With All Your Might

In Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things there is this now famous passage on putting in work:

I will never forget the first team meeting with head coach Chico Mendoza. Coach Mendoza was a tough old guy who had played college football at Texas Christian University, home of the mighty Horned Frogs. Coach Mendoza began his opening speech, “Some of you guys will come out here and you just won’t be serious. You’ll get here and start shooting the shit, talking shit, bullshittin’, not doing shit, and just want to look good in your football shit. If you do that, then you know what? Turn your shit in.” He went on to elaborate on what was unacceptable: “Come late to practice? Turn your shit in. Don’t want to hit? Turn your shit in. Walk on the grass? Turn your shit in. Call me Chico? Turn your shit in.”

It’s all good and well to do whatever it is that we do, but for the things which matter (and what matters is a deeply personal question), it is important to constantly ask ourselves the questions Coach Mendoza put to his team. Am I just ‘shooting the shit, talking shit, bullshittin’, not doing shit, and just trying to look good in [my] football shit?’ Or am I actually putting in the work. I think it is hard to deceive oneself for too long because the unconscious is simply too woke—It rebels against our conscious lies. But I suspect that it is quite possible to fool the world on this. To some degree that’s sort of what we have to do to get ahead, isn’t it. We embellish our qualifications, our experience, our network, our wealth, and so on. We receive, hopefully, some external validation in return, and this is comforting if temporary.

A more permanent satisfaction can be had from the personal knowledge that you’ve attacked your goals as completely as you could have. It does not come from the outcomes of this process, it is the natural consequence of this philosophy of living. Hard work is its own reward. It doesn’t matter if you put in twelve-hour days and still could not hit your target, you’ve hit your internal target. The sweet privilege of being able to say from the very core of your soul ‘I did my best’ is golden, and is a good deal more valuable that being told that you did well. Ralph Waldo Emerson shared this idea in his essay Self Reliance, when he said: ‘A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best, but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace.’ This relief is a wonderful thing next to the torment of knowing that you were just ‘bullshittin’, talking shit and not doing shit.’ We cannot externalise this validation. It cannot come from a performance rating for a bonus at your company, it cannot come from our boss or any other third party we look to for validation. This relief, this contentment, this peace, comes from putting in the work.

In the book of Ecclesiastes (9:10) it says: ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ It is a call to work, to work hard, and to acquit ourselves before God.