Tireless.

Tireless.

I don’t watch much television unless I have a specific objective in mind, like reviewing the two-part biography on Walt Disney produced and aired by PBS last year or the production and writing lessons demonstrated by really good scriptwriters.

One such show is House of Cards, produced by Beau Willimon, a tireless playwright.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Willimon admitted to working 80- to 100-hour weeks. “That’s something they didn’t prepare me for in school, it’s just something I’ve always done. I tend to dive in feet first.”

This is a common answer amongst the super-successful.

What were you taught in residency? Finish your thesis, show your final cases, pass your boards and go out into the wonderful world of orthodontics, working 32-36 hour weeks and rake in the cash? How many of you slammed headfirst into the wall of reality, like I did, when you realized opening and running a small business requires massive amounts of effort?

Had I not grown up in the world of small businesses with my father and grandfather, (nearly every family member named Burleson owns their own business) it would have dawned on me somewhere around 2am when I was troubleshooting our phone system so that new patients could get through to our front desk that coming morning.

From actors to architects, playwrights to professors – the best in any field are tireless. Relentless.

Judd Apatow, creator of the comic blockbusters The 40 Year Old Virgin and Anchorman, tells of his youth, sitting in front of the TV, watching recorded versions of Saturday Night Live, playing them back over and over, writing down every word so that he could “feel what it was like to write really great comedy.”

John Coltrane’s background includes an incredible amount of hard work and practice (up to 7 hours per day for decades) when he transitioned as a struggling high school musician from High Point, North Carolina to Philadelphia, with thousands of musicians, his competition, as he set out to make a name for himself. His professor at a music school said, “Coltrane devoured 8 years of my teaching in less than 4 years.” He would hide behind the piano after school and wait for the janitors to lock the building, then he would practice all night, even on the weekends, when his friends were out having fun. Most people think Coltrane was a musical genius from the first moment he picked up his instrument. In reality, he was a motivated kid who worked his ass off and built his genius over time.

When I had trouble in school grasping a concept, I would stay up into the early morning hours, writing by hand, over and over, the genetic syndromes associated with cleft lip and palate. When I didn’t know whether my ideas for private practice would work or not, I visited over 50 separate orthodontic offices outside of the state of Missouri just to ask questions. I once drove 12 hours through the night just to visit an orthodontist for a few hours before his lunch break and see how he mounted cases, simply because he had published the most research in orthodontics on the shift between centric relation and maximum intercuspation. When our residency program transitioned from a temporary space in the general clinic to the new facility on the same week that our clinical office manger quit, I stayed through the night for an entire week (literally didn’t sleep for 3 days) so that our clinic would have instruments and equipment in organized, efficient locations.

Lest you think I’m bragging, none of this was done out of anything other than self-interest.

I wanted to know the most about cleft lip and palate in my area so I forced myself to learn as much about speech pathology and plastic surgery as any speech pathologist or plastic surgeon knew about orthodontics. I wanted my practice to succeed, so I scoured the country looking for things to do and things not to do when I opened my facility. I wanted to see exactly how the creator of a technique mounted his cases so I drove there and watched him do it. I wanted to finish my residency cases on time so I didn’t wait for someone else to organize the clinic. I literally broke into the building after hours and did it myself.

How far are you willing to go in the pursuit of your goals and dreams?

Beau Willimon has lived in 11 cities, forced himself into rehab, maintained sobriety for 15 years, written 10 plays in the period most writers would have only written one or two, drives 3.5 hours each way between NYC and Baltimore where he films during the week and routinely logs 80- to 100-hour work weeks. This is a guy at the TOP of his game. Every film and theater student in the country thinks when THEY get to that level, they’re going to take it easy. Have scores of assistants doing all the hard work while they walk the red carpet and hang out with George Clooney.

The only problem: it’s not how success works.

Success is brewed in a messy kitchen. It smacks you in the face when you let down your guard. It reminds you how quickly you can lose it all and is a demanding mistress for your time and energy. When you take your eye off of it, it turns its attention elsewhere.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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