Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
“What determines your success isn’t, ‘what do you want to enjoy?'” writes Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. “The relevant question is, ‘What pain do you want to sustain?’“
This line struck a chord with me more than any other in his book, as it’s been proven true over and over again in my own life. Manson goes on to expound on this principle, by showing that there is pain associated with everything that we choose to do in our lives, the process of everything we strive for and seek after. The pain is just different from one thing to the next, and what indicates whether or not we will accomplish our respective goals is whether or not we’re willing to live with and embrace that pain.
Of all the articles I’ve written for Singletracks.com, my manifesto “How bad do you want it… really?” has grown into a guiding principle for my own life, affecting me deeply over the past two years. (I won’t rehash that entire article, so be sure to give it a read if you haven’t already.)
Challenges to My Philosophy
Since penning that original piece, I’ve encountered numerous challenges to that line of thinking. One of the most significant is Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, in which he shows how the best in the world never truly become the best by their own force of will. Instead, they generally have help along the way and got lucky by being in the right place at the right time. But, he takes care to note, they also put in the work–about 10,000 hours, to be precise. While the best of the best aren’t completely self-made, they still had to decide what pain they wanted to sustain, and stick with it through years and years of hard work before they became the best.
I’ve also heard commenters and friends put forth complaints against my original article, attempting to provide counter example of goals that are seemingly unattainable. In response, I will admit that not everyone can become a Bill Gates (one of Gladwell’s key case studies). Not everyone can race with the dominance of Nino Schurter. Not everyone can start a mountain bike company and become wildly successful.
Also, I’m not saying that you can achieve all of your wildest dreams right now, in this very instant. Most of the complaints that I hear against my philosophy goes something like an amateur mountain biker saying, “I want to race mountain bikes at the professional level, and podium in the Leadville 100 in two months.” I am not one deter you from your dream of standing on the Leadville 100 podium, but it’s probably not possible in two months. It could take years of work. Are you willing to sustain that kind of pain?
But, as I wrote in “Dreaming of Greatness…” I am a bit of a humanist in that “I hold a belief that human beings are capable of achieving incredible things. Of pushing themselves to levels of physical, mental, and artistic accomplishments that might have seemed impossible even a decade ago.” I will continue to argue that more than anything, we are most limited by not truly wanting to sustain the amount or type of pain required to achieve those things.
A Partial List of Things I Don’t Want Badly Enough
To highlight this point, here’s a partial list of things I don’t want badly enough to actually achieve them:
Write–and publish–a book: As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a book. At the beginning of this year, I even put “finish a complete book manuscript” on my short list of annual goals. Beyond working on the topic and table of contents, I have not spent any more time working toward this goal.
Why? I’d rather head out into the mountains and endure the pain of a mountain bike ride than the pain of spending all of my free time sitting behind a computer, working on a document that could very well be rejected and not read by a single person. I don’t want it badly enough (yet).
#Vanlife: Having completed a two-month road trip, another one-month road trip, and three weeks of travel in Europe, I’ve realized that while I love traveling, I place a high value on building community and investing in friendships. While the extent to which I do that might vary, I’ve made a conscious decision to create a home base, and then conduct my travels from here. #Vanlife seems tantalizing, but I don’t want to endure that type of pain badly enough to really follow through with it.
Travel the world: While this desire faces some of the same barriers as #vanlife, I’ve considered overcoming these barriers by choosing to live in a foreign country and building new friendships there. But there would still be a lot of pain associated with uprooting and moving to a foreign country–a language barrier, a complete lack of familiarity with the region, distance from family, renting or selling your house, and perhaps the biggest of all: employment. While my European travels have made transplanting to a foreign country seem attainable and tantalizing, so far I haven’t wanted it badly enough.
Buy a mountainside condo in Whistler: Who wouldn’t love a mountainside condo at a major resort?! Ride in/ride out, ski in/ski out, it’s the ultimate dream.
Buy a tricked-out 2018 Tacoma: A Colorado cliche, but as a Toyota fan I would love a new, lifted Tacoma with the TRD Off-Road package.
It has been said, “if money can fix a problem, then it isn’t really a problem.” It seems to me that most people who say this have money to spend on their problems.
As I was grinding up a long climb recently, doubled over my handlebars in agony, a thought flashed through my delirious mind: “You could always cook meth.”
Sure, Breaking Bad probably makes it seem easier than it actually is–commit a few murders, steal some lab supplies, and presto! You’re operating a meth lab. But honestly, meth heads figure this out–seems like any reasonably-motivated person should be able to figure out how to cook and sell meth. Or maybe try growing weed instead?
The reality is, most of us don’t want the condo in Breckenridge bad enough to turn said condo into a meth lab. Most of us aren’t willing to sell drugs and live a life of crime to be rich.
This leads us to a critical point: When we say we want something but we still don’t achieve it, yes, we don’t want it badly enough. But that’s because we want something else more.
Sometimes, we desire comfort more. Sometimes, we want so greatly to avoid challenges that we don’t push ourselves nearly hard enough.
But for other times, I think it’s ok to consider a goal, like #vanlife, that’s glorified as the be-all-and-end-all achievement, and realize “hey, I value something else more, and if I can’t have #vanlife as a result, then so be it.”
When you’re confronted with your next obstacle between you and your goals, ask yourself: “How bad do I want it… really?” And if it’s not bad enough to cook meth, maybe that’s ok.