“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Living in the country, we have a long-standing battle with ants. Crawling all over the cat food bowl. Marching in a line from the kitchen window to the pantry. Ruining the jars of local honey we set out for tea in the studio.
I was making coffee in the kitchen one day when I noticed a tortilla chip dance across the floor. Since I had never seen a tortilla chip dance, I crouched down to investigate. Evidently, an especially persistent ant had found it under the table and was toting his enormous treasure back to wherever the ants in my house live. I was mesmerized. And duly impressed.
Ants are amazing creatures. They can easily carry things more than 50 times their body mass and will patiently travel several miles to bring a prize home to the colony. Several miles, can you imagine? Whilst I don’t necessarily want them running amok in my kitchen, there is certainly a lot I can learn from them.
When ants are on the trail for food, they don’t let obstacles stand in their way. They don’t stand around with their hands on their hips and look at each other in disbelief. They don’t throw in the towel the moment things get hard. They don’t shrug their shoulders and simply give up. They don’t make excuses or apologies. They don’t feel sorry for themselves and decide that success isn’t for them. Ants honor grit over quit.
There are plenty of human examples of grit. Thomas Edison was famously told by his grade school teachers that he was “too stupid to learn anything”, then went on to prove them right by failing 1,000 times to invent a working light bulb. But he didn’t give up, and in the room where I am currently writing this, there are 9 electrical outlets. The scientific theories of Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur were publicly ridiculed during their lifetimes as complete nonsense. Though she wrote nearly 1,800 poems in her lifetimes (many of them ironically about persistence), Emily Dickinson only had about a dozen published before her death. I believe Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime. Walt Disney was fired by his newspaper editor for “lacking imagination”. Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Colonel Sanders was told no 1,009 times. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. The corporate bigwigs at Atari laughed at Steve Jobs’ ”personal computer”. J.K. Rowling has 12 framed rejection letters for her manuscript Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. She was told over and over that no one would read a book about a boy wizard. But nevertheless, like every other badass momma, she persisted, and millions of no ones read that very book.
There is something to be said for staying at a thing. Research hints that perseverance actually trumps innate intelligence and talent as a measure of success. Look at any successful human being and you’ll see a long road of mistakes and setbacks behind them. As Sumner Redstone reminds us, “Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophe.”
But to really succeed, it takes more than hard work, determination and stick-withitness.
Perseverance alone will not guarantee safety. Persistence also requires passion.
When I think back to that ant, I think about how that tortilla chip was his whole world. Ditto Edison and electricity, Disney and imagination, Rowling and her boy wizard. Grit and diligence only work when they are being employed in the callings of your soul. If the end goal isn’t something that aligns with your heart, no amount of money or prestige or social media followers will satisfy you. It’s less about getting attention and more about mindfully choosing what we give our attention to. It’s worth remembering as we look toward a new year and the health, relationship and financial resolutions that often accompany it.
So then success, however you define it, is a two-step process. Figure out what sets your soul on fire and then keep doing that, if only for the joy it brings. You being your best serves the world. Do it because it makes your heart sing, because it makes you leap out of bed with excitement that you are in fact living your dream life. Find your tortilla and be willing to carry it on your back however long the road, however heavy the burden becomes.