Learning to enjoy the process in a results-driven world
I’ve never written one of these columns before. My experience with Op-Ed has largely been from a seat at the copy desk, with an eye of scrutiny and pen in hand. It is great to switch this up for one last time and share a few thoughts and reflections. We have all been there: a completed assignment ripped into nothingness by an inopportune and irreversible computer crash. Nothing to be done. One of the first anxieties that comes to my mind in one of these situations is how all that time, energy, sanity, insanity, coffee, Cheetos and Twix bars have, in one instant, been all for nothing.
It’s hard not to think this way because it’s perfectly reasonable, but has it really been for nothing? Most people value hard work. It’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t. But, in a way, I think the concept of it is largely misunderstood. We often associate hard work with productivity, or goal setting, where the old cliché “hard work pays off ” seems to have the most relevance. And, in many ways, it does statistically.
If you work hard at anything long enough, you are bound to see some sort of change, either in skill or understanding. But what “worth” is found in this change? What are we left with if nothing changes? The common conception of hard work is outcome-oriented and focused on efficiency. You ultimately get what you put into the system. It also works in extremes. If hard work produces, we praise its integrity. If it leads to failure, we declare it a waste of time, a disappointment. Its value comes from its ends.
I’m not sure this is the whole picture. If we begin to look at hard work as a process, rather than a goal-oriented measure, we can see the whole of its true quality. Somewhere along the way, life should be about striking a balance between what you are doing and who you are as a person. Working hard is a part of that process and helps us to see, and perhaps achieve, that balance a little more clearly. If we continue to look at hard work as an all-or-nothing means, its value is dependent on its product, what it can do or perform. Strip the terms of productivity from hard work. Instead of looking at how much hard work pays, look at what it serves.
Look inwardly, towards the self. Look at it not as a commodity, but as a privilege. Hard work should not pay off, but perhaps it should allow us to break even. This applies to one’s talents just as much as it does to hard work.
We are often compelled to “use” our talents or skills, whether it’s for the greater good, a quota or simply for their own sake. This too is based on an idea of functionality, of practicality. Don’t get me wrong, it is certainly good to use one’s talents, but their goodness can be skewed with such a focus on outcome or potential.
In one of his lectures, Alan Watts suggests that education, and life for that matter, should be seen as playing a piece of music. If the ending of the music was the most important, as is often the case with many aspects of school and practical life, then there would be only finales played at concerts.
There must be a rhythm and a tempo willingness to dance along the lines of the leger rather than simply to complete it. If we learn to celebrate our talents, we might be able to see them in a way that simply using them won’t show us: an integral part of ourselves. This is a challenge and a struggle. It certainly isn’t easy, but it’s not a solo activity. We’re all on the grand staff. Play it.