Getting Out of the Trap Called ‘Work Hard and All Will Be Well’: John Ndikum’s Transformation

The other day, John Ndikum reached out to me to acknowledge that the ideas introduced in my books fundamentally shifted his approach to life and work, a shift that he credits for his admission to Yale and a new, more satisfying career as a medical doctor. I always enjoy receiving these messages because serving others is the heart of what I do every day—and hearing from an individual is particularly rewarding.

As I read his letter, a small but significant point he made jumped out at me:

“ Work hard, work diligently, and all shall be well. This is the myth we have been sold, and for years I believed it. I applied it to perfection, yet was frustrated at the dissipating levels of satisfaction derived from work, matched by ever-increasing levels of frustration, anxiety, and anger at the fact that my life was not
panning out. After several years, I knew I had to find a new way of doing things.”

The myth of the rugged individualist is a difficult one to shake, especially in American culture. It’s a romantic notion that puts the individual solely in charge his or her own destiny, but we are not loners by nature. Humans were never the biggest, strongest, or fastest creatures. For us to survive and grow as a species, we needed to form tribes that were stronger and more innovative than any single individual could be.”

And yet, it’s this tribal mentality that we seem to forget as we advance in our careers. One of the first lessons we learn in kindergarten is to share so that way no one ever feels left out. But those important lessons about community fall away as early as high school in favor of viewing our own success as a zero-sum game.

John fell into that trap, but he found his way out. In his words:

“I developed the mindset that says ‘What can I gain from my education?’ But shifting to ‘How much can I give?’ completely transformed my life. In a short period, I went from being exasperated with just how much work I had to put in, to putting in more hours than before and finding joy and satisfaction in it. I began to scout around for opportunities to contribute and asked myself where it is I would be able to make my greatest contribution. This simple change produced a series of fortuitous events that led to my admittance to Yale. I have since continued to forge great relationships and am excited at what the future shall bring.

“I credit this to a simple shift in mindset that Keith espouses: from the individualistic, ‘What can I gain?’ to the humanitarian, ‘How much can I give?’ I thank Keith for confirming that humanitarianism is not a fruitless endeavour.

“I learned that the greatest mindset when it comes to work is, in fact, one of contribution.”

It may seem natural to want to hunker down and go it alone. It can feel like taking the focus off yourself and your goals is almost dangerous. I’m here to tell you: Work hard, work diligently, and all shall be well is the truly dangerous mindset. The world isn’t a pie and there isn’t a finite amount of success to go around. The more you share with others to help them succeed, the more likely they’ll be there to help you—and that means higher achievement and more rewarding lives for both people. You just have to start by saying “How can I help?”