I fell in love with the phrase “the beauty of sheer effort,” when I first read it in Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird.
I was reading Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird perhaps for the millionths time (that should essentially mean that I know every single phrase by heart, but no, something grabs me every time).
To give you the full context here is the excerpt from the chapter:
Six or seven years ago I was asked to write an article on the Special Olympics. … Things tend to go very very slowly at the Special Olympics. … The last track-and-field event before lunch was a twenty-five-yard race by some unusually handicapped runners and walkers…
She was a girl of about sixteen with a normal-looking-face above a wracked and emaciated body. She was on metal crutches and she was just plugging along, one tiny step after another, moving one crutch forward two or three inches, then moving a leg, then moving the other crutch two or three inches, then moving the other leg. It was just excruciating. Plus, I was starving to death. Inside I was going, come on, come on, come on, swabbing at my forehead with anxiety, while she kept taking these two- or three-inch steps forward. What felt like four hours later, she crossed the finish line, and you could see that she was absolutely stoked, in a shy, girlish way.
I kept replaying the scene of the girl on crutches making her way up the track to the finish line – and all of sudden my article began to appear out of the grayish green murk. And I could see that it was about tragedy transformed over the years into joy.
It was about the beauty of sheer effort.
Isn’t it true for all of us creative types too? We are not technically handicapped but each one of us feels inadequate in some form. Like the little girl on crunches, we move forward incredibly slowly. Two to three inches at a time.
We put in hours and hours of work into each day. Days turn into months and months turn into years, but we keep going without getting anywhere.
Sometimes we get stalled. But then we pull ourselves up and keep going.
And one day we cross the line.
That’s the sheer beauty of effort.