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Confession: I am barely keeping my head above water at the moment. In addition to the normal demands of work and life, I have the added stress of being eligible for promotion and tenure this year. I’ll spare you all the minutiae of what that entails, but suffice to say that it is an incredibly demanding process, requiring a great deal of legwork on the part of the applicant (me). Beyond that, there are rapidly approaching deadlines (and perhaps even one that’s passed), the challenges of balancing classroom and administrative tasks, the frustration of negotiating what projects must be completed versus those your heart wants to pursue, etc. etc. etc.

In short, I’m in one of those periods where I’m doing my damndest to tread water under the weight of demands and stresses from multiple angles.

We’ve all been there, and perhaps such phases occur with more frequency than we’d like. The demands bring pressures, the pressures produce anxieties, the anxieties foster fears of failure or worse, simply buckling under the weight. But the fact of the matter is that successes are not easily won; great benefits require great effort; no struggle, no progress. The larger challenge becomes motivating oneself to juggle, to engage, and to get one’s ass in gear to meet these many other challenges.

And good god, music can be both a source of great comfort and motivation in such times.

In a recent bout of assessing my current challenges, I got all “Little Engine That Could,” mentally chugging along to “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” ad infinitum. In such moments, one of my go to tracks is “You Can Make it if You Try” by Sly and the Family Stone, who are always good for a kick in the pants (be it of the motivational or dance variety).

Even in the most stressful of times, it’s a challenge to not crack a smile when Sly’s playing.

What stands out about this track lyrically is that it doesn’t simply try to console the listener, pat them on the head and say “Hey, everything will be just fine.” Rather, Sly and the Family Stone recognize that if you want things to be “just fine,” you’re going to have to bust your hump to achieve that payoff.

Push a little harder
Think a little deeper
Don’t let the plastic
Bring you down

And later,

You’ll get what’s due you
Everything coming to you
You got to move
If you want to be ahead

And maybe it’s just the strange connections that my pop culture-addled mind makes, but when the song breaks down (“mamamamamamamama make it”), I can’t help but again thinking of the Little Engine That Could, chugging along with this new mantra, and now all the funkier for it.

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