do it for good. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. Our culture dont award introvert people. We are a culture of extrovert people where all they care about is looks and how good you can communicate (or BS). There is this line movie that says, “This world is full of BS, pick your own BS and run with it.. and that is the ugly true.–no offence, just an opinion.
    I dont have that (and as you can see i cant write at all, yet im very very good at what i do (but that doest matter), so i have to see other people with less experience, talent and skills take all the credit thanks to the fact their BS is real good–and better than mine. Humble opinion.

  16. In the beginning, you’re always the chief, cook and bottle-washer. You can’t possibly love every aspect, but having a focus and being able to create a process and get the right people on the bus (to quote Jim Collin’s excellent book, Good To Great) is key. I’d also recommend you pick up The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber in terms of helping you to figure out the process.

  17. I don’t think it boils down to any one thing. You say that you are very good at what you do? Why? Based on your comment you’re saying that the only thing that makes someone good is their ability to communicate and that you don’t have it?
    It’s not one thing.
    We have experience, we have skill sets, we have critical thinking, we have the ability to communicate, the ability to learn, we have the ability to lead, etc… Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur, not everyone is meant to be an employee.
    I think you’re being overly hard on yourself for no reason, and I’d encourage you to believe more in yourself than in something some professor told you or that you heard in a movie.

  18. Mitch, well played. Life is too short not to enjoy what may be referred to as a job. The world is a much better place when we approach each day with gratefulness and passion. Thanks for your positive, encouraging post.

  19. I have spent 25 years as a designer and love what I do. These days, I spend less time designing and more time thinking and writing. Seriously, thinking and writing are pretty enjoyable and I’m glad my career path has lead where it has.
    That’s not to say I haven’t steered my own career. I love the fact that I am now in a position to make a difference and shape the way we interact with many many things. I am in a dynamic industry that delivers different results every single day.
    Great post Mitch and I hope it leads to more people appreciating what they have and making the most of it – if not, there’s always something worth making the time for.

  20. I’ve been struggling with this question for a while now – “What was I meant to do?” I too have entrepreneurial urges and have been wanting to start my own company for a while now. Just didn’t know what it would be. I was looking into all kinds of crazy ventures. Things I didn’t even know anything about. Until just recently, I asked my self that question. What was I meant to do? And the answer hit me right in the face. It was right in front of me. Now I’m going to do it. And everything is a lot more clear now. What was I meant to do? – powerful question.

  21. Great insight, Mitch. I have been ‘lucky’ enough to have owned my own business for almost 30 years. I believe that I am doing what I was meant to do. Sure, I could have done things a lot differently and probably made a lot more money, but in the end it comes down to quality of life and I eventually got to the point where things were working out well.
    Funny though, one thing I never seem to be happy with is status quo. I am always looking for something new or a new way to do things. I just picked up the audiobook “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” by Tony Schwartz after listening to your podcast. It is making me rethink HOW I and my employees work. It is well suited for ‘creative’ types, but not sure how it can be translated into a production- or a response-based business.
    Finally, as we slog our way through 10% (or more) unemployment in the US, I am worried that many lost jobs are never returning. I worry more that people just aren’t prepared (mentally, socially, professionally or through basic, fundamental training) to be entrepreneurs. We as a society do not really have the option to ‘go back to the farm’ and be self-sustaining. In my mind, this is the biggest challenge we have on this Labor Day 2010.

  22. mitch, many thanks for the reminder to ask ourselves the question, “are we doing the work we are MEANT to do?” what a beautiful way to focus on these last four months of the year!

  23. When I do sessions on Personal Branding (which I, admittedly, don’t do all that often anymore), one of the most powerful exercises I have people do is to write out their life story… not like a corporate bio, but like a work of art. A true work of fiction (only it’s non-fiction).
    Usually, when this is done well, you can really see the trends in your life that define where your passions are… it’s also (usually) where you should be spending more of your professional time.

  24. I could not agree more. We have to appreciate that most people have an employee’s mindset – someone should pay me for the work I do – versus I should be paid for the economic value I bring. There is nothing wrong with that, but we do have to be aware that it exists, and what this means as we definitively go through this dramatic transition.

  25. Man, I can relate. For twenty years, I was doing something I liked (advertising), but only in the last two months have I begun to do the work I was meant to do, as you say. In fact, one saying kept presenting itself to me as if by magic, from various places, right smack dab in the middle of my contemplation to drop it all and start Ideasicle: “Leap and the net will appear.” Not sure who said it first. Don’t really care. But it kept finding me wherever I turned.
    Well, I leaped. I’ll let you know if the net appears in a few months!
    Thought your audience would appreciate that great saying.

  26. Mitch,
    Can’t add much to this one. Great reflection heading into a new season. Thank you.
    I do hope that more people look outside their cube and pursue meaningful work!

  27. Fantastic post, Mitch.
    I’ve been reading you for a couple of years but this reminds me of what I see every time I travel a few miles here: people building highways by hand, fruit sellers who bring home a profit of a couple dollars to feed their whole family, shoemakers and their families down the road who spend all day and night surrounded by toxic glue fumes to make hundreds of shoes every day in their livingrooms. I live half the year in Bangkok to be close to my publisher, to craftspeople who make books and paper for my projects, and to the inspirations for my art and travelwriting. [I give back 10% of my Bangkok projects to a local charity]
    In first world countries we are so lucky to have the choices we do. We have outsourced much of the unpleasant work to people like my neighbors.
    In the 20th century model, fine artists aren’t supposed to be too entrepreneurial; it hurts the romantic image of starving artist. But that is changing, and more artists are making their work available in affordable formats than ever before.
    Kudos to you for reminding us what really matters about our work.

  28. …and the list of those who really do the hard labor keeps going and going. Globalization – in and of itself – does force some nasty things to happen (like the nasty jobs you have described). I look forward to the age of Global Awareness.

  29. Mitch,
    Another thought-provoking post! As someone who also works in Advertising, we should all realize what we do is NOT brain surgery. Why we take ourselves so seriously is beyond me.
    Makes you appreciate the teachers, nurses, counselers and others truly doing the heavy-lifting for us as a society; making this world a better place for all of us.

  30. Don’t get me wrong, I do take everything I do very seriously… and it’s important work. I just don’t confuse it with some of the people who are that much more braver and compassionate to others than I am at a professional level.

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