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The other day, I was sitting inside my father in laws air conditioned house watching an uncle and a couple of cousins build him a new deck. I had spent the previous week tearing down the old one and digging new post holes (which prompted this post on Hustle and Grind) but in general, I was really enjoying having little or no responsibility. One of the cousins usually fishes but has taken the past few summers off to do carpentry work with my wife’s uncle, a retired instructor and master carpenter. I was watching him work and was struck by the fact that not only was he not dreading this incredibly hard work but he had a smile on his face and seemed to really be enjoying himself.

I was talking to my wife’s aunt and said, “He seems to really enjoy doing this” to which she responded, “He loves to work.” I was sort of struck by that statement because I think a lot of us have lost our understanding of what hard work actually is. I sit in a relatively comfortable chair and write stuff I really like to talk about and then post it on the internet. After a long night of writing and blogging, I think to myself, “that was hard work…I’m very tired now.” But was it? Am I?

I grew up in a small town where my family still makes fun of me for not being able to rebuild a carburetor (that’s a thing, right?). Growing up I worked some hard jobs. I excavated a building by hand for a summer. I picked strawberries for a summer. I loaded and unloaded lumber. But I spent most of my time reading books and playing video games. And at some point, I sort of forgot what hard work actually feels like.

I think most of us need to reexamine our own personal definitions of hard work. I talk about having a hard, busy week… because I played with WordPress plugins until I went blind or having a long night…because I had to schedule Facebook and Twitter posts for multiple businesses. The fact is, these things are mentally taxing but most of us get off pretty easy when it comes to “hard work”. So how can we fix it? Is there anything to fix?

For starters, I think most of us could benefit from building something. Anything. I’m not talking Ikea bookcases. I’m suggesting that most of us could benefit from hammering nails into wood. I’m suggesting that rather than listening to TED talks, you might want to listen to the hum of a power drill for an afternoon. Why? Well, for starters, I don’t think we appreciate the people that do the jobs that we don’t want to. We don’t value them financially or philosophically and I think that’s a shame.

How many times have you seen the following conversation on social media; “So there I was at ‘such and such’ and I asked them for X and they screwed it up. How hard is it to…” Our ability to diminish the value of work we don’t have a hand in is truly staggering. How hard is it to make a cup of coffee? Well, have you ever screwed up making a cup of coffee? And how many cups of coffee would you say you make in a year? Less than the average Tim Horton’s employee makes in a day or at worst a week, I would guess. And how many of those cups of coffee have YOU screwed up?

My best friend has gone swimming in the ocean TWICE with the fobs to his car. And you’re mad that someone spelled your name wrong? When we create something that we aren’t experts at, we start to realize how hard these things are to do. We start to realize the value of other people. And that lends us to start to understand the value of ourselves.

If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, you are more valuable than you believe…probably. There are those few people who think they earn exactly what they should, or maybe even more but realize this; somewhere someone is getting paid three or four or ten times what you’re being paid for, basically, the exact same job. Why? Well, probably because they believe in themselves. I’m not suggesting that we follow The Secret, a book that I think promotes laziness by suggesting that you JUST have to believe. No. You need to put in the work but you need to believe that you’re valuable. Your work, and in many cases your pay, are very much dependent on whether or not you think you’re worth it.

It took me a long time to value myself. And I think there’s a correlation between that value and the physical work that I started to do. As I’ve built decks and stairs and gardens and more, I’ve started to realize that “hard work” has a number of definitions and as we start to navigate our way through them, we start to understand how hard other people have to work. For example, I like doing physical work but rebuilding a deck has led me to understand how hard that is to do. And so, I value people who can do that. Because honestly, I can’t. But I can write. And I can build websites. And I can navigate social media.

By understanding the value of hard work, we start to understand the value of our work. We start to understand that hard is not really a fair statement. I can build a website…but I can’t build a shed. That doesn’t mean that I’m not working hard or that my work isn’t hard, it means that I have a different skill set and a different set of interests.

It’s important to understand that people are different and everything is valuable to someone. Work hard. Respect others. That’s it.