January 4, 2013

Learning to Work Hard

Chris Savage

Founder, CEO

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member’s take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It’s like our “employee of the month” but less “of the month”-y. Chris Savage is Wistia’s co-founder and CEO.

I never thought that I’d have to learn how to work hard. I had always breezed through life on my natural abilities and by working the system. This approach worked, until I had my hopes for a lazy life shattered by an art teacher.

I spent the first year and a half of college jumping around from major to major, unsure of what I wanted to do and where I wanted my life to go. I didn’t challenge myself, I screwed around, and I did the least work possible in every course I took.

Midway through my junior year, this all changed. I finally admitted to myself what I really wanted to do: I wanted to direct things. I wanted to express myself creatively. I wanted to make movies.

I decided to give film a shot. That meant changing my major and signing up for a ton of prerequisites. I found myself an introductory art class, which was required before even touching a camera to “root” me in the fundamentals.

I was sure my natural talents would quickly vault me to the head of the class. My passion for true art would carry me to master the fundamentals in no time at all.

Our first assignment was a finger painting of our first memory. The night before the assignment was due, I decided it was time to create some art. I stayed up through the night, toiling over my out-of-focus Christmas tree.

I arrived at class early, my masterpiece tucked under my arm. Fellow student works were hung around the room, and I’m pretty sure that’s when I started to sweat. The “critique” began.

I thought that our professor would go from left to right, or right to left. You know, some non-discriminatory way of working through everyone’s art. I was wrong.

The professor went straight to my painting and started a lively discussion with, “what does everyone think of this?” From the brutal (and honest) comments, it quickly became clear that my painting was the worst in the class.

Photo by John Morgan via Flickr.

I won’t pain you or myself with all the specific comments, but the words “lazy, pointless, and unfocused” were used more than once. I was dejected. I was destroyed. I left class feeling terrible about myself. I decided to put much more into the next assignment. I was determined not to be embarrassed again.

Next week’s class rolled around.

The second critique was still hard, but it wasn’t as soul-crushing as the first. A kind classmate even pointed out the detail I had put into drawing four overlapping coat hangers (I know, right?). I was still solidly at the bottom of the class, but I had made some improvement. The word ‘unfocused’ may have been used again, but no one called my work ‘lazy’.

This cycle continued through the semester, until I found myself relishing — even obsessed with — the challenges that my introductory art class created for me. I had learned something: even art, which I had always assumed was an innate skill, could be improved upon with enough effort and dedication.

More effort led to more learning. More learning led to a better quality result. I learned to work hard and be critical of myself.

Not only did I finish the class with a solid grade, but I left with confidence that with enough hard work, enough critiques, and enough learning, you really can learn how to do something that you may have thought impossible.

Have you learned to work hard? What have you taught yourself to do? What would you like to learn?

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