Strength vs. Will

Exercise: If I do the workout, I will get stronger. I can build the strength, but I must have the will.

Nutrition: Sugar or alcohol or both. Do I have the strength to abstain? Of course, the strength is not a problem. Do I have the will? Ah, that is the problem.

Sleep: Early to bed, early to rise. Strength or will? It takes extraordinarily little physical effort to get out of bed. But to turn off the television and the phone at night, to resist hitting the snooze button in the morning, that takes will.

Mind: Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. What physical strength is needed to garner these? It is not a matter of strength but one of desire. It is a matter of choice. Do you seek to learn? Are you willing to observe? Do you crave wisdom?

Soul: Courage, bravery, the ability to keep going despite the odds. Indeed, this does require a certain amount of strength within the soul. But like the body, it can be developed. You must be willing to do it. It is better to develop the heart of the warrior before you go to battle.

Lacking in strength is a problem, but it can be corrected. In almost every facet of your life, you can become stronger. Do you have the will to make it happen? Do you have the discipline to see it through?

Victor Hugo once said, “People do not lack strength; they lack will.” The great French writer knew what he was talking about. Les Misérables took over twelve years to write and had over 655,000 words. It was not strength that got this work done, it was will. It was discipline to see it through to the end.

Constancy of Purpose

Success. We hear it all the time. We relate it to winning, which means a lack of success can be equated to losing. Everybody wants to be successful. Nobody wants to be a loser. What does it mean to win? A question like this we can agree on. What does it mean to be successful? That is a little trickier, and there is a good chance our definitions are going to be different.

There are many out there that will happily give you their secret to success. All you have to do is Google what you are interested in, find the experts, sign up to get on their email list, and then hurry up and pay for their limited-time offer into their next online course. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. If you want the shortcut to success, their way is the path that will get you there.

Photo by qi xna on Unsplash

But consider another alternative. Consider:

  • Stephen Curry shooting a basketball,
  • Mike Tyson throwing a punch,
  • Usain Bolt going out for a run, or
  • Lewis Hamilton taking another lap in the car.

Imagine the hours of repetition. Not just one day, but nearly everyday for years and years. There was a constancy of purpose to the skill they were trying to acquire. They didn’t rely solely on genetics or talent. They relied on work and on practice. When we watch them and are amazed by the ease with which they perform at the highest level, we only see the finished product. We don’t see what they did to get there. Their success on the grand stage underneath the bright lights was built when the world wasn’t watching.

There is a secret potion to success, but you won’t find it in a get-rich-quick type of scam. The potion is made of three parts: blood, sweat, and tears. These ingredients must be continually resupplied to the potion and cured over time. It is there if you want it. Best wishes!

Complete the Idea

How many times did the light bulb go off in your head? Afterwards that thought might have caused a couple of sleepless nights as the possibilities became limitless. And then, after another while, the dream dissipated. It went back into the ether from whence it came.

A few months or years later, somebody else did it. They snatched the idea out of the air, and now they are reaping the benefits. The benefits that you caused you all those sleepless nights. Oh, the irony! Imagine what might have been.

Imagine if you figured it out, put the wheels into motion, and did the hard work to bring it to life. Now it is too late. What was left undone, or in this case never begun, has been done by another.

That idea might be gone, but all is not lost. There are plenty of other ideas floating around out there. There are plenty of others that are floating around in the beautiful brain of yours. Let the sting of the lost opportunities be a reminder. Let their lessons permeate every atom within your being. The next time an idea magically appears, you will know what to do. Figure out how to make it work. Get those wheels into motion. Do the work.

Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them. -Joseph Joubert

Gotta Do the Work

From a young age, Thomas Edison was willing to do the work. He grew up poor and got his first job at the age of twelve. He never had the chance to get a formal education.

Through books, experiments, and practical experience at various jobs, Edison gave himself a rigorous education that lasted about ten years, up until the time he became an inventor. What made this successful was his relentless desire to learn through whatever crossed his path, as well as his self-discipline. Mastery by Robert Greene

As he did the work, the opportunities came. And in time, he became one of the most prolific inventors of all time with over a thousand patents credited to his name.

When recently asked the secret of his success, he said he had always been a total abstainer and singularly moderate in everything but work. Pushing to the Front by Orison Swett Marden

When I think about all the things I really want in this world, I must remember that they are not so lofty as to be unattainable. Most of it requires only one thing to make it possible. I must do the work. It is not by luck that those hard-earned victories will fall into your lap. You gotta do the work!

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. -Thomas Edison

Separation through Practice

The great separator will be practice. It will be the time spent mastering the skill. It is the difference between the hobbyist and the artist. One views it as novel, the other as the very meaning of life.

Generally, we are all the same. But the one who spends the most time in practice, that person will be the one that can overcome any lack of natural talent. Through practice we can become something better than what we were.

