The art of working hard

Our culture seems to have an aversion to working hard. Everywhere I turn, there’s a clamor for instant gratification. Forget sweating, forget busting our behinds. We have a dream. We have a vision. This is what we’re MEANT to do. But we don’t want to wait. We don’t want to do the dirty work. We don’t want to put in our time and effort to get there. We want it, and we want it NOW. And we want it easily.

Reminds me of a toddler cranking up towards a massive meltdown.

The thing is, the only way to get to that dream, for it to really mean something, is by working hard. By paying our dues. I was talking with a friend and former colleague, author Christine Kling, many moons ago about writing, and she said something like this: to get close to having something ready to publish, you have a million-word internship. In fact, she wrote this post about The Million Word Rule. And I believe it because, as clichéd as the saying is, it’s true that practice makes perfect (or better yet, practice makes better.)

Sometimes, I’ll hear well-meaning friends say, “Hurry up and write it!” Or family will want me to finish, but don’t understand the time I take away from them. But if I don’t sit on my behind and write, if I don’t spend the time to develop the characters and the world, to run through the steps that it takes to start and finish a draft, and then to revise it (over and over and over again) until it’s ready to send out, it won’t happen. I’ll have a half-finished story, a draft full of possibilities that’ll simply evaporate because I didn’t put in the time and effort. A book’s not going to write itself.

And on the same note, a first draft will NEVER be good enough. It can ALWAYS be better. It’s not called a shit-draft for nothing! I drill this into my students: the importance of writing multiple draft, of reading and re-reading and revising to polish their work. I take this to heart, and it’s what’s allowed me to silence my inner editor temporarily while I get the story down into that first, exploratory draft. But again, this is work. It takes time, dedication, patience, and endurance.

I haven’t reached my dream yet of being published, of sharing my writing with the world. I also don’t have an agent…yet. But I’ve seen how much I’ve grown in the past five years since I started taking writing seriously, as a career. Every class I take, every workshop and conference I attend, every critique I receive and every story I write puts me that much closer to reaching my goals. That’s what I have to do. If I want this with every cell of myself, then there’s no other option but to keep on writing, keep on trying, keep on paying my dues so that eventually, it will happen. And when it does, the prize will feel that much sweeter because I reached it with my own effort.

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Sure, there are days where it’s harder than others, days where the inner doubt creeps in and tries to take over. But that negativity is just an excuse. It’s a way of trying to take the easy way out, which I guess we’re programmed to want. So stuff a pillow in doubt’s mouth and keep going–the only way to reach that dream is by persevering! You can do it. And when you think about quitting because it’s just too hard, remember this:

“There’s only one thing that can guarantee our failure, and that’s if we quit.” – Unknown

And these:

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

“It’s when things get rough and you don’t quit that success comes.” – Unknown Quote

“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” – Ross Perot

Keep going, keep writing (or keep doing whatever it is you need to do to succeed)!

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Defining Success

With the upcoming start of the semester, the notion of academic success is thick in the air. I can smell it. The word is chanted through the halls, written in dark, bold colors, and engraved in the minds of new and continuing students. We want them to succeed. We want them to want to succeed.

The thing is, success is such a charged word. It’s what people everywhere hinge on to deem their worth in society, in academia, or amongst family and peers. So it’s almost as if there’s a movement to counter that. Let’s not care about success. Let’s not worry about passing college. Let’s not allow “the big man” to determine our success.

And in part, I understand. Success is sometimes overrated. Or rather, someone else’s concept of success is overrated. When it comes down to it, we have to decide for ourselves what success means. And then we need to go for it.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online), success is “a : degree or measure of succeeding b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.”

As you can see, the definition varies. For many, success is “the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” I will say this now: this is a hollow form of success. Sure, it’s nice to have money. Sure, it’s nice to have favor or eminence. But if that’s all you have, I feel sorry for you. Because that isn’t true success. Of course, that’s my humble opinion, and I know many who will fight me ferociously on this.

I like to think of success as the second part of the definition: “favorable or desired outcome.” This gives more room to fit in our own unique goals and aspirations. It makes success reachable since we can break up our big goals into reachable, smaller ones, and with each smaller success, build up our confidence in ourselves. In this way, success could be earning a nice paycheck, but it would be so much more than that: It would be satisfaction in our career, it would be love of what we do, it would be balancing our private and professional worlds. Each of those constitute success.

So how does this translate into the classroom? Success isn’t just about getting the A in the class. A’s are (pardon the redundancy) overrated. And if the statistics and research is correct, A’s are inflated anyway, so they don’t count as much as they used to. Success isn’t all about passing exams. Instead, success is about learning along the way. If you end a semester knowing more than when you started, you’ve succeeded. If you’ve built solid peer and mentor relationships, you’ve succeeded. If you’ve helped anyone along the way, you’ve succeeded. Success isn’t all about the end result or the big picture; it’s also about the process and the smaller steps along the way.

Of course, this means that in order to succeed in part, even if it’s not with an A, students need to care about themselves enough to have goals. Students need to roll up their sleeves and pants, and get ready to get dirty with learning. It’s not always fun. It’s not always pleasant, but it is worth it. It really boils down to students caring enough about their goals. If education is where you see success, then you need to do your part. Success isn’t just handed out; it’s earned.

And I would do well to remind myself of this conviction when it comes to my own goals and aspirations. Just because I haven’t reached my ultimate goals doesn’t mean I haven’t succeeded. I just need to look around me at what I have accomplished to know that I have, indeed, succeeded.