“Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.” -Winston Churchill
I’ve been thinking about work lately. No, not a in the sense of a job, and not in the sense of “function,” but about general old-fashioned, nose-to-the-grindstone, roll-up-your-sleeves work. I know this isn’t a crowd-pleasing subject, but it’s a recurring theme for me, usually popping up again whenever I have to do something I don’t want to do. See, the problem is I’m a dreamer. And what is a dreamer but someone who wants to be somewhere else, or be doing something else, or thinking something else… what were we talking about? Ah right, work. Well, suddenly my life is full of it. That sounds whiny and childish, and just let me say that it IS, because the point is I’ve gotten lazy in the last few years. My travels have not been all fun and games, and much of it has been difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s been rare that I’ve absolutely had to do something I absolutely don’t feel like doing. And it shows. Sure I still can (and do) spend 14 hours on weekend days in the deserted library, but would you like to know how much of that time is spent staring out the window, or dozing on the table, or clicking “refresh” on facebook?.... No, I don’t want to know either.
The above quote from Churchill has been firmly stuck in my head ever since I read it six months ago, knowing that I was coming up on a period in life when my determination and aspirations would be truly put to the test. “Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.” It’s a different perspective than what you usually hear in our instant-success, skilless-stardom, inalienable-right-to-the-spotlight generation. I guess I’d actually accepted the message that “dreams” or “full potential” are things that would HAPPEN to me, sooner or later, or if I’m lucky enough, or if that’s my destiny, and I’d always been led to believe that it is my destiny, by sports commercials, or by the manifest-destiny version of my religion, or the unconditional assertion of my parents that I could do whatever I want to do… I don’t think they realized that already Spiderman, Michel Jordan, and Bono had decided that what I wanted to do was take over the world one fan at a time…… now what was I talking about?
It’s hard to find anyone talking about hard work anymore… at least, anyone we can take seriously. Most of them are too old, or too old-fashioned, or look too much like an English bulldog (I wonder which category this blog post will get me thrown into?….). In fact this IS a faint-hearted new world, where hard work is NOT necessary for the most glorious success on offer. There are other ways, and why not hope for that? The plan to do our best has changed to the hope of being given-a-shot, to a chance of being “discovered,” to waiting for our god-given 15 minutes to arrive. And I’m ranting because this is about me, because I bought it, I believed Walt Disney when he said "If you can dream it, you can do it." I believed R Kelly when he sang “If I just believe it, there's nothing to it! I believe I can fly!” I believed Obama when he chanted “Yes We CAN” full-stop. The strange thing is that all of these people (some more than others) WORKED, and worked HARD, to get where they got. But no one wants to hear about that, it’s such a downer.
It’s the word “continuous” that makes this quote so Churchillian, so ballsy. That’s what really hooked me. I keep waiting for it to end, you know, to finally reach my potential and be DONE with all this stress and effort and WORK. Listening to Rusty Berkus who said: “There comes that mysterious meeting in life when someone acknowledges who we are and what we can be, igniting the circuits of our highest potential,” I’ve been waiting for someone to acknowledge me and spark my potential; it’s like magic that adults can believe in, too. I’ve been counting on my intelligence to get me to the top, while I watch some sit-coms and wait to “arrive.” After all, why should I exhaust myself when so many people get their dreams dropped in their laps? Why should I read 100s of dull pages a week, study foreign languages, develop my writing, or exercise my body, when one lottery ticket, one TV camera, one viral youtube video could make all that irrelevant?
I guess the important difference is the 21st century’s division between “success” and the “potential” Churchill was talking about. Potential is about what we CAN achieve, not what luck we stumble upon. I honestly think that if I can fulfill my potential on a day-to-day basis, then I won’t care if anyone else knows about it. I think so, at least. It’s up for internal debate… But in any case that unlocking of potential will now require luck (which can give me what I want but not in the way I want it), not intelligence or strength (which gives me potential but no substance), and not dreams (which gives me ideas but no reality)…. It will require effort. Continuous effort, because as soon as I stop, as soon as I’m distracted for a moment, my potential sprints ahead of me and leaves me clicking on facebook and watching leaves fall off the trees. Endless work.
So that’s the way of it, that's how dreams come true. I would like to believe that Disney, Kelly, and Obama aren’t sugar-coating reality, but truth is rarely so comfortable or easy to live with. Churchill speaks with the cold, hard, sharp ring of truth: there is no rest for those who want to live fully, no easy way for those who aren’t satisfied with dreams alone, there is no finish line but the final one. So if that’s possible, if I’m even capable of that anymore, only one question remains: is it worth it? I’ve put a lot of thought into that…. and I have no idea. I think the only way to be sure is to ask Churchill himself.