“If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work...
‘All the pieces are put together, and the whole is yours …’ A word grows to a thought — a thought to an idea — an idea to an act. The change is slow, and the Present is a sluggish traveller loafing in the path Tomorrow wants to take.”
– Beryl Markham, West With The Night
This coming to light through the sluggish Present, changing over years of work, is the tricky part. It’s the part you don’t always see in yourself and in the work you do. It’s the grind, the paying of dues, the 10,000 hours, the sweat equity of life. We gain experience in our work, and with a bit of luck, grow in prominence. But really we grow either way.
Experience is a devilish word. We gain experience through doing the work, and we chase experiences outside of our work. Really, shouldn’t they be one and the same? Not to live for your job but to have your work be an integral part of your life. Writing a blog reminded me that the living part is every bit as important as the writing part. You don’t offer much in prose without experiencing the world a bit.
The mistake most people make is in making the work their life, instead of an integral part of their life. “Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living Barely gettin’ by, it’s all taking and no giving” as Dolly Parton put it. That’s not meaningful work, that’s checking your soul at the door and inserting your self as a cog in a machine. Trading life for dollars.
What Markham writes about is different from what Parton was writing about. Markham saw that spark of light, imagined something bigger and built it for herself. That’s the coming to light over a lifetime. Of course, Dolly Parton did the same thing, her life hasn’t been the character she played in a movie. And neither is ours.
And here’s the thing, the dream isn’t about work at all, it’s about the vision you have for yourself and the world around you. The work is what you do to realize the dream – not a trade-off of hours away from living your dream at all, but the building of it one small step at a time. It all starts with a spark of light, your “why”, and then filling in the work necessary to reach for the vision.
“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.” – Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Duckworth jabs us in the ribs with that statement: what you could have done but didn’t. Don’t let your vision die on the vine. Whatever your vision – sailing around the world, hiking a summit or a list of summits, breaking a time in a marathon, building a company from scratch, writing a novel… it requires change and wading through the sluggish Present to get to that Tomorrow you want. Do the meaningful work that gets you there.