The Great Things Never Come Easily

I spent half a decade of my life living as lean as I could, hoping that I would eventually reach a point where I felt secure in my finances again.

Five years.

Sixty months.

1,826 days.

So much time has passed since April 2006, since that day when I realized how truly precarious the financial situation in my life really was. Since then, I’ve been running from that moment, making every good choice I possibly could make.

It’s only been in the last year or two that I’ve felt that my financial and professional life has been anywhere close to healed. Even today, things are not as I would like them to be. I still have a mortgage I’d like to pay off. I still have a dream of living in the country. I have big professional dreams.

The success you want – the success truly worth having – doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years to make a mountain of debt go away. Years. It takes years to put your career on a track that you want it to be on.

Countless choices. Countless projects. Countless decisions to not spend money. Years and years of them.

Yet, there is success on the other side.

* * *

Often, when I’m practicing on the piano, my fingers feel incredibly clumsy and uncoordinated. I’ll sit there, flailing away at Clocks or Scheherezade, and I feel as though this piece is completely beyond me. I can’t possibly play this with any level of sophistication, I’ll think, and I’ll move on to something else.

For some reason, though, I go back to it. I’ll flail again. I’ll sound bad again. I’ll flail yet again.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll play some little phrase and it’ll sound beautiful. I’ll try to hold that perfect moment in my head for just a little while, and the memory of that wonderfully executed phrase keeps me going.

As time goes on, those little phrases become more frequent. It takes time, though – a lot of it. It is often estimated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach a level of professional excellence at a particular task.

It won’t happen today or tomorrow, but I can see little hints of it here and there.

* * *

A few years ago, I started a “dream fund.” This “dream fund” consists of money we’re setting aside to build the house both my wife and I dream of. There are trees nearby and perhaps a stream. There’s a barn behind the house. There’s some grass for the children to play on. Inside, there’s a pleasant little place for me to write, preferably one with a view of those trees.

When I first started that fund, the promise it held felt so close. I could almost believe that I would be able to close my eyes, wake up in a few days, and that fund would be full. We’d be moving into that house we’ve dreamed of.

When dreams meet reality, though, reality often wins. Our fund is still small. It has a long way to go before it can buy us that dream.

Each week, that fund grows a little bit. I watch it grow, and I make sure that we always have the resources to keep it growing.

Some day, we’ll be able to have that home we’re dreaming about. However, I now see that it’s a journey of a thousand miles, and each day is merely a step on that journey.

* * *

My greatest dream is to write a novel, creating a fictionalized world that will take people away from their lives for a bit, make them dream for a while, then return them back to their lives, perhaps a bit better for the process. I dream of walking into a bookstore and seeing that book on the shelves, a printed instance of the story I have in my mind.

I’ve written several novels over the years. None of them are good enough. I can tell by just a few pages that they’re not compelling enough to make it.

Yet, each time I get involved in the process of writing one, it’s better than before. The characters are more real. The plot turns are a bit sharper. The experiences are more engaging. The ideas left behind are more valuable.

I’ve seen more rejection letters than I can possibly count. With each one, I don’t see failure. I see a lesson that moves me closer to the letter that I dream of seeing.

* * *

My oldest son is five years old. In those years, I’ve watched him turn from a fuzzy picture on a sonogram into a helpless baby, then into a destructive toddler, then, slowly, into a quiet and thoughtful young boy who asks me questions about the nature of God and about the plight of others in the world.

Along each step in that journey, Sarah and I have been there. We’ve answered countless questions. We’ve patched up countless scratches and bruises. We’ve read countless stories. We’ve given countless hugs. We’ve nursed countless illnesses. We’ve spent countless hours and made countless hard decisions for his sake. All of these little steps have played a role in developing the boy I see at my side as I write this.

I have two other children on their own journeys. One is a three year old girl who is the freest spirit I have ever known. The other is a one year old boy who is just crawling over that cusp between infancy and toddlerhood.

Three stories being written, a page and a sentence and a word and a syllable at a time.

* * *

The great things in life never come easily. If you dream of a great career or a great life, don’t kid yourself into thinking that they’ll happen tomorrow when you wake up.

They will happen, but only if you work for them. They’ll happen only if you put in the hours of care and the countless good decisions that will make them happen.

If you want an easy ride, be prepared to be average. If you want something more, be prepared to work for it and be patient for the results.

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  1. Krista says:

    Thank you for the down to earth, yet inspiring reminder that we DO have to work hard for the things we want! We all KNOW it, have it knocking around in the back of our brains, but it’s refreshing to have it brought to the forefront for a while. So thanks! :)

  2. Johanna says:

    If you’ve been working on a piece on the piano for several months and you still feel like it’s completely beyond you, then maybe it is, for right now. Maybe a better idea would be to go back to some slightly easier pieces and work on playing them beautifully. Not only will that make your practice sessions more enjoyable, but you’ll be able to think about what you’re actually doing to make those moments of beauty happen. Because they don’t just happen by themselves, like they’re magically granted to you as a reward for suffering through enough hours of scales and arpeggios – they’re the result of things that you do. And a big part of progressing as a musician is figuring out what it is about your playing that makes a phrase sound good, so you can play it that way consistently.

