Arbeit Macht Frei

The harder I work, the luckier I get. – Samuel Goldwyn

Arbeit Macht Frei is a slogan on a sign above the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland (among other concentration camps used by the Nazis). It roughly translates as, “Work sets you free.” What the Nazis expressed with cruel irony, I say seriously. Embracing work is a path to freedom. Resisting work is a path to enslavement.

Much struggle is the result of hard work resisted, but hard work is more than just putting in the time. To ensure that hard work pays off, an intelligent effort is required.

Justifying Laziness

Laziness is an emotional impulse — a common desire to enjoy the pleasures of life before we’ve earned them — but it’s not a very effective or sustainable approach.

Do you need to earn the pleasures of life? That depends on what you want. If you want something that’s free or freely offered — by nature or by people — you can simply claim it. If you’re walking through a field and want to eat some of the wild plants, go ahead and enjoy nature’s bounty.

If, however, you desire something that was created by human hands (especially hands that expect to be fairly compensated for their efforts) such as a nice home or a speedy piece of technology, then laziness is largely a path to scarcity. Get used to being denied many of life’s benefits if your attitude is entrenched in laziness.

If you resist the emotion of laziness when you experience it, then the emotional feeling of laziness combined with your beliefs about what it means to be lazy will signal your brain to come up with plenty of logical-sounding justifications for your laziness-induced episodes, such as:

  • Everything should be free without requiring effort.
  • It’s okay to mooch off of others, just this one time.
  • I can manifest whatever I want, even if I’m not willing to work for it.
  • Laziness is more spiritual than hard work.

The problem with these justifications is that they don’t mesh well with reality. Laziness is an emotional impulse, not a logical choice. Justifying laziness with logic is like breaking your dishes in anger and then claiming that you did it because you needed new dishes. You broke your dishes because you were pissed and lost control. You slacked off because you felt lazy and unmotivated. Don’t overcomplicate this.

Regardless of your personal “shoulds,” there are lots of items and experiences in life that aren’t free but which can easily be attained by earning and spending money. A full wallet can do a lot of manifesting with grace and ease.

You can try manifesting your desires without lifting a finger. This can work for small things, and sometimes you’ll get lucky, but if you resist working towards your desires directly, it’s delusional to claim that you’re a vibrational match for receiving them.

If you want to improve your manifesting, at least meet the universe halfway. It’s hard to say you’re committed to experiencing a result if you aren’t actively moving towards it. Rest in the space of allowing when you get stuck and need inspiration, but when the next action is staring you in the face, taunting you to get moving, then release the parking brake and go, go, go!

Laziness isn’t spiritual — unless your intent is to cultivate an unrefined and slothful spirit. If that’s the case though, you should have incarnated as a rock… perhaps below the tree in my backyard where the birds like to poop.

Justifying laziness with seemingly logical explanations after the fact is pointless — pure nonsense used to explain a resisted emotion. The emotion of laziness requires no justification, however. Next time you’re feeling lazy, just admit that you’re feeling lazy, and leave it at that. Don’t try to justify it. If you decide to act on that emotion, make it clear to yourself that you’re acting emotionally. Be congruent with your emotional truth in that moment, and don’t try to layer it with nonsensical explanations to make your actions seem logical. Occasional laziness has its place — we all need a break sometimes — but if you resist it, you’re only going to expand it.

Recognize pervasive laziness for what it is — a block that stands between you and your desires. Don’t feed laziness with pointless justification. Feed your desires with action instead. If you’re going to indulge in laziness, then indulge in it fully and consciously till it runs its course.

Cultivating High Standards for Work

Hard work can be very enjoyable if you’re working towards desires of your choosing.

Let your desires motivate you towards action. Know that you can achieve them and that you will achieve them — if you’re willing to make a serious, committed effort. Don’t expect much progress though if you’re only willing to take a half-assed approach. Achieving meaningful goals requires that you commit your entire ass, not just one cheek.

