Finding Achievement

What does it take to achieve? Two Businesspeople Fitting Together Puzzle Pieces What must we give in terms of time, work and resources to make something of value?

Here’s one answer: the amount of effort (time, work and resources) that you pour into any enterprise is frustratingly inverse to how deeply genius touches you. This past weekend, I caught part of an NPR interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, the gifted, accessible author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” Gilbert talked about her relationship with creativity and how She (the muse, the ingenium) appears at the moment when the grind of effort is at its peak and Gilbert is exhausted and pleading for breakthroughs. It is then, Gilbert observes, that the perspiration is met, over-rewarded really, with glorious output.

We seem to obsess on the effortless achievement of others, on how every success story personifies the narrative of hard work and then, miraculously, the Bang of Success. Is it really that formulaic? The whole punch-the-hard-work-card-and-you-will-become-the talk-of-the-town legend has always been suspect to me. It’s suspect because it renders individual experience to a collective cliche. Achievement is individually felt. It’s far too nuanced to be bland and common.

Granted, success formulas abound and many of them are good. Take, for example, Vessey George’s smart steps to creating a successful business found on LinkedIn. Yes, Vessey’s steps, taken methodically, create the right foundation for success. But they cannot guarantee an organization will actually succeed. They are the right “table stakes” but they are not the game. The game, as it were, is won through effort. People mistake the structure of achievement with the work of it. They are linked, for sure, but not interchangeable, just as success and reward are linked but not necessarily one in the same.

Gilbert’s description of inviting creativity, or achievement, to enter one’s work rings true to me. I’ve seen what is believed to be sudden success for what it truly is – the climax of great effort. It is the moment when the work is mastered and the lesson learned. At times, the work feels like work; heavy and hard. (See the archetype of struggling artist, nose-to-the-grindstone inventor or sleepless entrepreneur.) Other times the work is disguised as pleasure. You know, the hours spent learning to play guitar because you simply want to play. Effort is effort. Hours are hours. Work, no matter it’s outward appearance, is work.

What I’ve come to appreciate is that the work itself is a form of creative joy. I’ve learned to savor the painful grind of effort as completely as the ingenious product. The work is the thing.

The other aspect of achievement I’ve discovered is that it is private. Success is derived from knowing what I’ve done, how far I’ve come and where I stand. It is intimate, existing in the space between self and the intangible desire to tackle something. Achievement is not bestowed outside of myself; reward is. And while reward is certainly sweet, it is not fundamentally necessary. How often we confuse ourselves about the relationship between the two, believing that those who receive rewards are the only ones who succeed.

Finding achievement asks you to solve a personal calculus. How much are you willing to exert vs. how much exertion is required? How open are you to undertaking the work, hard or easy, vs. knowing when to let the breakthrough happen? How happy are you to celebrate in private vs. expecting adulation to be the measure of success? Finding achievement is not for the timid of heart. It is unglamorous, at times unforgiving and entirely key to feeling one’s worth. It is the stuff of honest success, the perfect mixture of time, work and, of course, the occasional touch of genius.



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