0494 – get into the arena and play to win

I was just reading an article where someone quotes what Murakami had to say about writing. At some point Murakami talked about Chandler sitting and concentrating even if he didn’t write a word, just to get into the habit of committing to his craft. (Going pro, as Steven Pressfield describes in the War of Art).

I find myself thinking, there’s something slightly annoying about the conversations around the whole thing. [1]

I read Paul Graham’s latest essay a couple of days ago, in which he encourages to write like they talk. This will sound a little presumptuous, but I felt like I got the point the immediately. I was excited to see if there was any intelligent conversation happening on Hacker News relating to the post. Alas, there wasn’t. People were largely just nitpicking, interpreting the point in the worst possible light, or otherwise agreeing superficially. There were no true friends in that space. (In my opinion.)

I found myself thinking, why is everyone missing the point? And then the meta-thought: why do I care? What does it matter if others miss the point, as long as I get it? [2]

This is another recurring sort of thing. Why does it bother me if other people we to be missing the point or getting things wrong? If there is a point to be gotten, then it should be beneficial to get it. If it’s true that there’s some sort of advantage to be accrued, and people aren’t listening, the only way to get them to listen (if that’s even an outcome worth being concerned about- it probably isn’t) is to win.

I think it was Nassim Taleb who said that people don’t respect you if you’re right until you take their money.

I think I’ve had some sort of contorted mindset that’s something like, “if you’re right, you don’t need the money”. Or at least that was the stated, performed position. My actual position might’ve been something like, “I just want to seem convincingly right enough to impress the people around me”. Which only works for certain groups of people. And lately I’m thinking if you’re around people who are impressed by rhetoric, you need to find better people to be around.

Maybe a part of it was the fact that I was young and conscripted and away from much “real action”. I don’t know, and I’m not even all that interested in digging into that right now.

What I’m trying to do here is to persuade future-Visa that we need to recalibrate our concept of what success is. We have to take the money. We have to get the result. Life is not school, it is not the zoo, it is not Facebook arguments or Hacker News discussions. The theoretical knowledge is only relevant to the degree that it actually helps us achieve the superior outcome- otherwise it’s seriously just distraction. Watercooler talk. The sort of thing old uncles sit around drinking and bitching about. The most articulate uncle is still a complainer, safely away from the blood and gore of the arena.

So this is a call to arms. For the past 2.5 years or so, I have been making a soft transition, into the arena. I have real constraints now- bills, a mortgage. And I have real opportunities to grow and further myself, to become stronger, take on more responsibilities, distribute, delegate. I can work and prepare. I can discipline my mind.

A couple of days ago I decided to start learning something on the guitar that had eluded me a few years ago- the minor pentatonic scale up and down the fretboard. It seemed really complicated with many seemingly arbitrary things to learn and memorize. I couldn’t perceive any patterns, and so I eventually gave up. And the worst part is, after giving up, I subconsciously assumed that I’d never be able to get it. That it was just beyond me. Some people are more “musical” than me, whatever that meant, and I had hit my peak musicality.

After a few years though that started to feel like bullshit. I had learnt the major and minor scale up and down a fixed position, and I could also sorta play them up and down the neck by following my ears and fingers. I would make some mistakes but I could correct them.

I’ve been getting better at it. I’ve been becoming a better musician. I was rewatching what Steve Vai had to say about it, and it’s poetic how all artists and creators and folks in the arena all have surprisingly simple and straightforward things to say about what they do. Vai said, visualize yourself getting better at it. Imagining it is the first step. Then just practice, practice, practice. Remind yourself of what you want and why you want it, so you stay focused– and the success that we get at any activity is a representation of how well we were able to focus on it.

So get in the arena, and focus. Play to win– not because you’re necessarily obsessed with winning, but because if you’re serious about the game (and it is, of course, ultimately a game), then you must play to win. Or you’re just dicking around and wasting your time. (Unless that’s what you want, in which case, play to dick around. But you know that’s not what you want.)
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[1] Later on I was rewatching one of my favorite videos– Jon Kabat Zinn talking about mindfulness and meditation. And he said that the problem with identifying as a meditator isn’t the meditation, but the sticky, icky, imperial personal pronoun. I’M a meditator. It’s MY meditation. I realize the problem is that as we start talking about the process and we get carried away with it, it’s easy to forget about the work– ie, it becomes productivity porn.

[2] I suppose a part of it is– if I get it and others do not, could it be that I’m actually wrong…? Sometimes this might be the case, but I don’t think this applies in this context. When somebody makes a point and people are misunderstanding it broadly. It happened a while ago when a Derek Sivers post was shared on Hacker News, and I posted a comment and he actually replied to say that I was the only one who really got the spirit of what he was trying to say. At this point I must be overdoing this point, and a reader must be thinking, “Wow, Visa is trying really hard to prove that he gets things, why so desperate, why so insecure?” But hey, this is my personal writing/thinking space and I can choose to overdo things if I want to. But I’m done with this particular thought.

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