April 2 – Zeal and Focus

“Experience shows that success is due less to ability than to zeal. The winner is he who gives himself to his work, body and soul.” (Charles Bexton)

I have written several times this year about how enthusiasm (zeal), and my commitment to do something have helped me to do things that otherwise I would not be able to do. Today’s quote is another that supports the idea that it isn’t always natural talent, or intelligence that makes the difference, but attitude.

I know from my own experience that the more motivated I am, the greater my results. Even with things where I have a bit of natural ability, the results are magnified when I approach with a great deal of zeal. As a sport fan, I see this time and again. A team with lesser talent that “gets on a roll” can often win games where, on paper, they are over matched.

For me, having that zeal, that commitment to accomplish things, helps me stay focused and shut out distractions. It is almost like I have tunnel vision on the project at hand. I will lose track of time, and completely busy myself in achieving the results. Sometimes I can talk myself into a state like that, but usually it happens more naturally because the achievement or goal is strong within me.

During the days leading up to a vacation, I will pull out a pad of paper at work and start making a list of things that need to be done before I depart. Sometimes the list grows quite long and may have 20 or 25 tasks on it. Some of them are mundane reminders like turning on my out of office message. Others are tasks that I have to clean up so that when I come back I am not a week or more behind on a project.

This list sits next to my keyboard as the last day approaches. Sometimes I am adding, other times I am crossing things off the list. That last day when I arrive, the first thing I do is read the list from top to bottom. I have found that there are few things at work more motivating than finishing up to go on vacation, and nothing can ruin the first day or two of vacation more than failing to complete an important task on that list, or having it go badly.

Two summers ago my wife and I had a long camping trip planned. We were going to be staying at several sites, each for a few days. We had been planning the trip for months, and couldn’t wait to get going. The week before that trip my list of items was probably at about 18 items. One of the last on the list was to back up my email so that my inbox wouldn’t overflow while I was away. When that Friday afternoon came, I dragged the folder with my saved email onto a new file, and then went to the bathroom while the system worked. When I came back I was horrified to discover that I had accidentally dragged my entire inbox to the trash can. Because of system limitations, the trash can couldn’t completely hold all of the data, and it began permanently deleting things. I stopped it, but not before about 6 months of email were lost forever.

The first two days of that trip I was miserable. I couldn’t sleep and barely enjoyed the sites we were seeing. It took until Sunday night for me to finally let go of that and channel my zeal into the vacation. The rest of the week was spectacular. By the time I got back I realized that a large portion of the data I needed would either have already been downloaded to other locations, or would be contained in responses I’d send that were in my Sent Items folder.

In the days leading up to that vacation, I had amazing focus for the tasks at hand. When I approached that backup task, though, I had let myself lose the edge. I thought I was so far ahead that I could relax, and as a result I made a careless mistake.

The lesson for me in all of this is that having that great zeal to get things done is important to be sure, but to see the project, or list of tasks to a successful completion, I have to maintain that zeal right up until the very end.

I will have some time away from the office in the coming weeks. As I approach the lists of things that need to be completed to support that time off, I will be stoked for sure. I will also remember the lesson of that trip two years ago, and will maintain my focus until all of the jobs are done.

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