I love a nice, positive message as much as the next girl, but I have to take a stand against some of this junk out there today. Everywhere you look, on Facebook, at the coffee shop, even in your curriculum at school is another opportunity to be lied to about how success happens.
Anybody that knows me knows I’m a follow your dreams kind of person. But it’s one thing to follow your dreams and speak your truth, to read a nice Zen Pencils comic about the illusion of achievement and internalize that message; quite another to actually speak your truth and actually follow your dreams. Because my dreams are not a placid lake in a conflict-free universe.
My dreams are decidedly disruptive. Most people’s are. The status quo isn’t just a thing to write high school poetry about. It’s a real construct that is not easy to go against. It’s five-thousand or so years of recorded human history, and two-hundred-thousand or more years of culture before that. It’s all the billions and trillions of dollars in the economy that aren’t yours, aren’t supposed be yours, and are being carefully curated so that they will never be yours. It’s who you are, who you are supposed to be, and who you were taught to be. And not just you, it’s every one of us.
Most of the people I meet who are going their own way have something in common: they’re used to success. In one way or another, each entrepreneur or artist I encounter who is actually making a real attempt at a career in their field is or has been a winner at some point in their life. They have first place trophies, academic scholarships, and professional awards. It’s one of the only ways a person can decided to make such a risky and unpopular life change. They have to have some proof that they’re going to succeed. Usually that comes from past achievement.
But success is easy in a framework. In school, at a company, on a career track success is defined, milestones are attainable, and returns are instant. You’re keeping people comfortable, you’re going to be rewarded for that. Imagine instead that 80% of the time you wrote an A paper the teacher tore it in half and threw it in the trash in front of you. How likely would you be to apply the same hard work and care to the next assignment? Because that is the metric nobody tells you about.
If you are following your dreams, you are likely not on a career track. If you are speaking your truth, you are likely not towing the line anywhere. You are not sledding down a hill, shedding petty material goods and unhealthy perceptions of self-worth like a glorious piñata of love and joy. No, people are probably expressing their “concern” for you at family gatherings. Peers are dismissive of your goals and emailing you links to job listings for a secretary, and 80% of the time you work your ass off, you deliver amazing work, and it might as well have been made out of trash for all the positive feedback and rewards you get.
This is the grind.
If you really want to follow your dreams and speak your truth, at no point will you not be grinding.
I know, this can’t feel good to read. Stuff like this is what kept me in a job where I was unhappy and unfulfilled for years longer than I should have been. All the pain and suffering I’ve spent over the grind doesn’t add up to half as much as I wasted on trying to stick to a career track that made me feel worthless even as I racked up professional gold stars and name-brand clothing.
The grind is pouring your heart out over something, having it go nowhere, and getting up the next day to do it again. The grind is having no one to blame but yourself when things go wrong, and no one to celebrate with but yourself when things go right. The grind is working for the sake of working. It is getting up and sitting at your work station every day rain or shine, work or no work, hungry, sick, tired, sad, lonely or even occasionally blissfully happy beyond all human comprehension.
We don’t talk enough about the grind. We act like there’s a place you go that’s called success, and if you wish real hard you can actually get there. That’s a destructive, terrible lie.
The truth is much simpler. If you want success in your life, you don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be talented. You don’t even have to be likable, although it helps. You have to grind. You have to have the stamina to work hard every day through good days and bad days; when it works and when it doesn’t. When you know you’re right and when you know you’re wrong.
If you can wake up, feel like a failure, know nothing you try will ever work, and then get your failing ass to your work station anyway, you can grind. If you can grind, you can succeed. This is not beautiful, this is ugly. It’s not liberating, it’s really painful.
And it’s important to remember that people who do this aren’t inherently better than people who don’t or can’t do this. In fact, I would say that we’re a little bit worse. Here we have a person so intractable, so stubborn and prideful, that this is how we choose to live our lives. Throwing ourselves against an uncaring and unaffected machine in order to carve out a little bit of peace inside a bubble of our own unending suffering. I should not feel superior to the changeable person just because I am impossible. But I am impossible nonetheless. This is the real power behind speaking my truth.
Good, bad, or indifferent, I can at least say “This is who I am, and it’s the one thing I will no longer fight over.”