I did track and cross-country in high school. Why? I wanted my letter, you had to do a sport to get it, and those were the only sports with a “No Cuts” policy. You show up and work, you get your letter.
When I came home from my first meet, my parents asked how I did. I told them I came in third. They said “Great!”
I didn’t tell them I was in the slowest heat, there were only three people running it, and I finished half a lap behind the other two girls. My parents terrified me by hinting that they might attend one of my competitions, but I quickly pointed out that track meets lasted three hours or more, I couldn’t be sure when my event would be run, and they had other children with far more pressing needs. Humiliation avoided!
My favorite success was achieving my goal of breaking 21 minutes on the 5K. I finally did it at the last regular meet of my senior year of high school. I came through the chute, and my time was 20:59.
No one cheered. It wasn’t a good enough time for anyone else to suspect how many hours of work over several years it’d taken me to get there, or how important it was to me. But it’s still a favorite memory of mine.
Fast-forward to two nights ago.
I have a practice of going back to all my books and editing them at will. My husband claims this is bad, and that I should keep going forward. We had a conversation like this:
Me: “Artists do this. Degas would go to his friend’s house for dinner, see his own painting on the wall, notice something wrong, grab it away from his protesting friend, take it home and fix it, and bring it back a few weeks later. Then he’d be invited for dinner, notice something else wrong, and take it home again.”
My husband: “Didn’t you tell me his friend had that painting chained to the wall?”
My husband: “So Degas had to move on to painting something else. You need to chain your books to the wall.”
Me: “They’re my books, I’m self-published, and I have no readers,” (not precisely true– I have one loyal fan– she bought my latest book about two weeks ago– I haven’t heard anything from her– she must hate it– so it might be precisely true, after all) “and no one is becoming upset with me for leaving a huge empty spot on their dining-room wall.”
My husband: *sigh*
Anyway, for several months I’d been working on a re-write of what was formerly the very, very, very final re-write of “Incubation.” At long last, I got the print and e-book versions of it finished and uploaded. This great feat shall go down in history as having been achieved at just before 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Time to celebrate!
Alas, who wants to be woken up in the wee hours of the morning to celebrate the re-editing of a book that was supposedly finished several months ago? (I’ll admit, the cat was happy. She’d been hanging out with me as I worked, and she seemed relieved that I was finally going to my proper spot for the night.) I’d be beyond selfish to go bother everyone with my small victory.
This kind of continued, tough, even tedious work is necessary if I want to have a story I love, but there’s no enchanting beauty in the work, itself.
In all of our lives, anytime we’re doing something worthwhile, what comes with it is tons of slogging through tough stuff. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night, sometimes it’s day after day after day. It’s work that’s absolutely essential, but it doesn’t present itself as something for someone else to cheer about. It’s stuff like changing a newborn baby’s diaper fourteen times a day for a few weeks, while also breast-feeding around the clock, while also recovering from major debilitating surgery, while also taking care of several toddlers. No one’s going to throw you a parade for that, even if it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done and it’s trying you to your very core.
But this work we put in, this tough work that no one sees, that no one celebrates, that no one cheers, is vital. It’s even more important than reaching the end goal.
I mean, obtaining that time on my race was super-sweet. But whether or not we reach whatever goal we’ve set for ourselves, triumphing over the slog is itself a success.
Even more important, there’s One who sees our efforts, and those efforts make our Parent prouder of us than if we hit whatever artificial mark of “success” we might have set for ourselves as a prerequisite for happiness.
For those of you putting in that unappreciated work, remember that what you’re doing is important, even if no one on earth sees it. And remember you always have Someone cheering for you during the slog.