Prodigal Effort

Persistent determination is the surefire way to succeed


Last month I wrote about my experience at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Four months before that event, I had a very similar encounter at the same airport.

It was early August and my flight had just landed. As I came out of the arrival gate, I looked around for the nearest row of display monitors to find the departure gate of my connecting flight to Madison. After all, my flight had landed early this time, so I had about 2½ hours to kill before my connection’s scheduled departure.

Oh, Wait! There’s another flight to Madison before mine. And its leaving in,  . . .  26 minutes? It’s also in Terminal C, and once again, I was in Terminal F. That’s about half an hour away with some brisk walking! I sprinted down to the nearest Customer Service Center, and told the agent I’d like to get on the earlier flight. After about four minutes of looking up the reservation system, she told me there are seats on the flight but she couldn't get me on it. It would have to be done at the gate. Then she added, “it’s at gate C30; you can’t make it there on time!

Suddenly, I remembered there’s a shuttle service between terminals C and F, so I ran to where the shuttle picks up passengers. After a 2-minute wait that felt like an eternity, the bus arrived. Five minutes later, I was in Terminal C - at the other end of it, away from where gate C30 was located. Quickly, I started towards the other end of the terminal. After a few minutes, I arrived at the gate, huffing and puffing.

When the gate agent saw me, she asked, “Are you trying to get on this flight?

“Yes, but I’m supposed to be on the one that leaves in about 2 hours”

“I was about to close the gate. What’s your last name?”

As I spelled my last name, she started pounding on the keyboard.  When I finished, she kept stabbing on the keys as if her life depended on it.

“Give me your last name again,” she said.

Success Comes

It was Sophocles who said, “Success is dependent on effort”.

What a simple but profound statement! Success is dependent on effort. What that also means is that without effort, there cannot be success. We need effort to make things happen. When we make things happen, there’s a likelihood that we can have success in that endeavor. There’s one thing however: effort in itself does not guarantee success. Putting an effort into something does not mean it will be successful. But you can’t have success fall into your laps without any effort. A student can’t pass a test without putting the effort in, by studying. A musician won’t have that award-winning song without the effort in composing it. The salesman won’t get that award of the year without putting in the effort to sell.

Winston Churchill, another smart man, agrees. He said:

Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.”

Back to my airport experience: after a few more moments of persistent attack on the keyboard, the gate agent asked for my last name for the third time. Finally, my boarding pass came out of the printer. She scanned it and off I went to board the flight. Success at last!

A Cascade of Efforts

Being relentless in efforts usually leads to success. In some instances, you need the efforts of others in conjunction with yours to achieve success. Other times, you have to exert efforts at different levels and at different times in a continuous flow to achieve eventual success.

If I had accepted what I was told at customer service - that I couldn’t make it, I wouldn’t have put in the effort. But I tried anyway. And because of my effort, I arrived just as the gate agent was about to close the door. After I got to the gate, if the gate agent had not put in the effort - and I could see that it was a lot of effort on her part by the manner in which she attacked her keyboard - there’s no way I would have been able to get on that flight. Her efforts, combined with mine came together to give success.

Min for Max

When most of us hear the word “prodigal”, we immediately think of being wasteful or careless. That’s probably because we make an immediate mental association of the word with the story of the Prodigal Son. But the word also means extravagant, lavish or generous. And this is the sense in which I’m using it here.

Many of us would prefer to have maximum gain from minimal effort. We live in a society of least work for most profit. But there’s something that could be said for putting in all that you’ve got in whatever you do. Putting in a prodigal effort means going all out and laying it all on the line. It means giving it all that you have. Someone once said, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with your might.” This is very good advice, especially when you consider its source: wise King Solomon.

What’s the bottom line? Do whatever you do as well as you can. Working hard is a learned skill, and it requires practice. By showing up every day, both physically and mentally, you're preparing yourself to make things happen once you get the opportunity you've been waiting for. A reasonable effort will help you accomplish your goals. A prodigal effort has the potential to give you much more than you had planned. What will it be?