A former colleague, prevailed upon me to deliver a speech to the community, and I asked her what she wanted me to say. She quickly blurted out, “Effort Creates Ability.” As I thought about that idea, I was immediately reminded of Malcolm Galdwell’s work, Outliers, which concerns itself with people who “do not fit into our normal understanding of achievement. The book Outliers deals with exceptional people, especially those who are smart, rich, and successful, and those who operate at the extreme outer edge of what is statistically plausible.” For instance, if you want to play cello like Yo Yo Ma or man second base like Dustin Pedroia, or quarterback like Tom Brady, or invent like Steve Jobs, or perform like Lady Gaga, you will need to practice at least 10,000 hours. Effort is at the heart of success, as it will take more than 10,000 hours of practice in order to excel, to achieve. Intelligence is importance, but you will find in life that your effort will be more helpful to you than your innate intelligence. Effort, then, creates ability.
More reflection on these words led me to consider that “Effort creates opportunity.” I remember a few years ago the devastation that Hurricane Irene wrought in certain communities. Some people felt as if the hype exceeded the reality. Part of the reason for that is that we, in Rhode Island, were so prepared, so ready for this Hurricane. In Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and up and down the east coast, we expected the storm and prepared for its effects. Vermont, which might not have expected the storm to hit there, was devastated by flooding, absolutely devastated. We, on the coast, were prepared, so we weathered the storm, thank God. Being prepared, helps us, creates opportunity. You may remember one of my favorite Aesop fables: “In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest. “Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?” “I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.” “Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.” When we are prepared, we are able to take advantage of opportunity. Effort creates opportunity.
More important than these two ideas is that “Effort creates meaning.” As the 20th century philosopher Tupac opined, “You have to be in love with the struggle.” Life is hard, it just is. And, if you want to succeed, you have to accept that truth. Struggle, however, gives life meaning. All of us are trying to put permanent footprints in the sand of time. Billions of us have left small prints, which have been easily washed away by the ocean. But there are some men and women, and you know their names, Einstein, Galileo, DaVinci, Michelangelo, Joan of Arc, Lincoln, Shakespeare, who have left permanent, deep footsteps, or left them high enough on the beach of life that they haven’t been washed away. All of us want to leave those kinds of footprints, and we can do so through the struggle. Few will assist you, so you need to struggle now to achieve. You need to do your work daily, you need to push yourself and expect more from yourself, you need to give your best effort every day. Daily effort, paying attention to the details, the small things, will yield success for you. Effort gives meaning.
No matter who you want to be, no matter what you want to do, no matter who you admire, know that effort is at the heart of success. Preparing for work daily, preparing for college, preparing for your career, preparing for your life as a family person, preparing for your civic responsibilities all begins with effort. Effort creates ability, effort creates opportunity, effort creates meaning.