Chipping Away at Success

Does it ever feel like your life is going nowhere? Do you ever feel like you’re just going around in circles without making any progress in your life?

Perhaps the problem is that we tend to see ourselves in extreme generalities living with a clouded illusion that we’ll reach that “One Day” where we’ll wake up sailing away into the mediterranean sunset with a cold drink in one hand, and the love of our life enclasped in another. If this sounds like a dream, then perhaps it is and nothing more than that unless we “work at it”.

Not saying that all dreams are impossible. I’m just saying that we usually don’t wake up to find that we are successful. It takes a lot of perseverance and the general condition of success is actually composed of numerous goals achieved.

A month ago I found myself in my client’s car where he wanted to make a huge withdrawal that almost closed the bank! He was going away for a tour to Europe while I was left in charge of the project while he was away. We were accompanied by his brother who proceeded to talk about wanting to buy a Ferrari just to start a conversation. He turned to me and asked: “John, don’t you have a dream?” I simply said: “Of course I do! I mean, of course having a Ferrari would be nice but don’t you also think that having a tree is better than having its fruit? I’m working on planting that tree right now!”

Many people tend to have a flawed perception of success or work for that matter. The TGIF culture espouses the belief we need to get away from work to enjoy ourselves. I personally think that this should not be the case. Work is a blessing and an opportunity to live out our life’s purpose; which should be at most times greater than ourselves. Even on a busy Monday, people want to find an escape sometimes resorting to social media for some virtual interaction.

Work is not a prison! However, even if breaking out of work is your idea of success, then you should look no further than Prison Break movies one of them being “The Great Escape”. Sometimes based on real stories, you’d be amazed to find that most of these great escapes are done by digging tunnels underground; sometimes with nothing more than improvised spoons! The point I’m making is that even if your goal was simply to break out of prison, you would realise that getting success obviously takes a lot of work.

Last Monday, my wife and I were blessed to have been given free tickets to a John Maxwell leadership seminar. In his lecture he explained one of the laws of leadership called the “Law of Consistency”. He gave an illustration of how this law works by giving an analogy. He says that success is like taking an ax, swinging the same ax 5 times at the same point, stopping and repeating the same process every day. You will not chop down that tree in one day; but if we kept taking 5 swings at it everyday without quitting, then the tree will eventually fall.

John Maxwell caps the Law of Consistency by explaining:

“Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”

President Obama in one of his speeches in revival of the American dream said something like: It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White, Asian or Hispanic , etc., as long as you’re willing to work hard, you can make it. So apparently success (ironically for some) takes a lot of “work”.

Another question about life and success is whether it’s a sprint or a marathon. While I tend to work in series of sprints, you’d one day realise that putting all these sprints together could make up for a full marathon. Incidentally a full work week is equated to 40 hours and that a full marathon is roughly 42 kilometres. It is impossible for us to work for 42 hours straight effectively without sleep but it’s certainly more tractable to put in our 8 hours over five days. The same goes in preparing for a marathon. We usually need to put in a series of sprint distances of 10 kms to prepare us for a “Full Mary”. Running sprint distances in the world of endurance sports is fondly referred to as “The Possible Dream”, but once we’ve had a taste of this accomplishment we tend to get hooked towards achieving the bigger goal. The important thing about running in sprints is that it needs to be connected towards a bigger goal rather than the sprint itself. Can’t we say the same about work? Have patience.

One thing I need to emphasise is there is no quick formula to success. Meaning, you can’t sprint your way to your goal. I remember getting stuck in filling out a 250 word essay about success in the 9th grade. There I said that school was a step towards success and that my whole time of being in school as much as I hated it was about taking these small but important steps. Mrs. Mercado who was my English teacher seemed so proud about that essay that she told my dad about it in a dinner party. Looking back, it took me an hour to write 250 words! That seems pretty pathetic by today’s standards where I write about 1000 in an hour and a half! That was almost 30 years ago and I’ve kept on writing since then. I once wrote a short story in 48 hours which got me an A+ in college and here I am still typing away on a Sunday. If my goal was to write a book someday, at least I had a head-start 30 years ago! Thank you Mrs. Mercado.

Filipina Iron-woman and coach Ani De Leon – Brown says that winning a triathlon isn’t about who can go the fastest but rather who slows down the least! Again it’s all about consistency! It’s about perseverance! It’s about having a goal and racing towards it even if you had to do it one day at a time.