In my experience...being nice and working hard pays off
A guest speaker at a high school graduation I attended several years ago challenged the graduates to “work hard and be nice”. The simplicity of that statement stuck with me and continues to resonate today. While the concepts of working hard and being nice seem easy to grasp, the intentionality of approaching life in that way is powerful, especially when the two ideas are combined.
We have to ‘work’ at everything we do…jobs, family, extra-curriculars. The amount of work we put in varies, but everything requires work, even minimally (it requires work to ignore something completely). We also have to ‘be’ at everything we do as well. ‘Be’ can mean physical presence or how we ‘are being’…positive, negative, happy, sad, mad, helpful, mean, etc.
In my experience, working hard and being nice pays off more often than not. Generally, I’ve found that people like being around and associating with others that demonstrate these characteristics. The caveat is that there are rarely absolutes and working hard and being nice don’t guarantee success. However, if we look at the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ around these concepts we’ll see indicators of building a foundation for success.
My observation is that ‘how’ to work hard and be nice comes down to three things. 1) Show up – Being present, in every sense of the word, is powerful and we do this by showing up. 2) Try – Make an effort, even if it’s outside your comfort zone or not something you’re particularly skilled at…this shows that it’s ok to take risks and perform. 3) Engage others – Asking others to join or contribute shows trust and confidence and a willingness to take a chance on another person…people like to feel included.
Similar to ‘how’, I’ve found that the ‘why’ to work hard and be nice also comes down to three things. 1) Perception & reality – As the saying goes ‘perception is reality’…if I perceive that you’re working hard and being nice that is what I actually believe, regardless of whether you feel you are working hard or being nice. 2) Progression – Progress almost always requires collaboration, and collaboration is optimized with hard work and cooperation, which is likely easier when people are nice and get along (progress can certainly be made in toxic environments or by an individual, but maybe not as easily). 3) Opportunity – I’m far more likely to give opportunities and the benefit of the doubt to those that I view as hard workers and nice people, than those who show the opposite tendencies.
Working hard doesn’t mean working inefficiently. And being nice doesn’t mean being a pushover and non-confrontational. There will be times when we aren’t nice and / or we don’t work hard and that’s ok as long as that’s an exception and not the rule.
I believe it’s possible to be successful while working hard and being nice. Individuals who do that are the types of people I’d prefer to surround myself with given the choice, and at this point in my career I usually have that choice.
Special thanks to Mike Seitz, who I greatly respect for his insight and drive to make a positive impact, and to Tom Woodward, who brings the real world to his students and is always looking for ways to enhance their experience. Both of these guys work hard and are super nice.