Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Joyce Minor

Are you an idiot woodpecker?


Published:   |   Updated: May 6, 2013 at 12:48 PM

We have all heard it said that "hard work is its own reward." But sometimes, when you know you've given your all, done your best, and still it goes unnoticed or unappreciated, it's hard not to feel defeated.

As I sit at my computer writing this, I can hear a woodpecker outside my window drumming away, doing what he must to sustain life. His reward is insects he finds under the tree bark and the renewed life such food provides.

In Florida, we have several species of woodpeckers, but there is one in particular that I have always called the "idiot woodpecker." This crazy bird will position himself (or herself, obviously there must be female idiots too) on a metal utility pole and drum away for hours, generating nothing but noise and fatigue. The crazy bird never seems to realize that his drumming has not resulted in a hole, nor has it ever produced any food. I have literally seen and heard these birds carry on beating their beaks into metal poles all day. Why?

Obviously, the pecking is instinctive. The bird is driven to do it. But why the critter never learns that his activity is getting him nowhere is beyond me. Why does he not give up and move on to a real tree? All I know is that sometimes I'm that idiot woodpecker - beating my head against a wall, unable to give up on the effort for whatever reason. And sometimes, for a reason I know all too well - I've always dreamed of doing whatever it is, and giving up will not stop the yearning for that dream.

The woodpecker thinks he's making progress, but that doesn't make it so. I may think my hard work is worth the effort, but that doesn't make it any less useless when all is said and done. But maybe "usefulness" is a relative term.

It reminds me of the kids' cartoon "Pinkie and The Brain." Pinkie and Brain are lab rats determined to take over the world. In each episode they come up with a new plan, none of which ever works. In one episode Pinkie is running on the exercise wheel in his cage and says, "Look, Brain, I think I'm finally getting somewhere!"

I don't want to sound like the patron saint of last causes, but maybe "getting somewhere" is not really the point. Maybe all that matters is that he feels good about what he's doing. Maybe his own well being is the "fruit" of his labors. In other words, the effort itself is worth it. Which brings us back to where we started - "hard work is its own reward."

It seems to me that honest effort should be applauded and encouraged even if the result is mediocre, and maybe even if it's nothing at all. We know that praise works wonders with children, so why don't we give more praise to each other?

However, even if no praise is forthcoming, when you know that you've worked hard, given your best effort, and followed through on what you started, you should hold your head high and feel good about it. Most of all, you should keep trying.

Idiot woodpeckers may go hungry for a day. But eventually they'll find a real tree, and when they do, their pecking skills will be well honed to make the most of it.

So don't listen to the naysayers, and don't wait for applause. Working at what you love, even if you never achieve greatness at it, is still better than giving up, and far better than not trying at all.

Why? Because it makes you feel good ... about you.

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