It’s possible to work hard and not get much done if your standards for work are too low. These standards include:

  • what kinds of work you’re willing to do
  • how well you maintain focus and avoid distractions
  • how well you’re leveraging your skills and talents
  • what levels of quality you consider to be acceptable output
  • favoring work you enjoy

If your standards for the kinds of work you do are low, you’ll get caught up doing a lot of pointless busywork that you don’t need to be doing and which doesn’t provide much social value. Doing work that’s beneath you can be a mild diversion for a while, but if you do too much of it, it’s just another time waster.

If you work with poor focus and succumb to distractions, you’re not working hard, and your results will suffer for it. Working for 3 hours with good purpose and focus is often much more productive than putting in 8 hours of distraction-laden half-work.

If you do too much work you’re not very good at, and you aren’t improving much, shift your work around to align more closely with your skills and talents. You’ll get more done in less time, and you’ll be able to take on bigger challenges as well. Regardless of whether you believe you work for yourself or for someone else, you ultimately choose the work that lands on your plate, either by direct consent or through silent approval.

Maintain high standards for the quality of your output. When you’re working on something important to you, do your best work. If you aren’t willing to do your best, then switch to work that demands the best of you.

Keep shifting your work in the direction of what you love to do. This week do more of what you love than you did last week. The more you enjoy your work, the easier it is to feel motivated. This kind of hard work feels good.

Think improvement, not perfection. Keep raising your standards over time. Strive to become more dedicated to your work this year than you were last year.

High standards require commitment. You cannot maintain high standards while simultaneously tolerating low standards. Start noticing where your standards are out of alignment with your best efforts, and make some real changes. Disconnect from those who are constantly dragging you down. Dump the uninspired work that makes you feel like procrastinating instead of contributing. Brainstorm a list of 20 things you can do to increase the quality of your work output; then implement one of those items immediately.

Hard Work and Growth

Holding public workshops is very challenging for me. I know my material well enough that I could surely wing it through a whole workshop, especially if it’s one I’ve done many times before, but I’m not willing to do that. Even if other people didn’t notice, I’d notice, and I wouldn’t feel good about it.

And so I work very hard at each workshop, from preparation to delivery to completion. I show up well prepared and well rested. I prepare myself mentally and emotionally for a demanding weekend. I arrive early, and I hang out during breaks and at the end of each day of the workshop to answer people’s questions. This work is very challenging, and I do the best I can each time, always trying to top what I did last time. After each workshop I do a postmortem to look for ways I can improve the experience for next time. I embrace the principle of kaizen — continuous improvement.

This is hard work, but it’s intelligent hard work. Small improvements in the workshop format and delivery can increase the value that people receive from it.

I could simply lock down the workshop format and coast for a while if I wanted to, but I wouldn’t respect myself as much if I did. If I’m going to teach others about personal growth, then I must embody that value. I want to keep growing and improving, both personally and professionally, and so my workshops must keep improving as well.

Perfection is an unattainable ideal. No human work product will be perfect. But growth and improvement are grounded and practical values. They’re achievable under real-world conditions. You can work smarter and harder today than you did yesterday. You can eliminate one distraction today that you succumbed to yesterday. You can do more work today that you enjoy and that matches your skills and talents. And this is all that’s required.

Make your best effort not to be perfect but to improve upon yesterday or last week. Take on one little change at a time. Find one small improvement you can make today, and do that day after day. After months and years of iteration, you’ll find your work much more productive, enjoyable, and rewarding.


If you maintain high standards for your work, the work provides its own intrinsic rewards. Nevertheless, it’s well and good to be fairly compensated for your work.

A tremendous amount of neurological and psychological experimentation has shown that, barring abnormal conditions such as being a sociopath, our brains are hard-wired with a sense of social fairness. We typically reject approaches to life that are either too selfish or too selfless. People will even reject certain forms of personal gain if they perceive that those gains are unfair. Somewhere between thievery and sacrifice, we seek to find the right balance that keeps us feeling good about our exchanges with others.

