Musings

One thing I have learned in my life is that nothing replaces the effectiveness of hard work. The kind of work that requires you to drain every last ounce of your energy, to push on when you feel like you have nothing left to give and to finish strong, knowing that you did everything possible to do the very best you could have done.

I remember in college, staying up late revising a draft of a paper for the 20th time, marking up the page with pen marks, finding news ways to make it better, never satisfied just in case one more draft made the difference between good enough and the best. The late nights, on-hold social life, and numerous cartridges of printer ink was well worth the effort when my thesis won in my department and I was honored at an awards ceremony in front of professors and the bigwigs of the school. When I proudly received the award and shook hands with the school’s elite with my parents in the audience, it wasn’t because I was naturally gifted with skills nobody else could attain. It was because of my hard work.

It was the same approach that I used in my job interviews, evaluations, and all of the other important, big moments in my life, including when I prepared to become a mother, tasking myself with the job of researching everything from breastfeeding to potty training, determined to make every important decision as informed as I could.

I was recently reminded of this work ethic while I worked on an election. There were so many days I wanted to throw in the towel and settle for good enough. Frustrating people, no time in the day, kids who needed me at home, work to do at work, too many precincts to walk, too many houses to call, not enough volunteers willing to come out–life just gets so much busier as you get older, and there are so many more reasons to quit or scale back or settle for good enough instead of the best. But we were facing a serious local election with candidates who posed a serious threat against us. Settling for good enough wasn’t okay. When it comes down to a difference of a few hundred votes between your candidate and the other, you better believe every ounce of energy spent knocking on doors and making phone calls will be the difference between who wins and who doesn’t. At the end of the day it’s all about numbers, not excuses or what could have happened, but what did happen to make the numbers work.

One observation I made throughout my life was that there is a direct correlation in your mindset between your motivation and the sense of urgency you feel about the task at hand. If the task you have to accomplish is something urgent, requiring your immediate and absolute attention over everything else in your life, then that is urgent. We are motivated by urgency, hence the fact that a large portion of the human population partakes in a common ailment called procrastination. People will put off paying their bills until the due date nears, or in extreme situations, when faced with their electricity getting turned off. Students wait until the night before a paper is due to work on it. Mothers frantically scour stores for costumes the day(s) before Halloween and many husbands will get around to assembling a new household item that has been sitting in its box in the living room only after their wife nags them for the 500th time. You get the point.

Now let’s be honest: it is impossible to feel like every single thing we do is “urgent.” If everything was urgent, we would lose the definition of urgent and it would cease to exist.

I confess that I don’t have a secret to manufacturing urgency.

So how do we capture this sense of urgency that will motivate us to work maniacally toward the accomplishment of our goals?

In my experiences, you have to prioritize. For me, I seem to only be able to handle one urgent matter at a time. If there are too many balls in the air, so to speak, my stress levels rise and I lose my ability to be the best at what I’m doing. Also, it is hard to feel like something is “urgent” and give it necessary attention when there are other urgent tasks pulling you into other directions.

Prioritize your life and figure out what is your urgent task that must be done to accomplish your most cherished goals. Then, map out what exactly you should do to work toward that goal. When you are mapping this out, you should consider how much work you would deem acceptable to exhaust every possible avenue and as much energy as you can humanly exert. Put timelines on these goals. A time constraint is a handy trick to induce urgency.

I don’t begin to profess to know everything about this topic. I do, however, have my life experiences and my observing ego to sift through what seemed to work and what doesn’t work. Although I am eternally a work-in-progress, I know that if I continue on a path with determination and unwavering work ethic I can achieve so much and overcome as many obstacles as I can.

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