Hard Work and Gen Y: Friends or Enemies?

I was listening to Howard Stern the other day when a caller told him “You’re so lucky that you made it in your field.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Stern said. “You have no idea how intensely I had to work to make it in radio. I would lock myself in my room for days practicing my routine.”

“I worked hard too,” the caller said.

“Did you ever go out and grab a beer with your friends?” Howard asked the caller.

“Ya, sure.”

“Well, I never did because I never had time.”

The exchange reminded me of one of my favorite books, Outliers. In it, Malcolm Gladwell discusses what those who achieve greatness have in common –– the ten thousand hour rule.  Bill Gates, Mozart, the Beetles, and other titans all logged at least ten thousand hours of intense practice before they achieved mastery in their craft.

So what does this mean for us? After all, anyone who has worked at least four or five years has already logged his or her ten thousand hours, right? I don’t think so.

Each of these hours needs to be intense, focused and centered on improvement. I estimate most people only spend one or two hours a day, if that, working on becoming better at their work. “And what’s more,” Gladwell tells us, “the people at the very top don’t just work harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”

Uh, oh.

Don’t tell that to my generation: Generation Y. You see hard work is not really our thing. In 2005, USA Today published an article summing up the values of the seventy million twenty-somethings in the workforce. We value the idea of a work/life balance. We don’t want to live to work, we want to work to live. Ironically, us Gen Y-ers also crave power, achievement and financial freedom. How are we supposed to achieve all that without a lot of hard work? I  haven’t figured it out yet.

So what is my generation going to do? We want all the success in the world, but are we willing to work as hard as the Boomers or the Greatest Generation? Are we willing to log our ten thousand hours?

I remember wanting to get rich quick right out of college. I ran out and bought Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich.” I liked the whole book except the chapter where Hill suggests we make hard work our best friend.

Today I am beginning to realize that Hill and Gladwell might be right. Maybe this whole work/life balance is like the tooth fairy, except us 20-somethings aren’t even willing to pull a couple of teeth to get the cash.

Hard work was my archenemy, now, I’m afraid, it might be the alchemy helping me get where I want to go. We’re not best friends yet, but I’m sure we’re going to become better acquainted sometime soon.