The Satisfaction of Hard Work

 

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 7 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 7 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

    

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About Andrew Ference

Andrew Ference is an eco-warrior, dad and NHL hockey star. Follow him on twitter @ferknuckle

Comments

  1. Great article, Andrew! Here’s the thing – it takes intent and more discipline that you realize to not make life easy for your children when you have the means to do so. To teach the value of struggle in a society that places ‘having it all’ on the highest pedestal is a lifelong parental challenge. The subtle values that submerse our children are exceedingly difficult to navigate around – and more so the older they get. Even middle class children have greater expectations than ever before – what is deemed ‘the good life’ is always just around the corner; the life that results from the values you describe is always worth the effort and always a little beyond one’s grasp. That’s what makes it worth the journey. It’s possible that finding the ‘gold’ is just that much harder for a generation that has more ‘stuff’ to begin with.

  2. J.R. Reed says:

    Andrew,

    Andrew
    I covered the Ducks for seven seasons and have interviewed you after a couple of games. I respected you then because you were polite, could admit when you made a mistake and you seemed like a good person. That respect has increased tremendously since you started writing here. In fact, I’m going to make sure my 14-year-old daughter reads this tonight.

    I covered the Ducks when they went to game seven against New Jersey and I covered them in 2007 when they won the Cup so I understand what you’re talking about. Great stuff Andrew and I look forward to your next piece.

  3. I’ll just put in a quick word in praise of mindwork. It’s not as widely appreciated by a society that values numbers, competition, and the physical. But someone has to do the heavy lifting, planning and building that make new ideas happen.

    But I guess you know this, as you’re not just telling stories here, but connecting and building on them…as well as knowing what can only be felt. That’s the rational mind knowing when to quit.

  4. Andrew,
    Thanks for sharing the fruits of your toil with all of us that fine day in the North End, and for your shining example.

  5. Tom Matlack says:

    I am with you Andrew. I have kept going back to Florence for some of the same reasons you described in Czech castles: I would just stand there in awe of the time and skill it took to construct things of such magnificence. It was as if by staring at the the ceiling of the Dumo every cell in my body was changed out of the fast twitch pace of modern life into something slower and deeper.

    I am with you too on the benefit of hard work with a clear goal in mind, even when sometimes that goal doesn’t come to fruition. I have often felt that it was my failures, and I have have had some spectacular ones, that taught me more than my successes. I too have been humbled into a mass of blubbering flesh. And from those ashes great things have come my way.

    Thanks again for being such a strong voice here on GMP.

  6. I’m enjoying your contributions, Andrew, both for the quality of writing, and the fact that it’s coming from an NHL player, since I’m a lifelong fan. (Kings fan from the “Triple Crown” era thru Gretzky, then Ducks when they came to down because they were closer and I got to attend games, and now split allegiance because I moved north of L.A. and most of my hockey buddies are Kings fans.) I’m also someone who took up the sport as an adult, breaking a long drought of playing *any* team sports because youth sports (mostly soccer) soured me on the experience. I find it interesting to see a pro perspective that is so introspective – not just post-game sound bites in an interview – and am also struck by how very different yours is from my own as an untalented play-for-fun beer leaguer for whom winning isn’t even in the top 5 of reasons I play.

    I’ve had a mostly love/hate relationship with sports. I love sports, they hate me. I’ve always been small, topping out at 5’7″ as an adult, and no more than average talent as an athlete, if that. I was the kid who always got played the minimum allowed by the rules, and no one passed to. I never slacked, and even got some of those “good effort” type awards that might strike you as cheesy, but as a kid, they were all I was good enough to earn, because effort was the only thing that stood out about me. At the time, I was just a kid playing so I had my fun, but the older I got, the more I realized that sports was about winning, I wasn’t a “winner”, and since my role was always reduced to the least possible role, I ended up not feeling like my team victories had anything to do with me. Team losses were easier to internalize, since the kid who never gets to play offense is also the kid who’s stuck on defense and feeling responsible for any goals that are scored against. (Again, I’m talking soccer in my childhood, but I’m guessing many youngsters had very similar experiences in hockey.)

    So with that background, two of your sport-related perspectives stood out to me, both for being what I would totally expect from a pro or very talented athlete, while at the same time being the sort of thing that almost kept me from ever trying a team sport again. First,

    We want to hand out participation ribbons and applause every time they touch the soccer ball.

