Thursday, June 6, 2013

Difficult Takes a Day, Impossible Takes a Week

It's rewarding to sustain goals, invest time in following them, and watch the results evolve over time. Many serious endeavors reach their rewarding finale only after you invest countless hours on focused work, embrace the unsexy aspects of these activities, and become skilled at grunt stuff. Successful outcome does not happen overnight: in words of a very popular film, "One does not simply walk into Mordor."

I recently made significant strides with a professional skill-building activity. The effort started three months ago with a huge mountain of task in front of me. I was asked by some people to not bother with spending time with the project, and no one else wanted to venture beyond the mountain. Whereas others found barren vegetation and arid surroundings, I found opportunity. "It's there for my taking!" was my reaction. I quickly discovered a community that would support my efforts and unearth several new invaluable connects. I surveyed the mountain of tasks, kept climbing through the unsexy incline, and finally reached a milestone recently.

Arriving at successful outcomes through putting in sustained effort does not happen overnight--these things take time. Although there are notable examples of "overnight successes," it is rewarding to string together series of small base hits and walks to generate a big inning instead of trying to win the game with one swing of the bat. Through small victories which combine to yield a successful result (a big inning), you gain confidence that great things can happen when you make awesome at every opportunity. Do you want to prepare to run a 5K race? Putting in several workout sessions over period of time can build the confidence, offer insights to your physical strengths and limitations, and may even provide opportunities to meet new connects and resources.

I am very fortunate that I have many friends who have demonstrated their commitment to success through putting in hard work over long time. A friend whom I have known for about a decade recently received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Stage Design. She traveled a long, sustained road to reach where she is at. When I first met her, she was learning and sharing knowledge as a community theater volunteer, and was working at restaurants to pay for her education. She continued to keep herself busy learning, sharing, and working while she received her undergraduate and Master's degrees. Through building her career capital through deliberate work at every stop in her journey and never losing sight of her dreams, she built her expertise and became part of many communities. She is ready for the next chapter in her amazingly creative life. A diploma mill graduate she is not.

It is very easy to become frustrated when the fruits of sustained effort do not appear quickly. What do you do when your progress is incremental? Guess what? Rome wasn't architected and built in a day. You don't lose fifty pounds in a week. You don't transform yourself from a sedentary couch potato to a frequent marathon participant after one training run. You've got to work hard if you want anything at all. You've got to establish routines, become good at what you do, then challenge yourself to step up your game. That's how best-selling author Stephen King evolved--he first published his stories in a fanzine, then higher-tier magazines, and finally through major publishers. His first novel was published ten years after he started writing (Cal Newport wrote an excellent blog post about Stephen King and his habit of deliberate practice).

Although it may be difficult to control time ended for prolonged success, it's possible to control the little things which can help (or get in the way of) turning goals into action. You can establish rituals which can help with your goals (e.g. regular workout sessions, blocking time in the morning for focused writing). Sustaining habits over a period of time can be powerful and inspiring. You can find ways to dare greatly every day through learning, teaching, sharing, and making new connections. You can also add related activities which can help sustain your goals. I become inspired and rejuvenated when surrounding myself with other action-oriented people. 

You can also stop doing things that don't help with the pursuit of your goals: minimizing distractions and removing obstacles are two strategies which work well. I take drastic measures with the latter--I avoid or minimize people who want to prevent from accomplishing my goals. Sometimes I need to pursue my goals in secrecy and on the down-low when I cannot escape an environment where such goals are discouraged.

I am excited about the opportunity to take next steps with my professional skill-building activity. With help and insight from expert friends, I have identified strategies which I want to pursue for reaching the next milestone. With encouragement from people who matter and through establishing a body of work, anticipating time spent on additional skill-building looks extremely appealing. In words of Jen Sincero (from You Are A Badass), "There's nothing unstoppable as a freight train full of fuck yeah."

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