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The Gift of the Grind

We have it backwards.

We lament the labor of our lives, resent and resist the effort it takes to get up early, face our commutes, and continue the disciplined routines we follow. We perceive the “daily grind” is an unfortunate necessity – an aspect of life we reluctantly must endure so that we may one day reach a moment of ease and comfort. When our hardship finally pays off and that glorious future is realized, we imagine, we will finally celebrate our success, enjoy life, slow down, and be at greater peace. Dream on. That’s not going to happen. And thinking that it will is not only unrealistic, but also counterproductive. It’s backwards. Instead, we should celebrate the struggles, even as they happen, for the meaningful gifts they are. Sure, that sounds sappy. Truth is sometimes sappy.

Here’s the deal. If you live your life thinking that one day you will reach a moment when you have attained success or captured peace and contentment, you will be forever frustrated. The only way to experience peace and contentment in life is to be peaceful and content with theprocess of living. And that means welcoming the difficult moments with open arms.

In fact, we should eagerly anticipate life’s challenges, like an Olympic track and field athlete poised and ready at the start of the opening gun. Consider Carl Lewis, a legendary athlete who won a total of ten Olympic medals (nine of them gold) spanning four separate Olympic contests (1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996) and twelve years.

His domination of the 100m, 200m, and long jump events brought him international recognition of his accomplishments and titles including “Sportsman of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee and “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated.

Can you imagine Lewis approaching his job with the attitude most people take to work? Picture Carl lining up with his fellow competitors, positioning his feet in the starting blocks, looking up to at the open track, visualizing the impending explosion of energy and subsequent strides, thinking to himself, Well here we go again – another day, another race to run. Same old. Same old. NO! At the start of every race or every jump, he is primed and ready to go. Adrenaline pumping. Heart thumping. Brain focused to the sharpest point of concentration, thinking, Let me at it. I’m ready. This is the moment I live for!

In his mind and body, that race was already run a thousand times. To reach such a moment even once, athletes spend countless hours in training. Those moments invested, paid for with sweat, pain, and sacrifice, are preludes to an Olympic trial. Yet, even if that ultimate opportunity never materialized, the training was just as valuable.

It is unlikely you or I will ever have the chance to compete in the Olympics. Yet we face similar trials and training opportunities every day. How do you respond to them? You see, just like world class athletes, those are the moments we live for – the chances to test ourselves and perform. We need to celebrate the struggle. It is the struggle that makes us who we are.

Celebrate the Struggle

Life is not easy. But it’s not supposed to be. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what you choose to pursue, you will face difficulties that test your stamina, abilities, courage, and mental toughness. You cannot avoid being tested. However, you can control your orientation to those challenges. You can approach challenges with trepidation or excitement. Resentment or resourcefulness. Self pity or self empowerment. It is a choice you make not once, but continually.

Being a dad is my greatest joy in life. Like parents everywhere, I love my children immeasurably. I cherish their touch, their voices, and their ideas. The time we spend together is incredibly special. It’s also, at times, frustrating, challenging, and testing. That seems to be their job – to test Mom and Dad regularly. Sometimes I pass the test. Sometimes I fail miserably. Regardless, there is always another lesson, another “Pop quiz” coming up momentarily. And I’m the only “Pop” in the house.

When trying to teach my kids or redirect their behavior, it is amazing to me how much repetition it takes. Eddie and Maggie, our children, are wonderful, smart, and loving. But they continue to explore limits, invent loopholes in the family rules, and provoke each other. They’re kids. That’s their job. That’s what they are supposed to do. My job is to be loving yet direct, creatively consistent, and always up for the challenge.

Being a parent is difficult. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the challenge, the daily training, is as much for my benefit as it is for theirs. The effort is the gift, teaching me new skills, stretching my patience and creativity, broadening my own understanding of life and love. Some people will tell you “When your kids grow up and you look back on it, it will all be worth it.” No. Backwards. It is worth it now!  Every day, every moment is perfect and purposeful, although the meaning can sometimes be a little fuzzy around the edges.

Those fuzzy edges are also part of our work experience. Often we begin the day energized, focused, and determined to accomplish something important or at least make measurable progress. Typically, those efforts are met with unpredicted interruptions and urgent situations that demand our attention and energy. Just the same, it is all part of a perfect plan, generously offering you opportunities to hone your talents. In the “grind” you hone your skills, learn to manage your energy, and clarify your focus.

Some Gifts of the Grind:

  • Stretching our abilities makes us stronger.
  • Consistent action and disciplined thinking have huge impact over time.
  • Repeated “failures” lead to breakthrough, often at the point of exhaustion.
  • In the struggle, we learn about ourselves and refine our sense of purpose.
  • Pain, frustration, and discomfort help us become willing to change.

Into Action

1. Prepare for your trials like an athlete. Stretch yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. By pushing your limits deliberately you strengthen your muscles, stamina, and confidence. But do it on your terms. Make it a conscious choice. Consider your struggles as purposeful “daily training.”

2. Renew your energy between races. Nourish yourself and replenish your capacity regularly. People finish marathons depleted, damaged, and incapable of competing the next day. You don’t have that option, so run short 100m races instead. In order to perform everyday, you need to rest, refuel your body with good food, and rehydrate with plenty of water. Dehydration causes fatigue, so instead of a third cup of coffee, drink water, and notice how your stamina improves.

3. Approach each day with commitment and expectation. Each new challenge presents an opportunity to deliver your best effort. Don’t dwell on yesterday’s results. Expect that today you will perform at a capacity beyond your previous attempts. After all, you have been training for this moment all of your life!

Remember, what you perceive as a “daily grind” is someone else’s dream job.Accept the gifts your “grind” has to offer you. Don’t stop now. A significant performance breakthrough may be just around the next curve.

Keep on grinding!

Dan

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