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But I think that this statement is wrong.
I also tend towards working pretty hard.

Paradox? Hold on.

Hard work can pay off.
Hard work might pay off.
Hard work should pay off.

We could add any number of modifiers to fix it, some that are reliably true, others that are perspective driven or circumstantial. But as a rule, hard work does not pay off.

I remember once I got accepted to an art show. Juried entry, limited booths, high sales percentages. Nothing like those massive expos with hordes of shoppers or the $1000 booth fee sorts, but for me it was a big deal. There were artists selling $12,000 paintings and others selling $100 pieces. Full range, and I was sitting square in the average price with an agreeable aesthetic. Hadn’t gotten into the full-wizard totemic work, but I was testing the edge.

I was fucking stoked.

I bought fabric for the booth table and backdrop, dyed it and hemmed it.
I bought a pop up day shade and folding table.
I bought materials and made extra items to fill out the options.

I printed business cards,
I made a slideshow for my laptop,
I did all of the things. All of them.

Day of the show was fantastic. Got in and set up with ease, wearing my nice clothes with my clean pants that I’d been hiding from myself so they didn’t end up another pair of messy work pants, ready to rock.

I worked hard. Really hard.

And I spent savings to get ready for this show that was going to rock. I drove up there, paid my booth fee, set up….

And I didn’t sell anything.

That’s not true. A little kid bought one of my $5 bracelets made of exotic hardwood scraps.

I probably walked away with a grand total loss of $700. Ouch.

And this isn’t the only time hard work has not paid off. At my first knife show as a proficient journeyman bladesmith they put me next to Murray Carter. Feel free to look that guy up. And yes, he is the only white guy to be inducted, officially, into a japanese bladesmithing lineage.

It’s tricky to sell anything next to the guy making better versions with his 3 silent japanese apprentices taking notes on clipboards.

And here’s my point:

Phrases with power are totemic. They carry charge in the ways that we need them to for when we’re off our intuitive no-words-needed alignment. But like any good mythography, the source code is part of the tool.

“Hard work pays off” came about in an era, by a people, and under the conditions by which you just had to show up and log hours, and things would line up. The economy my booming and occupational options were such that most everyone found work if they just showed up.

The cultural context of the phrase is key.

Under those conditions, it was true. Hell, even under some current conditions, it could be true. But applied as a universal notion, it fails, and this is the tricky part:

When we chase ideas without fully understanding the necessary context, we’re running blind.

This is the power of totemic work and of mythography in general: having the tool -which may just be a phrase or idea- and knowing how to use it.

Both parts are needed for success.

So now’s the time to rummage through your memory banks for all of the phrases you hold dear and shake them around a bit like a child’s toy. Get curious. Explore their context. Look for their culture of birth.

Knowledge is power when intuition is oriented.
Tools are useful when application is understood.

And you’ve got everything you need built in.

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