Updated on 10.24.11

The Secret Ingredient to Financial and Career Success

Trent Hamm

There actually is a single secret ingredient to financial success. It’s extremely similar to the secret ingredient for career success, too. Yet so many people overlook it or, even worse, look down upon it.

The secret is hard work. I’ll give you a few examples of what I’m talking about.

I’ll start off with someone you might not expect: Kim Kardashian. The overwhelming impression of her that I get from a lot of people is that she’s a “worthless” socialite – or something similarly derogative.

What they’re not looking at is that this image that they have of her is one that she’s invested a lot of time in constructing. Why? Because there’s value in it. A lot of value. I might not necessarily like the image she’s created, but I can’t deny that there’s a ton of work that’s gone into it and that there’s a lot of value in it, too.

If you see a picture of her in a magazine out on the town, there’s often a day or two of prep work that went into that picture. The choice of where to go, who to go with, when to go, how long to be there, how to pose, and so on. She has to cultivate a ton of press contacts to keep her name out there. She’s involved in a large number of small businesses, either as an owner or as a promoter.

She’s essentially set for life because of the businesses and other things she’s created for herself.

I’ll use a more straightforward example for my next one: Steve Jobs. Steve was the kind of person who would email people at three in the morning because he didn’t like the exact layout of an icon on a secondary web page.

He either built or co-built Apple and Pixar by having an obsessive focus on detail, a work ethic that would drive most people to drink, and a strong sense of what he wanted and a willingness to be “the jerk” to make sure that it happened.

I’ll use myself for another example. I built The Simple Dollar in my spare time while working another full time job that sometimes demanded overtime. For at least a year, almost every spare moment I had was filled with writing and creating and promoting.

Today, I write two articles per day, every day, around the calendar year. On top of that, I’m handling things like server maintenance, contract negotiations, and countless other little things.

Whenever I go to the grocery store, I’m not just shopping for groceries. I usually have a notepad out, taking notes for a post. I have a notebook in my pocket at all times and another on my bedside table for ideas and notes that come into my mind or that I discover along the way.

I have to be very careful with how I manage my time so that I’m available for my family when they need me. That means largely filling up the rest of my time with work-related things. I rarely watch television, and when I do it’s usually with a laptop open. I read a fair amount, but a big part of that is that reading improves my writing skills. The Simple Dollar was built on me doing things this way, with a relentless work ethic.

What do I get from that? I have the ability to do what I enjoy for a living, which is writing. I have the flexiblity to spend the time I want to spend with my family. I have the level of material trappings which I desire (which, honestly, isn’t really that much). I have what I want because I worked for it.

Success isn’t created by sitting at home and watching Monday Night Football. It’s not created by complaining about others or finding reasons to do nothing.

Success is about hard work.

Whenever you see someone doing something that you wish you were doing, there’s almost always a way to cross that gap. Hard work.

Whenever you look at your debts and wish they would go away, know that there’s virtually always a route to debt freedom. Hard work.

Whenever you want something different for your life, recognize that you can have a different path. It just takes hard work.

Hard work, in the form of a lot of time and energy and thought, fuels almost every personal and professional and financial success out there.

Are you willing to work hard for what you want?

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  1. TLS says:

    While I agree that hard work is important, I don’t think that hard work by itself equals success. You need to also work ‘smart’ and make good choices.

    You could work really hard to plant a garden, but it’s not going to flourish if you haven’t done your research first. You need to build the soil and choose the right kind of plants and take care of them properly. If you do this, your garden is likely to be productive. If you don’t, you’re just going to have a bunch of dead plants.

  2. getagrip says:

    While I agree that it is more than just hard work and that it is hard, directed, work towards a specific goal that breeds success, too often people envy or dismiss the effort it took folks to get to a point of success.

    I agree that there are plenty of folks who work hard and get nowhere or even fail in epic ways. But everyone I personally know who is successful worked very hard at it. Too many ignore that fact, and lots of folks who stop working, thinking they don’t have to anymore, stop succeeding.

