Tuesday, December 2, 2008

36 - Saying it's the effort that counts

On the one hand, I can understand the intention behind such a statement. When people don't achieve very much they at least achieve in spirit because they tried their best. If they don't attain the perfect results, at least God or karma or the universe won't hold it against them and perhaps will provide them with some sort of reward later in life. You've succeeded even though you didn't win the match or get a higher mark than that classmate or get the big promotion before that other guy.

But the saying, it's not the destination that matters, it's the journey taken, really doesn't make anyone feel genuinely better. When people are upset with the bad turnout, parents, teachers, bosses, sports coaches, personal trainers, so on and so forth are actually sending them a really disturbing message. They've tried their best. They've put in all their hard work. They've done everything they could in the best possible way yet they still fail at what they're doing. Isn't that just troubling?

What makes me angry is the fact that sometimes, it is the achievement that counts. You're not going to pass an examination or get your ass out of high school and into a university by telling your teachers you tried your best and insisting that your mere effort should magically grant you good rewards that could've/should've/would've been earned in the conventional way like everybody else. You're not going to be a successful parent if all your blood, sweat and tears go toward raising a child only to still make for a disobedient and disrespectful teenager/adult You're never going to get a job if all you've got on your curriculum vitae is a long list of adjectives like 'independent', 'diligent', 'creative', etc... that completely encapsulates your personality and supposedly renders you perfect for the job, when what you really need are the qualifications, the degrees and the experience to make you suitable for a particular occupation.

So don't tell others it's the effort that counts and tell those that do say it that it doesn't achieve anything. Hard work is a good thing to do, but it's merely a good thing to do. I know that the effort doesn't count in most cases, so saying that it does is extremely necessary.

Personally, though, I don't think it's the effort that counts in any case. It is the attainment that will get you places. The effort is for you to have in your memory, to enhance your experience and perhaps evoke the feeling that you earned whatever you earned. What makes me happy is the result, the answer at the very end of the equation that shows me whether or not what I'm doing is right or wrong. Effort doesn't come into that equation at all and if I fail, then it's my working out that's gone wrong.


14 - My Favorite Food.


yolanda said...

i think it depends what context you use that in. alot of people have a tendency to be really hard on themselves and have an attitude where nothing they do is ever good enough. i personally find it helpful when im in those modes to remember that 'it's the sides of the mountain that sustains life, not the top' (Robert M. Pirsig). most of the time when we actually achieve the goals we've set out to achieve, when we reach 'the destination', its a complete anti climax. being present in the process means that we are not putting all our eggs into a future basket, and that we wont crack open if it falls.

Laryissa said...

well that was a truly depressing view on life ;P
however i am strangely optimistic for someone so negative, and i see the irony in what you're saying, but it all depends on context, as yolanda says...

Michael said...


I think it's a separate issue when people are too hard on themselves (a whole post's worth of an issue).

It's all relative, I know. It all depends on what makes us each happy. What makes me angry is when people regard hard work as some sort of compensation for not achieving so much. If people insist that working hard is what matters, they should work harder on changing their approach to problems to get it right, to earn something with hard work as well as getting the good results.

Michael said...


As I said to Yolanda, it all depends on what makes us happy. It depends on what we feel is 'the right thing to do', what the right solution is.

Michael said...

By the way, I'm glad my blog warrants feedback from others. I like these brief discussions.

Douglas said...

Well, you tried, Michael. :) Seriously, I understand your point. However, life is not all that simple. What about when there is only one slot available and ten are vying for it? Tell the ones who lost out that "Too bad, losers!" No, we try to console them so if there is a next time, they will approach it with an equal, or maybe stronger, effort. There are many times in one's life where one will fail to attain a given goal. these should not be seen as total failures but as lessons.

Michael said...


My head is not exactly in the moment right now (just returned home from a chemistry exam), but I still firmly stand by my point that if you attain good results, whether or not you put any effort in them, so as long as you achieve some sort of goal, you win. If there are ten people competing for one spot, then it shall be the one with the highest qualifications that gets the prize. The amount of one's effort does nothing but perhaps satisfy the winner and soothe the loser. The effort does not come into the equation of whether one can achieve. They are lessons but they teach you to put in more effort or steer your effort in the direction that will earn you good results.

