In life, we tend to see the finished product—a book, a presentation, a company that is successful, a car driving along on the road, runners crossing the finish line of a race. Unless it is your book, company, creation, or race, one rarely glimpses the effort or intensity of an endeavor. As a society, we are not privy to the endless hours of toil and hustle that are invested before greatness occurs. It is only the individuals who commit to their art or innovations that grasp the behind-the-scenes investment for meaningful enterprises, which often consists of weeks and months—sometimes years—of hard work and the monotony of waking up morning after morning and practicing one’s art, sport, or expertise before success occurs.
Rather than broadcasting the merits of hard work, though, seeming ease is the effect we tend to impart, whether we are hosting a dinner party, taking an exam, or competing in a sporting event. Oh, this? I just tossed it together or I didn’t really study for the test, or I decided to just wing the marathon as I didn’t have time to train and so forth. Sure, sometimes we get rushed and rattled and show up without much preparation, but in general, the people I know—including myself—tend to work long and hard to put their best selves and projects forward. So why, more often than not, do people wish to conceal their effort and labor and write things off as no big deal?
On one hand, by dismissing our focus and intensity, we safeguard ourselves publicly if our projects and efforts don’t amount to much. But those who have failed understand that when we strive and flop, it not only helps us to become a tad bit more human, but it’s also a valuable learning opportunity that enables us to adapt, adjust, and get back at it. Inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs with a growth mindset know all too well that failure and rejection is what often fuels revisions and tweaks that enable ventures to flourish. Back-to-the-drawing-board is a way of life for many, and lucky for us that’s the case, as persistence and grit throughout history has led to our greatest works of art and innovation by the likes of Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Fred Astaire, Steven Spielberg, not to mention dozens of influential authors, to include J.K. Rowling, Dr. Suess, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Stephen King—all of whom dealt with rejection and dismissal long before success was part of their resume.
Why do we toil?
Most writers share the sentiment that while they love to have written, the grind of writing, editing, rewriting, and editing some more is not only far from glamorous, but often miserable. So why do they do it? Perhaps they have experienced the magic of creating meaning out of chaos, and/or producing art that impacts others in some meaningful way. Most writers and artists are geared for the long haul. They understand that works of art are the result of thoughtful planning, plotting, and the commitment to see a project through over time, and they don’t resist hard work, even if it’s not always enjoyable.
There’s that, but one’s relationship to results plays a role, too. Some seek immediate fame, fortune, or acknowledgment and opt to quit at the first sign of failure. While that’s satisfying in some respects—it’s over and done and on to the next—there is not much growth in continual quitting without seeing things through to completion. No one knows at the beginning what the end will bring, but avoiding the end is shutting the door to possibility.
So what makes some persist, while others are okay to quit and not look back? I tend to think of it as the buckling one’s seat belt aspect of life. You either get ready for the long haul, or you seek the exit. I know at the beginning of anything worthwhile I embark on that it will take time, commitment, perseverance, and will require me to be vulnerable, and at times, ask for help. I am a long-term visionary—writing and running long distance over the last few decades have trained me to go the distance physically, emotionally, and mentally. They have taught me that creating something from nothing may deplete me before it empowers me, but I know that ultimately, staying with projects and endeavors produces a stronger, humbler, and more thoughtful version of myself. I am cognizant that ideas take time and devotion to develop; that writing clear and accessible prose is a process of dedication and purpose; and that endurance sports require an ability to transcend the physical, persist, and make peace with oneself. I am aware that the things that may change my life in meaningful ways will likely unfold in unpredictable manners over months and years, and that I may encounter adversity along the way. I embrace Angela Duckworth’s definition of grit, which is that it’s the ability to work at something for the long term which may not come to fruition until many years beyond.
Beyond the result, hard work teaches us to believe in something greater than ourselves. It grounds us in possibility and takes us on a journey from conception to creation. It exposes our vulnerability, and presents us with the opportunity engage with others in meaningful ways. There is nothing more powerful than working alongside peers who share your purpose and mission. Hard work helps us to commit to what we believe in, and allows us to earn our days, our keep, our place in this great big world. And when we drop our veils and share that our success is the result of blood, sweat, and tears, we teach others that perseverance is a part of all momentous endeavors, and that the best things in life are worth the time and dedication we afford them. In this world of immediate gratification and one-click-away from all you want, when we share not just the end result, but the unfolding, unpredictable, and often challenging journey, we encourage others to prepare for the long haul, to keep believing in themselves, and inspire them to follow through on their dreams and goals despite the long and winding road ahead.