Why Hard Work Is Important

003Jackson is experimenting with gravity these days. And, yes, he *can* walk up walls.

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.

Is Suffering a Virtue?

We’ve been having an interesting conversation in the comments, and in other places, on my post the other day: Careless Conclusions About Genre Reading.

A number of people have mentioned that their culture’s “literary” fiction is depressing. And we’ve been tossing around the idea that literary fiction might be defined that way, as being about suffering. In some ways, this makes sense. The original essay’s author referred to it as “serious reading.” There’s a very strong idea that we gain virtue through suffering.

This concept is pervasive through many religions. In Catholicism, only the spirit matters, so the flesh should be mortified. Physical pleasure should be denied and pain sought out, to liberate the spirit from the flesh. Many oriental philosophies believe that only through pain and suffering do we grow. Pleasure puts us into a dreamy state while pain keeps us alert and aware. This kind of thinking is a part of many martial arts systems, as well. Islam is conducive to the creation of the suicide bomber because the body can be easily sacrificed for the delights of afterlife. Judaism has such a corner on suffering it’s become a stereotype.

Many religious rituals are based in creating pain – fasting, sacrifice, hours of prayer, even self-flagellation.

I think these sorts of ideas underlie the debates over “worthwhile” reading. Romance is all about love and finding happiness; therefore it’s not a weighty genre. Suffering and heartache are resolved with a happy ending, not the sacrifice of the physical self to gain enlightenment. In other kinds of genre literature, the character transformations are rarely about angst of the soul. (Although I think we could make good cases for this in many sci fi & fantasy books.)

I’ve bought into this from time to time in my life. Deliberately denied myself pleasurable things and caused myself various kinds of suffering and pain, to achieve various goals.

And you know what? I’m just not convinced.

I’m blessed with a pretty damn wonderful life. I live in a wealthy country, with access to state of the art health care, culture, food and freedom. I don’t have to worry about my village being raided by Mongols or the plagues warm weather will bring or whether the food supply will last through the winter. My concerns are minor and mostly things I choose to care about, as opposed to being life and death problems.

Which part of this am I not supposed to enjoy?

Sometimes I think just relishing all the wonderful things in life is enlightenment right there. Love, sex, music, food, the scent of flowers and the colors of the migrating birds, time spent talking to interesting people, practicing my art – all of it is so full, rich and rewarding.

It might not be a serious attitude, but then, I never claimed to be a saint.

Never really wanted to be one, in fact.

On that note, I hope you all have a fabulous and FUN weekend!