    I agree it sounds absurd to do those things as the level of competition gets higher, like high school or above, but the value of such practices for young kids is that it reduces the “winning is everything” pressure which, face it, they’re going to get eventually if they continue playing. In ~8 yrs. of playing soccer starting around age 7 or so, I scored *one* goal, and it was a fluke. However, I was one of the only kids for many years that wasn’t afraid to head the ball, so when I did that, it gave my parents or other parents on the sideline something to cheer about and make me feel good, even though all I’d done was “touch the ball”. I played back before there were literally “participation ribbons” for kids’ sports, but I do remember getting the “110% Award” one season because I was at least recognized for my effort (hard work) and enthusiasm, though I was nowhere near good enough to have earned any other award. That kind of applause and recognition, though it may seem cheap to those who are very talented and accustomed to winning, were among the few indicators I ever had that you don’t have to be a star to keep playing or to have fun. Without that kind of thing – particularly at a young age – the many benefits of participating in sports (e.g., exercise, fun, camaraderie, etc.) start to accrue only to the best athletes, because everyone else learns they’re capital-L Loser and losers aren’t supposed to play. In the unusual cases where they insist on trying, losers are expected to be cool with reduced playing time so the team has a better chance of winning – even a kid who just wants to play.

    The second part that jumped at me was about the lesson from your dad to not slack even when up 7-0, and always work just as hard no matter what the score. Again, it’s what I’d expect from a pro, since few leads are safe with so many talented players around, and the stakes are high. I don’t even have to reach back to childhood for my different perspective on this one, though. Last night, my cellar-dwelling beer league hockey team in the lowest division there is, got blown out 9-0. Ironically, we’d lost a nail-biter against the same team in a previous match-up, but the lineups were different this time and for whatever reasons, they were obviously much better than us and we could all tell after a 3-0 first period. We still played and had fun, because that’s what we do, but being non-pros (and I think this goes for kids, too), there are few things that suck worse than having the score run up on you when it’s obvious there’s no comeback in store. There’s a point when the score is so unbalanced relative to the matchup and how much time is left, that I really do think the right thing to do, in the interest of good sportsmanship, is to back off. That doesn’t mean step aside and let the other team score, but for example, instead of the ringer repeatedly going coast-to-coast trying to notch a double hat trick, that guy should be doing nothing but passing, or the team that’s up can dump into the corner every time they get possession and just work on defending against breakouts. Obviously, this is not the game plan Coach Sutter will ever draw up or advocate, but at almost every level besides the pros, I think running up the score is an unsportsmanlike thing to do, yet it’s commonplace. Even in the pros, though, I think there’s usually a point where it’s considered really bad form to keep playing all-out. The last few minutes of Game 6 in the Cup Finals this year were obviously not all-out hockey, nor should they have been given the score and time remaining. The last goal by the Kings had an almost guilty feel to it, but it came even after they had stepped off the gas.

    If we’re scoring by word count here, this comment is one of those unseemly blowouts, but I’m not known for my brevity. My longwinded point (aside from wanting to say I look forward to reading more from you) is that I both admire and resent the championship mindset. I admire it to the extent that I’m a fan and as a fan, I like to see the best at their best, especially if I’m paying for it. As a player, I’ve always known I’ll never be the star no matter how hard I work, but I want to play, and it’s ridiculous how un-fun it can get once there’s a t-shirt or tiny trophy at stake for winning a stupid beer league. It’s why I enjoy my beer league games, but have even more fun in pickup, where score isn’t kept and no one gives a shit (including me) if defensive mistakes result in goals against.

  7. Hard work and discipline will always pay off in the long haul.

  8. Valerie says:

    Powerful–your article and the comments. Andrew, your girls are very lucky to have a dad like you. Thank you for sharing your insight with us. It truly gives a lot to reflect upon. And on another note, I truly admire your efforts to save the planet. Trying my best to do my part. But no where near what you do. Inspiring.

  9. Beneath all the sports, this is a very wise post.

    Very well done.

    Very rare in a world that protest the opposite. Your children are blessed.

  10. Peter von Maidenberg says:

    ” I played back before there were literally “participation ribbons” for kids’ sports, but I do remember getting the “110% Award” one season because I was at least recognized for my effort (hard work) and enthusiasm, though I was nowhere near good enough to have earned any other award. That kind of applause and recognition, though it may seem cheap to those who are very talented and accustomed to winning, were among the few indicators I ever had that you don’t have to be a star to keep playing or to have fun. Without that kind of thing – particularly at a young age – the many benefits of participating in sports (e.g., exercise, fun, camaraderie, etc.) start to accrue only to the best athletes, because everyone else learns they’re capital-L Loser and losers aren’t supposed to play.”

    The post about Phy Ed philosophy that was made about a week ago echoes some of those same concerns. Not form a work ethic perspective, but from that of motivation, fitness, and self esteem. PE was designed to reinforce the idea of winners and losers as natural – to let those who might fail fail and let those who showed promise succeed, with no help for the failures.

    The idea was to tacitly pass on received ideas of manhood, and physicality and winning as crucial to manhood. You have to wonder whether the folks who get all balled up about snowflake awards and false self-esteem in the schools might not just want to get back to the days when there was no help for the losers.

  11. Hard work pays off. This is the proof.

  12. Hard work is what separates those with responsibility from those who don’t have it. It is the hallmark that distinguishes one’s character.

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