Keeping It Real: Why “hacking” your way to a technical victory is not the same thing as actually achieving something.
There’s an old Dale Carnegie quote about how acting enthusiastic makes you actually feel enthusiastic. This can actually work: Assemble your face into a mask of openness, and you may indeed feel a little more open to the world. At the very least, it’s a jumpstart for low-energy days.
But there’s also an element of BS to this approach. It’s essentially a “life hack” for enthusiasm. At some point, you’re going to want to take off the mask and get real—and realness can’t be hacked.
Which is why I’ve become so wary of life hacks.
A famous “life hacker” wrote at length about “hacking” his way to a muay thai championship by exploiting a technicality in the rules. Some would argue that he did, in fact, win the championship. Technically, yes—he did.
But here’s the thing: I have a notion that there’s much more to muay thai than winning trophies. I have a notion that life hacker dude, if faced with an actual street fight, might find that the belligerents don’t so much care about the technicalities of sanctioned muay thai fighting. Never mind the spiritual and mental benefits he sidestepped by “hacking” his way to a belt.
It’s like cheating your way through flight school: Sure, you now have a pilot’s license. But what happens when you’re faced with a real live in-flight emergency?
I’m learning (Yes I’m late to the party. Can we embrace the fact that I’ve showed up at all?) that to gain the actual benefit, it helps to do the actual work. Not find a glitch to exploit. Not hack your way to a nominal “win.” Just show up and do the work. Do the work with consistency. Do the work with gratitude.
Kim, my wife (best friend and hero), has a knack for consistency. She shows up to the empty page day after day and puts words on those pages. She tells stories. She helps other people tell their stories. She shows up consistently and she shows up (mostly) with gratitude. It’s not easy. It’s not glamorous. But it’s how actual work gets done.
The guy who hacks his way to a “championship belt” has deprived himself of several things: First, he’s lost the chance to enjoy, truly enjoy, the fruits of his own labor. You can’t be proud of something you didn’t actually do. Second, he’s lost the opportunity for legacy, longevity, respect. When you hack your way to the belt, you are a flash in a pan, nothing more.
Worst of all, he’s chosen style instead of substance. In hacking his way to a facade of achievement, he’s robbed himself of the slower-burn joys of accomplishing something supremely difficult.
Both results may initially look the same to the casual observer, who only sees you crossing the finish line. But when it comes to my own work, I know the difference. And in a contest between other people’s opinions of me and my own knowledge of myself, I know which one counts most, and which one gives me more satisfaction.
I’m pushing up against a decade running my own PI firm. I’ve put in the work. I’ve showed up every day. It’s not been pretty. It’s occasionally been lonely and hungry. I’ve accepted jobs that were not, let’s say, my favorite assignments of all time. And in the beginning, I did many of those jobs for low pay—I saw it as an unavoidable “learning-the-ropes” fee.
But for nearly a decade now, I’ve showed up, and I’ve done the work. When I approach the work with a sense of gratitude, I find more joy in it.
I’m also finding that this “Do the work/skip the hack” thing seems to work for so many things.
Go now. Do your work.