The Ever-Changing Evolution of Work Hard, Play Hard

According to a researcher at Google, this phrase originated in 1827 and can be attributed to William Newnham from his essay, “The principles of physical, intellectual, moral, and religious education, Volume 2”. Newnham wrote that: “Whatever is done, it should be habitually done with earnestness; in every pursuit, exertion should be employed; work hard and play hard.”

My first recollection of hearing this phrase was my freshman year in high school. My Varsity Baseball coach, whose cigarette to shower ratio was around 30:1, would repeat this mantra while sitting in the dugout lighting up Filterless Camels, demanding that we run another set of hills, sprints and any other cardio challenging endeavor he could come up with. That was the “work hard” part. The “play hard” part was simply the games, and since we won significantly more than we lost it made perfect sense.

Fast forward to my early days of recruiting on Wall Street where the phrase took on a whole new meaning. ‘Work hard’ meant 70 hour work weeks with managers berating us to “pound the phones” while inhabiting multiple rows of identical cubicles. The “play hard” was a bit more loosely defined. Being young with a little money in our pockets in the city that never sleeps meant playing hard at happy hours followed by bar crawls followed by crashing on someone’s couch.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Fun, but not quite as fulfilling as winning those baseball games.

Today I am approaching 50 with a great wife and two beautiful children. I “work hard” because my family needs me to, my clients expect that I do, and the personal satisfaction gained by solving a real problem requires I do. As for “play hard”? Happy hours have been replaced by watching my kids play soccer and dance at ballet, while yard work is a stand in for the old bar crawl. But when I must play hard, I have my trusty mountain bike to help me revive, refresh and get ready for the inevitable work hard part to begin once again. Wash, rinse, repeat.


What is your version of "work hard, play hard," and how has it evolved over time?