Do the work.

by Ali Sperry

I always worked hard in school and took my work seriously. I worked hard in a "mostly A's" sense of the word. But when I look back on my approach to learning, I fear that I often looked at it as a means to an end--to get a good grade, get into a good college, be a good girl. I knew how to do that. I think I've always been a bit of a "pleaser". There was plenty of cramming for tests or staying up til God-knows-what-hour to finish a paper or reading cliff notes or various other short cuts. I just don't recall making it a priority to fully retain what I was learning so I could take it with me. Naturally the things I was fascinated by I did carry with me and the rest of it only stuck around as long as it was needed, even when it was information that could have been helpful to have at the ready later in life. This approach got a little confusing in college when I realized that getting good grades didn't matter so much anymore, other than to show my parents that I was doing well and taking school seriously, because I wasn't planning on attending grad school. But old habits die hard and I think I mostly still learned in the same way--giving lots of attention to the subjects that came easily and excited me and just getting through things that were challenging or tedious. And then you graduate college and it's a whole different thing.

Anyway, excuse the big tangent, the point that I am coming to is, somehow I feel like it's taken me until now, after 32 years of life, to learn how to have a good work ethic. And I have certainly not mastered it. I am working on it daily and I'll tell you, it doesn't come easily sometimes. Ha! But work is not supposed to be easy, Ali. To get better at something, to grow, requires change and change is uncomfortable. Hard work requires doing something even when you can think of a list of thirty other things you'd prefer to be doing. That is what discipline is to me. But the sort of magical part of it is, when I do succeed in finding the will to be disciplined, it is liberating. It miraculously goes from feeling boring/frustrating/miserable to being so deeply satisfying when you see the results of the work. And you know you made that happen.

When I set out 6 years ago to have a career as a musical artist, as dumb as this sounds, I really didn't realize how much hard work it would require. I laugh now and also want to hug my younger self and tell her how much she has to learn. I somehow had this notion that since I was born being able to sing, and had some musical taste and creativity with writing, that I pretty much had what I needed to succeed. Not so! I am still just discovering how much discipline it takes to be even decently proficient at an instrument, to work on your craft so it is strong and consistent and always improving, to grow as a writer and to express something honest and authentic in a way that people understand and resonate with, to be strategic and approach the thing that is dearest to your heart as a business so that you can make a living doing it and not get taken advantage of by people who don't have your best interests in mind, to believe in yourself with even greater conviction when you are faced with a string of rejections or when you can't tell if you're making headway, to make smart, practical decisions, all while protecting that very tender spot in your heart where music comes from so it doesn't become bruised, jaded or calculated. This is where the work lies. And there is pretty much always more to be done. I'm learning this. And working on it.