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Growth vs. Grind

·4 mins

It’s worth discussing the difference between growth and grind mindsets. Growth is the process of learning, improving, and evolving–ideally in an upward trajectory. Conversely, grind is working hard, often to the point of exhaustion or burnout. The former is aspirational; the latter is…something else.

I think most people are taught to grind rather than grow. I’ve written about this before in another post, but framed differently. The grind mindset is ground into us when we enter the school system and are subjected to homework, tests, grades, and other forms of performance assessment. The grind mindset is further reinforced when we enter the workforce and are expected to work long hours, often for a fraction of the value we provide to the company’s bottom line (unless you’re lucky enough to wriggle your way into the executive suite).

We’re taught to grind because that’s what’s good for the economy. The harder you work, the more you’ll be rewarded, and it’s a virtuous cycle of consumption and production. In the era of digital Thought Leadership and wannabe “influencers”, there’s no shortage of idiots on the Internet offering their own advice on how to get rich quickly, and more often than not it involves some variation of how you just have to work really really really really hard and you’ll be successful.

The VCs are amongst the worst about parroting grind mindset advice. Often they’re the worst people to take advice from because they want the opportunity to invest in people willing to work hard for peanuts in exchange for the slight chance of insanely high returns.

Most of the VC’s advice is probably decent on the surface, and I believe most of them want people to succeed. Still, there’s a perplexing conflict of interest where the VC’s success depends on you being less successful than you would be without them (provided you could succeed without their money).

If you have a great business, the worst thing you can do is take VC money; this should be a last resort. However, the truth about most wildly successful companies is that they don’t work without a big pile of cash, a broad and deep network of well-connected people, and an absurd amount of good luck. It comes down to the “work smart, not hard” cliché.

And if you can get cheap money with good terms from VCs, then by all means, take it, but make sure you have people without a conflict of interest to advise you if you don’t know how to tell if a deal is good. Just know that this is the exception, not the rule.

When most people tell you to work hard, this is generally bad advice, and they’re either trying to exploit you or repeating what they’ve been told.

Hard work isn’t bad, but generally speaking, the only reward for hard work is more work. So, if you’re choosing to work hard with the expectation of some future reward, you should prepare yourself to be disappointed. There will always be exceptions where hard work is indeed rewarded, but these are exceptions, not the rule.

Professional athletes aren’t successful because they work hard; they’re successful because they’re talented, have won the genetic lottery, and they work hard. And some are so talented they don’t feel the need to work all that hard. It’s a simple matter of cause and effect.

I have found that the things I’m good at come easily and don’t require much effort, but I’ve seen other people struggle mightily with the same tasks despite working much harder than I do.

Focusing on the grind is always the wrong approach, and instead (whatever your endeavors), you should focus on growth. However, it still takes an immense amount of practice to become exceptionally good at any skill, but it’s helpful to benchmark yourself against your peers and know when to quit if things aren’t going well. Knowing when to stop is a priceless skill with a high learning cost. We can’t all be NBA players.