Putting in the Effort

The forces standing in the way of getting a job done on time pile up like wind-blown snow pressing against your front door in winter. They accumulate when you're not looking, require force of will to suit up, head out, muscle in with shovels and willpower.

But the snow piles up whether you want to deal with it or not, and staying inside where its warm is so easy…so cozy…so inviting…

This is not a rant against taking the easy way out. (That comes in the next blog post!) The easy path is subjective; this is a statement about reality.

It's hard to do hard work. Hard work takes…uh…work. But I think I speak for the whole team here that this one point, perhaps more than anything else, is the great differentiator between merely good and stupendously great.

There's no olympic gymnastic performance, nor virtuoso jazz riff, nor even a bravura explanation of a painfully tangled mathematical principle that comes without years of hard practice. That much isn't too hard to understand; most people get it.

What people sometimes misunderstand is that expressions following those many years of practice are not without effort. It's not as if practice alone makes the work any less labor intensive. Practice makes impressive action and insight possible in ways that may completely elude novices, but the level of effort in the execution of a roundoff-back flip or the Paganini Violin Concerto #1 remains the same no matter how expert or innocent the person trying to do it happens to be. The easy misconception, however, is that resulting performances following many years of rigorous practice are not hard. Not true. It's still hard. You think a ballet dancer standing on a single pointe isn't hard? It only looks easy. But the moment of execution does not reveal the total level of effort; much of that work has been spent in thousands of hours of sweaty, lonely, brutal effort leading up to the point of performance. And let's be clear: we're not talking about Hollywood fabrications about extraordinary savants a la Rain Man. Reality demands work, plain and simple.

There's another thing, too.

It's one thing to be "well practiced", to be an athlete in shape for a race, or a business leader prepared with a go-to-market strategy and a superb business plan for investors. But the moment of execution still requires great, intense, focused energy. The difference is that the person spending that effort knows what it's going to take. He or she is prepared to shoulder the burden, expects it, even counts on it. The effort does not surprise.

Excellence comes from many things, but it first comes from a willingness to do excellent work. Excellent work means putting in effort--focused, intense effort-- motivated solely by the desire to achieve excellence. The reasons why someone might pursue excellence is not at issue here, and there are many reasons. But excellence always means the same thing in practice. No externally generated motivations will deliver it. Excellence is something you either care to do, or choose to live without. Without a certain acceptance of that reality, good intentions, great dreams, and sweet spirits simply will never amount to more than mediocrity. Doing the work is the only thing that will delivers the goods.

-MS

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