“So on October 2 the wall was finished—just 52 days after we had begun… [Their enemies] realized this work had been done with the help of God.”—Nehemiah 6:15, 16b
I can still hear the words of my Dad echo in my ears: “The greatest achievements in life are never easy. And they’re never accomplished alone.” And while I’ve experienced this principle over and over in all aspects of life—from school to sports to work—I often want success to be easier. Sometimes I just wish I could get the results without the sacrifice and suffering along the way.
Vince Lombardi is famous for saying, “The harder you work the harder it is to surrender.” And personally, in many ways, I’ve found that to be true, partly because we’re willing to work hardest for the things that matter most. That makes giving up, giving in or quitting out of the question, at least not without a fight.
Winners work. Quitters don’t work, they whine. Dedication and discipline are two things that generally separate the winners from the quitters. Dedication requires consistency of effort and action regardless of the circumstances or challenges. Work is never dependent on how you feel. In fact, we’ll all have plenty of days we don’t feel like showing up and putting in the work. Everybody has days like that. But if we truly want the results, we must be dedicated to the work.
Many days I don’t feel like working out, eating right or going to bed early enough to wake up refreshed and ready to go. I don’t feel like training when I’m sore or tired or super busy. But I do it anyway because that’s what it takes to be my best. It takes unwavering, uncompromising dedication to the goal and my vision for the future.
Nehemiah is the epitome of what it looks like to work wholeheartedly for a cause that honors and glorifies God. God plants a vision in us and gives us the passion to go for it; then he asks us to get to work. He multiplies the effectiveness of our effort and magnifies His name in the process. God does more than we can ever ask or imagine as we surrender to His plan and put our hand to the plow! God’s people completed the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem in an astonishing 52 days. They were determined and disciplined and refused to be distracted or discouraged. And they worked.
We never drift toward greatness; we have to drive toward it on a daily basis. Greatness doesn’t happen by chance; it’s a choice. It’s not found in good intentions; it’s fought for in gritty work. It’s wrapped up in all the little steps taken along the way that produce the result we ultimately want.
Back in 2013, my son, Jimmy, had just begun his first semester at Liberty University and was contemplating trying out for the lacrosse team. He had a good high school career but was wrestling with doubts and fears about whether he could make the team. Almost 30 years earlier, I was invited to try out as a walk-on for the Virginia Tech baseball team and decided not to give it a shot; it became my biggest regret. As I shared that story with my son, he made the decision to go for it. He had a vision for being part of that team and the passion to go for it.
Following his decision, Jimmy went to work. He pushed his body harder than he had ever before. He competed with an intensity and focus like never before. He worked. He called us every night with updates on the practices and described playing better than he had ever played. He made the team and we celebrated! I believe God honored his effort and helped him in unseen ways.
After watching my son overcome doubts and adversity and challenges and pursue a goal that really mattered to him, I’ve discovered three keys to success:
- Pick your Prize: It all starts with setting a Wildly Important Goal—a goal that stretches you beyond your comfort zone. You will only be dedicated to something that is very important to you, so you have to know the “why.” Checking your motives is at the core of this step. Identifying the things God has made you passionate about helps you pursue those things with the right heart—to glorify God in the pursuit regardless of the final outcome. Achieving our goals can never be about the trophies; it’s all about the testimonies. (1 Corinthians 9:23-25)
- Count the Cost: Everything worth pursuing costs something. In fact, nothing worth achieving will come easy. So examine the cost. What will be required of you to make it happen? What habits will you need to establish? How much training will it take? What decisions and disciplines will be required along the way? Jesus encourages us to consider what it will take before we begin. (Luke 14:27-29)
- Pay the Price: Once the goal is set and the cost is counted, the real work begins. Making progress daily toward your goal, regardless of how you feel or setbacks that you encounter, is what will keep you on track. Believe me, you will have to crush the distractions inviting you to get off track or take the easy road. Excuses will come disguised as “good reasons,” and you will have to fight through. You will have to crush little compromises, celebrate small successes and go to work every day, day in and day out. (Colossians 3:23)
So pursue God-sized goals and get to work. It will be the most exhilarating pursuit of your life. And in the end, God might just accomplish something pretty important and make a lasting difference in the world through you.
Jimmy Page serves as the Divisional Vice President for the West for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. As a 20-year leader in health care, he and his wife are co-founders of an innovative cancer foundation, Believe Big. Page is the author of several books and speaks for companies, teams, schools and non-profits around the world. Follow him @jimmypage37 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.