We spend much of our lives confronting problems and challenges. It seems with every passing day or news cycle there are new pressing issues that demand our attention and thought. And yet, how often is this thought deep and reflective, as opposed to kneejerk and quick?
Have we trained our brains to respond quickly and to address problems swiftly to such a degree that we might not apply deep reflection to much of anything? How committed are we to reflection on things that matter to us? And would our commitment change if we discovered there is no quick fix to the problem, or that to accomplish our goal we will have to commit endless hours of hard work and focus?
If the state of our physical health is any indication, we want health and vitality with little to no investment of our time and energy. Despite living in a time with unprecedented access to information on exercise, nutrition, health and wellness; obesity rates are on the rise as poor diet and inactivity continue to become the norm. It is estimated that 71% of Americans are either overweight or obese.
The narrative around reversing these trends seems to focus largely on a ten minute workout approach or some supplement that might magically melt away the extra pounds. We know, but we seem to ignore, the truth that sustained hard work and a dedication to eating well and exercising are the only paths back to health. There is no long-lasting quick fix.
In terms of human endeavor, contributions of real or lasting value are not quickly realized either. I was reflecting on the human-built wonders of our world like Macchu Pichu, The Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Acropolis, etc. Most of these human feats must have seemed ludicrous or impossible at the time of their conception and yet here they stand as some of the most important and lasting monuments representing human ambition and creative potential.
Consider La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This remarkable masterpiece designed by Antoni Gaudi began construction in 1882. Gaudi died in 1926 when it was 25% complete and the cathedral isn't expected to be complete until 2026--timed to align with the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. Imagine coming up with an idea that wouldn't be complete until 100 years after you passed away!? Already, it is a destination that sparks the imagination and will continue to inspire human ingenuity for centuries to come.
All of these wonders took long-term vision and ambition, along with a willingness to aim for the impossible.
How often do we take the long view in our work and society? Our current economic approach rewards and incentivizes quarterly performance and annual outputs. In politics, many politicians feel the pressure to accomplish as much as possible from one election and the next. Our approaches to crafting strategy or moving ahead can be so quick or unintentional that long-term consequence and opportunity are lost or misunderstood. Do our current systems of creating value in the short-term for ourselves limit our willingness and ability to consider long-term value?
Much like with our health -- do we ignore what we know is right and difficult in favour of solutions that are inferior or easy? Could we be shortchanging ourselves and future generations by implementing a series of quick fixes to problems that require commitment, discipline and deep reflection?
As Theodore Roosevelt once said "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means, effort, pain, difficulty...I have never envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."
There are no quick fixes for things that matter. Whether we are considering the health, vitality and promise of our bodies, our businesses, or our societies; greatness requires commitment, hard work and persistence. In large and small ways, let us each try to create our own wonders with the time and resources that we have. Let us be inspired by the historical wonders that were started by those who had no hope of seeing their dreams completed in their lifetimes. What similar gifts are we leaving future generations?
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