High school basketball coach Tim Notke said it best, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
My story is a perfect example.
I wasn’t a “natural talent” working in construction with my father, working on Wall Street, or even building Spartan. I struggled in every job I’ve ever had, but one thing stayed true: I never quit.
I worked my ass off to make ends meet when they were seemingly parallel. Hard work meant taking responsibility for my own faults that were preventing me from succeeding.
You can do the same. Use these 3 hard lessons I learned about hard work as a guide.
Lesson 1: Move the Rock Yourself.
My parents taught me the only way to get what you want is to work for it—so I did. I started moving giant rocks… literally.
My father asked me to move a 200-pound boulder for a landscaping project we were working on. There were a bunch of guys on the job and he wanted to get his son (me) out of his hair to go tackle it.
I spent all day trying to move the boulder and eventually came back and said, “Dad, I can’t move it.” He responded, “No problem, I’ll get someone who can.”
This moment changed everything. If someone else could move the boulder, then so could I.
At that point, I started cleaning pools and doing light construction, quickly learning that if you want to be successful and make money, you had to move the rocks yourself. The more rocks I moved and the more hours I put in, the more the business grew and the more money I made.
But I also earned a lot of respect for being the “hard worker” instead of the “natural talent.” As a kid, I couldn’t naturally throw a 200-pound boulder across the yard. Now things are a little different.
It’s a secret not many people understand: hard work is the easiest way to gain a reputation and respect. That came in handy on Wall Street.
Lesson 2: Hard Work is Like Compounding Interest
I’m not shy about struggling on Wall Street. It’s a demanding industry in an even more demanding city.
The pace was frenetic. Quick thinking all day every day, early mornings and late nights, no wasted time. Saying “no” wasn’t an option. It was: “Yes, I can handle that,” and “Yes, I can stay late tonight.” You didn’t have the choice to not work hard. It was a non-negotiable part of the job.
To be “great” on Wall Street meant working harder than the next guy, which wasn’t too intimidating for me. I worked harder than others because as hard as it was, it was still easy compared to mixing cement, and the money was 50x better.
My hard work in my first job taught me to be “great” in the others. Today’s work is tomorrow’s reward, and that hard work compounds on itself. Wall Street was just that—compounding interest. It meant working hard today to feel tomorrow’s reward and working hard tomorrow to feel the following day’s reward, and on and on.
The lesson was easy: work hard and you’ll receive benefits. Despite that, no career path was a walk in the park.
Lesson 3: Learnings are Useless Until You Apply Them
I say it all the time, but Spartan was far from a rocket-to-the-moon success story. We crash landed more than once.
We worked brutal hours with low pay and had the constant threat of bankruptcy hanging over our heads—all thanks to me. I backed myself into a corner because this whole “business owner” and “CEO” thing didn’t come naturally.
I invested so much of my own (and other’s) money without seeing any progress. I wanted to quit every single day, but I couldn’t.
I decided to work hard instead.
I put my head down, found ideal investors and employees who were willing to grind, learned to be more strategic with business decisions, and pushed forward.
Almost two decades of hard work later and Spartan is an incredible, global brand (all thanks to my team, of course). My life is a result of never giving up even when skills didn’t come naturally at first attempt. That’s why I look for grit and perseverance in every employee I hire—it works.
My life secret has always been to get myself so committed and so invested that you can’t quit. Hard work, relentlessness, and enthusiasm beat everything. They certainly beat talent all day every day.