The Value of the Work Itself

Do not depend on the hope of results … You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to the idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. Thomas Merton. 

Early in my writing career I came across Merton’s wisdom. Recently I came across it again and once again and it brought me comfort. When one writes a novel or a morning meditation you have no idea if it will produce results. It is very easy to get caught up in writing a novel or a post to be well read, praised, and a commercial success, but as many writers know that may or may not come. It is more important to write for pleasure, for the value of what you are saying, and to write the the truth. I used to carry Merton’s prayer in my wallet. Maybe I should cut out the above and put it next to my keyboard.

Merton’s words don’t just apply to writers or mystics. When we focus only on results, we lose sight of who we are and what we are called to do in this world. Parker Palmer says, “As long as we are wedded to results, we take on smaller and smaller tasks, the ones that that yield results. If we want to live by values like love, truth, and justice — values that will never be fully achieved — ‘Faithfulness’ is the only standard that will do.

I am eternally grateful to writers like Merton, Palmer, Hemingway, Conroy, and Potok, and a hundred others who constantly remind me to be faithful to the rightness, the value, and the truth. Results may or may not come, but I will have done what I could.

Today, ask yourself. Are you faithful to your dreams, or only after results? They are two different choices, but which choice do you seek?

PS: If you have forgotten Merton’s Prayer here it is again:


“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

About the author

Webb Hubbell is the former Associate Attorney General of The United States. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller. His latest, “Light of Day” will be on the bookstands soon.


  1. Webb – based on what you said earlier, I got a copy of Palmer’s book and am really enjoying it – very insightful – so don’t worry that: “When one writes a novel or a morning meditation you have no idea if it will produce results.”


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