On the Futility of Hard Work

On the Futility of Hard Work

Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.

Alfred Montapert

The expelling of effort, work and the asserting of ones will are both inevitabilities of existing. Although the purpose of work or effort is a means to an end, it can perversely become an end in itself. This is what characterises what I shall call the Beta-Man or rather the Busy-Man.

The Beta-Man (or the Busy Man ) is the hardworking man who has long been seen or understood as being the ‘successful’ or the ‘important’ one by the wider culture. This illusion must go, for the Busy Man is the foolish man. Effort has never and will never correlate with success. A hardworking slave will always remain a slave. The cultural-historical context of the western world is one of a ‘protestant work ethic,’ whereby the Busy-man or hard-worker is lauded and sanctioned with rewards, recognition and promotions. A rewarded, recognised and promoted slave will always remain a slave.

The Beta-Man embodies an undefined Value-System. Although the Busy Man appears to be ‘principled’ and ‘forceful,’ he is truly characterised by indifference, ambivalence and indecision. It is precisely this make up that allows him to take part in all pointless work and activities. His indifference and indecision makes him unable to assign worth or value to one activity, work or event over another. He thus takes part in all. He values experience as a whole over its specific or refined forms.

At the essence of the Busy Mans efforts lay a desire for purpose. By constantly being involved in activity, he becomes significant to himself and others. There is always something for him to do. There is therefore something to live for. Purpose is gained. For the Busy Man, it isn’t totally about the goal of the efforts, but the efforts themselves. The Beta-Man lives and concentrates on the means and not the ends, the cause and not the effect, the labour and not the fruits thereof. The Busy Man is truly plagued by a lack of purpose. A lack which his efforts attempt to cover up. All he achieves is a tired mind and body.

He aims to have his diary full. He accepts his lack of time as inevitable, disbelieving in any alternative. He takes pride in his packed schedule, deeming himself ‘organised’ as he completes all his tasks not realising the futility of his actions. He is so enthralled in the futile routine that he is unable to make time to examine the worth of his own process. He gives himself activity to feel a weight of purpose. This isn’t purpose, this is distraction. He really has no direction in life and feels a purpose from feeling tired and worn out; “what a day, I’m working really hard aren’t I.”

Those blindly following orders, breaking backs and bleeding their fingers are appreciated by the culture of the protestant work ethic. It has made us peasants. As soon as we’ve finished education, we look for a master, a boss, a place to work, a space to slave. The protestant work ethic culture has positioned us to assume that hard work is synonymous with success. The Beta-Man therefore aims to work hard and not fruitfully. The fruit becomes of secondary importance to labour.

Words such as ‘hardworking’ and ‘industrious’ although terms appearing to describe virtues – have acted as vices. These are words for peasants. True virtues are prolific, fruitful and productive. This is the purpose of hard work. However it is foolish to appreciate the vehicle over the results. Many of us work hard without knowing what we aim to ‘produce’ or achieve by doing so.

We all interact with this Beta-Man. He’s is the gym all the time but does not know why he is there, he aims to exercise, not improve his body or health. He is in the library all the time but remains uninformed. He occupies the same position in the same job for years. He is the bureaucrat. He is the one who appreciates the lecture over knowledge itself, annoyed by those who don’t attend. He attends every night out, hungry for every experience he can grab, anxious about not missing out.

For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer

Arnold Swarezenegger

The meaning of life is debatable; the meaning of work is not. Its meaning; or purpose rather is to progress; to develop and to better. If you are expelling effort and you are not progressing, you are digressing. There is no in-between, no middle ground or negotiation. If you’re not progressing, you are digressing. The Beta-Man develops a routines and habits that digress him.

What is unfortunate is that the Beta-man displays a willingness to progress but due to a lack a defined Value-System is unable to do so. In order to progress, working hard will achieve nothing. One must work ‘right.’ Running with all your effort in the wrong direction will never get you to your destination.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore,
is not an act but a habit.


The Alpha-Man, (as opposed to the Beta-Man) understands that life is war, that every choice carries weight, and every decision consequence. He calculates the worth of every move. Unlike the Busy Man, he filters futile work and activity away from his presence. He concentrates his efforts with conviction and knows the meaning of life isn’t simply to exist. There is no Plan B for this is only a distraction from Plan A. Rather than action and working to gain a sense of purpose, he is characterised by a defined Value-System and so realises his purpose first and then works. The work therefore becomes progressive and not digressive.

His Value-System allows him to become aware of the futile activity and he is therefore able to shun it. He labours for fruit; every move is towards a goal, a cause to an effect, a means to an end. He moves only when it counts; this is the art of war. The Alpha-Man controls his routines and habits. The Busy Man is controlled by his routines and habits. The Alpha-Man focuses and achieves much more. He knows that life is too short to spread himself thin.

To be of the Alpha, one must first define their Value-System. You must understand your principles. Know thyself. Only once you know yourself can you gain a paradigm to understand life’s chaotic activities and events. You have clarity. Only here can you make decisions about what is worth paying attention to and what is worth discarding.


There are two types of people: The Beta-Man and the Alpha-Man. The Beta works for purpose whilst the Alpha works for product.

The purpose of work is to progress. Work is a means to an end. However, the Beta-Man uses work as an end in itself.

An Undefined Value-System characterises the Beta-Man whilst a defined Value-System characterises the Alpha-Man. A defined Value-System allows one to filter life’s activities.