Understanding the true meaning of hard-work is a tricky job. It definitely doesn’t mean to keep exerting oneself mindlessly and with no gain.

Work hard and you can achieve anything. That’s a bit of advice that’s been repeated to us so many times that it’s sort of lost its meaning. The problem is that we already feel like we are working hard, but for many of us, it seems like we aren’t getting anywhere.

So, is that advice complete bunk?

I would argue that it isn’t. Rather, I think what’s gone awry is our definition of hard work.

The thing about trying to nail down a definition of hard work is that, as I mentioned, most of us already believe we are hard workers. We went to college. We got good grades. We got jobs. We did exactly what our fathers and high school guidance counselors told us to do. We get out of bed, we go to work, we pay our bills, we keep ourselves and our homes neat and tidy, and we go to bed each night feeling somewhat exhausted.

But the problem with that conception of hard work is that it’s not what all those successful people meant when they gave you the advice “work hard and you can achieve anything.” Most of what we do on a day-to-day basis is simply what we have to do to survive. Your job, your chores, your obligations to your family and the favors to your friends—that’s not hard work. That’s regular work. That’s your routine—the stuff that you and every other human being does every single day.

Hard work is what you do on top of all that. It’s what you do after you’ve put in your eight hours, after you’ve cleaned your apartment, after you’ve kept all your appointments and followed through on all your promises. Hard work is above and beyond—and it’s the only thing that will push you above and beyond.

That’s not even the end of the story. What makes hard work truly hard isn’t even the work itself. It’s everything else that you take on when you make the decision to work hard toward your goals. It’s the brutally honest self-evaluation, the tough personal sacrifices and the ever-lurking uncertainty.

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That’s what we’ll be discussing among the five “easy” steps to hard work. As you’ll discover, this article title is more than a little tongue-in-cheek. The easy part of these steps is learning them. The hard part is doing them. Let’s get started.

Overview: The Five Elements of Hard Work

Hard work is but one of the ways you can achieve your goals. For those of us who aren’t inordinately wealthy, smart, or lucky, it’s the only way. While each person’s path to success will be unique, the anatomy of the hard work that they do often looks very similar. For most successful people, the hard work that they put forth included all of the following:

The Drive – This is the motivation, the inspiration, the entire reason you work hard. This is the engine that pushes your efforts forward.

The Plan – If The Drive is the heart of your hard work, then the plan is the skeleton. The plan maps out your course of action and helps plot your progress and keep you on track.

The Grind – The Grind is the point when working hard stops being fun and exciting and starts becoming tedious, stressful and perhaps even discouraging. How you handle the grind is often what separates the winners from the quitters.

The Sacrifice – This is the crux of hard work, and the one thing that makes hard work truly hard. Any ambitious goal requires significant personal sacrifice. Enduring the strain in your relationships, finances and comfort level is the real test.

The Payoff – This is the brass ring. In order for hard work to be worthwhile, you have to define a number of goals and milestones and recognize when you’ve achieved them. And once you do, you have to up the ante and keep going.

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