“Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb.” - Austin Kleon
Believe it or not, this blog post didn’t come to me in a vision… even though that would have been pretty sweet.
In fact, it took me well over 45 minutes to finally write down that first sentence. Humbling, but true. The point is, words don’t naturally come to those who write them. They come through the sound of fingers hitting keys, and through the perspiration of the brow that is piece-mealing ideas together. It takes work.
From A to B
Recently, I’ve been having some conversations with people regarding work, discipline, and keeping your nose to the grindstone (which has a funny origin story as a phrase - https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/217200.html). There’s an interesting phenomenon that I believe, albeit not unique, is heightened for our Millennial (and younger) generation in today’s society. This is the subconscious belief that: things just happen. (I say subconscious intentionally to show that although most people would consciously disagree with that statement, their actions reveal otherwise - and actions are a direct result of the core beliefs residing in the subconscious from which our lives operate on.)
That perfect job you always wanted? That book idea you know would be a NY Times best-seller? That dream house that would make life so much grander? All these and more are great ideas and fun to dream about, but seeing any of them through to actuality, let alone one of them, is a task much grander than any of us would like to come to terms with. (Spoken to myself just as much as to you)
Nothing just happens. That is the reality in life. Sure, you may get good breaks or bad breaks. And yes, opportunities are not equally or evenly dispersed among everyone. But the choice to turn a thought into a "something-more" is not happenchance.
As I’m typing this blog out on my laptop keyboard, I’m reminded of a recent illustration I heard from the book: "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond. In his book, Jared walks through the factors by which society has evolved into the modern form we now appreciate and experience. During the topic of technology, he described how the QWERTY Keyboard came into being. The original design was intended, not for optimum efficiency, but rather to slow down people’s typing capacity so that the typewriter wouldn’t jam the metal keys. This was accomplished by stacking most of the common letters on the left side, forcing the majority of people to use their off-hand for a greater portion of the typing, as well as dispersing them across the scope of the keyboard instead of grouping them in the easiest places to reach. Despite ample evidence that shows how a streamlined keyboard could improve our typing speed and efficiency, the QWERTY keyboard still remains, well over 130 years later.
Start With Why
How does this story relate?
The point is, nothing just happens. And that means: there is always a purpose - a reason why things happen the way they do. This is the core foundation underlying the concept that nothing just happens. It’s not so much about something happening or not happening. It’s more about the reason for it to happen in the first place. Being a Christ-follower, I see all aspects of my life and this world as a small piece of the greater puzzle that is God’s redemptive plan for humanity. I am grateful to have this greater-purpose implanted and instilled into everything I do in life.
Yet, as I look to myself and others in our generation to pave the future for what's to come, there is a gaping hole that many of us will face: a lack of purpose in life. Without a purpose - a reason why - we will forever be content with things just happening, even if we are informed enough to know that this isn’t how life works.
What this speaks to is ownership.
But it also speaks to commitment. Commitment to the task at hand is needed to accomplish anything worthwhile. Nothing just happens, but when things do happen, it usually follows a combination of hard work, lots of blood, sweat, and tears (figurative, but sometimes literal), and the passing of time.
It’s easy to point the finger at our collective generation and say we’re just not getting the job done. The harder thing to do is to look in the mirror and say the same.
Making Work That Lasts
I recently started reading Ryan Holiday’s book titled “Perennial Seller”, all about “the art of making and marketing work that lasts”… no easy feat. He concluded with a similar summarization, saying “it takes time and effort and sacrifice to make something that lasts.”
This leaves us with 3 non-negotiables for making something happen: 1) Hard work, 2) Sacrifice (aka blood, sweat, and tears), and 3) The passing of Time.
These non-negotiables carry with them several important observations. The first is, their sequential nature. Each element is like a building block. Without the foundational base of hard work, the sacrifice and time spent won’t produce your best work. Hard work, leads to sacrifice, with leads to producing work of value after the passing of time. The other thing to note is their scale of difficulty. Hard work is going to be the easiest non-negotiable to commit yourself to, and, surprisingly, the passing of time will often be the hardest pill to swallow.
Ryan Holiday speaks to this reality by saying:
“Anyone who has run the gauntlet and produced a great product - or even just seen an average one all the way through - knows it’s a grueling process. You wake up for weeks, months, or years on end and yet at the end of each working day you are essentially no closer to finishing than you were when you started.”
This is the time-component that makes creating great work so challenging, but it shouldn’t keep us from the commitment to pursue work worth doing.
There’s one more reminder to mention, the fact that: thinking is not the same as doing. We deceive ourselves if we think that the difference-maker between those who make great work and those who don’t is their ability to dream up the ideas for it. This is a false assumption. Anyone can have an idea --
“While many dream perennial-selling dreams, they think that the wanting - instead of the work - is what matters. ... The difference between a great work and an idea for a great work is all the sweat, time, effort, and agony that go into engaging that idea and turning it into something real.”
What To Do
Nothing just happens. The world will not run on its own. Society will not survive without the efforts of the people who make up that society. We must put thoughts into actions, commit to working hard, be willing to sacrifice time, money, or energy, and ultimately be patient and persistent enough to allow the fruit of our labor to manifest over time.
So where does all this theoretical talk leave us?
There are Three Clear Calls to Action that come to mind:
1) Always Look Back
We must be students of history, cultivators of the culture that has already been created, learners of the lessons of the past. Things don’t just appear, they come from the hard work, sacrifices, and passing of time that allows them to mature into the form we experience today. Knowing what it took to achieve the things we experience now will help us abstain from the bane of entitlement that so plagues our generation.
2) Properly Assess the Present
In order to properly assess our current moment in time, we must be able to detach from our individualized perspective-lens and strive for objectivity, as much as possible. Your experience is just that - your experience, not anyone else’s. Yet, having an individualized experience does not separate us from the generalized experience of humanity, or the overall scope of redemptive history. We must strive for objectivity while also working to be properly informed. Gratitude can be a helpful tool in appreciating the efforts of those who have gone before us, creating the blessings we reap today. This presentness can also help us see the needs that are yet to be solved.
3) Never Stop Dreaming
The future won’t create itself. Progress won’t be made without innovators and forward-thinkers. Dreaming up solutions for the present problems and building on the legacy of the path paved by those before us will allow us to create the future for which we are striving towards.
I want to end with one last illustration to underscore the importance of purpose.
Where does that come from? Why is it 2018 instead of 2589, or 10305, or 297?
There is one answer that beckons us with resounding power. That is, the man and person of Jesus Christ. Our entire annual calendar is based on one man - who came and lived a plain, normal, unexciting life for 30 years. He then went on to live the most extraordinary life for the three years of his public ministry, reaching its peak in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Upon entering the city, He was hailed as the “coming King”, yet, not even a week later He was crucified on a cross before an angry mob.
This man represents the climax of human history - the person whom all of the Old Testament (bible) pointed towards, and whom we all now look back upon. He is the very Son of God who came to take away our sins. And the "why" behind our calendar is the same "why" behind the holiday we just celebrated this past weekend - Easter (and no, bunny’s have zero relevance to that day).
Purpose: there must be a why. And... nothing just happens.
So, go make something happen, by working hard, making sacrifices, and patiently allowing the work to mature into completion over the passing of time... all with the end in mind.