Adding this article to the library…
Are You Working at Being . . . You?
I’m fond of quotes. Sometimes, I read them over and again. Sometimes reading a quote once is enough for it to be indelibly etched in my mind. Those are the quotes I love best because they make me think . . . and think . . . and think.
Thinking is a good thing. It’s essential to living life deliberately and to minimizing the Oh, I wish I’d regrets later. Most of us carry plenty enough baggage in our mental and emotional lockers without adding more just because we don’t stop and think.
Recently, I came across a quote written by Maya Angelou: “Nothing will work unless you do.” It quickly proved to be an indelible quote, which admittedly surprised me. The message seemed simple, innocuous even. But I thought about that quote repeatedly during the day—in ways I expected, and ones I did not.
It started out, as many profound things do, simply. Morning devotions. I’m cruising along in them and in comes the quote translated to what had my focus: being more spiritual. If you want to be more spiritual, you must work at it. The message to me wasn’t muddy or unclear. It wasn’t up for debate. It was clear, simple, and to the point. Getting what you want and being what you want takes effort. Effort is work.
Then I get to my office desk to begin the workday. I sat down with a goal: be a better author. The best author you can be. Back to mind comes the quote—and reality. You can’t master writing, but if you work at it, you can be better and your best. Immediately I thought, I can read other writers’ works, study the craft and business of writing more. I can feed my interest in everything so I have a deep creative well to draw from when writing my own stories. In short, the message translated to: Don’t wish for it, work toward it. The operative word: work.
By the third time that day the quote came to mind, I realized that it was profound and applies to everything in life. Want a better family life? Work at it. Stronger marriage? Work at it. Security or a more stable environment? Work at it.
Everything I could think of required effort on my part, and that grew into a laundry-list litany in my mind of all the things I consider important to living an extraordinary life. That’s always been my goal. To live not an ordinary life but to live an ordinary, extraordinary life. In every item on the list, the universal truth in that quote fit. No exceptions. Work.
While the best things in life may be free—and I firmly believe they are (love, faith, charity)—that doesn’t mean those things don’t require work. To understand how to love well, you work to learn to love well—specifically. Work.
You can have faith, but with work, you can comprehend its endless boundaries and grasp what leaps of faith are all about and what they mean. Faith without works is dead, right? Work.
Charity. We all can give, but if we work at giving, we also learn to give well. To leave the receiver’s pride and dignity intact. Learning how to do that takes work.
So two things are clear. Even the best free things carry responsibilities and they require something from us. Effort to learn what those responsibilities are and how to embrace those best things and fulfill the responsibilities of them without harming ourselves or others takes work.
Then and now, I can think of nothing worth having that doesn’t require work.
Physical: shelter, food, clothing. All require us to work to provide those things for ourselves and our families.
Emotional: respect, dignity, honor, integrity, relationships. Work to gain them, work to keep them.
Spiritual: faith, balance, harmony. Again, work to gain them, work to keep them—especially during times of trouble when we need them most. The wisdom to receive must be learned, and the wisdom to let go—of the past and of ways that do not serve us well. Work to learn humility, the path to wisdom. Work to realize that deeds won’t get us where we want to go. Wisdom will. Wisdom teaches us the way is grace. We endure and flourish in moments of grace.
The human being in us bends toward self-indulgence. We want what we want when we want it. We want better. More. We want it all now. Some of us, I’m sorry to say, feel we’re entitled to it all right now without lifting a finger to earn it. That’s problematic on multiple fronts, but here’s a big gap in that kind of logic: Unless we’ve worked for these things and gained the knowledge, experience and insights that come with our efforts, we might want those things but we’re not ready for them. Work gets us ready, prepares us to receive.
Ever heard the saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” W.W. Jacobs is credited with coining the phrase back in 1902 in Harper’s magazine. I’m not sure s/he first said it, but that’s as far back as I’ve traced it. Anyway, credit is given to whoever did coin it—and gratitude for it because a lot of people have learned valuable lessons from it.
The point? The saying has been around for a long time. Its longevity is a tip to us that many have determined the truth in it holds value, and we’d be wise to pay attention to it. Hearing and listening to the message in it could spare us some hard lessons. The specific point as it relates to work? If you get what you wish for but you don’t have a grip on the responsibilities that come with it—responsibilities always come with these kinds of gifts—then how do you handle your wish responsibly and not get hurt, hurt others, or both?
And yes, even though you were gifted (with talent or ability), you still must work to enhance the gift. So how do you handle getting your wish without causing/doing harm?
