Today is November 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you pressing yourself to work harder?” People who navigate the chaos like Valentino Achak Deng understand that even amidst extreme conditions, they have the potential to grow and learn if they press themselves to work harder.
Growing up in a remote Sudanese town, Deng was caught up in his country’s civil war. Separated from his friends and family, Deng became one of the 27,000 “lost boys” of Sudan who were displaced and/or orphaned during war where an unimaginable two million people died. His family lost to the civil war, Deng had the courage to find a refugee camp where he learned to read and write.
After a while he was accepted as a refugee into the United States, settled in Atlanta, GA, and met author Dave Eggers who spent the next three years writing What Is The What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel.
Reflecting upon the writing process Deng said:
“I had to work hard. I had to press myself to remember, to recall, vivid memories. I had to put people I know back into the memory and see them bleeding. I had to see this mother, young mother, killed, and her small infant trying to breastfeed on her dead mother, and nobody was helping her, and she was crying. I had to imagine my village being run over by horseback fighters and pillagers, and I had to imagine my family there, and I had to imagine myself there as a child, vulnerable, nobody’s helping me. And so, it was hard. It is difficult to go through those memories, but I was determined to tell the story. Many times, I would stay up at night and type—type anything I could remember.”
When the book was published in 2006, Deng established the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation. All proceeds from the book support Valentino’s Foundation. The Foundation’s first major project is the construction of an educational center in Valentino’s hometown of Marial Bai. The Marial Bai Secondary School is the first high school in the entire region, where decades of war completely devastated the educational system.
Remarkably, in July 2015, Deng became the minister for education in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, one of the 10 states in South Sudan which gained its independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011. Deng said it was "difficult to imagine” but he found a way to transform himself from a boy in rags to a minister in a dress suit.
As Deng said, "The lesson I can draw is that people can always learn, come through tough times and persevere and grow.”
Such sentiment was found in the first season, second episode of the HBO series Hacks, where Deborah Vance (portrayed by Jean Smart) as a legendary Las Vegas comedian, stuck in the desert with her 25-year-old writer and assistant Ava (portrayed by Hannah Einbinder).
After Ava cries about life being so hard, Deborah turns to her and raises her voice telling her young colleague “Good is the minimum. It's the baseline. You have to be so much more than good. And even if you're great and lucky, you still have to work really fucking hard.”
But the character of Deborah Vance, like so many others in real life who possess a strong work ethic understands, “even that is not enough. You have to scratch and claw and it never fucking ends.”
Those who navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality learn firsthand the necessity of scratching and clawing their way. While it may look easy to those on the outside, real life characters like Valentino Achak Deng and fictional characters like Deborah Vance understand they have to ‘work really fucking hard’ to get where they want to go.
How often are you pressing yourself to work harder?
Do you believe good is the minimum? If so, what are you doing to be more than good?
If you have achieved greatness did you stop or did you keep working as hard as ever?
How often do you remind yourself you ‘have to scratch and claw and it never fucking ends?’
What is stopping you from working harder?
Do you have anyone in your life who has modeled hard work?