Blood, toil, tears and sweat

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat,’ Winston Churchill famously declared in 1940. He had just been elected Prime Minister of Britain and was speaking of fighting Nazi Germany. But his words remain useful in recognising the sheer grind that is a prerequisite for any success.

Today our sport stars tend to capture the more lively examples of all-out effort. Tiger Woods, for example, spends five hours a day just hitting golf balls on top of an already maniacal training regime. The swimmer Mark Spitz – the Michael Phelps of his day – apparently swam enough laps of the pool to swim the distance of the equator. Daley Thompson, the Decathlon legend, famously quipped that he trained on Christmas Days because he ‘knew his opponent wasn’t.’ It should be remembered that training for these folks isn’t just a stroll in the park but consists of relentless and carefully calibrated effort.

‘Coming early and staying late’, as the saying goes, requires an element of persistence beyond simply turning up – the effort must be sustained over time. Andres Ericsson, perhaps the world’s foremost expert on performance excellence, says that elite status is built only after years of toil – twenty years, in fact, of what he calls ‘devoted effort.’ This applies not just to athletes but experts in any field – scientists, doctors, fighter pilots, writers and so forth.

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