  3. jackie.n says:

    i find using kim kardashian as a positive example of achieving your goals via “hard work” an interesting one. her best friend, paris hilton, only became well known when her sex tape was “accidentally” leaked to the internet. even after seeing what happened to her “best” friend kim. k. goes on to make her own sex tape with a boyfriend she “loved and trusted at the time.” and gee what happened? kim k. name is known all over the internet as the daughter of OJ’s lawyer that made a sex tape. i wouldn’t actually call that “hard work”. yes, she got her name out there and then used that to build her business–kim kardashian. i don’t know of any father (or mother) that would be pleased and proud of that method of their child achieving success in life.i think perhaps a more appropriate candidate would have illustrated your point better.

  4. kristine says:

    “Because there’s value in it. A lot of value.”

    I think with Kardashian you are mistakenly equating “commercial viability” with value. Value implies worth something beyond the ability to generate revenue. I do not believe the Kardashians add any real “value” to our society, other than visual aid, no matter how hard they work garnering money and recognition, and regardless of residual fall-off for handlers.
    Value is not a term I use for anything inane.

  5. kristine says:

    That said- hey- pardon me for being snide- but wow. Few people have the temerity to put themselves side-by-side with Steve Jobs as an example. Just WOW.

    I worked 80-90 hours weeks for a couple of decades, and have reaped enormous benefits, awesome opportunities for my kids, and NY Times recognition for my hard work. But there is no way I would ever say that anyone with same skill set, and the same amount of hard work, would have the same, or even similar, outcome. Life has too many variables to conclude “if this, then that”. Not acknowledging the huge role of certain advantages and luck in my success, and attributing it all to “me and my hard work”, would be erroneous and narcissistic.

  6. Vanessa says:

    It wasn’t hard work that got Kim K born into a famous family. And based on what I’ve heard about her sex tape, she wasn’t working hard in that either.

    I agree with TLS that you have to be smart as well as work hard. This blog is successful because of hard work, but also because it’s about a topic many people are interested in–personal finance. A blog about 20th century telegraph poles will not be nearly as successful no matter how hard you work at it. The audience just isn’t there.

  7. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    @Vanessa (#6)
    But part of the hard work is finding that target market. You can call it working hard or working smart but it’s still work.

    As a product manager, a big part of my role is to find the right market for my company. That’s a lot of hard work doing market research, following magazines and analysts and talking to a wide variety of stakeholders.

    And yes, much as I despise Kim K. she does indeed work hard for her money. Her entire life seems to be her job at this point.

  8. Jonathan says:

    @Kristine (#5) – Do you think that Trent was comparing himself to Steve Jobs? Or just the fact that he mentioned his own name in the same article as Steve Jobs was foolhardy?

  9. Jamie says:

    @Kristine(#5): You could also say that Trent was comparing himself to Kim Kardashian.

  10. Steven says:

    I think it’s ironic that personal finance writers have historically attacked consumerism, especially towards Apple products, but now that Jobs has died, he’s revered as a martyr and put on some type of pedestal. I don’t understand it.

    He’s at least partially responsible for creating a society bent on mindless consumerism for things we absolutely have no need for. For continually pumping out new models that create the belief that what we own now is no longer “good enough.”

    Not to mention, workers in China who manufacture the iPad have had to sign a pledge not to commit suicide because their working conditions are so horrible, and the company has installed nets around the dorms that the workers live in in case they jump out of the windows.

  11. Adam P says:

    She and her heiress best friend put out sex tapes. That’s how she became famous. You do know that, right Trent?

    I can’t think of any “celebrities” I admire less than the Kardashians. I’m sure Hitler worked very hard too, should we admire his work ethic? Or look at what he represented and think about the bigger picture? Come on now.

