man and woman pulling a rope

The Misplaced Value of Effort and Suffering

We live in a capitalistic environment where effort is lauded. It’s a culture that doesn’t quit. Never say die might be a slogan. We look upon those who are successful and say that they built their success on their own. Countless nights with no sleep, working on what we call the American Dream. It’s a narrative that gets pushed on the working class to work more as the only solution to gain monetary success by pushing magazine covers of Kylie Jenner as touting to be a “self-made” billionaire.

We put so much meaning onto what we call effort. In order to accomplish anything you’ll have to put in the work. If you want to prove your commitment to your job, your relationships, and yourself, you’re going to have to put in the effort. By effort, we really mean that you have to suffer and you must sacrifice. With much suffering we think we have to endure, the American Dream turns into a nightmare.

Remember when we talked about Friedrich Nietzsche and how we believe our value is derived from our morality? If you ask most people in the world we live in today, they would perceive the person who works the hardest to also be the most moral in comparison to someone that is perceived to be lazy. It’s why we believe the homeless person is immoral. They must be if they aren’t working. Oddly enough, the hard worker is perceived in good moral standing even if the extra work didn’t produce anything more, or anything of higher quality. More oddly, we tend to praise the person who takes more exertion to complete the task than a person who can do the same task with little effort.

Rooting for the Underdog

This is the reason why we root for the underdog. We would rather root for the person facing adversity rather than the person who’s reached success in an easier manner. If you watch the NBA or NFL drafts, ESPN conditionally loves the rags-to-riches story of a kid who was raised in a single-parent household, grew up in a low-income neighborhood, and now gets to make millions of dollars playing the sport that they love. Meanwhile, the person who doesn’t have that story, but went to the same amount of practices and games kind of gets overlooked. Maybe even booed because their journey to this milestone wasn’t as difficult. The effort put in to get to the same stage makes one person more deserving than the other.

Complexity Beats Simplicity

This also translates to environments in which simpler solutions are devalued. for some reason, we believe that because a solution is complicated it’s the better solution. The more effort we put into this solution, the better the outcome. I’ve been in predicaments where I would advocate for a simpler solution and would be turned down because it was too simple. Our complicated issue should not be solved with something so easy. Maybe it’s because we don’t want the solution to be easier than the effort exerted to create the problem. We have the acronym. K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid), yet not a lot of people put it into practice. The more effort, the more value we place upon it.

Suffering Means Commitment?

We tend to value suffering because suffering means commitment. Think about Rocky Balboa’s training montage when he was dedicated to fighting Apollo Creed. He was punching meat in a freezer and running up hundreds of sets of stairs. He was suffering, but the suffering proved his commitment to boxing. It’s the same reason why Michael Jackson spent most of his youth recording music and rehearsing rather than playing outside like the child he was. We even believe that having a relationship means that effort is involved. Our effort shows our level of commitment.

I look back to the two years of working four jobs and question my identity as a job hopper. Each opportunity, in different ways, wasn’t for me. Would it make sense for me to continue to suffer in the name of commitment? Do I believe recruiters and hiring managers will look at that time in my career unfavorably? The answer to that question is most likely yes. We see five months here and six months there as a lack of commitment. Even if it means living days with anxiety and depression for not finding a workplace that aligns with who I am and how I work. I look back and realize I did make the right decision. My mental health, and in some cases my physical health, is much more important than suffering through experiences just because of how I’d be judged once I left.

Suffering Makes Me Better Than You

Suffering and effort are yet other things that cause separation. People believe that they are better than other people because they work harder. Hard workers look down on people they believe are slacking because if the hard workers can do the work, so should everyone else. I’ve had experiences where this logic prevailed. Not everyone wants to be managers, bosses, and entrepreneurs. Some people just want to make an impact with the least amount of effort possible, go home, and enjoy their lives. We look down on the homeless and have opposition to welfare because people need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” If there is one example of someone doing it, then it is possible for everyone. It only creates an expectation that if I suffer, you should be able to suffer along with me. If you don’t, we are not the same.