Below is installment #1 of three in "Epiphanies in the Real World: How What I Knew to Be True Has Been Dispelled."

Before: Hard work makes results

Now: Smart work makes results

From five years old to the final five minutes of my last exam, the path to success was defined in a very clear way: hard work. If at first I didn't succeed, I tried again. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

I recall the spelling games my 2nd grade class played to master perseverance and its subsequent meaning. I remember the problem sets from intermediate macroeconomics so clearly because of the graduate student instructor’s voice in my head telling me to keep trying to derive the correction equation. I revisit my writing seminars, picking at a particularly difficult passage, and my Professor encouraging me to "just keep working at it."

Our education system teaches us the real payoffs of hard work, but does so in an incredibly unrealistic environment. In business, and at AlphaSights, hard work is important, but it's smart work that drives results, as I've learned in my job on the People Operations Team. I find the format in which we learn to work unrealistic for two reasons. First, our education is in the pursuit of mastery, not practical, commercial use. Second, we put an expiration date on our work; whether it's the end of the semester, quarter, or particular project, hard work in academia has an expiration date.

I tried to implement my "hard work" ethic at AlphaSights. I thought I understood what made someone successful, and I was proud that I "knew" how to work hard. As a People Operations Analyst here at AlphaSights, I primarily focus on recruiting top seniors to join our team, and spend my days managing the candidate pipeline while interviewing our potential candidates.

With a huge need for talent and a quick turnaround time, it was my goal to do everything possible to make this happen. I deleted almost all free blocks from my schedule to ensure as many candidates as possible would be interviewed in a day. I stayed late. I worked when I got home. I would double book my schedule, all so that I could do just one more thing to drive results, which for me was building our incoming Associate classes.

I was cautioned against this churn and burn work style, and told that it would be unsustainable. I shrugged it off; I was going to make my team proud when I delivered an incredible class of analysts.

And then I got burnt out. The days started to blend together, details began to slip between the cracks, rejections became harder to stomach. It wasn't until then that I realized the fundamental distinction that I had gotten wrong.

Focusing on just delivering numbers, products, or results is not going to make you a great analyst. It’s focusing on being a great analyst that's going to drive great results. When you work smart — by asking the right questions, by leveraging your strengths, and padding against your weaknesses — you can deliver while preserving your energy. There will always be more great candidates to interview and more great people to hire; there's no semester end where that stops. But by understanding the distinction between smart work and hard work, you can conquer the sprints and win the marathon.