I think your reasoning is logical and I seriously see your point too. It just isn't what I believe.

yolanda said...

michael, i know where you are coming from in relation to school. lets face it, its a pretty tough system thats in place. but 'its the journey that counts' is (as far as i know), a zen expression. id like to say that school is outside the juristiction of Zen, but i think it does apply to all areas of life! the problem with school is that youre roused into a kind a mania whereby you think that your whole life depends on making the grade. it doesnt! if you dont achieve the results you set out to achieve, you will do something else. so you may as well enjoy the journey until you get to wherever you think the destination is (think about that) because, if you havent enjoyed the process at all, you will wind up feeling empty at the finish line - whether you succeed or not.

the principle goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that our destiny is often out of our control - that everything happens for a reason. in school, youre not encouraged to believe this - youre taught that if you dont study you'll be a failure in life .

take it from someone who wasted a lot of time and energy getting stressed out because she wasnt able to commit to school. the results you get are just another part of the journey. they are not the destination.

Michael said...

I think I have finally got my thoughts figured out by your mentioning of happiness (the pursuit of which is oh-so-important. How could I forget?)

I very much agree with you about the effect school has on students and the pressures associated with the alleged importance of scholastic integrity. I am a rare one that genuinely loves sitting in class and learning and I strongly concur regarding the fact that something has to be enjoyed whether you succeed or not.

I am one that thinks that results, effort and happiness can all go hand-in-hand. (Is that even possible?)

My belief is that the pursuit of happiness is most important, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically. Let's say that bliss is the 'emotive destination'.

Next, the results are what will let you succeed in the material world. Money, grades, promotions and reputations is what will get you to the nonspiritual, 'materialistic destination'.

But effort is the stray component that doesn't really have a destination. It is only part of the process, and as I said, it gives you the feeling that you earn what you get, it enhances your experience and it contributes to your memories. It makes you happy. It allows you to prosper in material terms.

In the end, effort does not count in terms of reaching some goal and the way in which certain people may be led to believe that effort is a magical substitute for, let's say, good results or happiness, is what troubles me. For people who are still learning the ways of life and can't tell what a Zen statement is or is not, kids in particular, it's dangerous to tell kids that it's the effort that counts.

I don't know if I've been making sense, but I assure you, it's all very clear in my own head. I really hope I'm not delusional...

yolanda said...

sometimes when i read back over my own stuff i think: "what the hell am i Talking about?!" but nope, what you said there is definitly very clear :-)

i can see where youre coming from. i guess i am approaching this from the perspective is someone who felt that 'the education system failed her'. i have done most of my learning since leaving college! and for my discipline, filmmaking, i didnt really need to achieve good results, and my creativity wsant catered for in school (because i didnt appear to fit into the one creative niche you are given in school in ireland - art).

but looked at from a general perspective, i strongly agree that effort enhances your enjoyment of the destination. no matter how secure we are within ourlselves, the majority of people do not appreciate something unless they really work for it (this applies to everything from money to relationships).

from my personal experience, the first feature length film that i made was a fantastic example of what we are talking about. the whole time i was working on it, i was so focused on the goal - completion - that i forgot to enjoy the process of doing it. there were certainly times when i forgot about everything, and got lost in it, but for most of it i put myself under a huge amount of pressure and became totally burdened by my own expectations of myself. when the film was completed, but it didnt bring me to 'the destination' that i thought it would, i became pretty depressed! (apparently this is a common theme amongst filmmakers)

the problem was that i had a specific idea about how everything 'should' go. our expectations are not rooted in reality. they are a fusion of our imagination, insecurities, and dreams. the only reality that we can be sure of is what is happening right now (i know you already know that).

making subsequent films has been a much more enjoyable process. i have learnt to trust in inspiration, and that everything is happening as its meant to. it makes the jouney a pleasure, and ironically, the destination more attainable, and in a quicker amount of time!

basically my point is that its useless to have a rigid goal in mind, because if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be, and it can cause you to miss a lot of life's other opportunities. have goals, absolutely, but people need to be flexible too. there isnt only destination happiness. not by a long shot.

and often, the place we think happiness is, isnt there at all. happiness doesnt need to be pursued . the joy of life is in the process.

i know this is a hard thing for most people to digest, but the less we expect from life, the fuller it becomes. and yet, nothing really changes, except your outlook. to paraphrase a quote: life is like sand held in your hand. Held loosely, with an open hand, the sand remains where it is. The minute you close your hand and squeeze tightly to hold on, the sand trickles through your fingers.

would like to say as well how much im enjoying this dialogue!