By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart. –Confucius

What is it that you are wanting to get better at? What skill do you want to master? Become the student. Learn. Practice. Repeat.

Virtuous or Comfortable

You work hard during the day, and what do you want to do when you get home?

You work hard during the week, and what is it that you want to do on the weekend?

The most common answer would be to relax. It would be to take it easy, maybe watch some television. Sometimes, that is all I can think about. I just want to get home, put on some comfortable clothes, crack open a beer, and chill out. The ordinary person would say this is all right. They would say it is deserved, that we all need a break. And maybe, to some extent, they are right. A break is needed.

The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort. -Confucius

I think of the superior man. That is what I want to be, but how will I get there? There are some out there that seem to never stop. They find the time to stay in top shape. Professionally, they work hard. They volunteer. They…well this list could keep going on.

What do they not do? They probably don’t think how they can coast. They don’t think about how they can just relax because they deserve it. Whether they realize it or not, they think of virtue, rather than comfort.

The four cardinal virtues:

Prudence. This is wisdom. The superior person is always chasing wisdom. They are seeking knowledge and applying understanding to the things they have learned. They are not passively passing the time watching TV.

Temperance. You can call it discipline. It is the sharpening of the mind and the body. It is not giving in to the easy or comfortable way. Like the tempering of steel, they are doing the hard things consistently so that they too can become hardened.

Justice. They do the right thing. They listen to their conscience and act accordingly. They live their lives in private the same way they live it in public.

Courage. Courage comes easily when you have wisdom, discipline, and justice. When you are shaky in these other virtues, the courage wanes and becomes fool hardy. But through the strengthening of the other virtues, what some would call the greatest of virtues, courage, is possible.

Courage is the greatest of all the virtues. Because if you haven’t courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others. –Samuel Johnson

We need courage to practice the others. We need the others to practice courage. They work together and none of it can be achieved in comfort. Take a break if you need to by switching gears between work and study. Develop your ability to last longer, go harder, and delve deeper. Practice the virtues and become superior. It is a fierce competition out there to become better than we were yesterday.

Keep on Steppin’

 

We see the prize, the end goal. It is there before us in our mind’s eye, but it is not yet a reality. How do we get there?

We keep going. We keep taking the steps along the thousand mile road.1 It will not be easy. No great journey ever is. Does it matter if is hard?2 Does it matter if we have to go it alone? It doesn’t. All that matters is that we make it to the end. We do it for ourselves, and we do it for those who will come after us.

And so, we keep stepping to that brighter day. Over and over. We temper our bodies and make them stronger. We sharpen our minds and perceive what is in the mist. We open our hearts and gather our courage for what’s around the next bend in the road. Over and over, another step in our desired direction.

And when we come to the end of the road, we are going to look back in amazement at the beauty of what was once our struggle.3 Far was our journey, and yet we never lost our faith even in the hardest of days. The path was paved with blood, sweat, and tears, and not one ounce was lost in vain. For we are now more complete. We are more resilient.

Vision is not enough; it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs. -Václev Havel

It is time we take the steps to our brighter future. As individuals and as a community.


1Step by step walk the thousand mile road.” –Miyamoto Musashi

2Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations. –Oliver Goldsmith

3One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful. –Sigmund Freud

Two Keys to Confidence

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of hanging sheetrock in my kitchen. We are currently less than one week from having our kitchen cabinets installed. My wife and I can’t wait to have a fully functional kitchen again, rather than the torn down empty space where our kitchen used to be.

The pleasure of hanging sheetrock. I did this once before. Over ten years ago, I did our master bathroom in a house we owned in Florida. I didn’t do a good job. My seams were not smooth. The holes I made for the outlets were not very clean. There was no pleasure in this job.

A few months ago, we paid to have our sheetrock installed in our living room and hallway. That job cost over a thousand dollars. The walls looked amazing. I even got to help hang a few panels. The hour I spent helping changed my life, or at least it changed my life in regards to hanging sheetrock. I saw the right way to do the job. Exactly the opposite of the way I did it the last time. That plus a couple of YouTube videos (which I didn’t watch the first time), and I was able to do a quality job for less than $100. In the future, I have two basements and a stairway to sheetrock. I am pretty confident that I am only going to get better each time I do it. Saving money and learning a new skill, indeed this is a pleasure.

Confidence comes from discipline and training. –Robert Kiyosaki

I didn’t have much confidence in doing the job ten years ago. Like any new experience, confidence doesn’t come easy. But with repetition and a strong desire to improve, confidence increases. Discipline and training. Is there any other substitute that puts perfection in the work? It is not motivation. It is not on a whim or from a passing fancy that expertise can be built. Discipline and training. Those are the two keys that will take you to the next level and fill you with the confidence you need to be successful.

