Often, It’s Just About The Slog

We think in terms of heroic quests—which many of us undertook this year!—as about the big battles, facing the demons, going through a process fraught with potholes and devils and winning.

Struggling Uphill Man With Ball Showing Determination

And yep, that’s what a quest is about.  But those things are only part of it.

I heard recently from a reader who has undertaken her own quest this year as well.  After being in the workplace for five years, seeing the ceiling on her position based on graduate skills, she answered the call and entered a Master’s program.  She said she went through all the initial stages of her Quest—hearing the call, refusing it, finally meeting with a mentor who spurred her on, and answering it.

As things have gone on she’s met allies and villains, and is learning new skills.


But she said the part she wasn’t prepared for was the simple daily grind.  How it wears you down between those times of intense highs as you follow your dreams and face your fears.

Oh, yeah, that part.

We think so much in terms of all the heroic stuff.  But for long stretches, you just have the basic work to do.  And yep, it can surely grind you down.

Even in the Odyssey—what we think of at the ultimate quest—Odysseus spent years and years just sailing.  And seven years in prison.  So a lot of time passed where he was just doing what he knew how to do, and, waiting.

It can seem when you’re in the slog of the muck and mire, that the shining goal has dropped out of sight like the sun falling into the sea.  We question at this time.  What, exactly, was the reason we started this?   Are we sure the goal is that important?  Man, can’t I just roll over and go back to sleep?

Even though it’s not filled with the energy of battles of whatever sort, this is a quite tricky part to traverse.  This is a time where people are tempted to give up.  Or, cut corners.  And rest assured, those corners cut will come back to slice you down the road.

We think of valor as when one steps up and wins in battle. And yep, that’s valor all right.  But often the greater valor is putting one foot in front of the other as long miles of (boring) hard work stretch before you.  Keeping on keeping on, as the saying goes.  Like in football, where the war is won in the trenches every bit as much as by the flashy wide receiver catching the ball in the end zone.  Without those linemen moving inches up front, that ball would have never been thrown.

I love that commercial with Michael Phelps where the alarm goes off at 4 AM in darkness, and as he groans his way out of bed, the voice-over speaks to this very thing—that when everyone else is still sleeping, every day, day in and day out, he’s facing that early alarm.  We think of him winning Olympic gold, of his courage in the races there.  But none of that’s remotely possible without all those endless early mornings.  Not until the very close of the commercial does he dive into the pool . . .

But it’s exactly on those endless early mornings that we put our focus back on the goal.  Tell those voices clamoring about the odds of success to shut up.  Go through the motions of getting to whatever it is we’re getting to.  Keeping the prize front and center in our visions.

When I suggested this to the young woman, she breathed a huge sigh of relief.  She wasn’t the only one to feel this way!  Sometimes it just helps to know you’re not alone.  That you haven’t stumbled down a wrong road from which you can’t recover.

I’m such a huge fan of Joseph Campbell, and of course harken entirely to Follow Your Bliss.  But he joked later in life that he wished he’d said, “Follow your grunt!”  Because he knew, as a student of Sanskrit (which awakened his more famous line), that the Sanskrit word tapas means that hard work and disciplined effort burn off the impurities that separate us from the Divine.

So, when the slog of the grind feels as if it’s wearing you down, keep your eye on the prize.  And somewhere, sometime, when you least expect it, the Divine will whisper in your ear.



This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thanks for this one, Susan. I needed it today. “Follow the grunt” is my theme for the coming week! (ha)

    1. Sometimes that’s just where we are, isn’t it, Colleen!

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