Working hard is never the wrong choice

You have probably heard it said before that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade… Yet, what happens when life does not draw you the cards necessary to stay at the table or deal you the pieces required to play the game?

The particular conundrum I would like to address is not the issue of reason — Why have or haven’t I received what I think I ought to —but rather the challenge of what a person should do after they haven’t received what they believe is necessary for their success in the future.

Shanghai Tower | Shanghai, China | Taken by Owen Pearl — August 2017

Failure hurts.

Whether it takes the form of a rejection letter after countless applications, a lackluster audition after years of practice, a deficiency of money after summers of hard work, or a breakup after years of commitment, failure can single-handedly snuff out our motivation to keep going and dull our ability to sniff out hope. However, despite experiencing each of the forms of failure listed above throughout my life— and a plethora of other grand fumbles and defeats — I have found that, regardless of the opportunities lost or future dreams jaded, working hard is always an option.

Standing here now, 561 meters above the ground in the highest observation deck in the world, overlooking the vast, radiant city of Shanghai, China, I marvel at the sight before me while pondering the course of events that have led to this moment. Humbled, I appreciate that many of them were far beyond my realm control. As a man who believes in God, I realize that no effort of mine alone could have propelled me half way across the globe and left me standing on top of the world. However, I would be remiss to neglect my painstaking, dedicated labor — which involved applications, emails, interviews, budgeting, studying Chinese, etc. in the face of what seemed to be a drought of resources — that guided me to this point in my life.

It is hard to believe that, during this past school year, a 4 year long dream of mine died, yet now, one that I never dared to dream has just come true.

For four years I worked incredibly hard to partake in an activity known as Drum Corp (think professional marching band). During high school, I would finish classwork ahead of time so that I might skip as many classes as possible and squeeze in as much snare drum practice in the band room as I could.

Seconds would go by…

Then minutes…

Then hours…

Soon enough, my hands would be bleeding as they knocked on my band director’s office door, and I would be requesting band-aids so that I could wrap up my fingers and continue practicing.

This went on for a few years.

Then there was college: I would pick up my 35 pound snare drum at my dorm and walk 15 minutes across campus each day to practice for as many hours as possible, rigorously preparing myself for my many upcoming auditions.

When it was cold, I would wrap myself up in a warm jacket and keep going. When it rained or snowed, I would wrap my drum up in a warm jacket and keep going.

When the time came, I traveled far and wide, attending auditions for the best drum corps in the world. Yet as the madness crescendoed , it became vividly clear that I lacked both the finances and time necessary to realize this childhood dream of mine.

Heartbroken, I wondered if any of the countless time I spent on this activity mattered at all. I wanted to give up working hard, not only when it came to drumming, but also in general. I hadn’t considered any other option for the upcoming summer, and I was unsure of which path I should pursue, or even if I had the energy to pursue it.

After some thought, I came to conclusion that I had no alternative option but to keep going, with just one choice to be made:

How hard was I going to work?

Even though I felt helpless and uncertain about the future, I learned that I had to be thankful for what God had given me and make the most of my talents, regardless of how refined they were. I had to remain accountable for the litany of blessings I have received in my life and give each aspect of my life its due commitment and determination.

Therefore, I continued to blindly pour myself into my mechanical engineering research while diligently teaching myself mandarin as I had done for almost a year and a half outside of school, unaware of the potential for any of my interests to lead to any significant future outcome.

At that time, life was not providing a single lemon. In fact, it required a down payment of labor in exchange for any progress — my ultimate success or failure still a grave mystery to me.

Yet now, here I stand fortified above the clouds after 2 months of living in China and a completed fellowship at a revered Chinese University. The work I did during the time following my failed pursuit of drum corp, despite my being unaware of the wonderful opportunities coming my way, paved the way for future victories. And these victories have been unforgettable.

Therefore, whether or not you believe in a God or some greater purpose that has guided you to where you are right now, I encourage you to be thankful for every thing and every talent that you possess during your lifetime; make the most of every situation no matter the obstacles in your way. And always remember:

Working hard is never the wrong choice.

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