Why Hard Work Isn’t Always Good Enough

I had an interesting conversation with my brother last weekend who is active duty military and stationed in Alaska. He was a bit upset about a few things and it got me to thinking more about a few things.

The Conversation

A little backbone to the story. My brother is currently attending school, already has an associate’s degree and is nearing bachelor’s completion. He’s accomplished this in 3 short years of joining the military back in 2018. In his time within the military, he’s managed to climb the ranks to E-4. This is not common, he’s what the military calls “high speed”.

The dude is a hard worker, point blank and period. He’s also incredibly intelligent and wants to be a physician but hasn’t fully committed to a specialty just yet.

Shills aside, he reached out to me over the weekend and expressed some discomfort.

That discomfort revolved around his promotion board that he received the results on. He was one of a handful of people eligible for promotion and only one person would have been able to get it. Keep in mind he’s only 22 years old, this would have made him an E-5 at 22 years of age.

Long story short, he missed the promotion by a mere 20 points. There’s a few factors that go into this calculation such as PT test, etc. He was clearly upset. Even worse, the person who received it routinely works with him and his work ethic is… less than par.

He just happened to be “connected”.

Whether we like to admit it or not, this world is truly structured and catered to benefit those with connections and networks. If you aren’t outrageously loaded, who you know has the potential to always keep you above the bell curve.

Hard Work Isn’t Good Enough

When you grew up, it’s quite likely you heard the phrase “work hard and save your money”. This phrase has been drilled into so many of us from onset of our early adulthood. But, it’s rudely flawed.


Our modern era has been accompanied with changes that have led to more effort needing to be done on one’s own part to “make it”. Gone are the “simple days” where this phrase stood true which is where it was conceived, non-coincidentally.

From a purely financial perspective, it’s only getting harder to make it year by year. The Federal Reserve and quantitative easing are destroying your purchasing power rapidly with no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Here’s a chart in case you’ve been living under a rock.

From a social perspective, the world greatly revolves around who you know. Money can play a factor, but connections get you in the door and out. Is it “fair”? Probably not, but like many universal truths, it’s just the way it is.

Take the story of people like Bill Gates, famous sports athletes or virtual any celebrity. Sports are truly great examples. Malcolm Gladwell dives deep into this very concept in his book called Outliers, I encourage you to read it.

I’m a firm believer (and the data in his book backs this) that we’re all pre-disposed with a certain level of ability/talent. Where that ability/talent diverges is through circumstance and networks. It doesn’t matter if you’re working harder than anyone else, it’s just the way the world works.

Here’s an excerpt that explains this more from his book (yes, I’ve read it entirely).

“The sociologist Robert Merton famously called this phenomenon the “Matthew Effect” after the New Testament verse in the Gospel of Matthew: “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.”

Excerpt from Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

Notice the phrase “accumulative advantage”. This can encompass a variety of things. But, the point is, it’s the reality.

Read the book sometime!