Why Staying Busy Isn’t Good Enough

Like many in the world, I’m locked down. Can’t go to work. Can’t hang out with friends and family.

And over the last couple of weeks, I have been working longer hours than usual. I get up, work out, and start working on projects around the house or at my parent’s house. I’m getting things done and really trying to stay busy. But there are draw backs, and I’ve noticed something else over the last couple of weeks.

When I punch the clock, I have more discipline. I know I have a limited amount of free time and so I try to squeeze in as much as I can. But now I am not punching a clock. As a result, my intensity has fallen off. I am not squeezing as hard. The creative work I try to do and the self-development that I try to pursue has fallen off. I have been busy. Things are getting done, but the things I feel that I am called to pursue in life have taken a back seat. I am moving but not forward in the way that I should.

Beware of the braveness of a busy life. -Socrates

Discipline is easy when it is forced upon you. As a soldier, I had no choice but to be disciplined. If I wanted to succeed, I had to have it. Same way when it comes to my professional life. To progress and become better, I have to have discipline whether I am on or off of the clock.

But now there is no clock, and I find my discipline is starting to waver. The sense of urgency is starting to diminish. I am reminded of the times in my past when everything was dark, a time when there was no drive and definitely no discipline. It is in recalling those times that I have to get back to the basics. I have to force the structure and routine back into my daily schedule. I have to punch my own internal clock and regain a sense of urgency.

Just moving in and of itself is not going to work. I have move with a purpose. I have to move with intention towards the direction I want to go. Even in these times when the world seems to be standing still, I can still move forward.

Foolish Delay

The tanks lined up baking in the Georgia sun. Soldiers were trying to find ways to best pass the time. Some were napping, others playing cards, and one was reading. I asked him if it was any good when he finished it. He said it wasn’t bad and then offered it to me. I accepted it desperately looking for something to do to take my mind off the monotony of the day.

It was The Tale of the Body Thief, one of the Vampire Chronicle books by Anne Rice. I remembered watching the movie in the theater a few years before. I enjoyed the movie and thought why not give this book a try. It was the first time since High School that I picked up a book to read solely for pleasure. The year was 1998 and became one the turning points in my life.

That year, I caught a bug. It was a reading bug that I hadn’t had since my elementary days. After finishing that book, I proceeded to read all the Vampire books. Then I read all of Rice’s witch books. Over the next few years, I discovered Wilbur Smith, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Bernard Cornwell, and read all the books I could get from them. When I was took a break from them, I went back to classics: Dickens and Dumas with a little Hemingway.

Then a time came in my life when I thought I could do that too. I could be a writer. And so I started to write. The ideas came from all over the place. I thought they were good. But my writing, it was bad. I struggled to convey my thoughts into words that would flow effortlessly onto paper. Yet I was determined to be a writer. After all, I had already told my closest friends that this was finally the calling in my life I had always been waiting for. I was going to make it work.

Then one day a seed of doubt entered my mind. I imagined all these writers were aged men and women of wisdom. I imagined that they had all lived lives full of experience, and only in their twilight years were they able to create their masterpieces. Who was I, one so young and naïve, to be able to compete with that? I had no life-skills other than that of an infantryman. Of the world, I knew very little. I was simply not ready to be a writer.

If you wish to be a writer, write. –Epictetus

I should have taken the philosopher’s advice. What I wanted to do wasn’t supposed to be easy. I wasn’t naturally talented, and at the time I lacked the discipline to keep practicing. When the motivation wore off, I postponed my dreams with the lame excuse of not being experienced enough. And how exactly was I going to get that experience if I wasn’t writing?

There is a silver lining in all of this reminiscing of a misspent dream. Somewhere deep within, I maintained a glimmer of hope that I could still be a writer. My appetite for reading never wavered, and in that I was still developing my literary mind. Of course if I would have kept practicing, my skills as a writer could have been much better. But as much as it pains me to think on this revelation, there is nothing I can do about it. The past is gone, never to be relived. But today, and the days to come, that is another story. That time is not yet spent and can be utilized toward that endeavor. I can become who I dream of being. I can become more disciplined. I can practice this craft and be the best I can be.

Epictetus asked, “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?” It is a wise question worth keeping in mind. When standing before the Almighty on the Day of Judgment, you will not be asked how you measured up to your peers and fellow humans. There will be no comparison of bank accounts and social media likes on St. Peter’s ledgers. But if the Master asks you what you did with the talents He gave you, how will you answer? Will you say you buried them and kept them safe? Or will you take the talents you have been given and invest in them and let them grow? You can be a good steward of the gifts you have been given or you can be the lazy one? In the beginning I was the lazy one, but thankfully my eyes were opened before it was too late. In that I was fortunate to be given a second chance.