Work Hard. Stay Humble.

They had taken him off the respirator. He lay in his hospital bed staring up at familiar faces, each one streaked with tears. This was it. His wife, his children, even his grandchildren, all here to say goodbye. He swallowed and opened his lips to speak. Everyone in the room leaned forward to hear his last words.

“I wish . . .” he hesitated. “I wish . . . I wouldn’t have spent so much time with y’all. I coulda bought a boat.” And then he breathed his last.

This has never happened. This will never happen. Deathbed regrets never involve spending too much time with loved ones. Yet, how many of us focus on our work and our title and our salary more than our own family? We rationalize that it’s all for them. You are putting in 70-hour weeks so you can afford to give your children a life of comfort that your own parents couldn’t afford to give you.

It’s a lie. Your family wants you, not more stuff. And at the end of the day, if we’re being really honest with ourselves, we know that our ambitions are often not for the good of our family, but driven by our own pride and vanity.

Working hard is admirable. Work is good. It’s not our punishment for Adam’s little mishap in the garden. Good work gives us purpose and meaning. We are meant to work, we’re made for it. But when pride motivates your work, when you work hard without humility, that's when you get into trouble. That’s when your priorities can get all twisted up.

Because when hard work is divorced from humility, ambition becomes obsession.

Humility helps you see the things that might threaten your success and prevents you from thinking you’re “too big to fail.”

Likewise, true humility cannot exist without the desire to work hard and succeed, otherwise it is a false humility. It is self-doubt dressed up as humility, and it can be used as an excuse to avoid trying for fear of failing.

All this is exactly why “Work hard. Stay humble.” is such a great phrase. In fact, it is without a doubt the best career advice that can fit into a fortune cookie.

It applies to young employees who are just starting their careers—enthusiastic and full of energy. It applies to middle management folks, who now have experience but might feel jaded or unheard. And it applies to CEOs. Shoot, it even applies to elementary school students and retirees.

So, why do you need to work hard and stay humble?

. . . Because success is fleeting.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Nothing gold can stay. Oh, how the mighty fall. This is the main reason why the CEO should practice the same humility as the shoe shiner-if not more.

No matter how hard you work, no matter how quickly or how high you rise, there are no guarantees that your success will last forever—or for more than a few weeks.

Pride can drive you to the top, but it won’t keep you there. Just think of all the Bond villains that had 007 captured but, in their prideful arrogance, divulged their entire diabolical scheme while giving James plenty of time to work out an escape.

Humility, on the other hand, will keep you from making mistakes that could stretch you too thin. It helps you see the things that might threaten your success and prevents you from thinking you’re “too big to fail.”

WORK HARD TIP: Work hard so that your team succeeds. Work hard so that everyone around you looks good, not so you look good.

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Treat your coworkers with respect, no matter how old they are and what their title is. This gets more and more important the higher you climb.

. . . Because there is no such thing as overnight success.

You hear these kinds of stories all the time. The “overnight successes” that took ten years of sacrifice and hard work. A band that spends nights and weekends together in a garage and then dive bars—or years—playing for peanuts until their big break. The writer who “comes out of nowhere” with a bestseller while the average reader has no idea this was actually his eighth novel, just the first to be published.

The danger here is listening to these stories and thinking that it was all luck which led to their success. If you are lacking in humility, you might tell yourself that you are just unlucky. That the universe is against you (a thought no humble person could ever have).

A humble person knows hard work is the only way to succeed. There are no shortcuts. Seeing others’ success inspires the humble person to work harder. The humble person makes his own luck. The humble person does not quit. The humble person smiles to himself when the TV reporter mentions the phrase “overnight success” during his big interview.

There’s a common phrase in the writer’s world that goes something like this: What do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.

WORK HARD TIP: Create daily goals. Write them down. And then do them.

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Feeling jealous about others’ success is normal. What you do with those feelings is what matters. Try congratulating others and asking for tips from those who have achieved what you want.

. . . Because it’s a big world.

This might be hard to hear, but as far as the world is concerned, you aren’t special. There are more than 7.442 billion people on earth. Let me write it out:


That’s a lot of people. You are special in God’s eyes, and you’re special to your parents and friends and family. But the chances that you are having an original thought right now are practically zero. Further, you are probably not the “most” anything. While you can and should work hard, there is probably someone out there working harder. There is someone smarter, someone funnier, someone more talented, someone faster, someone who is better looking . . .

Does this all make you feel small? Good. Humility is about feeling small. Feeling small will help you keep your feet on the ground and your head out of the clouds.

G. K. Chesterton once wrote: “Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”

When you achieve greatness, your vision narrows. You no longer appreciate the little things because you can no longer see the little things. Without humility, your view from the mountain distorts your vision. You see yourself as large, and everything—and everyone—else as small. It is a false perception.

And, might I add, success is fleeting. The fall from the mountaintop hurts a heck of a lot more than the fall from the valley.

WORK HARD TIP: Don’t worry about working harder than anyone else. Just work harder than you did yesterday.

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Do one kind act of service for another person each day.

. . . Because you gotta fail early, fail often, and fail spectacularly.

I would have a PhD in failing if it weren’t for the fact that I wasn’t accepted into the program . . .

I have failed a lot. Having played baseball from T-ball through college, I know what it’s like to step up to the plate after an intentional walk loads the bases, only to strikeout; I know what it’s like to give up seven runs in the first inning and get yanked before making three outs; I know what it’s like to come into the game in relief and give up a bomb.

I have failed a lot. But I am not a failure. Why? Because I didn’t let those failures define me.

The first novel I wrote right out of college was rejected by every agent I sent it to. Numerous short stories are rotting away on my hard drive, none of them published by a literary magazine. Over a span of three years in my twenties, I applied to twenty-five creative writing graduate programs and was rejected by every single one. I’ve been given a fake phone number by a girl I asked out. And my brothers and I starred in a reality TV show for a major cable network that ended up getting canceled before a single episode aired.

I have failed a lot. But I am not a failure. Why? Because I didn’t let those failures define me. Instead, I let them teach me. I let them drive me even harder. I worked hard. I gave it my all. There is no shame in not succeeding when you give it your all. When you work hard and fail, there’s only one solution: work harder.

Humility saves you from failure. The prideful feel failure much worse than the humble. When pride is driving your motivations, your identity becomes entwined with success. You can’t bear to fail because you see a person’s worth in their material success. In fact, the fear of failure can paralyze you if you let pride take the wheel.

WORK HARD TIP: Whenever you fail, get into the habit of reflecting on why or how you failed. It’s only true failure if you learn nothing from it.

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Do something you might fail at once per week. You’ll survive, I promise.

. . . Because you are going to die.

Real talk. You are not immortal. None of us are. Life is terminal. No one is getting out alive. We are all going to die one day. If that isn’t humbling, I don’t know what is.

Humility is not going to save you from this reality. But pride will hide it from you.

Too often we live like we’re going to live forever. In our vanity, we put off certain things and people, thinking we have plenty of time in the future to invest in these things and people.

Humility reminds us that, like success, life is fleeting. That time is precious.

But I do have slightly different advice than what you might be familiar with regarding your mortality.

Instead of living every day as if it’s your last (because you would never get any sleep and you would probably cry a lot), live every day like it’s your first—when you were small and everything was filled with magic and wonder.

WORK HARD TIP: Start thinking about your legacy. How do you want to be remembered? What can you do to make this happen?

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Face your mortality. Ask yourself, “If I knew I was going to die one year from today, what would I try to accomplish?”

Welp. There’s really nothing else to say but this . . .

Work hard. Stay humble.

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