  12. A Sumner says:

    Kim Kardashian may have found a short-cut to fame, but if not for hard work keeping herself out there and building the Kim Kardashian brand, she would have faded back into obscurity. Oh, she may employ a publicist and other “people” (and what’s the problem with employing people?), but the mere fact that she’s famous for something so frivolous means she has to work that much harder to stay famous. There’s nothing significant to fall back on. So the Kim Kardashian brand isn’t socially conscious. So what? It’s about losing yourself in a sexy celebrity lifestyle fantasy. It doesn’t negate the effort it takes to maintain the Kim Kardashian brand.

    Anyway, Trent said hard work is an important ingredient for success, he didn’t say it’s the whole recipe.

  13. Sara says:

    It’s interesting that Trent posted about the importance of hard work in the same week that Get Rich Slowly posted about the importance of office politics. I used to have the idealistic view that working hard and doing my job really well would be enough, but I am starting to realize that that it’s not. I suppose you could say that these ideas are compatible because one must work hard at office politics to succeed, but I think the reality is that most businesses are set up so that employees must divert some of their hard work away from their actual job functions and instead put effort into playing the game and manipulating others.

  14. Diane says:

    Kardashian and Jobs aside, Trent’s point is clear: Hard work is an essential ingredient in most success stories, however one defines success.
    I’d add another, equally crucial element: focus. If you take a scattershot approach, your odds of success diminish. Paying off bills isn’t that hard, losing weight isn’t that hard. Both require intense focus, at least initially, for the goal to be successfully achieved. Is it Dave Ramsey who calls it gazelle-like intensity?

  15. jackie.n says:

    well, if kudos are to be given out to the kim k.’s of this world for their business sense, then here’s a shout out for courtney stodden. now that’s one “hard working” teenager! maximizing every photo op and interview, and she hasn’t even done a sex tape (yet). is it the point of the article that it doesn’t matter what path one takes to achieve financial success? if that is true then if one possesses the drive and detemination to “make it” that’s enough to warrant our admiration.

  16. Laura says:

    Let’s say Kim Kardashian was born into a blue-collar, middle-class family, and was only average looking. Would the same amount of work have gotten her to where she is now, ya’ think?

  17. Jonathan says:

    “Let’s say Kim Kardashian was born into a blue-collar, middle-class family, and was only average looking. Would the same amount of work have gotten her to where she is now, ya’ think?”

    For someone in that situation the path to success would have been a different one. One thing that people like Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton do is to recognize what they can do to capitalize on their background/relatives/looks, etc. In other words, they find a path to success that takes advantage of the advantages they have to work with.

  18. kristine says:

    #8 and #9- the tendency of the author to hold himself up as an example of goodness and accomplishment is a weakness of this blog. I know it goes to credibility, but so often? I guess that grabbing onto the 2 most obviously famous people n the news in the last month is expected, but then to say…”Look at X, then at Y, now look at me!” I admired Jobs’ intelligence and am in awe of his fanatical work ethic well past his 20s. To see the XYZ comparison, from my view, was unflattering in a way the author did not intend.

    Look at the next blog. He then mentions others he knows as examples of big mistakes made. It is a repeated pattern of I use “me” for flattering comparisons, and I use others in my circle for unflattering anecdotes. If you have been reading this for a while- the pattern is overt.

    (Using Kim and Jobs points to rather Machiavellian examples anyway-kinda odd to hold them up.)

    I would be much more impressed if he coughed up some less than the most famous at the moment examples, and some positive examples of everyday people who are not him, or his immediate family. Surely there are others out there worthy of note-no doubt he’s received thousands of reader success stories!

  19. Becca says:

    Trent often holds himself up as a negative example, as well as a positive example.

  20. Gretchen says:

    Actually, #12 A Sumner, the first line is “a single secret ingredient to financial success.”

    It’s hard work picking green beans, too. Sometimes people get lucky.

