Posts tagged perseverance
Absolutes and contradictions
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There’s been quite a bit of commentary regarding a recent Stanford study that proclaims "following your passion" is lousy advice. It reminded me of a premise for a blog post I was considering a few years ago after mentoring a number of entrepreneurs looking to launch their next great idea:

 

Don’t let passion overshadow common sense.”

 

This sounds like reasonable advice, which is why I wrote it down on a note card that perches above my workspace along with dozens of other thoughts and ideas. Here are a few others I’ve jotted down:

 

Reputation is your ROI.

Be generous with your time.

The empty narcissism of awards shows. (credit to Jeff Goodby for this idea)

 

There is a level of absolutism in all of these, a stated right way and an implied wrong way. As a writer and strategist, I can defend these premises. When I do, I’ll likely hold onto them as some form of truth, something close to absolute. I find that worrisome.

I’m careful to write about these things – and numerous others – even when I believe the premise is good (can we agree that being generous with your time might be a good thing?). My journalistic background tells me to be objective, recognize that there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in between.

Instead, like those poetry refrigerator magnets, I flip premises and rearrange the thoughts to reveal something different:

 

Don’t let your passion, your common sense or your ROI overshadow your generosity.

Reputation can be narcissistic.

Generosity is your awards show.

 

I find there's as much truth in these ideas, too, even though it’s not where my mind initially went.    

 

What if passion is allowed to overshadow common sense? Not indefinitely, but briefly and occasionally? What if that seemingly absurd risk (lack of common sense) results in something spectacular? Then what?

 

We’re not inherently wrong to acknowledge things we've long held as truths. Attempting to contradict them also can do us well. It’s where growth and possibility and wonder make their cameos outside of the well-intended plan.

Recently Jeremy and I interviewed Jeff Frane for the Joy Venture podcast. Jeff’s love has always been bicycles – with a dream to design the kind of bikes he and his friends would love to ride. It’s a dream at age 6 that sounds quaint, something that parents would say – go for it! But in your mid-20s with an unrelated college degree and its requisite debt, being broke, living out of a van, and working a warehouse job at a bicycle parts shop, common sense says something entirely different: Abandon your passion. Grow up. Get a real job.

Jeff said something that contradicted that wisdom when we asked what his parents and family thought of his career trajectory. It went like this:

The truth is I had a job. I was working and contributing to society. That’s all that really mattered to them – and to me.” 

We do a lot of projecting of our absolutes on others in an effort to be right. When their contraction of our absolute view proves us wrong, too often we try to explain away the so-called anomaly instead of being inspired.

Absolutes lean toward conformity with unquestionably neat and tidy answers. For the would-be entrepreneur, nothing kills a joy venture faster than immovable absolutes.

On the other hand contradictions are somewhat rebellious; messy with peaks and valleys. People who are actively discovering, developing and desiring to spread their joy know their venture is going to require them to improvise and go with their gut at some point. There’s no clear roadmap. They know it’s not about the plan, it’s about the pursuit.

Test your absolutes. Be open to asking “But what if...?” once in a while. Contrary to conventional wisdom, you might be absolutely surprised what comes of it. 

 

Above image: Micah Lexier: Here, Not Here (Red, Detail), 2017 // Courtesy Birch Contemporary // Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

The one thing preventing you from the life you're meant to live

Now comes the hard part: the day-by-day moments where you have to live out those promises and resolutions you made just a few weeks ago, lest you face another year of reckoning and wrecking your best laid plans. There’s a reasonable chance that all of your well-intended visioncasting and early action is starting to wane (after all, it’s almost February). If it hasn’t yet, hold on. It will.

And know that you’re not alone.

While we all need this important if not wholly artificial January reset, we need something even greater to stop us from hitting the proverbial snooze button on pursuing our joy; that thing and sense of purpose we know, deep down, we were meant to pursue and do.

In effort to keep myself on track, I continually return to Steven Pressfield as he knows a thing or two about this conundrum, and his truth-searing words are like a bucket of ice water thrown in one’s face. If you’re an artist, writer, maker, entrepreneur or creative of any type, you need his wise words bouncing around your head on days of setbacks as well as the ones filled with promise. In his book The War of Art, he talks about that thing, that force, that undeniable enemy that lines up on the opposite side of the field preparing to slay you again and again. As a prelude to his deep dive on falling short and understanding why that is, he sends us a wake-up call with this passage below.

If you need motivation that you cannot conjure up on your own, read it.

If you can visualize your end reward knowing you just need to persevere, read it.

Or if you’re scared to death of not realizing what you were meant to become, then definitely read it.  

Neither Times Square nor your town square catalogs your hope-filled confetti. Your party hat and noisemaker have long been recycled. The clock continues to tick whether you’re counting it down or not. And you still have choices to make about pushing through or getting up off the mat.  

 

THE UNLIVED LIFE

Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two lies Resistance.

Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark on a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you envisioned the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who doesn’t start a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. Genius is a Latin word. The Romans used it to denote an inner spirit, holy and inviolable, which watches over us, guiding us to our calling. A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center. It’s our soul’s seat, the vessel that holds our being-in-potential, our star’s beacon and Polaris.

Every sun casts a shadow, and genius’s shadow is Resistance. As powerful as is our soul’s call to realization, so potent are the forces of Resistance arrayed against it. Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mowed down by Resistance. Millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: we don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from East Coast to West and back again thirteen times and I never even knew it existed. I looked everywhere for the enemy and failed to see it right in front of my face.

Have you heard this story: Woman learns she has cancer, six months to live. Within days she quits her job, resumes the dream of writing Tex-Mex songs she gave up to raise a family (or starts studying classical Greek, or moves to the inner city and devotes herself to tending babies with AIDS). Woman’s friends think she’s crazy; she herself has never been happier. There’s a postscript. Woman’s cancer goes into remission.

Is that what it takes? Do we have to stare Death in the face to make us stand up and confront Resistance? Does Resistance have to cripple and disfigure our lives before we wake up to its existence?  How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to? Resistance defeats us. If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty. The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse, along with the junk food, cosmetic surgery, infotainment business, not to mention the pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the medical profession from top to bottom. Domestic abuse would become extinct, as would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, road rage, and dandruff.

Look in your own heart. Unless I’m crazy, a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you. And unless I’m crazy, you’re no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. You think Resistance isn’t real. Resistance will bury you.

You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it an overstatement but I will say it anyway: It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

Steven Pressfield, excerpt from The War of Art