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[Commentary] An Unfair World: Why Working Hard will get you Nowhere, but Working Smart will.

The world is not fair. The world is not a wish-granting factory. Some people are born smart, some people aren’t. Beautiful, ugly, normal, disabled, tall short. If you try to live in this world thinking that everything is fair and equal, you will not be pleased with the results. Therefore, to survive an unfair world, you need to start thinking out of the box.

Naturally, you will not be able to follow this standard equation (which is what the majority of earthlings assume)


This graph does not apply to modern 21st century reality. This was only relevant during the Industrial Revolution era where everyone was paid hourly wages because it was truly the only way they could survive. During that time, farmers were forced to put in hours into farming their crops if not they will suffer from starvation and poverty.

Now the game of life has changed (especially if we are talking about first world countries). If you have realized some patterns in our current era, it does not mean that just because you had straight As for grades meant that you will become a millionaire. There has been no direct statistics proving that A-class students = millionaires. Surprisingly, no one has gotten rich by grinding an office employee job for 40 years straight and putting in 10 hours every weekday. Granted, they would have been able to live a comfortable middle-class life, but they would have never got into the luxury zone.

Multi-billionaire giants such as Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki has written books that you can never become rich by working hard as an employee, and you cannot define success just because you had A grades in school.

Allow me to explain 3 classic examples of why the person who works smart will win in the end.

1. Working hard for finances vs Working smart for finances

If you have plans to join the rat race and work up the promotional ladder so you can have a higher monthly salary in hopes of becoming rich, that is a wrong mindset. If you take some time to calculate how long you will need to save up your monthly income in order to hit millionaire status (assuming your house is fully paid for, NOT under loan/debt), you will need a minimum of 40 years, even if you had the discipline to save $2,000 a month out of your average $4,000-$5,000 salary. Even if you managed to clinch a high-paying senior management position in your 30s, you will still need a minimum of 20 years to hit millionaire status if you had saved $5,000 a month! Note that this sum is after all your expenses and bills have been paid off in full.

So much discipline, so much time required.


Let’s take a look at someone who knows how to manage his finances smartly. This person does not have to work so hard for the rat race. This person will not be affected by whether he or she gets promoted or has a higher income salary, because this person does not plan to work for such a long period of time to be rich. At a young age of 18, you can start opening up a stock market account, purchase bonds, endowments and REITs. Even if your salary was only $2,000 at the age, you could have put aside $1,000 a month for 2~3 years. Using a minimum sum of $20,000, it is already a good amount of capital to start investing into the markets and watch your finances grow. Of course, this being easier said than done, you must have studied the markets very carefully to make sure you do not burn your fingers in investment. A person who knows the ways of the market inside out will make high returns from the money. The $20,000, if compounded with annual interest of 10% (through smart investment), will double up in 8 years, and you don’t even have to do anything once your money is safely invested! Over time, as your money grows, you can have even more investments in your portfolio, and it is entirely possible to hit millionaire status in less than 20 years without grinding the everyday 9-6 employee job.

2. Studying Hard for Exams vs Studying Smart for Exams

This will apply to the younger age category, especially for university students whose exams are a real killer. If you are a reader and at the JC/Poly/ITE level, trust me when I say, university exams are a whole new league above yours.


Similar to the above example, if you are a studious student and plan to put in a fixed amount of time everyday into studying, eg. 6 hours per day, and hope that after a few months of this routine you can finally score an A, that is also not a good mindset. Why? You will risk suffering from stress, burn-out, and loss of social interactions. Let’s assume for a moment that you are mentally strong enough to survive all these symptoms. This method of studying only worked for O-level students and PSLE-level students. You will come to realize that in JC, Poly, ITE or University, the examinations do not simply ask you to memorize from a textbook and somehow regurgitate all the contents onto your question paper.

Analytical questions, critical-thinking skills are involved, which are designed to poke at your brain. The examiner wants to see how you understand the topic, analyze the problem and give your original insight on how to solve the problem. They do not look for textbook answers anymore, and they want your own opinion and theories instead. You simply cannot expect to become an A student from putting 6 hours of studies a day. You must be able to predict and understand what topic you are best at, focus on that and develop your own critical thinking skills by arguing and asking more questions in class. I have seen people who only put in half the time (3 hours a day) and were able to score better than those who put in 6 hours a day.

Do you now know where the familiar saying “Some people never study also can score well one” came about? Or perhaps that 1 person who keeps insisting that they did not study much but still came out with an A.

3. Working Hard at Work vs Working Smart at Work

Contrary to popular belief, some people think that because they work Overtime (OT) means they can get into their boss’s good books and give a good impression. This is true, but not entirely correct and directly related to getting that promotion.

Man holding stack of paperwork with hand on calculator with long

Yes, I agree that everyone is paid on an hourly basis. You are paid for your time in the office and are expected to work from a set period of time, 9am-6pm. The boss also has a good impression on the worker who reports to work 15 minutes early and stays back late after 6pm to ‘finish up work’.

However, this concept is very superficial. 1 thing we all need to remember is that the companies we work for only care about performance. If you throw this question to employers on which employee do they prefer?

  1. The one who comes early and leaves late, and gives an average performance for work expectations and results 2. The one who arrives slightly late and leaves earlier than usual, and gives an outstanding performance for work expectations and results.

You will be surprised, but most, if not all HR managers WILL hire the latecomer in exchange for outstanding quality of work. In conclusion, your boss does not really care about the number of hours you are working, they only care about the quality of work you produce, and how you have contributed to the company.

(In fact, if you are always doing OT more than your colleagues every day, is this not a reflection of your bad time management to complete your work before deadlines? In my opinion, good employees always complete their work on time)

Employees who work hard are also those who tend to over-volunteer themselves for extra workload, in an effort to impress their superiors. This is not a good idea, because once you are entrusted the responsibility to complete a certain project or task before the given deadline, you are obligated to finish it, not abandon it. This is the core reason why workers are forced to work OT in fear that they will not be able to complete their work before the deadline. The worst part is, if you have truly failed the deadline, your boss does not care whether you were initially enthusiastic and hardworking about taking up more work projects, but instead, furious that you have failed your tasking. The employee who works smart knows exactly what workload he can manage and gives time for himself to relief stress, and complete the task at a comfortable pace, so that the quality of the work will be even more amazing, due to the fact that the work task was not rushed and sloppy. Higher quality of work results trumps higher quantity of work produced – especially so for Multinational Corporations (MNCs)

So take note! The story of the Rabbit and the Turtle sounded really nice when we were young. But in this world, the Rabbit will win. Does anyone ever argue that if the Rabbit simply slept a little bit lesser, it would have truly won the Turtle no matter what?

Jackie Loh Writer The Influencer Media

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