While listening to CGP Grey talk about talent on the new episode of Cortex I was reminded of a lesson I learned many years ago. At the time, I was involved in many projects at work beyond the responsibilities of my main job. Internally, I was taking great pride in keeping all my plates spinning, until I was pulled into my boss’s office. One of the tasks I had been assigned had backfired in a somewhat public way.

As I sat quietly on the wrong side of a one-sided conversation, I was internally defending myself. Didn’t the boss know how many things I was working on? Didn’t he know I’d just done some very annoying travel? Didn’t he know how hard I was working?

And then it hit me. It doesn’t matter how hard I’m working if I’m doing a bad job, and I had done a bad job.

This is an obvious truth, and one I already knew intellectually. Only now I knew it viscerally, which is the only way to learn some lessons. At many times and in many places, hard work alone will cause you to advance in your career. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. At some point, however, effort alone won’t cut it.

I had been trying hard, generally, but I hadn’t given this particular project the care it needed. I should have known better. I should have done better. This was a hard lesson, but as time passed, I became better at distinguishing between hard work and good work.

It’s hard work digging a ditch, but it’s only good work if you dig the ditch in the right place. Writing is hard work, and maybe someday I’ll be good at it. If not, I’ll be okay. The world needs ditch-diggers, too.