At one time or another we have all asked the question “Is this worth it?” Generally this question is raised in times of frustration and doubt. I have been there, we all have. Yet, without hesitation I say: Yes, it’s worth it. Let me be clear, I am talking about the journey to reaching goals and the pursuit of distinction. This journey is a lot like going to school.
Students will be required to take classes that are boring to them with no perceived value. Yet, the classes are mandatory for graduation. This leaves two choices, they either do it or they don’t. If they don’t comply, their life choices are narrowed. So, what’s next? If they do comply, they progress, they graduate and they earn a diploma. It’s definitely worth it.
As my analogy above illustrates, persistence in tough times, times when you lack motivation or simply don’t want to reaps rewards. It’s worth it. If you pay the price in the “now,” the benefits will last a lifetime. This same principle applies to athletics, business and relationships. We all do it daily. We must repeatedly do things that we are not thrilled about because we signed up for it or it’s a bridge that must be crossed to achieve our ambition. Furthermore, doing so is vital if we want a chance at the honor, promotion, dean’s list or gold medal. Understand that there will not be a gold medal experience for everyone. However, there is indisputably something to be said for those who take the risk to achieve.
Achieving is not without its challenges. There will be critics, be prepared for them. It’s very easy for those outside of the arena to criticize those in the arena. The good news is most of them have never entered the arena and do not know what they are talking about, so you can disregard them. The world is full of connoisseurs with little to no experience in the area in which they claim to be experts. Ignore them. I don’t know how this happens, but it is a reality. Reckless talk has never lost its popularity and it never will. Rest assured there will be banter from those with few facts and trivial understanding. Do not let this derail you; it is a part of the journey.
What you become in the process of your endeavors (the journey) is always worth it, even in the face of detractors and critics. Your efforts may not disburse in one lottery payment, but they will pay out over your lifetime. Understand that the mountain top experiences are brief. Most of your time will be spent en route to the mountain top. When determined to topple mediocrity, you will also endure disappointment. Like everything else on the journey, you had better learn to take its lessons and move on. If you don’t, you will become a prisoner. The lessons along the way are where the value is, so embrace them, even if they seem mundane or are painful. It’s the course that shapes you, not the destination. Sometimes the journey itself is the reward, and the search will teach you something that finding never can. Remember this when you are persevering in the tough times and completing the monotonous tasks that you lack motivation or confidence to complete.
While on the journey, also remember to be grateful for the incidents that make you toe the line. Appreciate the superiors, parents, coaches and teachers that make you accountable. They are giving you a gift. They are teaching you how to deal with and manage life. If you are held accountable for your choices and actions, you will be better prepared to shoulder the trouble and trials that are sure to come. Instead of trying to escape, you will have the skills to deal with whatever life throws your way. Often the experience offers rewards that many people never get their arms around or learn from. Learn from your experience.
The journey to distinction will also, hopefully, help you to develop the traits needed for success. In fact, many of the fundamental principles upon which America is built can be found in the quest for distinction. Perseverance, work ethic, determination, reliability and risk-taking are just a few of the fundamentals I am talking about. Aren’t these the traits that you have heard coaches, teachers, parents and successful business people rant about? These are the traits that constitute a desirable employee, student, athlete or friend and they can be found in the quest for distinction also.
The first step to earning distinction in anything is taking a risk. What “taking a risk” can give you (depending upon what you are willing to give) are the ingredients to grow, surpass and thrive. I suggest you find out for yourself. Anyone who has ever committed to taking a leap without the certainty of success can point you in the right direction. It’s what serious competitors do every day. It involves bringing one thing to the table so you can leave with something entirely different.
It means employing a strong work ethic daily, regardless of how you feel. It means no holding back and always moving forward. When fatigued, discouraged or doubtful, you still move forward. You give 100 percent on days you feel 60 percent. You compete when life and the situation are not ideal.
Achieving distinction also requires learning to balance multiple demands in life. If you organize your priorities, you will realize that you can balance, meet and excel at whatever life demands of you. Your priorities will always show themselves. There is a great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that illustrates this better than anything I can tell you, it is: “What you do speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” In other words, it’s what we do and not our words that illustrate who we really are and what we truly want.
As your journey unfolds, you will learn some things about yourself. Early on you will probably question your ability to handle the hunt for the elite. However, if you are committed, you will learn that you can. The journey to reaching the target of distinction is not attractive to most, because it is just that—a journey. It is not instant. This means it can be a lonely trip too. The elite are few in numbers. To achieve distinction, you will need to be there when no one else shows up and when everyone else has gone home or taken the day off. You will need to be there during the off-season when no one else is thinking about progressing, because there is no off-season when excellence is the objective.
Achieving distinction is a culmination of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years of sacrifice, discipline, and effort. Those who only had words but lacked deeds will say “I don’t really care anyway.” However, in my opinion, what that actually means is they lacked the courage to take the risk. In spite of our efforts, life teaches us that sometimes hours, days, months and years of sacrifice, effort and discipline can end in defeat. Well, welcome to reality. It may go like this; it has for many that came before you.
Nevertheless, the definition of a true winner is one who can lose everything, suffer disappointment and go all the way back to the beginning and still muster the courage to begin again. This kind of disappointment is like a major injury or illness. Anyone who has had one knows injury or illness can quickly render you helpless. The muscles dwindle and atrophy quickly. But, the body and mind are amazing and little by little we mend and can be strong once again. It is all a part of the journey.
If you commit to taking a risk and pursuing your goals, you will understand how families come together in victory and defeat. You will learn that endurance gives you abilities to deal with things you never thought you could. You will be taken to places emotionally and physically that you never knew existed. Most people will never know this destination, but you can. These places are not found on any map and others can’t take you there. They can only point you in the right direction and the rest is up to you. You have to find this place on your own, and when you do, you’ll know it’s worth it.
Mark Schwab is an assistant coach at the University of Northern Iowa. Schwab has a Masters Degree with an emphasis on Sport Psychology and is currently writing a book entitled “Opportunities to Succeed-Common Sense but Not Common Practice.” Schwab also gives a 40 minute presentation on opportunities to succeed. To know more you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.