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The tension between effort and outcome is fear

Recently, I have seen my plate filling up with exciting prospects and heavy commitments. I am happy to be busy doing what I love and being given opportunities to prove that documentary storytelling is something worth investing in. Yet I am frightened by the pace of such developments. There is a sense that I am nearing a point of biting off more than I can chew – for I know that the main course has yet to come and I am already feeling a tad bit stuffed.

The Vice President of Operations at a hotel I once interned at told me that he sees those who succeed as having 3Cs – Capacity, Capability and Commitment. Falter in any one of those, and it would be like climbing against the world with one arm behind your back.

I have no doubts in my level of commitment. It is supported by my personal beliefs and childhood dreams. Of the 3Cs, it is the one that I always rely on for motivation. However, Capacity and Capabilities are a little more concerning. Unlike Commitment, which is strengthened internally, the building of Capacity and Capabilities is fundamentally tied to time. And time always seems to be in short supply. This is especially true in my situation where I will see myself getting married in a year’s time and starting to have more adult responsibilities (such as paying housing loans and possibly raising a family) in four years. In this moment in time, I am at my most agile with little to lose. That advantage would not be for long and acknowledging this keeps me up, for better or worse.

I look for inspiration around me and am more doubtful than hopeful. I am amongst peers who often go at it for weeks on end with no regard for their sleep cycle or other forms of wellbeing. When probed on why and how, they rarely give a straight answer. Like Hamilton, they work non-stop, with enough reasons concocted to justify it to themselves, though not necessarily to others. Perhaps this is what it takes to truly succeed in making a legitimate impact that would be celebrated by more than a few. Furthermore, in a society where only the final product is judged and the circumstances involving it forgotten, it seems that a pre-requisite for those who succeed in their pursuit are those that are willing to go all the way, and then beyond.

I am often reminded by a video series that shed some light on the behind-the-scenes of the coveted National Geographic magazine and the demanding circumstances that their photographers go through. While I can recall exactly the name of the programme (likely 'National Geographic’s Most Incredible Photos'), I do remember this quote, “We don’t print excuses,” said the editor-in-chief.

More recently, the debate regarding the 996 work culture (referring to employees working for technology giants in China from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week) has sparked dialogue on how we should juggle work and life. The punishing working culture is celebrated by the likes of Jack Ma and Elon Musk, the latter being quoted in saying that “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”

Such statements seem to be a reflection on what it takes to be a high-performing individual. My own personal reflections only seem to support this harsh perspective on hard-earned success. When consuming food or watching movies, I would compliment it if I enjoyed it and critique it if I don’t – regardless of which I do, the effort and journey to the product that I consumed are non-factors to me. As such, how can I expect others to judge my work, and by extension, my value in the professional setting, in a kinder manner? Simply put, my value would ultimately be based on the works I produce, with utter disregard for what was put into that work.

So, should I lean in and place myself in a workflow that would greatly compromise on my wellbeing? The successful folks of old would tell me so. They would say something along the lines of success having always been achieved through grit and perseverance. Throw in the utterance of a cliched quote like “tough times don’t last, but tough men do,” and perhaps I can be inspired to push through.

But the path ahead is littered with those who had not been able to adopt such a mindset; battered and broken by the wayside rather than reaching their desired destination. While I may still be pondering and confused over which style I would adopt in increasing my Capacity and Capabilities, I didn’t hesitate to offer this following advice to a friend who had been working overtime for weeks on his projects and is already feeling the strain, “hard work is not worthwhile if one does not have the health to celebrate the rewards that come from it.”

I am eager to find my own answer to how I can increase my Capabilities and Capacity to handle more without sacrificing my long-term wellbeing. My dreams demand that of me. I look forward to responding to this article soon. Until then. perhaps the wise words of Alex Honnold, the legendary Free Solo rock climber that become the only person to climb El Capitan without ropes sums up my current feelings that led me to writing this article: “Doubt is the precursor to fear”.

OKJ