I was reminded this week of how impatient people are when it comes to winning. We get so focused on success that we take any shortcut possible in order to get there faster or first. Sometimes we don’t think the logic of these shortcuts through. We see “get rich quick” schemes around every corner or displayed brazenly across whichever social media platform or website we happen to be browsing. When it comes to weight loss, there’s a new pill or liquid or gel invented almost every second that promises us the body of our dreams. Exercise has apparently been replaced by sticking electrodes to our bodies once a week and being shocked to shape and firm our muscles. I truly believe that no result that is worthwhile and sustainable is ever achieved without doing the necessary work and I am one of those skeptics that often struggles not verbalise my real opinion of these shortcut methods to anything.
Let me contextualise this thinking for you with an example from this past week. Our entire company was put onto a convoy of buses for a 3-day conference in the Drakensberg. The claimed 5-hour trip ultimately turned into 7, but the conference team had divided us into teams, kitted each team out in matching t-shirts and delivered each team box of tasks to be completed on the journey to ensure we weren’t focused on the time it was taking to get there. The box contained a myriad of things for us to do including various riddles, equations and codes to be solved, a scrambled Rubiks Cube, two of the toughest Sudoku puzzles known to humanity, celebrity baby photo identification, an old-school embroidery kit (the likes of which terrifies me just as much today as it did back in the 80’s at primary school) and a number of those delightful pictures I can stare at for hours and never see the hidden image supposedly contained therein. Our team of 5 came from different countries and departments within the business and I only knew one of them before this trip, but right up front we agreed on one principle - we would complete each task, answer each question to solve each puzzle and riddle without any technological input. We recognised upfront that everyone likes to do different things so upfront we each chose something that resonated with us as doable and set about completing each included option individually, returning to pick up a new task once the current one was completed.
It’s worth noting that there were 4 teams on each of the 5 buses, all with the same box of tasks, however, each team set about their box very differently. In our bus, one of the teams broke their Rubik’s Cube apart and pieced it back together in its “completed” state. Another team googled the answers to the riddles and sniggered that we were musing over them and discussing our hypotheses on them. Whilst our team sat in their seats quietly, other teams were dancing in the aisles, marching up and down, hanging over us with commentary about how much quicker we could finish if we just used our phones. When we got to the lunch stop at Harrismith, all of the other teams on our bus and the others told us they’d finished their entire box of tasks. Our team was around halfway done. I’m not going to lie - I was a little rattled that everyone else was finished. I’m super competitive and I’m ashamed to say that all of the noise created by these other teams started to create a new dialogue in my head that perhaps our plan to complete all of these tasks with integrity and diligence had been the wrong decision. However as we climbed back onto the bus, our team dived back into the unfinished tasks with vigour and when we arrived at our destination, the only unfinished item when we handed our task box in was the aforementioned Rubik’s cube.
Fast forward two days and the closing dinner of the conference, a gala awards evening. The bus tasks had long been forgotten through the conference agenda but the first award called out was for the team with the highest score in the team bus task and I couldn’t believe it when our team’s number was called out. We’d taken almost twice as long as all the other teams but that strategy had resulted in us winning because we had taken the time to do the work properly and in the calculations and notes we had made, the scoring team could see our approach. It’s pretty tough when we live in the most advanced technological age in history not to turn to a search engine when a challenging question confronts us, but the organisers had thrown a few red herrings into the tasks and the Googlers all caught themselves out and ended up with some negative scoring. Within the team, we’d each played to our strengths, put in the time and discussed with our teammates when we weren’t sure of something and we’d come through with the highest score. It’s always amazing to win, but the feeling of winning through having done the hard work was absolutely priceless.
Back to real life… as human beings, we are wired to find the shortcuts in everything. We often think that by reducing the time and or effort it takes to do something that we are making our lives easier, but when it comes to learning new skills or working towards a bigger goal, there are no hacks. The only way to be truly successful in these endeavours is to put in the time and effort. We need to acknowledge realistically what it’s going to take upfront and then commit wholeheartedly to doing the work. Constantly trying to find a shortcut distracts you from your real intention and sets you up for disappointment. It’s also important not to compare yourself to others. Everyone is running their own race and just as the people around us are unaware of our specific circumstances, so are we of theirs. Comparison robs us of both time and the joy of working through a process towards our goals.
In the end, the work is what gives us the real satisfaction in achieving a goal or in mastering something new. Review your goals and your plan to achieve them. Have you been realistic about what it’s going to take? Knowing this information, are you ready to commit to the process and to do the real work required to win? Be patient with yourself, go slow when you need to, celebrate successes and accomplishments along the way and compare yourself only to your plan and not to the progress of others. The real, lasting joy of success comes in knowing you put in the time and effort required instead of shortcutting the process. The process is everything. If you cheat it, you compromise your transformation and come out unchanged, which means at some point you’ll have to do it all again. Perhaps then the real shortcut to long-term success is putting in the effort and doing the work properly the first time around. But us humans always know better, don’t we? That, however, is a blog for another day
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