Hanging on the wall next to my dad’s treadmill is a little sign that reads: Motivation is when dreams roll up their sleeves. I love this sign. When I’m on that treadmill and really wishing I could stop, I look at that sign and for some crazy reason, it keeps me going.
Lately I’ve been thinking about motivation. I’ve been wondering why do some people succeed in achieving their dreams when others don’t? I work at a university and I am daily surrounded by intelligent and interesting students, all of whom have big dreams. They want to continue studying in graduate schools, make movies in Hollywood or publish stories in The New Yorker. One young woman told me that she knew her life story was so amazing, so original that it would make an incredible movie. She had already imagined herself on a worldwide lecture/speaking tour. That’s how amazing her story was and how sure she was that the rest of the world would want to hear it. “I just need to write everything down and shape it into a book or something,” she said to me. “That’s a good first step,” I said. “Just out of curiosity, how far along are you on that writing and shaping stuff?” I asked. “Oh. I haven’t started yet. But I will. And once I finish,” she assured me, “I can start making international speaking engagements.” Seven years have passed since we had the conversation. The world has not seen or heard her story.
Another student visited me in my office one day. I had seen some of his creative work and knew that he had more talent than most at his age. He sat down in the chair opposite of mine and said, “I want to be a world class writer. Do you think I will be someday?” I looked at him and said, “I don’t know. How hard are you willing to work?” He seemed surprised by the question. “Well. I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he stammered. “I mean I guess I thought it all was a matter of talent and luck and maybe connections with the right people.”
“Well you’re right about talent and connections. To be world class you’ll need talent and having connections is handy. Luck can’t be counted on so I don’t know what to say about that. But I will tell you that all the talent in the world won’t get you very far if you aren’t willing to work really hard.” He left my office and I’ve not heard from him since.
And I’m left puzzling over that question: why didn’t the big dream materialize for these two highly talented, artistic and creative people? And the answer is, as so many answers are, ridiculously simple, but not easy. Big Dream achievers are willing to put the time, energy, effort, passion, and patience into seeing a project through from start to finish. This is not easy. Pop psychologist Malcom Gladwell made his reputation suggesting that anyone could be a world class whatever (athlete, businessperson, artist, etc.) if he or she were willing to put in 10,000 hours into building the skills necessary to achieve the desired outcome. Recent studies have suggested it takes quite a few more hours than that and that possibly some people simply can’t master certain skills no matter how hard they try. But the point Gladwell makes it well taken. At least by me. If I want to achieve some of the goals I have on my very long goal list, then I had better be willing to roll up my sleeves and do some serious work. And no, my talking about it with my friends or griping that I haven’t reached my goal does not count as “working toward the goal.” The answer, I know, is simple but not easy. Time to roll up those sleeves and get to work!