At the base of the Pyramid, level 1, block 1 (reading left to right) is the notion of industriousness. As Wooden says – quite clearly – hard work matters.
A lot. And I quote (This is Wooden on industriousness): “In plain language, I mean you have to work – and work hard. There is no substitute for work. None. Worthwhile things come from real work.”
I have come to believe deeply in the idea of industriousness. Why? Because I view myself as a slacker. A not-so-hard worker. These days, it’s not really true, but it used to be.
See, back when I was a kid, school came so easy for me that I coasted. And this was when I was a rich kid in private school. (My father and grandfather were both lawyers.) Then, when my parents got divorced (bitterly) the family fortune was lost and I started attending a middle school (public) where 50% of the kids were African American.
Elite private schools to (what is now) a Title I middle school. Talk about dropping off the edge of a cliff. In sixth grade my “advanced” classes were covering material I had seen in 3rd grade – literally. So I became a screw-off. A class clown. The kind of wise-ass that had all the answers and thought that everything in life was gonna come easy to me because it always had before.
Talk about setting the stage for a rude awakening! By my mid-twenties I was a complete wreck having learning via the school of Hard Knocks that life doesn’t give a damn about self-perceived talent/entitlement/intelligence/aptitude.
Hard work trumps “giftedness” every day of the week.
As Teddy Roosevelt once said in one of my favorite quotes…
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
— Theodore Roosevelt
That was me. Mr. Thinks-He-Can-Do-It-All-Without-Giving-A-Blood-Sweat-and-Tears effort. Like I said, my life was a train wreck and I descended pretty deep into the darkness looking for shortcuts out of my misery until, well… Mr. Wooden turned on a fantastic light bulb for me.
For someone who thought themselves to be so smart (me) I was acting like a real fool (also me).
I needed to become industrious. Instead of viewing the world from a white collar perch, I needed to transform myself into a blue collar worker.
Hard work is admirable. Hard work is fulfilling. Hard work reaps real results. I believed in those things, I just never applied them to my own life.
As Somerset Maugham once said: An unfortunate thing about this world is that the good habits are much easier to give up than the bad ones.
Ain’t that the truth!
Transforming myself into an “industrious” type required a ton of effort. But really, what it required was a mentor. A teacher. Someone showing me the way with a flashlight, a person illuminating the path, pointing out the game plan and offering up a roadmap.
Sure, I was born with talent. But I don’t think that makes me unique. All of us – despite the cliched nature of this statement – are, in my estimation, born with talent.
But how many of us were born with a sense of industriousness that could serve as the wings to allow this talent to soar? I sure wasn’t.
It had to be taught to me. Yet more importantly, I had to be ready to listen. As a teacher I know that you can lead a student to knowledge but you can’t make them think. Well, the converse is true as well: if you lead a thirsty student to knowledge, you can’t stop them from drinking deeply at the well.
What’s that saying, once the student is ready, the master will appear?
That’s how the notion of industriousness popped into my life. And WOW did it change everything. Really, I didn’t dive into Wooden until I was in my early 30’s. Now, I am in my early 40’s and have published 10 books with some of the biggest publishers on the planet and won all kinds of accolades. Perhaps the ability was always there but the tools to liberate the powers within me were not.
And now, as a high school teacher in my own classroom, I value industrious almost above all else. Give me a hard working C student any day of the week over a coasting A student who feels entitled due to their parents’ financial status, their own self-perceived IQ, their physical attractiveness… whatever.
Worker bees build beautiful hives.
I don’t think it’s an accident that Industriousness is located where it is on the Pyramid of success. It’s foundational.
And it certainly liberated me from my own self-created jail.