What’s the secret of success that no one likes? What do successful people do that others are afraid to do? The title gave it away I know, but it’s hard work. There’s a myth that successful people are lucky or just born into advantage, but when you do the research, the truth is that hard work breeds success.
Now, I’m not talking about drudgery. When you’re pursuing your dream, chasing your calling, “hard work” may seem like play.
As I’m writing this, it’s 1:45 am. I really want to get to bed by 2:00, but I had a goal of hitting a certain word count today and I’m very close to do it, so I decided to keep going until the work is done, not until the time is over. That’s hard work.
The funny thing is, I don’t want to go to bed. I prefer to stay up and work. There’s something about accomplishing what you’d set out to do that’s very rewarding. Pursuing your dream is like that. It takes challenges and turns them into fun.
That’s not to say that I love everything about what I’m doing. There are paperwork pieces that I’d prefer not to do. I think I’m best at making the content and I’d love to hand off promotion of it to someone else. I’d also love to get all editing off my plate. But, if this is the price I pay to live this dream, I’ll gladly pay it. It’s such an amazing gift that I get to do it.
I”m about to share something that I never thought possible. I look forward to Mondays and not the weekend. There’s nothing wrong with the weekend mind you. In fact, my weekend routine changed very little from the time when I worked in my last corporate job and today. I just really look forward to what I do, even though it’s sometimes really hard.
I do wonder if it’s the “hard part” that makes it worth doing. I’ve noticed that as things get harder they tend to get more awe-inspiring. You don’t look up to and want to be like people who do easy things with little or no effort. You look up to people who do hard things.
Here’s a fairly uncontroversial example. When you go to the circus, what things to you cheer the loudest for — those that are easy, that you think to yourself, “I could do that,” when you see them or those that just seem impossible. You hardly believe your eyes that a person could do what you’re seeing. If you take a moment to imagine what it would be like, you start to think, “I could NEVER do that.” For most people its the latter. Perhaps the only exception is when you’ve done what you’re watching and you know how hard it is and so you feel a kinship with the person doing what you’ve done in the past.
We’d like it to be easy; we’d like to discover a technique that affected the most people, that raised the most money, etc., but that cost us very little in return. We’d like to do that, but the truth is that we’d be dubious if someone told us, “5 minutes a day and in a week, you’ll have your own self-supporting business that brings in 7 figures in revenue.”
Life just isn’t like that. There’s no such thing as a “gold rush” or “get rich quick scheme” that doesn’t have some sort of downside. Some things are harder than advertised. Some require difficult or time-consuming training. Others, require a lot of equipment. Others require you to alienate friends and family by continually bugging them to “join your network” or something similar.
These sort of schemes always have a downside. The downside to pursuing your dream is just the hard work required. By the way, that’s not exactly a downside.
Remember when I shared that I’m not too afraid of piracy of my content? That’s because I’m not successful enough that people pirating what I do could piggy-back on my advertising efforts to make their money. Admittedly, this is a problem that comes with the success that the record, TV, movie, and publishing industries have. I really don’t have that success.
In fact, if people were to take what I do and share it, I might become more successful, not less, since they’d be, in effect, advertising for me. In the 21st century, the problem with getting the word out isn’t that there’s no easy way to do it. The problem is cutting through all the other noise to get noticed.
For yourself, you probably wouldn’t mind shortcuts, but there’s something right about the fact that hard work is necessary in this world most of the time. It doesn’t feel right that some people just are better at things than others; it feels capricious that Michael Jordan gets to be a great basketball player and you don’t, right? What if I told you that Michael Jordan made himself great? Would you believe me? Could it be that Stephen King is a great writing because of hard work?
What if you pick any area of achievement (other than purely natural records like tallest or shortest), could it be that those who excel are willing to pay a higher price than their peers?Could it be that people who are great at anything might have a little natural talent or a slight advantage, but that those things are amplified by the work they put in.
So, maybe Michael Jordan was a little better at basketball, but became the greatest because of all the hard work he put in. Maybe Stephen King was a little better at language, but became a great writer by writing.
Am I making this all up? Surely there’s more to being the best than hard word? TED speaker Angela Lee Duckworth doesn’t think so. She noticed among her 7th grade math students that the kids with the best grades weren’t the smartest ones, but the ones who refused to fail, who put in the work to do whatever it took to succeed.
