“We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle
In multiple aspects of my life in the last year the importance of consistency over intermittent hard work has become apparent. Recently, while reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and Amazing Grace and Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, it became clear that the people who leave great legacies do so through consistency, not merely a punctuated moment or two of valiant effort. Even Oskar Schindler, who early in his life was largely motivated by profit and hedonism, was changed such that he spent years of his life, and eventually his death, saving Jewish workers from Nazi camps. Each of these people made an impact not for singular actions, but for consistent and energetic work towards changing their world for the better.
It can be difficult to understand our actions in the light of their lives so an example may be helpful. Often when students or co-workers can be heard boasting about the number of hours they have worked. Pulling an all-nighter, working 80+ hours the past week, or coming in on the weekend are all examples of this. However when looking at the activity of most of the people over the course of six months, a year, even five years, one of two troubling patterns often emerges. Either the person works this hard only on isolated occasions, or the goal of their work is to put in many hours but not necessarily accomplish the most. (Some people certainly do work long hours, towards great goals, for years at a time but these people are seldom the one’s boasting the number of hours they have put in). More people working with greater consistency would yield greater results than more people working hard on intermittently although the the later often is more impressive to boast about. Hamilton, when he was working to build the financial system, worked for many months from morning until late at night designing, writing, and campaigning for a sound financial system for the new country. Wilberforce spent decades of his life working towards abolition and the end of the slave trade in Britain. A few all-nighters or several 80 hour work weeks would not have accomplished either of these feats. Instead years of consistent, persistent work was required.
As we move into the new year with renewed hopes and goals, may we pursue greatness through consistently working towards better, through persistently reaching towards perfect, and through resiliently moving from setbacks to work towards those goals.