I want to write about this idea… that doing good doesn’t always feel good. I think I first encountered this idea in Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan– he talked about how some people get rewarded for being in the right place at the right time (for example, being a CEO of a successful company when the economy is booming, and getting bonuses for it– regardless of whether you actually do anything valuable for your company), and how others never will (if somebody had successfully passed strict cockpit safety regulations and prevented 9/11, he wouldn’t be known as the person who prevented 9/11– he’d be hated by pilots and airlines and all that for all the hassle, and nobody would go to his funeral.)
Those are huge examples, and I share them here because big examples can reveal the power of small differences. But how does this look like in everyday life, in the mind and life-situation of a specific person? I can only speak for myself, and that’s what this space is for, so let’s do that.
I think it’s really painful, annoying and unfair how progress can feel like not-progress. Quitting smoking is painful and hard, and it’s less rewarding than people make it out to be. I now have a semi-regular running routine, where I run maybe one to three times a week, several rounds… and I get endorphins from that, which feel good. But it wasn’t so in the beginning.
In the beginning when I had just quit smoking, it was a slog. My legs and lungs would scream at me, mock me for being so weak and unfit. And I really just wanted to cry and give up because it felt like it wasn’t going to be worth it. My body was telling me that it wasn’t going to be worth it. I had to summon up some sort of psychological construct to go “no, you have to deal with this, it gets better afterwards.” And that’s really challenging.
I don’t think I’d ever have been able to do it entirely by myself. I did it with the support of motivational videos and speakers, inspiring, suceessful individuals. Even just off-hand knowing about the Muhammad Ali quote– “I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”– helped me go ahead. Knowing that the frustration I was experiencing wasn’t new– that others had powered through it, and that I was determined to cross the chasm myself. I wanted to be with the people who had crossed it, and I was tired of the baggage and excuses and frustrations that followed me around on the side that I was at.
Which isn’t to say that I’ve miraculously turned my life around. Oh, god, no. I haven’t even finished a goddamn 5km run. So I have no right to even write this– I’m only doing it because I want to capture this moment and it’s part of a greater process for me.
If there’s something people don’t fucking tell you enough, it’s that it’s turning your life around is a goddamn fucking painful disgusting cheebye slog. Once people get to the end of it, they turn around and give you a photo finish smile, with the pretty soundbites. The struggle is typically condensed into a photo montage. If you imagine a movie, it should be… a 3 hour movie of a person practicing, failing, practicing, failing, practicing, failing for 2 hrs and 59 minutes, and then in the last minute, they succeed. I wonder if there’s ever been a movie like that. Just show a person getting beaten down over and over again. (I’m reminded now of a quote I think in one of those pop economics books– where some kid in a gang had been shot, and he was crying and saying “I didn’t think it would hurt so bad, getting shot.” He had been sold a narrative. And so have we.)
Greatness isn’t something for an elusive few, it’s something for everybody, but IT’S GODDAMN HARD AND IT REQUIRES A GODDAMN UGLY PAINFUL SLOG THAT DOESNT FIT WITHIN THE FRAME OF THE AVERAGE PERSON’S ATTENTION SPAN. GREATNESS REQUIRES MORE THAN ANYBODY CAN REASONABLY ASK OF ANYBODY ELSE. It’s everything that’s not in the contract. Everything that’s not in the agreement.
You can’t hire someone and say “I’m paying you to go the extra mile and be goddamn amazing and live and breathe this and care about it when you’re sleeping”. That’s stuff that you have to inspire in people, and you have to help them fix their life-situations so that they can focus on it and get it done. And again, that’s fucking hard and I have mad respect for my boss and for bosses around the world who figure out how to do it.
It’s way, way, way, way, way, way harder than anything I’ve ever imagined. And I suppose that’s why it should be done. That’s why it should be “fun” in the end.
I’m nowhere near great. Even in the context of this writing project– which is something that I’m undertaking for myself, something that’s supposed to bring me pleasure, something that develops my skills at my own time, I am not great. I’m 24.4% through a single project that’s a single stepping stone towards great.
And already I’ve faced setbacks and challenges and difficulties and I realize already that there’s going to have to be some serious sacrifices here. (Now I’m thinking of Dave Trott talking about how one has to have a respect for the serious business of war. If you’re playing with real stakes, you have to go all out. There’s no sampling the peril. You fucking go all out.)
I think this is where I’m at, and I think I need to double down on this, triple down on this, even if everything else burns. I’m probably caught up in some sort of emotional storm right now, and I’m writing this just to say fuck it, I felt it and I wrote it down. This is an exception. The reality of the slog is that it is cold, that it will beat you to your knees and piss on your face. And you have to say, yes, bring it. I want more. Harder. More. Is that all you’ve got?
I’m coming back, and I’ll be better and stronger because of this. This is a declaration. What do I stand for? I stand for interesting. I stand for different. I stand for presence. I stand for honesty. I stand for something that is NOT the goddamn script and we will keep going.