Build Before you Have to


“Build before you have to.

– Build knowledge before you have to.
– Build strength before you have to.
– Build an emergency fund before you have to.

Let internal pressure drive you today, so you can handle external pressure tomorrow.”

James Clear, 3-2-1 Newsletter

I am getting ready to start in a new role very soon. Strangely, I am consumed with thoughts of my first job. Perhaps it’s my mind’s way of going back to basics so I can adequately prepare.

In my first job, I reported to the Legal Director of an Advisory Firm. Every time I watched her work or listened to her speak in meetings, I thought, “Wow. This woman is a genius. She knows everything.” Her clients thought the same. How could they not? At the time when the Companies Act, 2008 was new, she knew the ins and outs of it in a way that most leading law firms didn’t.

I particularly remember how, during an informal performance review, she demanded more from me. She was frustrated. She felt I could try more and do better. She had exacting standards. In equal exasperation, I finally said to her “But I’m not as smart as you. You are a genius.” She paused and looked at me for a long moment. It was as though the thought had never occured to her. Then she replied, “I really don’t think I am a genius Chio. I just work really hard.”

When I considered her reply, I realised that she did in fact work really hard. She encouraged the team to bring prepacked lunch to work so that at lunchtime so we could eat and read the Companies Act section by section and discuss it. Despite having two decades of professional experience, she attended lectures and seminars to hear first hand what the experts in the field were saying on subjects in her field. When she drafted an agreement, she never let it go to the client without one of us reviewing it for her. When she encountered something new, she took time to learn, understand and ask questions. You could be assured that the next time she encountered it, her knowledge on the matter would be impeccable. She read, she studied, she asked questions, she learnt often and diligently when she didnt have to.

As a consequence, she was able to comment meaningfully and expertly on complex matters at the drop of a hat. She didn’t have to go and check first because she already had. The rest of us, seeing only that final moment, called her a genius.

Her answer, paraphrased was this: build before you have to.

When people glance at the face of hard work, it takes the shape of genius.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Tumisang Mohubu says:

    This hit home really hard

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Chio says:

      Thank you for reading it. I’m glad it spoke to you xx

      Liked by 1 person

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