February 24, 2017

The Value of Effort

How even small efforts can create big changes.

Recently, my wife fell ill with a bad case of influenza. I say “influenza” instead of “the flu” because that’s what our really nice doctor called it and, given that it laid her up in bed for several days with barely the strength to binge watch Netflix, the Latin word seems to carry the more appropriate weight.

And speaking of carrying weight, when the person who takes care of everyone else gets sick, well, everyone else needs to carry a bit more weight around the home. My children are reasonably willing and able helpers, handling little chores such as making their beds or setting and bussing the dinner dishes without (much) prodding. But with Mommy sick, I needed them to share the heavier burdens of keeping our home from falling apart around us.

My daughter stepped up to handle vacuuming the dining room, which is both helpful and a necessity in a home with a dog that likes to scavenge for morsels that miss mouths, plates and the table itself. And it was with some wonder that I listened to my twin sons argue over who “got” to do the dishes. I guess when you’ve never done something before, the mystery of it can be exciting. Especially when you’re six years old.

Although I will admit that, of all the household chores, I probably enjoy doing the dishes the most. Maybe it’s the opportunity to practice mindfulness and really feel the warm water or the smell of the dish soap. Or maybe, given that most of my projects always seem to be in some stage of incompletion, it simply feels good to be “done” with something. But I digress…

Ultimately, they compromised and the younger of the two set to washing the dishes for the very first time. Being something of a control freak, it was very difficult for me to stand back and watch while offering occasional tips, rather than push him aside and do it myself. But I came to realize, even after I rewashed a handful of his “clean” dishes later that night, that his desire to help and his small efforts in that respect should not be taken for granted.

Now, I know that some people feel that only the results matter. Whether or not we “won” or “lost” is all that goes up on the scoreboard after all. But I believe there is still value derived from genuine effort, particularly if that effort goes above and beyond someone’s comfort zone. We will never be able to rise to a challenge from simply doing the bare minimum as defined by the role we fill in our home, company or society at large. Yes, we may not succeed, at least by the tangible metrics. But, by offering our time, energy and, indeed, efforts to the benefit of something or someone other than ourselves, we will have learned something about ourselves, something that we might then be able to use the next time we’re tasked with such a challenge.

Look, I realize I’m giving a lot of philosophical weight to the act of a six year old washing dishes. His efforts didn’t change anything greater about the world. But, if done correctly, his small efforts made small changes within both himself and among those who benefited from them. And, over time, even such small efforts can create quite a lot of big changes.


  1. Bob Bennitt

    I agree, Randy. Discipline, contributing to a common, worthy cause, is transformative, especially for youngsters.. it is also bonding, and instills a sense of meaningfulness. And yes, mindfulness. Thanks for sharing.

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