“All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”

Calvin Coolidge

Imagine you’re at the gym, standing before a row of treadmills, each one occupied by a marathon-running enthusiast whose toned calves could be featured in a fitness magazine. There you are, in your slightly-too-tight gym shorts, pondering whether you accidentally stumbled into a secret meeting of people who use phrases like “runner’s high” unironically.

You step onto your treadmill, set a modest pace, and start to jog. The idea here, as I understand it, is that movement—no matter how tragic you look compared to the gliding gazelles next to you—leads to progress. Yes, every step you take, even the ones that feel like you’re trying to run through a vat of custard, is a tiny celebration of growth. Because, as we know but often forget while eating chips directly from the bag, all growth depends upon activity.

This principle doesn’t just apply at the gym. Consider the intellectual gymnasium: your brain. Ever tried to learn a new language? It’s like deciding to knit a sweater while someone throws your yarn into a ceiling fan. Challenging, yes, but without stretching those mental muscles, they atrophy. You end up knowing just enough to ask where the library is and then not understanding the answer.

Effort, then, is not just about sweating attractively or looking good while sipping a post-workout smoothie. It’s about embracing the work involved, whether that means lifting weights, reading philosophy, or resisting the urge to throttle your slow computer. It means choosing to engage rather than spectate, to create rather than consume, and, occasionally, to fail spectacularly on the way to succeeding.

And let’s be honest. Sometimes effort means simply trying to stay upright on the treadmill of life without accidentally flinging yourself into the person next to you. That counts, too.

So the next time you’re faced with a daunting task, remember the treadmill and the custard. Remember the confused but persistent attempts to ask for directions in a foreign tongue. Dive into the effort because every misstep and every awkward stumble is proof that you’re in the game, not on the sidelines. You might not cross the finish line first, but you’ll cross it with stories to tell.

After all, the most entertaining tales aren’t about the swift or the flawless. They come from those who trip and fall—but always get back up.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.