The most successful people make it look easy. But whether they’re on the basketball court or in the boardroom, these well-known individuals didn’t make a name for themselves overnight. They put in many hours of hard work. Typically, someone will have tens of thousands of hours of hard work behind them before they finally achieve their dreams. If you’re working day after day to reach your dreams, these inspirational quotes about hard work might give you the motivation to keep going.
Here are 10 inspirational quotes about hard work:
1. “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” – General Colin Powell
General Colin Powell began his military career in the ROTC, where he was quickly appointed unit commander. He was a standout leader during multiple tours of duty in Vietnam. Though he was wounded in a helicopter crash, Powell managed to rescue his team from the burning wreckage. For his bravery, he earned the Soldier’s Medal.
Ever the hard worker, Powell returned to the U.S., earned his MBA, and won a White House fellowship. From there, he spent years preparing for his eventual role as Secretary of State. In 1989, he was appointed to the highest military position in the Department of Defense: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
2. “To win, you have to swim upstream early on—and that requires hard work and long hours. There are no shortcuts.” – Clara Shih
Hearsay CEO Clara Shih knows about hard work. She first made a splash in 2007, when she co-created Faceforce, the first social business application. Shih also wrote an NYT bestseller, which is no easy feat! Her book was so exceptional, it’s used to teach marketing students at Harvard Business School.
Like many other successful CEOs, a 9-to-5 job wasn’t in the cards for Shih. As her quote alludes to, she worked long hours to get to where she is. The 2019 CEO Benchmarking Report found that 78% of company leaders work more than 40 hours per week. As you can see from the graphic below, 14% work more than 60 hours per week.
3. “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Henry Ford
This inspirational quote about hard work highlights the importance of team dynamics. Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, was an innovator who developed the assembly line technique of mass production and the Model T Ford. In addition to being a visionary, he was also an exceptional leader who focused on his people.
Ford understood the importance of managing employees to collaborate and communicate effectively. A business strategy won’t execute itself. It’s up to senior leaders and managers to hire the right people and enable them to be successful. And that doesn’t happen by chance. It’s a product of hard work and dedication.
4. “Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Just six months before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave an often-quoted speech at a Philadelphia junior high school. In the speech, Dr. King urged students to always do their best. If they’re tasked with being a street sweeper, they should sweep those streets as well as Michelangelo painted and Shakespeare wrote.
Indeed, work ethic is one of the top deciders of success, with 85 percent of hiring managers saying it’s the most important attribute in a job candidate. As a leader, you can’t expect your employees to work hard if you’re not setting the example yourself.
5. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” – Michelangelo
Speaking of Michelangelo, he left us with a few inspirational quotes about hard work too. Although history has painted Michelangelo as an extraordinary talent, he dedicated the earlier part of his career to learning the craft. He began an apprenticeship at age 13, then worked under the ruler of the city where he lived. He made a point to surround himself with poets and intellectuals to improve his art.
Like Michelangelo, many successful leaders are assumed to move up through the ranks based on their born talents and abilities when, in fact, they spent years learning and growing to get where they are today. Natural ability only gets you so far. Even as you ascend the ranks at work, never lose that growth mindset, and always seek opportunities to learn.
What makes a great leader? Learn more about the patterns, motivations, thoughts, and fears of high-performing executives with our Annual CEO Benchmarking report.
6. “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills
Opera singer Beverly Sills learned the importance of hard work from her parents. They also influenced her appreciation of the arts. She combined both of those lessons to launch an impressive career as an opera singer. After landing her first role at the tender age of four, Sills went on to become a revered performer, earning four Emmy Awards and one Grammy.
Sills’ success came later in life, after years of auditioning and working hard in lesser-seen productions. Similarly, many respected business owners spend years toiling in relative anonymity before finally making it big.
7. “I attribute my success to this—I never gave or took an excuse.” – Florence Nightingale
No list of inspirational quotes about hard work would be complete without a word from Florence Nightingale, who wrote this sentiment in an 1861 letter. One of history’s most celebrated nurses knew the importance of taking action toward her goals.
Although Nightingale can teach us plenty about philanthropy, she also serves as inspiration for eliminating excuses in favor of working hard. Take accountability for things you can control and always strive to learn from your mistakes.
8. “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson
Former President and Founding Father Thomas Jefferson faced some obstacles when he wanted to study law in the 1700s. There were no law schools at the time, forcing him to learn his trade through a combination of self-study and shadowing a practicing attorney.
In addition to his other accomplishments, Jefferson was known as one of the most learned lawyers at the time, proving that preparation is key to success. In other words, you can create your own luck.
9. “Many who are self-taught far excel the doctors, masters, and bachelors of the most renowned universities.” – Ludwig Von Mises
Many aspiring business leaders grapple with whether to shell out money for a college education. Many companies—including Google and Apple—no longer require college degrees. Instead, hiring managers are open to non-traditional candidates: think real-world experience, coding boot camps, and vocational or trade schools.
Among the most interesting inspirational quotes about hard work is this one from Ludwig Von Mises, who spent much of his adult life in academia. Despite his decades as a professor and his doctorate from the University of Vienna, Von Mises was most impressed by those around him who were self-taught. Success stories like those of Ted Turner, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs prove that a diploma isn’t a prerequisite.
10. “It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. You only have to be right once and then everyone can tell you that you are an overnight success.” – Mark Cuban
You wouldn’t know it from watching him on “Shark Tank,” but Mark Cuban fought hard to get where he is today. The former carpenter, short-order cook, server, and salesman saw multiple ventures fail before he found success with MicroSolutions, which he sold for $6 million.
Even after he sold MicroSolutions to CompuServ and became part-owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Cuban faced failure with his first reality show, “The Benefactor.” It was such a flop, the network pulled it before the first season aired. His quote highlights the fact that nobody sees the years of hard work—and failure—that predates success.
Hard work is worth it.
When you read a person’s success story, it’s important to research the background of the person behind that success. Chances are, you’ll find plenty of evidence of their hard work and probably a few failures in that person’s background.
The truth is, even if you’re lucky enough to land a job that’s a perfect behavioral and cognitive fit, there will be times when the business requires you to stretch beyond your comfort zone. And that will require you to put in hard work.
For example, let’s say you’re wired to do heads-down analytical work. But your CEO asks you to speak on stage at a conference in front of hundreds of people. Preparing for that event by logging hours of public speaking practice is hard work, but it’s worth it. Not only will you help your company execute its strategic goals, but you’ll also grow as a person.