“I Tried Really Hard!”

bikeWhat is more important? The effort or the results?

I guess it depends.

I teach at a university on the side of my writing. And I teach writing – no surprise I am sure.

But I had an interesting exchange with a student yesterday. She was upset that she received a C on the report that I had just returned in my business writing class. I have turned this class into much more than simply business writing, however. I have emphasized professionalism and leadership as well.

So her reaction to the C somewhat surprised me. She threw the paper onto my desk, announced that this was not a C paper, and demanded an explanation. As I attempted to explain, she revealed that she was actually not interested in anything I had to say.

Her primary complaint was that it was much better than her rough draft and that she worked really hard on it. And I admitted that she was right. It was better than her rough draft. In a previous class, hers was one of eight reports that were projected on a screen to the class so that students could provide her with feedback on her report. During the ten minutes that we discussed her paper, she had her laptop open and frantically made all of the changes as students commented.

And she reminded me of this. “I made every single change the students told me to make.”

Therefore, she deserved at least a B.book-editing

I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to her that I do not grade based on how much better the final draft is compared to the rough draft. And I do not grade on how hard a student works, which I could never actually know anyway. I grade on the finished product.

This unleashed her anger. How was she supposed to know that! My grading is so confusing! It only makes sense to grade on improvement! How could she possibly know that I would not be grading on effort!

Once again, I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to her that if she had turned in a report to her boss that had mistakes and errors throughout, and her boss was critical of her report or disappointed in it, she could not say to the boss, “Well,  you should have seen my rough draft. This is so much better.” The boss doesn’t care how bad the rough draft was. All that matters is the final draft that is in his or her hands right now.

But she wasn’t going to hear me. So she announced that she was done trying because all it gets her is a C. And she left.

I would love to have a conversation with her about professionalism and her reaction to her grade, but I am thinking it might be better to just leave this alone.

What she has failed to understand, which is going to be a huge stumbling block for her, is that the effort matters to her. But the end result matters to everyone else. I hate to even put this out there, but maybe this is one of the consequences of the so-called movement to give trophies to every participant, rewarding effort rather than end result.

gold-trophy-cup-650x520Despite the participation trophies given to kids, most people understand the concept of the importance of end results in the world of sports. But many of these same people fail to understand its application to the rest of life.

No one would accept a sub-par player on their favorite team simply because he or she worked really hard or improved greatly over time. A baseball pitcher must have a fastball that is, well, fast. And accurate. You could work on your pitching everyday for a year, and work harder than anyone else you know. But if you can’t get your fastball, well, fast, and across the plate, you aren’t going to pitch in the big game. Because it is the end result that matters.

Does that mean it is not worth putting in the effort? ABSOLUTELY NOT. The effort is for YOU (yes, I am yelling – sorry). Chances are, if you consistently work hard, and practice your fastball, to keep up the analogy, you will get better. And chances are, you may end up achieving the required end result and pitching in a game. That is why it is so important to continue to put in the effort despite not achieving the end result we want as fast as we want.img_9594

To bring this back to writing, the world is full of successful writers who were initially rejected. And I am sure the world is full of writers you have never heard of because they felt they should be successful due to the effort they put into their writing. And they quit when that effort was not rewarded fast enough for them.

The thing is, most people have no idea the effort that successful people have put into their craft. Because the effort is for you, not the public. Professional dancers have worked so hard that their performances seem effortless. Professional basketball players have worked so hard that they look like they were born with their abilities and easily fly through the air. Successful actors are dismissed as being overnight successes.

I believe this is one reason so many people are so easily influenced to hate “the rich.” People do not see the effort, the sacrifice, the rejection, the practice, the learning from failure that the successful person has experienced.

I have been writing for most of my life. I have been blessed to have been paid for some of it. But I also have written countless words over countless hours that no one has given me a cent for. That is the effort I am putting in behind the scenes. That is where I am honing my craft. One book that I wrote did not end up getting published. I had many people express sympathetic outrage for all of the work I put into that without making any money. What they do not understand is what I learned from all of that work. Invaluable. Without that effort, I would not be the writer I am today, a much better writer than I was before I tackled that book.

When I reach the next level of success, no one but me will have any idea of the effort that I have put in over a lifetime. It is irrelevant, actually. No one will have any idea what my rough drafts looked like or how far I have come from those rough drafts. And no one will care. All that will matter is the end result.

And I will work and work and work and write and write and write until the end result exceeds even my own wildest dreams. And I will have earned every bit of success I have achieved.



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