July 9, 2012

The Satisfaction of Hard Work.


NHL star, Andrew Ference, takes us on a journey from infomercials to Czech castles to the inside of a locker room to understand the importance of working hard for something meaningful.

I have been tempted to dive into the infomercial business. Maybe develop a workout that takes five minutes a day to look like my muscle-head model that I hire for the day. “Pro athlete approved!,” the narrator will yell at you, “Why waste hours when you can be NHL fit in five minutes for four easy payments of $20?!” It will all be a load of shit of course but that does not seem to stop the barrage of quick fix products out there that allow us to save precious time to do something else.

I think I’ll hold off on it for now, but if you see my products on TV you will know I have sold out. I still have a romantic idea about good old-fashioned hard work, the kind that gives you an unmatched feeling of triumph or a gut-wrenching feeling of defeat. Hard work produces the strongest of emotions in us and the more advanced society becomes, the easier it is to do things. In the short amount of time that my memory goes back I am amazed by how easy life has become for us. I can punch in an address located in the middle of Nairobi and not make a single wrong turn on the way there. I have apps on my phone that can convert any measurement, control my thermostat and scan any product out there to see if I can get it cheaper somewhere else! These things are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but where we get into trouble is when we think everything in our lives should be this easy. Weight loss, studying, raising a child and more.

One poignant example of good hard work that sticks in my mind comes from my visit to a Czech castle in the town of Hluboka. I was playing there during the NHL lockout of 2004-05 and lived near the castle. I didn’t know a lick of the Czech language so I had a lot of time to myself and exploring Czech castles seemed like a good way to pass some free time. I was blown away by the attention to detail in everything from the ornately carved fireplaces to the absolutely perfect stone work. It was hard to comprehend how many hours it must have taken to complete just one fireplace let alone the entire building. Skilled woodworkers must have dedicated years of their lives just to make them so. Not knowing the history of the area very well I can’t speak to the method of employment at that time but never the less they must have experienced complete satisfaction in themselves when they finished their masterpiece. When I looked at their work I believed that nothing of that kind of detail requiring that many man hours would ever be built again. Financial sense aside, nobody has the patience or the time for a project that demands that much detail and can last for hundreds of years.

The strongest emotions I have ever felt have come from hockey. It makes sense seeing that I started playing at the age of three and have since put in thousands of hours of practice and work to try and be just a little better than the day before. Hockey has dictated my diet, education, friends, homes and health for my entire life. With that kind of emotional and time investment it is surprising that I couldn’t figure out why I was crying like a little kid in my locker room after losing Game seven of the Stanley Cup finals to Tampa Bay in 2004. It was the first time in my adult life that I could literally not control myself or my emotions. As I babbled something to my coach when he came around to comfort us he cleared things up for me by saying, “It hurts so much because you care and because you have worked so hard.” Pretty simple in hindsight but that has really stuck with me ever since. Being so close to a lifetime goal and not achieving it is the strongest emotion I have ever felt. It haunted me with countless thoughts of, “What if?”, and stayed with me until I won the Cup seven years later with the Bruins. In life we don’t always get a second chance to change a failure into a success and get redemption but I don’t think life is all about the good experiences, it is about the powerful ones, the kind that are only experienced through a build up and a commitment to attempting something difficult. Whether it is trying a 2000 piece puzzle, getting married or raising a child, committing to trying to succeed at something hard will yield a powerful emotion, most of the time a good one.

I don’t think life is all about the good experiences, it is about the powerful ones. The kind that are only experienced through a commitment to attempting something difficult.

So why does this matter to me? Well, I want to raise my girls in a way that they can feel these things. The emotions are not something you can describe, they must be experienced and felt on your own. In a world where there are shortcuts for what seems like everything I want them to know the importance and reward of trying the long road sometimes. It is hard as a parent to see your kids fail let alone to allow them to fail. We want to hand out participation ribbons and applause every time they touch the soccer ball. My Dad never really said much about my hockey games growing up. He didn’t tell me how great I was when I scored a few goals nor did he say much when I had a bad game. He just let me figure most of it out on my own. One time that I do remember him saying something was after a game that we had won 7-0. Winning by so much I slacked through the third period and stopped putting in much effort. After the game I was feeling pretty good about myself and he told me on the drive home, “I don’t care if you are up 7-0 or down 7-0, never change how hard you work. Never let anyone work harder than you!” I could tell he was disappointed and those words still go through my head during my games now.

I’m not going to ban Google in my house in favour of Encyclopedia Britannica. In fact I think they have stopped printing it. I will, however, take the hard route as a parent sometimes and let the kids figure things out on their own, in order to let them experience the challenge of a hard project. I hope it produces the moments in their own lives that can’t be described in words, the moments that can only be felt.

Photo of castle detail by jeffhutchinson / flickr

Photo of castle in Hluboka by tpavel / flickr

* This essay was featured on The Good Men Project.


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