Learn to Suffer

When my son was about five years old, he asked me to play one of his games for him. He was stuck on a difficult level that he couldn’t beat. I wouldn’t help. I refused to play the game for him. I pointed out that if I beat the level than, I would be having the fun, not him. He decided not to play that game anymore. He said it wasn’t fun unless he was winning. This incident caused us to create the easy game.

The easy game consisted of taking an object, in this case a bottle cap, and tossing it onto the surface of the desk. If the cap landed on the desk you won. I showed him once and then had him play. He took the cap, tossed it on the desk, and I exclaimed, “YOU WIN!!!”. Big smile, I had him do it again. Each time he tossed the cap on the desk, I would tell him that he won. After a few tosses, he started doing little tricks. He tried to flip the cap like a coin and it fell on the floor instead of the desk. In an excited voice, I told him “BONUS POINTS! for hitting the floor”. So he intentionally tossed the cap on the floor a few times. After less than five minutes, he was done. I asked him, “What’s wrong? Aren’t you having fun?”. He replied that the game was boring. Of course, this was the point, any game that you can’t lose isn’t worth playing.

Everyone know this, but a lot of people still spend their lives looking for the easy game. They want the job where you just follow the rules. They want to sit back, relax and just watch television or play the Xbox. Basically, people are looking for a hassle free life. It isn’t that hard to achieve as long as you can do without luxuries. Eventually though, these people will get bored and begin looking for something new and the pattern will repeat.

I bet that if you look back on the most important events in your life, all of them were at least somewhat risky. I bet that you had to work pretty hard to achieve them. There was a chance that it wouldn’t work. I bet that even the times when it didn’t work, you still gained more than if you had done nothing. I think that in most situations, the amount of suffering you endure correlates to how much you value the experience afterwards. So the question is, what do you want and how much are you willing to suffer for it?

Professionals are the people who understand this. They are the people that sacrifice their leisure time in order to improve. They are the ones who know that the word talent is a retroactive title given to those who have outworked everyone else. These are the people that we celebrate. They are the ones that we want to emulate. If you ask them how they did it, or what their secret is, they will probably give you some bullshit answer like, “never give up on your dreams”. This is because no one wants to hear the truth. The professional just worked really hard and so could you, if got off the couch.

So, how do they actually do it? How do you convince that part of your brain that just wants to watch tv, to instead run another mile or write another page. I’ll tell you. You learn how to suffer. You learn to take pride in being the roughest, toughest son of a bitch that ever attempted this. In short, you fall in love with the work. YOu learn to love the work as much or more than the results.

I’m not talking about passion or love at first sight. I think both of those concepts confuse the cause with the effect. Love is a decision. The more you work at it, the more attention you give it, the bigger it gets. You begin to understand, that, it is the hard times that make it possible to have something special. Nothing feels better than pushing through an impossible problem. Nothing compares to giving it all you’ve got and winning. Unfortunately, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you get your ass kicked. You suffer.

Without suffering, success has no meaning. It is a necessary part of any fulfilling activity. In fact, It is what we think of as work. Without adversity, you are merely playing your own version of the easy game. What is the point? Overcoming adversity is what induces the feeling of pride. The chemical reaction in your brain that make you feel good is a direct result. Being proud of your work is addictive. This is how a person develops passion. It is the result of working until you achieve success and realizing that you want that again. Passion is looking forward to sludging through the mud again because you love what is on the other side. You might get stuck. You might not make it at all. If you never risk losing, you can never win. Any game you can’t lose isn’t worth playing.