tireless preparation: personal kneads

Twenty-three thousand overachieving students apply to gain admittance to Harvard’s freshman class of less than 2100. Three hundred highly qualified people apply for one job at IBM. The success rate for ambitious musicians to play at either Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden is far smaller. The list will always continue… Calendar

So many exceptionally qualified people find themselves in places not quite what their talents would otherwise suggest. Those less ambitious can simply chalk up such statistics to our highly competitive world and leave it at that, while others will plug away year after year in what will turn out to be a vain attempt to reach the loftier levels of human attainment.

Why do only a small handful of lawyers regularly win large cases, year in and year out? Why are there so few Hollywood screenplay writers, film-score composers and directors who can be relied upon to produce invariably award-winning and commercially successful work? Why are the scientists with Einstein’s name recognition so rare? The list will always continue…

A large part of the answer is simple and direct, if not outright mundane. Yes, one can point to discipline, without which very little of substance can be accomplished. Single-minded focus may be considered a determining factor. Imagination surely plays its part. Above all, though, people of consistent achievement invariably point to preparation. Not the kind of polite preparation that calls for three hours of study before a major interview. Not the kind of follow-the-expected-path preparation that can take years to build only to end in disappointment. Not the kind of imposed preparation that does not come entirely from within.

Unbridled accomplishment stems from knowing the answers to 20 questions when only two will be asked, from writing 1200 pages of a novel that will be whittled down to 300, from performing research that goes far beyond Internet surfing, from maintaining the kind of integrity that knows no shortcut. On this, the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death, it’s instructive to take a look back, to acknowledge his preparation and perseverance, to realize how he managed time, to understand why he remains central to our thoughts and actions after all these years.

Like a baker kneading freshly prepared dough, we must often work closely with today’s calendars to accommodate this kind of focused work, to allow for achievement, to satisfy our innate need for personal growth. Given such a mindset, the resulting career will warmly rise to a golden finish.