on hard work

7:58 AM

I recently read this article by Ann Bauer on truth-telling in the writing business and it reminded me of something that's been on my mind for awhile now. It reminded me of a time not too long ago when I think the last remaining shreds of my childhood idealism and fantasy were burned forever, in a good way. Just go along with me for a little bit and I will explain.
You see just like most kids of our generation, I was raised to believe that "the sky is the limit!" or "reach for the stars" or "there's no limit to what you can accomplish." These are lovely sentiments, especially for a ten year old child. These mantras are great at helping you blossom as an adolescent and channel your inner strengths and to believe in your dreams. However, I believe that after a certain point as an adult they can actually begin to be detrimental. Have you ever heard the saying "stop banging on a wall hoping it will turn into a door?" I think we do that all too often under the guise of "never giving up on our dreams." But in an effort to prevent a complete erosion of our self-esteem we need to look at our dreams a little more realistically and be comfortable and brave enough to augment them if necessary.
You don't want to have to tell a child that the elementary, middle and high schools they are going to or will go to will to some degree determine what college they can get into. You don't want to have to tell them that what state or city they come from will also dictate what they can achieve. You don't want to tell a child that how much money you have may determine things like schools, higher education and career decisions. Because that is not the time, a person's childhood is a special, magical thing and it is to be treated with reverence and care. But as an adult I think it's actually freeing to help your child (or yourself) understand that due to a myriad of reasons there may be a certain "ceiling" to what you can achieve in a given field or that what you "dreamed" of doing may need to be changed and altered.
And I'm going to say something here that may not be very "inspirational" but it's a realization that has helped me in a profound way. It's frustrating to hear successful people answer the question of "how did you get to where you are" by saying "hard work, lots and lots of hard work." Hard work is part of the equation, part of anyone's equation for that matter, but it's certainly not the whole story. Number one, this comment instantly presupposes that anyone who hasn't achieved said level of success is simply not working hard enough. This is preposterous - everyone is working hard!! Here's why this lie works so well - because it gives all the credit to the person making the comment, denigrates everyone around them and then on top of it leaves the less successful people confused because they know they work very hard but just aren't achieving the kind of success that they dream of. So they go home determined to "work harder" and they will, most likely with only moderate improvements at best. Why? Because "hard work" is not the single most determining factor of success. To believe that is to pretend that we live in some fairy land where 99% of people are just lazy, un-successful people and that the 1% of successful people are the only ones working hard.
And I can tell you from personal experience that this is ridiculous. My mum worked herself to death as a housekeeper for many years when we moved to America. My mum worked until 2 am almost every day at McDonalds until she almost ruined her health. My mum worked incredibly hard at an accounting department of a school, so hard in fact that she got promoted and promoted until she eventually landed the wonderful job she has now. But to pretend like all my mum has to do is "work really hard" and she will become the next Sheryl Sandberg is just plain ludicrous. Because my mum does and will continue to work very hard but due to a million different pieces of the puzzle of her life including but not limited to the fact that she did not grow up in this country and did not receive higher education here, there is a ceiling. Plain and simple.
Because success is a combination of a million different things - from your upbringing, to schools, to financial status, to your personality and yes, sometimes, even your choice of faith. It's someone giving you a break, it's a connection, it's a savant level of genius or talent, it's a lot of "right place, right time" and probably just as much hard work as the rest of the world puts in on a daily basis. Pretending like this isn't the case hurts all of us. I believe that there is something very brave about crafting achievable, realistic dreams because when you make them come true the experience becomes empowering and propels you forward as opposed to continually striving for something that never comes to fruition and leaving you feeling less than and stagnates you. When you reach for something that isn't yours you eventually become bitter and hopeless, feeling as if there must be something wrong with YOU. In fact the only thing that's wrong is that it is not FOR you.
I've actually always admired Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere for always being forthright about her success. In particular, she explains her journey in detail in this interview with The Everygirl. Emily has done a wonderful job of showing exactly how her certain kind of success worked and although there is no doubt that she has worked and continues to work very hard one can easily see that there were a lot of important links in the chain that weren't in her control but being the intelligent woman that she is she took each little break and opportunity and ran with it. And we all need these "breaks," these opportunities but not everyone gets them and what I'm suggesting here is that it's not your fault - it's just luck, or lack thereof.
I get so tired of seeing all these "work hard" and "don't give up" posters all over pinterest and instagram. I feel so sad for the hundreds of people that feel imprisoned in their "dreams," telling themselves every year that "this will be the year" or that they will "work harder." I think it's not about how much or how hard you work (though that is important) but it's about finding exactly what you need to work ON and unfortunately the answer to that often takes years and many misses. What I'm saying here (more to myself than anyone else) is that it's ok to sometimes release yourself from a "dream" that you feel just isn't yours, isn't happening or doesn't feel right. Trust me, it's not because you're not working hard enough because sweetheart - I know you are, you are working your little bum off and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Let it go, give it to someone else and try your hand at something else because trust me, when it's yours you don't need to kill yourself to get it right. I like to think that when you finally get it right the pieces just fall into place. And hard work is part of life for everyone from ceo's to stay at home mums. Lack of success does not mean lack of hard work. In my humble opinion anyway...

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