We don’t have to look far to see the trouble and challenges that come with getting what you want and not constructively handling the accompanying responsibilities. Look to Whitney Houston, to the other great talents we’ve lost because they wished for, worked toward, and got what they wanted but fell under the responsibilities that came with it. Look to Justin and Lindsay. It’s heartbreaking to see them all and so many others work so hard to get what they wanted and then destroy themselves (or hurt or kill themselves and devastate those who love them) because they couldn’t constructively handle the corresponding responsibilities. They were overwhelmed by the demands, the betrayals, the disappointments and hardships. Don’t smirk, thinking they had it all. Life was a cake-walk for them. It wasn’t a cake-walk and they didn’t have it all or they wouldn’t have suffered the fates they’ve suffered. Remember that each new level of success carries its own challenges and hardships, and we all suffer many of both on every level.
We can and should learn from them. We don’t all need to step in those same mud puddles. We can avoid the problems created in their lives and deny those problems the ability to encroach into our lives. How? (You’ve got it.) Work.
Look, listen, learn. Understand the value of interim steps toward getting what you want. The wisdom gained in those interim steps, in gathering knowledge and experience and insights, protects you, gives you the armor to succeed successfully less injured, causing fewer injuries in others. It is in those interim steps you are gifted with knowing the value of the steps and that gifts you with being content where you are, while you’re working toward what you most want.
Interim steps are not licenses to loaf. They are opportunities to work and prepare for the next rungs on your ladder. Personal, professional, a hybrid blend of a hobby you hope to one day convert to a profession—whatever you’re wishing for, working toward; that’s your ladder.
You don’t want or expect to be a brain surgeon on your first day of medical school. You need those interim steps—medical school, residency, internship, surgical training and experience. All those interim steps are integral preparations, necessary for success as a surgeon. So do what you need to do to prepare yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually for your next ladder rung. Your interim steps. Then, when you’ve done the work and gathered the wisdom and what you need, move up to the next rung confident that you’re prepared.
An odd mix, but I’m thinking now about the Little Red Hen. Remember her? She does all the work alone. Others refuse to help her each step of the way through the entire process from planting seeds to reaping the harvest and readying the food to eat. Yet when the work’s done, the non-working others want to eat.
There are multiple issues with that, but let’s focus on the most direct to our issue here: the hen took the interim steps. She learned how to plant, nurture the seeds, and to harvest. She learned through that work what was successful and productive, what wasn’t, and how to grow and harvest and prepare the crop as food, ready to eat. The others learned none of that because they chose not to do the work.
They weren’t incapable, they were unwilling. Their choice, their consequences.
But the lesson to us in this is: that unwillingness to work is exactly why copying what someone else does to get what you want—even if you share the same goal —won’t work best for you. Not even if what you want is absolutely identical. They did the work. They understand the inner-workings in ways you who copy them don’t. That means they have the wisdom and flexibility to alter their course as needed. Copiers lack the wisdom, just like those who refused to help the little red hen.
Your journey is a personal one. Your wishes and hopes and dreams might be popular but what they are and why they are important to you is personal and unique to you. What you want (or don’t want, which is equally important) is your choice. But you won’t get it piggybacking on someone else’s effort. You must do the work—for your own sake. You have the heart to want, but to constructively handle getting it, you must have the mind and spirit for it as well. Then you have the physical, the emotional and spiritual tools you need. Then you’re prepared and ready. You’ve done the work, and that’s covered the the whole of your want and the whole of you. The whole of you is what you must understand.
Failing your way to success is fine. In a professional exercise recently, I had to describe my life in six words. I came up with: She fails her way to success daily. I do. I’m fearless at trying new and different things I feel driven to try. In taking chances. Calculated risks. For me, what I do or don’t do isn’t about risks, it’s about purpose. I look at risks and odds of success and weigh them, but I choose to do what I do based on how it will (or won’t) impact my purpose. If the potential for a favorable impact exists, I’m in. That most matters to me. What most matters to you?
It’s important to know. It’s important to not drift to it, but to choose it. It’s critical to choose knowing your why. Why do you want this? Why is it most important to you? (I know, work!)
Knowing your why prepares you, strengthens your will and determination, and it diminishes risks. You understand it. You’ve embraced it. But to get to the why, you’ve got to do the work required so the truth of the why is revealed to you. Why does it matter—not to others around you, to you? What makes getting it worth the work?
See what I mean? On the surface, Maya Angelou’s quote might seem simple. And perhaps it is simple because it can be simple. Perhaps simple is always infused with a deep, clear truth. Nothing will work unless you do.
All of the mental gymnastics this quote inspired, and what it’s brought me to is this: You first must work to know yourself. Because what best works for you won’t work best for everyone else.
And the simple, deeper truth remains. Everything requires work. Whether or not you do it, and how and why you do or don’t do it, defines you.
Which brings us back to the original question. The one only each of us can answer for ourselves:
Are you working at being you?
© 2014, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is Down and Dead in Dixie. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. www.vickihinze.com.