  21. David says:

    Best post ever! Very inspiring post. Also really like the suggestion of using RescueTime, very helpful as well. Thanks

  22. krantcents says:

    Hard work trumps almost everything else. Luck is hard work meets opportunity.

  23. Jonathan says:

    “It is a repeated pattern of I use “me” for flattering comparisons, and I use others in my circle for unflattering anecdotes. If you have been reading this for a while- the pattern is overt.”

    Maybe we have been reading a different blog. While I don’t argue with the point about using himself as a positive example I do disagree with the point about negative examples. Trent often uses himself as a negative example (as Becca mentioned in #19). This blog is based on Trent’s experiences, so it is to be expected that he often uses himself as an example (both positive and negative).

  24. Katie says:

    My sense is that Trent’s negative examples tend to about his past life rather than his present life. Which is great that he’s in a good place. But I agree that it makes for less than scintillating reading, and that a bit of humility and empathy tends to make the message go down better.

  25. Troy says:

    Steve Jobs, Kim K and yourself.

    This post couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes to write.

    I find it ironic that a post about hard work displays so little of it.

  26. SwingCheese says:

    But does Kim K really work hard at keeping herself in the limelight? Or do other agencies (TMZ for example) do the hard work of keeping her in the limelight, and convincing us that we should care what she’s wearing, where she is, or who she’s with, and she just shows up to take advantage of it?

    (Taking her clothing line out of the picture, because I do believe that she has worked on that. I also believe that she was afforded the opportunity to pursue that particular line of work based on the family into which she was born, as I don’t think she has the talent or ability to make it in that line of work without the familial connections.)

  27. Jules says:

    While I think hard work is needed, I don’t think it’s possible to entirely discount the randomness in our everyday lives. What if Steve Jobs hadn’t gone to Reed? What if Kim Kardashian didn’t have her curves? To say that hard work is all you need to succeed is like saying that the world is fair. Hard work puts you in a place to take advantage of openings, but it never guarantees those openings to begin with.

  28. kristine says:

    SwingCheese- often celebrity profiteers are referred to as parasites. It can be a symbiotic relationship- the hype makes success, the success justifies hype, and so on, and so on till everyone makes a lot of money off the “brand”. Much ado about nothing. And it has little or no regard for how the initial fame/infamy was obtained.

    It reaches the parasite stage when a celeb begins to buckle under the pressure, or succumb to vice, and the profiteers then enable, or push a celeb to continue the path to point of near or total destruction. When you are surrounded by synchophants- you can lose touch with reality. We see it all time. It is only a symbiotic relationship as long as no one wants to get off the carousel, and the celeb does not insist on having much privacy.

  29. Shirley says:

    It’s by God’s grace we accomplish anything; “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It’s by His grace we have talents and abilities. The ability to work hard is a gift. Everything we have, we have received. It’s by His grace we take our next breath! We should use the talents and gifts God has given us. Yes, work hard but remember to give thanks.

  30. MARY S says:

    Well said,Shirley!

  31. kevin says:

    Katie is right. The only time Trent admits a mistake is one that was in the past. You simply cannot find an example of him mentioning a recent mistake. The whole “I used to lite my cigars with hundred dollar bills but now I make my own toothpaste” scenario just doesn’t ring true to me.

  32. elyn says:

    This post feels a bit clumsy and simplistic and honestly, defensive. There is some person Trent seems to have in mind that he directs posts like this to. Someone who complains about not having opportunities, who is lazy, who watches too much Monday Night Football. Other posts have this person hunting and cruising on weekends. And then there is Trent, who works so hard. I find this binary “Hard Working Frugal Hero vs Lazy TV Watcher” stuff rather tedious.

    Yes, hard work helps in bringing success. Yes, Trent works hard. Not every successful person works hard. Not every hard worker is successful, either. There’s a lot of grey area between the lazy complainer and the hard worker. The world is far more complicated than this post suggests.

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