Check around most public and private schools and you see a steady stream of bulletin board slogans and motivational posters. Some revolve around preserving classroom discipline. Others promote some big event. But the majority tend to appeal to our better nature as it relates to calling on us to put forth our best effort to be the best we can be. In short, to INSPIRE us.
But this brand of inspiration is a bit more conditional and cautionary than just unraveling the usual “feel good” fortune cookie message. At my old public high school in Fairfax County, Va., the big theme was the fork in the road: “make it a good day or not, the choice is yours.” This theme almost had a grocery store chain kind of significance to it like—“please buy in to what we are offering otherwise you have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t avail yourself to our assistance.” In other words it’s another form of disclaimer akin to: “this store does not take responsibility for any stolen or damaged personal affects while in our parking lot. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!”
One motto that I have seen and heard many times on the subject of motivation and achievement states “Nothing worthwhile comes easily.” On one level, I completely understand what is implied—the concept that real substantive change requires lots of effort, and sometimes pain, before the reward can be seen. On this most can agree. A big tangible outcome like graduating from school takes lots and lots of tiny steps and plenty of setbacks and drudgery along the way; such as all those late nights studying and all that waiting—all that interminable waiting that seems to end up in vain with no one showing any interest.
Certainly this implies that there are several versions of “nothing worthwhile coming easily.” It could mean that slow, war of attrition that saps the soul as typified by Woody Allen’s quote that “80% of life is just showing up.” Or it could mean the more immediately painful version in which the person has is trying something bold and out of their comfort zone like auditioning in front of a large audience or changing careers in mid-stream.
Too often however, I believe that people bypass and squander what is truly valuable and timeless because they feel it exclusively applies only to monumental achievements in order to reach success. Only the sweat and dedication involved in conventionally big achievements are calculated. The informal growth and evolution involved in the day to day details of life get overlooked. This is a mindset that quickly leads to frustration in the long run as it makes us focus only on the High School Reunion values of how well we are doing superficially.
In other words, how can you benefit from the BIG achievements if you haven’t already been transformed by the little moments first? It is in times of hill perching meditation with my dog that I am most often inspired by some idea or some new way of looking at some challenge. And the grist: or raw material that inspires me is ALWAYS the little observations in life; those exchanges with others in the public market or watching people’s interactions. What good does it do to expend all of one’s energy just dreaming of big success down the road if it means ignoring the pipeline of inspiration that runs freely all around our daily walk?
Too often we over emphasize our own importance when it comes to experiencing something great. Most of the talent and inspiration that comes to us is a divine gift that comes on its own schedule anyway. Our main duty, as I see it, is just to remain true to our calling and to ourselves.
Of course all the many trials and tribulations of life DO have a habit of molding us towards some greater purpose or spiritual growth. We can’t escape this world without them. But we set ourselves up for disappointment if we assume that all the plugging and striving and sweating will translate into some formal success like graduating school or publishing a novel. The most spiritual transcendental gains are often sweetest after enduring a long storm or a bad night’s sleep.
The problem arises when we exclusively rope off formal outcomes as the only means of achieving greatness. I believe that greatness comes from how we perceive the world around us when we slow down and simply open up our senses.
Health club gymnasiums and military recruiting stations revel in the pain part even more. “No Pain No Gain.” “Pain is merely weakness exiting your body.”
Entire industries of motivational speakers and fitness instructors espouse the gospel of “earning it.” We start very young being taught to think this way. Don’t let these public school motivational quotes make you feel inadequate. You may have already witnessed greatness today just by writing in your journal while sipping your coffee at Starbucks and reflecting. That very unique style of waiting and interacting you have, that the world disregards and hurries past, may be exactly the way you need to be right now in order to get to where you are going later. Take heart.
When I look at my life correctly, I think most every worthwhile thing in fact DOES come easily!