Work Hard or Hardly Work

Bill Abbate
Photo by Do Nhu on Unsplash

Does the word industry sound old and outdated to you? Originating in Latin from the word industria, meaning diligence or hard work, it has been around for a very long time. You can gain a new understanding of industry by contrasting it with idleness. Let's look a little closer at this word and see if we can understand its application in today's world.

I've always appreciated the word industry when applied to us as individuals. As a 40+ year veteran of the heavy building materials industry, the term has more than one meaning. Still, when many of us hear the word industry, we automatically think of working hard.

Looking at the bigger picture, we have one of two ways we can go through life. We can be industrious, or we can be idle. Is it possible to be both? While some may debate this question, it seems impossible to be in opposite states simultaneously.

To be clear, let's look at the definition of each word. The Oxford Dictionary states that industrious means "diligent and hardworking" while idle means "avoiding work, lazy, without purpose or effect, pointless."

To further distinguish between industrious and idleness, words with the same meaning (synonyms) include:

Industrious or industry – conscientious, diligent, hardworking, energetic, productive, active, involved, persevering, persistent, zealous, and purposeful.

Idleness or idle – lazy, loafing, inactivity, slothfulness, indolence, lethargy, unemployment, goof-off, time-wasting, and vegetating.

It's obvious which term most of us would rather be called or known as, is it not?

Excessive, unnecessary Idleness

Everyone needs some time in their lives to rest and relax, or idle time; otherwise, they will burn out. More on the good side of idleness later. For now, let's quickly look at excessive idleness, otherwise known as laziness.

As an analogy, look at the opposite poles of a magnet; one side attracts, the other repels. Think of all the things you want or do not want in life as being magnetized. Depending on the pole of each thing, it will be either attracted or repelled to you.

"[Industriousness] is the mother of good fortune, and idleness, its opposite, never brought a man to the goal of any of his best wishes." Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)

Here are a few things that come to mind that idleness will attract to your life:

  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Procrastination
  • Failure
  • Poor health
  • Homelessness
  • Starvation
  • The wrong people
  • Few or no relationships
  • Ignorance
  • Loneliness
  • Negativity

In addition to the above drawbacks of being idle, there is an inherent danger in idleness. A man on the frontline fight against slavery nearly two centuries ago warned about the consequences of idleness, stating:

"Laziness grows on people; it begins in cobwebs and ends in iron chains. The more one has to do the more he is able to accomplish." Sir Thomas Buxton (1786-1845)


"Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all things easy." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

As idleness attracts certain things into your life, so does industriousness. By living an industrious life, you will draw the exact opposite of that of an idle life. The following list is what industriousness will attract to your life:

  • Employment
  • Wealth
  • Decisiveness
  • Success
  • Good health
  • Shelter
  • Sustenance
  • The right people
  • Desirable relationships
  • Wisdom
  • Socialness
  • Optimism

Are those not amazing benefits? All that is required to receive them is doing the opposite of being idle!

Another analogy between the two is an industrious person has his foot on the gas and is going somewhere while the idle person sits there. Although the idle person may have their engine running, they are not going anywhere unless they put the car in gear and take their foot off the brake. They are simply wasting fuel and slowly wearing out the engine.

Does being industrious mean you are busy all the time? Of course not! No one can go full throttle too long before needing to refuel. If they do not stop to refuel, they will likely run dry or burn out. Believe me, a few of us have tried and failed miserably!

Everyone must stop and refuel to keep going. As sleep is to the body, every human being needs downtime occasionally to function to their potential. That is why things like weekends and vacations exist. Sometimes, a long-term sabbatical is required.

"To do good work a man should no doubt be industrious. To do great work he must certainly be idle [at times] as well." Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1877)

It only makes sense that an industrious person will accomplish far more than an idle person ever could. Without question, some of the greatest people in history were industrious. One of the founding fathers and 3rd president of the United States had this to say about industriousness:

"It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing." Thomas Jefferson (1743-1846)

A little further back in history, one of the greatest composers of all time said this about being industrious:

"I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful." Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Knowledge of the benefits of living an industrious life date back millennia! Look at what a well-known ancient Indian sage said 2500 years ago:

"Fools wait for a lucky day, but everyday is a lucky day for an industrious man." Siddhartha Gautama (563-480 BC)

Final thoughts

Few words contain the raw meaning and distinction to be found in industriousness and idleness. And few words have such a profound effect on the results we receive in life. Their bottom-line meaning is to get things done or not. What could be more important than that!

Do you stand with the industrious or the idle of the world? Only you can make the choice. Work hard, or hardly work. The very outcome of your life depends on which path you choose!

Remember these simple, straightforward words spoken by the 30th president of the United States:

"Any reward that is worth having only comes to the industrious. The success which is made in any walk of life is measured almost exactly by the amount of hard work that is put into it." Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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