In Praise Of Effort

February 27, 2014

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." - G.K. Chesterton

Newton's first law of motion states that objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and objects at rest tend to stay at rest, unless acted on by an external force. This law explains the reason behind an opinion I've adopted: starting something is difficult. Of course finishing, and finishing well, are also difficult. But I think that first leap, from doing nothing to something, is harder.

Talk is cheap. It costs nothing to say you will do something. And people love to talk about the amazing plans they have. But there's a price to putting forth an effort. Doing something means not doing other things. It's a sacrifice of time, sometimes with family, oftentimes of activities that are themselves enriching. Doing something means there will an end product, which can be (and often is) criticized. So there's also the emotional price which must be paid.

Additionally, you have those laws of motion working against you. It seems to be our nature, that when we're doing nothing, we tend to continue to do nothing. There's also some Lizard Brain stuff going on too. So to go from doing nothing to something, an outside force is needed. As you mature you realize that in many cases, you need to be your own outside force. You come to understand that you're fighting against yourself to get stuff done. A self-motivated person is one who understands that, and doesn't need (or wait for) someone to give them a push.

If you're part of an organization, you can see this play out everytime you have some sort of housekeeping meeting. Ask for feedback on an issue, watch the hands go up. Everyone likes to talk about how things should change, what they would do if they were in charge. Ask for volunteers to work on implementing that change, or watch the follow-up effort by folks who just "do stuff", and it's usually disappointing.

Therefore, I am one who praises effort, even effort that results in something of low quality, because I appreciate how hard it is to do something. Especially when that effort is the beginning of something. When I see someone attempt to organize an event and fail, ship a software product that I find ridiculous, start a workout program, or many other things like that, I will always admire the effort. At least they are trying. People who offer nothing other than words shouldn't criticize the people actually doing something.

The only time effort itself should be criticized is if it's sub-par. One should always aim for excellence. But excellence is hard to achieve, especially at the beginning of a thing. So as long as someone is trying as best as they can, and working to improve, their effort should be praised.

Poor outcomes are tolerated on the way to better outcomes. Poor effort is never tolerated. Honest effort is always to be praised.