Speaking candidly about work and business can get you in trouble - though it isn't really a major surprise in the world where so many people get offended about almost everything. This time it's Jack Ma, Alibaba's founder who found himself under fire for endorsing the 12 hour / 6 day a week working culture. Both his words and the resulting uproar are a great opportunity to bring attention to the topic of achievement - and entitlement.
Everybody wants to have a good life, having a lot of time - to spend it with their friends, family, travel, read books etc. - and a lot of money - to buy a nice apartment, a good car and, obviously, to afford all the things during the time away from work. And, of course, everybody wants to have it as quickly as possible.
You can't fault the Millennials or the rising Gen Z for lack of ambition - but, unfortunately, their desires most often do not go hand in hand with the drive to achieve but rather a sense of entitlement to all of the above.
Wake Up Call for the Young
The biggest problem of the modern world is not wealth or income inequality - that some people supposedly make too much while others should make more. No. The biggest problem is that a forever growing number people feel entitled to money and comforts while not willing to put enough effort to earn them.
Instead, they demand legal regulations from the state to force employers to pay everybody enough that they can afford a life they want.
In other words - more and more people - especially the young ones - do not want to really achieve anything but, instead, demand to have it granted by a decree (as some sort of a god given right).
So Jack Ma's statements - especially in the world of ever more politically correct business leaders in the IT sector, who keep trying harder and harder to play on these sentiments to appeal to the masses - are both refreshingly courageous and critically important.
“If you do not do 996 when you are young, when will you? Do you think never having to work 996 in your life is an honour to boast about?” - Jack Ma
It is a wake up call for the young. Working 12 hours a day is not the end of the world - especially as vast majority of them work in pretty comfortable, office conditions (and still waste considerable amount of time in the process). It's not a coal mine.
Alibaba, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple or Amazon have not been built on bean bags, venti lattes and flexi-time.
Sure, your relationships may suffer, you will occasionally feel tired and worn out, and you may not have time for parties, drinks, books or travel. But Jack Ma did not endorse the 996 as a way to work all your life - but rather suggested leveraging your youthful energy, good health and strength to make an extra effort to achieve something meaningful.
You will never be as resilient and as capable to learn quickly as you are in your 20s and 30s. The earlier you dedicate yourself to something, the sooner you can claim your reward for it and choose to lead a more balanced lifestyle.
If you're not willing to put that extra effort in, someone, somewhere will - and they are going to earn what you have always wanted, while you may be left behind, sour, frustrated and forever seeking excuses about why you haven't made it in the end.
What Are You Proud Of?
The sense of accomplishment is only acquired through meaningful work - an effort you have put in to achieve something worth presenting.
I have never heard anybody saying - "I'm proud of drinking alcohol every weekend" or "I'm proud of spending 560 hours playing PUBG" or "I'm proud of living with my parents at 35".
I'm pretty sure that if anybody told you something like this you'd look at them with pity. Similarly, I don't expect anybody to say "I'm proud of working 8 hours a day, in a colorful office with bean bags and fresh coffee".
But you would be proud of launching a product, growing company revenues, improving customer satisfaction or winning accolades for your creative or engineering work.
Nobody is judged by how many hours they work in a week - they're judged by what they have accomplished.
It actually doesn't matter how many hours you work per day - the end result is what does. But, naturally, a person spending 12 or 16 hours dedicated to something has a greater chance of success and can cover more ground than someone who spends only half of that.
And this gap only continues to grow.
Working 12 hours 6 days a week adds up to 72 hours versus the standard 40. Over a year that's over 1600 hours more. Over 5 years it turns into 8320 hours - equivalent to 208 weeks of standard 40 hours - or additional 4 years.
Think of all the things you could master if you dedicated four years of 40 hours per week to. Is it going to yield results? Of course.
As you accumulate this experience and skills you're a part of the company's success - you achieve. And you also climb up the ranks as a more valuable employee - or you can choose to jump ship or start your own company. More options become available as you are more proficient. You turn into a master of your own fate through the value you are able to deliver.
So listen to Jack and dedicate yourself to practical, professional endeavors when you're young - before it's too late to catch up and all you end up hoping for is that the government is going to want to buy your vote with somebody else's money.