We have been sold the lie of talent since the first time a grandparent exclaimed how you were the ‘cutest’.
When I was about nine, my school presented Certificates of Merit. In the first two years, these were awarded for ‘Presentation of Work’, and I would duly receive one in rotation with four or five other children: same names, same prizes. It was easy for me to achieve these, as I needed to work no harder than I already could. However, the certificates changed to reward ‘Effort’ and I never received another one from that point onward.
This anecdote is to illustrate, as we have been told by anyone who knows, that there are two aspects of personality that breed personal (and educational) success: effort and consistency. That’s it.
And the dullness is where the hard work comes in. It turns out – I discovered when I was seventeen – it’s quite easy to write a 300 page novel (it took a few weeks of staying up late every day); it’s also quite easy to get into pretty decent shape for a wedding (just eat right and do some exercise) and it’s also reasonably easy to pass a teaching qualification if you can read a few books, listen carefully and repeat what you’ve been told.
But, success isn’t built on one-off spurts of effort: it’s built on crazy hard work. Most teachers work hard; most children work hard. The ‘crazy’ comes in because it can seem ‘crazy’ to those of us who search for the easier life: Why have they gone out for that run in the rain? Why are they practising their piano-scales, again? Why are they copying out that piece of work, it seems good enough to me?
Success is built on mindset, and on improvement. Next time you see someone ‘successful’ in your chosen field, watch them being interviewed, or ask them about their success – they will inevitably talk about ‘taking on new challenges’; ‘working / training hard and getting better’; ‘learning from those with more experience’. There is no finish point for their improvement, because they are just interested in getting better – they are growth oriented, not task oriented. They are also humble, and ordinary, and – dare I say it – a little bit dull.
So, when you are re-setting your New Year’s Resolutions – work or personal or revisiting targets – think not about SMART targets (which seems to be this year’s media lazy-phrase to help you achieve your goal), but about where those SMART targets fit into your personal narrative of crazy hard-work that you’re going to put in this year. Allow yourself to have value-driven goals, not target-driven ones, and maybe you can justify the crazy hard work you’ll need to do, and make sense of the choices you make.
This is no guarantee of success but, if you are growing in some skill that you find personally valuable, the process is the success, not the outcome. And that’s why all this hard work is crazy – it guarantees nothing.
Therefore, ask yourself:
- Why do I want to be successful in this? (Links to your own values)
- What will success look like in this? (Consider if it’s worth the crazy hard work)
- What will I need to change – physically, mentally, socially – in order to succeed? (Evaluates the likelihood of sustained success)