Last week’s post on Why Hard Work Is Not Equal to Success started some interesting conversations, both on the blog and elsewhere. Amy Remus, who has a great book review blog at SoManyReads.com, made an interesting comment about talking to her son about his athletic ambitions. She says “if you miss out on the journey because you are worried only about the results, it won’t matter how hard you work.”
I think this is very smart.
And I love the example of athletic prowess, because it’s an excellent demonstration of how hard work does not always result in reaching our goals. It doesn’t matter how hard I practice, I will never be a professional basketball player. Even if wasn’t too old now, I’ve always been too short. And even if I wasn’t height-challenged, I am woefully coordination-poor. Let’s say, though, that I had developed a burning desire to be a pro basketball player as a child and poured my heart, soul and body into developing the necessary skills. I could maybe have overcome my complete lack of natural athletic ability. But I never would have had the talent that other players do. Not that talent is everything. In an intensely competitive business, however, an edge like talent can make all the difference.
So, would my hard work have been wasted?
After spending my youth diligently shooting baskets, running drills and honing my body to the most finely tuned athletic machine it could be (this imaginary montage of Jeffe-in-training is SO amusing if you happen to know me), when I ultimately watched the talented stars waltz past me into their coveted few pro-player careers, would I stomp my foot and wish that time back?
No no no.
Because doing the work is worth it.
In our goal-oriented culture, this is something that we tend to miss. We get so focused on the outcome that we forget, as Amy pointed out, that we forget to enjoy the journey.
This is true of all pursuits in life, but particularly of the difficult ones, I think. There’s virtue in attempting those things that are not easy for us.
I know it might be odd to bring up virtue, because it’s not a quality that’s much discussed outside of religious circles these days. Worse, it’s often confused with chastity, especially for females with the implication that their sole value lies in sexual exclusivity. In truth, “virtue” is a Latin concept that means, at its core, moral excellence, right action and thinking, essential worth.
It’s a concept that gets at what kind of person we want to be. And virtue comes through diligent effort.
A naturally thin person exerts no effort in staying thin. But for someone who has a tendency to be heavy, staying thin requires discipline and determination. Exercising those qualities makes us better people. In some ways, talent can be a trap. So can serendipity. I often think of the rock star analogy – the young band who hits it big and burns out fast. They never built the character to handle success. They never had to build discipline and determination, so when they need it, the well is empty.
In the writing world, to focus on my specific paradigm, it’s easy to become focused on the markers of success: book sales, reviews, ratings, bestseller lists. It’s easy to forget why many of us begin writing to begin with – out of love of books. We all start as readers (or should, is my strongly held belief) and that love of reading propels some of us to turn it around and create our own stories.
But writing, like all creative and challenging pursuits, requires diligent effort. That’s part of what makes it worthwhile – what it requires of us to do it. Sometimes the stories come easy. Sometimes they don’t. Sitting down to do the work? Always takes discipline and determination.
The path to virtue.