These behaviors are normally subconscious. We don’t even think about them most of the time, but we often notice when such standards are violated, either by ourselves or by others.

I ask you to look within for a moment. Are you living up to your own standards of social fairness? How much value are you receiving from others, and what are you contributing in return? Are you too much of a moocher, taking more than you’re giving? Are you too much of a martyr, draining yourself to keeping giving even as you decline the best that life is willing to provide you?

I found that when I was mired in scarcity, I wasn’t contributing my best. I was usually working hard, but I wasn’t doing the kind of work that I felt close to my best potential contribution. And so my compensation was commensurate with that mismatch — weak.

When I shifted to work that I felt more congruent with, I didn’t have to put in as many hours, but I could still feel at the end of the day that I’d done my best. Writing one good article, even though it isn’t difficult work for me these days in terms of the skill required, is still an area where I invest a lot of hard work, and I seek ongoing improvement. I enjoy expressing inspired ideas through writing, and I share them through an efficient medium that allows people to receive them immediately after publication. I push myself to publish fresh content that can help people grow. I put a lot of myself into my work. I take risks. The payoff is that I respect myself, and I value what I’m contributing. I wouldn’t feel this way, however, if I constantly succumbed to laziness and then tried to justify it as “spiritual allowing” or some such nonsense.

When you respect your work and your contribution, it’s easier to allow yourself to receive the rewards of hard work. Abundance can flow through your life with less resistance. You’ll be able to receive more rewards if you make a bigger contribution because you’ll feel you deserve it; it won’t violate your biologically pre-programmed standards of fairness. But if you know deep down that you aren’t doing your best, some part of you will block that abundance. You’ll know you didn’t really earn it.

Earn It!

Fulfillment is earned, not bestowed. I know many people would like to convince themselves that this isn’t true, and I wish them the best of luck, but I still consider it a lazy and slothful mindset to expect the universe to open the floodgates of abundance in such cases. I’m privy to the results such people consistently achieve. Year after year they struggle to pay their bills. They deny themselves wonderful experiences due to lack of funds — funds that they could be earning if they’d finally devote themselves to intelligent hard work. I share from direct experience as well. I can look to my own past and see how weak my results were when I subscribed to this mindset.

It’s a serious character weakness to think you can get something of value for little or nothing, to believe that life will flood you with abundance when you won’t commit yourself to delivering your best contribution in exchange. In fact, it’s a safe bet that you’ll subconsciously sabotage yourself from being in such a place for long. You won’t allow yourself to receive what you don’t feel you’ve earned. To receive life’s bounty, you must know without a doubt that you deserve it.

I do believe it’s well and good to adopt an abundance mindset. But this mindset isn’t to be found behind Door #1: Laziness, Hope, and Wishful Thinking. It’s only behind Door #2: Intelligent Hard Work, Doing Your Best, and Making a Meaningful Social Contribution.

Do Your Best

Are you doing your BEST? Not just working hard… Not just putting in the time… Not just showing up…

Are you doing your personal best to grow and improve today? Are you besting what you did last week? Are you working on the best project you can be working on to make a meaningful social contribution?

If you aren’t doing your best, how can you shamelessly expect the best in return? If you output mediocrity, expect to receive that. That’s only fair, isn’t it?

If you truly do your best, then you have good cause to expect the best in return. Time and again you’ll see that when you really do your best, the universe will back you up. Social support will come to you. Resources will arrive. Obstacles will be overcome. Encouraging signs will appear. Life will flow with grace and ease.

Arbeit Macht Frei contains another level of irony. On the surface it may appear that hard work is in conflict with freedom. But the truth is that in order to extract real value from your freedom, you must make a serious effort. Freedom is a blank canvas. Hard work makes it a masterpiece.