  3. valleycat1 says:

    An old chestnut: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, my boy, practice.

  4. Maureen says:

    Remember to enjoy the journey.

  5. Fawn says:

    Great article, Trent! I needed that today! I have no wiggle room in my spending for a few months and it is hard sometimes.

    I calculated my budget through Feb. and it seems like it is so far away, yet so close! I will be out of debt then! yay! I have you to partly thank for that! Thank you so much!

  6. cynthia says:

    thank you for a beautiful post. good luck with your dreams. maybe your great novel is a memoir, you write so movingly about your family. thanks again.

  7. Danielle says:

    That was really beautiful Trent.

  8. Kerry D. says:

    One of my favorite quotations:
    I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. Helen Keller, Letter to a 5 yr old.

    Seems to me to be related…perceiving how the ordinary or mundane activities connect to the big picture.

  9. Availle says:

    The great things in life never come easily.
    They will happen, but only if you work for them.

    So true!

    Wonderful post today, Trent!

  10. deRuiter says:

    Trent, question! Why not put your “dream house fund” on your current mortgage? First of all you are most likely getting only around 1% interest on your money, and that is taxed by the government. Inflation is eating away at that money voraciously. If you used the money to prepay on your mortgage, you would shorten the years you have to pay on your house, making the dream house more of a reality. Second you would get a better, and not taxed, rate of return on the dream fund money.

  11. Jordan says:

    Such an inspiring post today, thankyou! :-)

  12. SMG says:

    Great post Trent!

  13. coolkit says:

    Fantastic post, inspirational to the core.

    “Dream Fund” can do wonders! I have currently Dream Fund 1 and Dream Fund 2, one is a five year manifestation and the other is 10 years. I know long term, but a proverb comes to mind “Drop by drop a Lake is formed”.

    In 1998 I started my first dream fund, and it manifested with me purchasing my first single family home in 2004 with 20% down in great neighborhood with not just all my needs but all my wants too.

    Rather than having a vague notion, I set a goal of “what” and “how much” and then worked backwards. The goal was the house, and how much was 20% down and then what neighborhood and what I needed (and wanted) in the house. Like a vision board kept that vision and goal alive, so when I was feeling down and had to make tough choices I knew what I was working towards. Working it backwards informed me on exactly how much I had to save per month. From then on it was simply automated out to the dream fund! There were times when it got tough and I wanted to spend on a vacation or something else, the vision board always came handy.

    Another proverb comes to mind “Live like no one else today, and you will live like no one else tomorrow”.

  14. getagrip says:

    Nice post. It’s good to remember hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but success doesn’t come without hard work. I’ve never met anyone who is truly successful who doesn’t work at it (especially when you look closer at what they are doing).

    It’s also hard because life happens, all the time, and it’s easy to lose focus. Just these last two weeks the motor on the vacuum burnt out, the light hanging over my kitchen table frazzled, the check engine light went on in my car, my home computers’ motherboard toasted, ants are back in the kitchen, bees are building a nest under the front porch, my kid’s car needs an alignment, and my dental cleaning appointment found two cavities needing filling. All this on top of planned activities and costs. While it seems like one step forward, two steps back, when I compare myself now to years ago, it’s been two steps forward and one back. So I’m getting there. It just seems to take so long sometimes.

  15. Nathan says:

    The 10,000 hour rule is the reason most people fail. Malcom Gladwell is a genius!

    I guess at the end of the day it comes down to three words…NEVER GIVE UP

  16. Irulan says:

    De-lurking after several years to tell you that this was lovely and inspiring! Thank you for this post.

  17. MARY says:

    Great post,Trent! Thanks for inspiring us!
    And #8Kerry-thanks for the quotation!

  18. Sri says:

    Trent,
    Thoughtful, reflective, and beautifully written! Thanks for sharing. One of the best I have read, and the matter makes so much sense too.

  19. Trent, one of your better posts in a blog full of excellent writing. Thanks for this.

  20. Evita says:

    Great post, well-written and inspiring. Thank you Trent!

  21. Linda says:

    Life can be a beautiful thing. Thanks for the reminder.

  22. Diane says:

    Loved the rhythm of this post. Excellent writing. Thank you.

  23. Henry says:

    A White Crane master, Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming tells this story. “I felt so depressed after comparing myself with one of my most talented classmates. I always felt awkward compared to him. I told my master about this. He again looked at me and said, “Little Yang! The reason you want to train is because you want to train. It is the same as plowing a field. When you plow, you simply do it for your harvest. Why do you look around? If you are ahead of others, you will be proud of yourself, you will be satisfied, and you will become lazy. If you are behind, you will become depressed and despise yourself. Why don’t you just bow your head and keep plowing? Do not look around. Just keep plowing. Until one day…He pointed his finger towards my face…when you get tired and take a break, suddenly you realize that there is nobody around you. You have left all the others far far behind and you cannot even be seen.”

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