When we’re young, it truly seems as though we have a lifetime ahead, meaning we have all the time in the world to do the things we want to do. The problem is that no one really teaches you that irrespective of how much time you have, it’s still important to take advantage of the time you have today and right now. This is particularly important when it comes to working towards the life you want to live and the work you want to do for the world.
Society tells us that there are steps we must take to be “successful” or to become “contributing members of society”, and each step has its appropriate time in our life. We are born, we reach the “right” age to enter school, we attend a school system for 12-13 years (depending on what age you entered the institution of formal education), we go to university, we get a job, and then we retire. The reality is that this does not work for everyone (whether it works for anyone really is a topic for another day). Everyone has their own path to their own definition of success. There is no one-size-fits-all methodology to life paths, and quite honestly, that’s the beauty of it. But whether you follow society’s path or define your own, there is one thing that holds true for everyone – you must work hard to reach any goal on your path, and that work is best done early.
I was fortunate enough to have parents that learned and shared this value with me early on, so I was able to apply it and enjoy the fruits of that early labor (not child labor, just more effort at a younger age!). The way they positioned it was that if you know what you want to do in life, and you know the kind of lifestyle you want to live, then you must place the necessary effort into the things that lead to those goals now, so that you have to do less work later and get paid more – in compensation and freedom. It may have seemed frivolous in middle school or high school when they first said it, but what they said seemed logical and so I applied it.
In elementary school, I studied hard and aced my classes, leading me to higher level classes in middle school. In middle school, I studied harder, took on extracurriculars to expand my scope, and aced my classes, leading me to the higher entry point classes in high school. Upon entering high school, I learned that if you had already completed core competencies or reached the highest levels of main courses, you had free-reign to select the types of subjects you wanted to learn. The efforts of my previous schooling resulted in my ability to have the flexibility and freedom of choice in my high school years to take university level courses and explore knowledge that was in line with my passions. The hard work in high school, and the ability to diversify courses and extracurriculars (what universities look for), granted me entry into great universities for higher education with hefty scholarships, placed me out of core competencies due to my grades, and gifted me the ability to graduate earlier than expected so that I could start working sooner.
During my university years, the opportunities to work and intern and build my own company required more effort than others were applying, with minimal returns in the beginning, but I pushed through because I had to, and because I had already recognized there was freedom in going the extra mile. Upon entering the corporate workforce, I learned that my effort was most valued at this point because the world recognized these efforts above all else – above what brand name school I went to, what scores I had, or what internship I held. What the world valued most was the effort I displayed, the real knowledge I gathered, and the manner in which I learned to apply everything I had experienced up until then. At that point, all I had to do was apply my knowledge aptly, and that alone brought me a more than satisfying return on my earlier investments because I was able to put in less time while making more, leaving more time to explore other fulfilling life opportunities.
That’s when it made most sense to me. The efforts early on made it so that no matter what path I chose, I would always remain a cut above the norm because while I was applying my knowledge and experience, others were still learning and experiencing. As others spent time learning A and B, I was well on to L, M, N, O and P – but with additional bonus elements because no one was expecting me to already be at that level at my age. While others were still figuring out their paths, I was already on a path that was secure in ways that I wouldn’t realize until later when I had to rely entirely upon it to revive my life. While others dreamed of financial freedom, exploring the world, and contributing to the world, I was already there – living the life I had wanted and having the freedom to design my life the way I wanted without restriction.
I may not have been the most successful person in the world (as defined by society – making billions or established as a public figure of sorts), but I was happy, I was enjoying the work I was doing, I was learning as I was growing, I was earning enough for my needs and beyond my wants, and I was free to do as I pleased. I was successful by my terms because I was living the life I wanted (at the time), earlier than I anticipated, and more fruitfully than I imagined. And that success was all because I had worked harder than those around me early on. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson once said, “We do today what they won’t so tomorrow we can accomplish what they can’t.”
Was I perfect in my efforts?
Could I have done more?
Could I have worked even harder to be that billionaire, public figure?
But for the path that I had chosen and with the understanding I had of myself, I worked as hard as I could and it paid off in the best of ways. I’m glad it wasn’t perfect, I’m glad I didn’t overdo it, and I’m glad I didn’t strain to become successful the way that society determined, because I was happy and fulfilled and knew that my life was on my path in my way. I didn’t feel as though I was fighting my way through my work and my life – instead I was able to enjoy it because I had fought through the difficult parts early on and built a strong foundation for anything I desired thereafter.
And that’s the key. It’s not just about doing all of the things that society says – good grades, high test scores, great school, perfect job – it’s about building a foundation so strong that regardless of the path you take later on in life, or how that paths changes along the way, you are prepared for what comes your way and able to pivot to match your life’s trajectory. Building your strong foundation could mean studying smarter, practicing longer, or training harder, but at its core it means putting in the extra effort earlier so that you’re ahead of the pack in your life’s track.
Life is but a game
This we all too well know
A marathon, not a race
Work hard as you go
What you do now
Determines what you have later
A strong foundation is key
It’s a strong indicator
The effort you put in
Is directly correlated
To the gifts you get later
Time, freedom unregulated
Tomorrow’s path is unknown
This moment is still with you
Put more effort today and
Tomorrow you can do what you want to
– Akiti –