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Nick Ang

Hard work is hard work

Most people want to live in a nice house, eat good food, go to the theatre, drive a nice car (or a few). But most people also want to not work too hard at the same time. If I could, I certainly want both at the same time.

But the truth that I often catch myself forgetting is that hard work pays well but is, well, hard work.

Hard work doesn’t just mean that the work itself is challenging or tough (which is a good thing in moderate doses), but hard work is often also hard in terms of sacrifices.

Since I learned to code from a programming bootcamp, I’ve dreamt of working as a software engineer earning big bucks at one of the big tech companies like Google, Apple, or Microsoft. And you know what? I’d be cocky for a second to say this: I know I have it in me to land those jobs if I tried hard.

But I’ve never formally applied to those jobs because I know it will take sacrifices and I wasn’t willing to make them.

Specifically, the first thing I knew was that I would have to sacrifice my time. Knowing myself, I would need to block time away from my wife to study and prepare for their notoriously difficult interviews. I’ll need time to study, do trial interviews, and code a few projects to thicken my portfolio.

The second sacrifice is money, which is tied with time. To prepare, I might have to quit my job and be unemployed for a few months. Seeking a new job is sometimes a full-time job. I’d lose income for a while, with no guaranteed returns. As confident as I am to be able to land the job if I tried hard enough, I know there are still many ways I could fail to get the job offer.

And finally, there is the sacrifice of energy - mental and physical energy. I know that preparing to interview at these big companies will be draining and wear me down. During those months, I would probably be less attentive and less able to enjoy my time with my wife and friends.

Those are the sacrifices I’d have to make just to get the job.

Then there’s doing the job. The work on the job is probably going to be more stressful than any other job in the same field. Why else would these businesses pay extra? This additional stress translates to even more sacrifices that I’d have to make compared to working at a smaller, less-known company that pays me just enough.

The point is this: hard work pays well, and less hard work pays less well. This may not be true when you compare across fields, but I’ve found that it is mostly true if you compare within the same field, like say, software engineering.

I think the reason I tend to forget this truth — and start envying some of my friends and strangers on internet articles for their jobs that pay five times more — is that I don’t know how to value the joy I get having time to spend with my family. But I do know that it is something high. It’s just difficult to compare “something high” against a salary.

Cliché as it sounds, at the end of the day, we must find our balance between striving and living. To that end, I find that it helps to remember that hard work pays well, and less hard work pays less well. Or as they say, you reap what you sow.


In Swissotel The Stamford, serving day 7 of my 21-day Stay Home Notice (SHN) as part of the pandemic control mechanism by the Singapore government.


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