What My 4-Year-Old Taught Me About Work

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I’ve recently gotten into woodworking. Nothing fancy, mind you, but I built a decent dining room table, a cool shelf, and now I’m working on a coffee table.

We have a bit of a ritual: I head out into the garage to do a little work, and my two sons come out with me. They play with baseball bats or they swing on my weight rack, or they ride scooters around the garage, or they grab my tools and put them somewhere where I can’t find them later.

IMG_6374A couple days ago, during this ritual, my 4-year-old asked me if he could help. This is also a common part of the ritual. I said, “Sure! Come over here. You can help me sand this down.”

But he didn’t want to sand. He wanted to help me build the table.

I tried to explain to him that sanding was the step that we were on, that sanding was what needed doing, but he was disappointed.

You see, sanding edges isn’t as glamorous, in his eyes, as swinging a hammer or as showing off your final product. He likes those aspects of woodworking. He wants the glory of the finished table, the accolades, and he likes the parts of the actual work that look cool to him.

Clearly, however, he’s not okay with the full reality of what it means to build a table. Not yet, any way.

We all do the same thing. We want to be a successful author. But we don’t really have an interest in writing every single morning before work. We really only want to be able to tell people we’re published (and maybe cash those checks?), or occasionally write in a coffee shop where we’ll be seen and acknowledged as a writer.

A career as a musical artist was the same way. People would see us for 20 minutes at a meet and greet, and an hour on stage, and that was their perception of what it entailed. Far less glamorous is the task of writing 10 mediocre songs to finally get to that truly special gem. Or sleeping night after night alone on a bus, or visiting radio stations starting at 6am, trying to sing high harmonies on 3 hours of sleep.

We don’t want that. We want to do a lot of business so people know we’re successful—but we don’t want to make the follow up calls.

We want to be respected entrepreneurs with a cool, flashy start-up. But we sure as hell don’t want to chase down investment money and endure the pain of countless rejections, and the work of refining our business plan and presentation.

IMG_6016The reality is, even the seemingly best job out there is still going to entail actual work. Those who accomplish great things are those who are comfortable with this reality, those who have embraced it and can dig into that gritty, dirty, tiring and challenging work. The stuff that’s not glamorous. The writing of a blog alone at 6am. The early morning workout when others are still sleeping. The submission of book proposals and the endurance of countless rejections. The calling and calling and calling and calling of potential clients, knowing that you have to build your business one client at a time if you want to be in charge of your own life.

If you want to show off your dining room table, you’ll have to sand edges, you’ll have to measure twice and make cuts and re-cuts, you’ll have to stain and wait and stain and wait. And you’ll do most of this work alone, with no one applauding you.

Embrace the nitty gritty. Embrace the pain, the discomfort, the tiredness—and embrace the growth that comes with it, and the gratitude, and the sense of accomplishment, and the opportunities that begin to show up.

It’s the work that makes the whole process work. It’s the high cost that makes the end result so valuable. It’s the refining process that purifies your ability. It’s the endurance that makes you great.

 

 

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