The Modern Day Tortoise

The principle of “working smart” is often seen as the shaggy, scruffy twin brother of “working hard”. Working Smart isn’t actually lazy, it’s just that he earned an online Master’s degree in time management and puts it to good use. He’s good at not wasting his time on daily goose chases, but stays consistent with the mundane tasks plus gambles on high-end pay-offs on a constant basis. I am a self-proclaimed Smart Worker. That doesn’t mean I don’t work hard; it means while I’m working I may not look busy, but I still end up being just as productive (if not more) than those who look busy while working.

I see the fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare” as a visualization of Working Smart vs. Working Hard. The tortoise isn’t bothered by the hype around him; he stays on the steady path. He knows the importance of patience. He keeps his eyes on the prize as his competitors burn their best energy on passing him. And later on when they grow tired or bored, his consistent progress wins him the prize.

As Dr. Phil says, “you do what works for you.” I have been Working Smart, not hard, my whole life. It was officially 1992 (5th grade) when I realized I wouldn’t actually need math beyond basic algebra, or science beyond a baking soda and vinegar volcano, since I knew I’d never want to be an engineer or doctor. I also noticed that though I had never studied for a spelling test, every week I got “105” for my score (I always got the “challenge words” right too) and that my Reading and English classes required little effort, yet those classes challenged me in a fun way. Instead of trying to be an all around great student, why not just focus on what comes easy for me and get by on the other stuff?

Stress causes cancer, heart disease, and loss of hair. Working Smart involves avoiding unnecessary stress when at all possible.

I was the dreaded nightmare to school officials when it came to those yearly standardized tests to measure the school system’s progress; I only tried on the English and Reading sections because they entertained me. For the rest of the subjects, I either marked “C” or made a cool diagonal design down the Scantron. Then I just daydreamed afterwards. Because it didn’t effect my personal grades and I knew it. I had proven my true intelligence by knowing not to worry about a Communist test that couldn’t hurt my individual grades.

When it came to gym class, I Worked Smart too. Dodge Ball was my favorite. While all the aggressive kids ran out to the front lines when the game began (and got hit right away) and made ballsy moves like attempting to catch the opponent’s ball in mid-air (causing a higher risk of getting out if they missed the catch), I just walked around, looking busy in the back row. Ten minutes into the game, I would actually start playing. And that’s when I got aggressive. I usually at least made it to the Top 5 every time because by that point most of the biggest threats were already out of the game. Tortoise vs. the Hare. Working Smart vs. Working Hard.

When I chose my major in college, I obviously ended up being an English major. (Enter joke here that I earned a “B.S.” in English.) My first couple of years of college I got by with B’s and C’s, because I was forced to take Science and Math classes I would never use.) But I ended up graduating on the Dean’s List. Why? Because my senior year was nothing but “400 level” English classes. Nothing but my specialty. So of course I’m gonna graduate on the Dean’s List my senior year of college when I only do what I’m good at and love.

I knew that unless I wanted to work in a specialized field (like being a lawyer or banker) that my English degree would be general enough and well-rounded enough to help me get a decent job. And my plan worked. In a general sense, what I do for a living is hire clients looking for a job- a sort of staffing agency. I have a quota to meet every month. This has been my job for the last 3 ½ years and for almost every month, I’ve had the highest numbers in my department. In fact, last month I had the highest numbers ever of anyone in the recorded history of our company.

And it’s not because I’m “the best” or “really good at what I do”. It’s because I work smart. I learned the art of personality mirroring: I mimic the pace, accent, and amount of aggressiveness of the person on the other end of the phone. I look for red flags that indicate a client would be a dead end for me and if that’s the case, I get off the phone as soon as possible so I can be available to talk to the clients who are most likely to be a fit. I am painfully truthful about the pro’s and con’s as I talk to clients. And they notice it. That builds trust. It’s a formula I follow. Follow the formula and the equation will work itself out.

I see life in a unique way; there is no gray, only black and white. Either something is, or it isn’t. My subconscious has directed me to Work Smart in all I do. Every day as I drive on I-65 to work, there is a two mile stretch on the interstate that slightly curves to the right. I stay in the “slow lane” going about 67 mph, while all the drivers who want to go fast stay in the “fast lane” travelling at about 80 mph. But since I am in the inner lane, I stay parallel to the “fast” cars for the entire two miles, yet I don’t risk my safety by breaking the speed limit on a curve.

A Smart Worker is to always keep a high-end pay-off project on the backburner; a passionate hobby that one day could make income on the side. For the first 12 years of my life, I wrote and illustrated stories. For the next 13 years of my life, I wrote and performed songs. And since I’ve stopped doing that, I started writing non-fiction.

For me, I can’t escape a lifestyle of Working Smart. Looking back, it’s why I hardly ever dated in high school and college- I Dated Smart. It’s why I’m on the Dave Ramsey plan for finances (every dollar is accounted for in a budget, are credit cards are the devil) – I Spend Money Smart. It’s why I’m so strict on what I will and will not eat- I Eat Smart. It’s a matter of focusing on what is best for future, not the most fun at the present day. But a future that is better planned for, will eventually make a better present time.

I should never be a motivational speaker for school kids on this subject, granted. Just the idea of “working smart, not hard” is offensive or misunderstood by many. Working Smart isn’t superior to Working Hard, but it is my way of life. I know no different. I get bored and uninspired when I Work Hard. It seems to work for a lot of people though.

The truth is, the world is full of people who Work Smart, not hard. These are the Mark Zuckerberg’s (who created facebook at age 21 and now at age 25 is almost a billionaire) of the world.

I choose to Work Smart:

1) Focus on what comes easy and exploit it. And just BS through everything else.
2) Time is more than money- time is life, so spend it wisely on what matters.
3) Less stress equals better quality of life.

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