If you haven’t watched her talk, you can do so at http://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit.html. She isn’t saying, by the way, that talent plays no role, but that it’s not as big a thing as we think it is. It’s actually the willingness to put in the work to do whatever it is that determines your success. While “Rudy” wasn’t ever going to be a professional football player because things outside of his control prevented it, his determination enabled him to get onto the University of Notre Dame football team, despite being smaller than all the rest.
In my own life, I’m trying to bring this factor into play. I’m refusing to quit, even when it’s hard. I’m still going even when it doesn’t make sense. For me, that means I record five shows a week, edit and upload most of them for later viewing. Right now, I’ve added writing this book to the mix, not because I’ve got a million dollar advance, far from it, but because I believe that the more I work, the more I write, the more content I put out there, the greater chance I have for people to discover what I’m doing. This isn’t a tale of woe, though. I live for the moments when someone says, “I love what you’re doing Paul” or “keep up the good work.” They’re proof to me that despite the fact that it sometimes feels like I’m Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill, the truth is that it does matter and that I am affecting people.
I also think of hard work as an investment. The more I put in now, before I start to see dividends, the more I’ll reap later. Perhaps it will be money, but it will also be knowledge, experience, and ability.
Hard work is the price of the ticket to enter the life I feel called to live. It won’t get easy until later and I bet it won’t even be easy then; the problems will just be different.
Maybe I should clarify something here. Hard work is the way to accomplish what you’re called to, but it’s not work for work’s sake. You need to be building, advancing, making progress toward the future.
I want you to develop a plan, not just spend all day on the internet “researching” a subject that won’t help you because you got caught in a spiral of looking at story after story on Wikipedia. That’s work, but only do it if it advances what you’re called to.
It’s dangerous to your calling to spend all day telling yourself that you’re working when you’re actually not; you’re seriously goofing off. Ask yourself if what you’re doing is a step toward achieving your calling or if it’s “busy work.” Sometimes, I’ll clean my office to keep from doing other things. Sometimes I’ll put a load of laundry in the washer when I should be editing. Keeping busy isn’t what I’m talking about doing. I’m talking about having a singular focus on your dream and going for it with all you have.
What’s hard about that is that people who step forward to claim their dreams start to get all sorts of ideas as they work on the original one. It’s the entrepreneur’s curse that we find more and more problems worth solving.
Don’t fall victim to this. You might need to focus in order to actually achieve what you’re called to. There will be plenty of good ideas vying for your attention. Sometimes, it’s good to redirect your energies into a new direction, but more often, it’s better to see the project that you’re working on all the way to completion.
There’s a good chance that in doing that you’ll have to say “no” or “later” to things you genuinely want to do, while saying “yes” to pieces of the process you’d rather not do.
I enjoy writing. I enjoy formatting and the design elements of book publishing. I could do without editing and rewriting. I wish I could just put out a perfect first draft, but I can’t. So, I’ve got to put in the work to hand my draft off to my editor, let her bleed all over the page in red ink, and then I have to do what I really hate and correct my errors. That’s part of the process.
I’d actually rather start another book, make another video, etc. If I drop my book before it’s finished, though, I’m asking for trouble. Sure there are some that I probably shouldn’t have started or that need to rest for a while before I complete them, but starting and stopping multiple projects is work with no clear resolution. It doesn’t help move me down the field toward the world I have in my mind where I’m doing what I’m called to, I’m helping more people, and I’m feeding my family. That’s busy work and it’s work that I need to view as a distraction from what I’m supposed to do.
Saying “no” to other projects might seem like I’m turning down new opportunities, but doing so is actually saying “yes” to the ones that are in process. Saying “yes” to the ones in process is saying “yes” to any ways that those projects help me on the path toward my calling.
So, it’s not work for work’s sake. It’s not creating something to keep me busy. The kind of work we need to do is advancing work, work that helps our dream come true.
When you look at the whole, it should be satisfying to you. You should think, “I did that!” In accomplishing enough of these little tasks, we should start to see our dreams with new clarity and satisfaction. As we proceed in our callings, we might even start looking forward to Mondays, too.