“You’re either making progress or you’re losing ground”
So reads the extract of one of Mike Matthews’s podcast series “Motivation Monday” which I would religiously listen to every Monday as soon as the audio file (scheduled for Mondays first thing in the morning, USA EDT) would make it to the iVoox app of my cell phone (6 hours later, obviously owing to time zone differences).
“By doing the work that very few are willing to do, you will get the results that most can only dream of…”
This one was another. See? These lines, not unlike sweet morning caffeine, would provide me with a much-needed kick in the butt and propel me throughout the week. Mr. Matthews is, no doubt, endowed with the gift of the gab and knows how to deliver the message in a way that the listener feels empowered enough so as to quit all their lazy, unproductive habits, cut the crap about all sort of (material, emotional, whimsical) banalities and futile ruminations and take for once the reins of their otherwise trivial, unremarkable and meaningless lives (if no actual desire to take control of it existed).
One is forced to think that, yes, living a fulfilling existence/ living righteously a) is not that complicated, b) in fact, it shouldn’t be complicated provided one is willing to put in the right amount of work, and discipline, focusing on what really matters in life- health, self-confidence, realization and, yes… money– and c) 95% (roughly) of the time, this endeavor will depend on ourselves.
To take this idea further, he kickstarted a different podcast series dubbed “Book Club“, in which books, namely about personal development/productivity strategies/time management and biographies are briefly reviewed, broken down and interesting conclusions derived to help us in our everyday life actions and decisions. With regard to biographies, Mike passionately dissects and goes through incredibly inspiring fragments detailing aspects of the lives and works of diverse extraordinary people and the actions and creations which made them so extraordinary. We get to listen to the anecdote in which the otherwise maligned Alexander the Great (on many occasions portrayed as a mass murderer), when stuck with his sick and beaten, thirsty, moribund troops in the middle of the desert, without the slightest hope of escaping alive, these found a minuscule spring of natural water, managed to fill a helmet with it and offered to their leader- as a sign of respect/devotion/admiration-; Alexander grabbed the helmet and just emptied the liquid gold on the sand. If his soldiers couldn’t quench their thirst, he wouldn’t either. This is only a hint and evidence that men like Alexander were just a couple of cuts above the average, weren’t they?
Similar stories and curiosities are dispersed about different entrepreneurs, inventors and creators or strategists like Benjamin Franklin (he seriously despised material wealth and ostentation, apparently), Elon Musk (during one period in his professional career, he would lock himself in his office, work 20 hours a day, to the point where his employees doubted whether he showered at all), Rockefeller (“the best way to never become an alcoholic was to never try a single drop of alcohol” he would say) or Napoleon Bonaparte (he would draw and sketch his empire to be on a large map, sequencing which armies he would defeat first and which ones would follow, meticulously devising on paper any detail of battle strategies). I mean, by hearing stories of these great men (most of whom had to endure any kind of hardship in their beginnings or downright came out of abject poverty) one cannot but feel really humbled, no matter how self-accomplished or satisfied we feel about our lives, no matter whether we actually believe we have pulled something worth being noted off.
I understand that, next to the works and legacy of great men and women like Curie, Einstein, Wagner, Napoleon, Edison, Joan of Arc, et al, any one of us would be decimated and obliterated to sheer insignificance and such a comparison is way too harsh and rather unfair; the point I’m trying to get across here, however, is the following: the unrest, discomfort, hardship, adversity, the misery that all these people had to endure at some point in their lives played a crucial role- in my own, uninformed opinion– in their exceptional nature.
Innate ability/talent or good luck will only get you so far. When that is paired with a hardcore work ethic and unbreakable determination, the results are bound to be nothing short of astonishing (in any field of life, from parenting to athleticism to artistic creation). And, in my view, said work ethic and determination tend to stem from a genuine desire to overcome adverse circumstances (fleeing pain/deprivation/sorrow/poverty…) or overturn a current unjust/bound-to-be-changed situation (sheer non-conformity). And that’s the reason why we have so few outstanding men and women in our current age.
“Satisfaction is the death of desire”
Think for a while: how many truly great, say, politicians/political activists from the past can you think of? The names of Kennedy, Churchill, De Gaulle, Rosa Parks or Luther King may come to mind. How many contemporary counterparts could even dream of holding a candle to any of them? Well, next to zero (if you know any, I’ll be happy to be enlightened). Misery, war, and injustice may breed violence, but also a desire to change things. Comfort, convenience, TV, and free Twitter accounts breed the insufferable bunch of mediocre, ignorant, inarticulate opportunists, disguised as politicians/communicators/influencers we have to stomach and are supposed to look up to nowadays. The worst thing is that they have (or think they do) the right to tell us what to do and have the power (or want such power) to force us to. Screw them very much, sir.
“20% of our actions are responsible for 80% of the results”
So states the Pareto Principle (with proven applicability in all sorts of fields, from sports to science to finances), meaning when extrapolated to our daily life, that only a handful of really effective actions and habits will lead us to our goals and aspirations. The remaining 80% has rather negligible effects if any at all. This means that we could get much more of life, there’s much more we’d be actually capable of, if we relinquished our bad ways and capacity to lose focus and give in to distraction, our desire to take part in debates and arguments where our scope of influence is NIL (I mean, what can you really fucking do about Vladimir Putin, uh?) and focused instead on the things we actually have control of and which can lead to living better, happier, more righteous lives. When thinking about myself and the things we do, I always conclude that the difference in time invested in doing things half-assedly and doing them WELL is probably insignificant. It is most of the time a question of establishing priorities, thinking straight, and just ditching the rest.
“If it is important to you, you will find a way; if not, you will find an excuse”
And yes, most of the time we struggle to even devise a way around even the most accessible activities, plans, and tasks. Everything seems so damn unattainable until one day we decide to get off our ass and start doing it, at once.
“To begin, begin”
So, if in theory, all seems so uncomplicated, if we know that in the end hard work and determination eventually pay off, why do most people fail to get what they really want (or more accurately, need) and deserve? Has anyone else ever felt like “what am I doing with my life?”
“You can have results or excuses, not both”
It is kinda funny I came up with this rather lengthy and wordy diatribe about taking the reins of one’s life, taking control and making a difference, because it is precisely how I feel.
I really don’t like seeing days going by and having the impression that there aren’t enough hours on a 24h day, feeling overwhelmed, and yet, having little to nothing to show for it. And I really hate being aware of it and still doing nothing.
I used to be concerned about excelling in my profession. Not just being good enough and definitely not just going through the motions. I mean, living up to the standards and expectations created by equally experienced and more experienced teachers and then thinking of burying them in hot manure (metaphorically, of course!). If someone told me “this/that teacher we had last year was the best/ the standard is set rather high, good luck!“), I used to think “give me just one month and you won’t even remember them“. I guess that this is a rather puerile way of thinking (as you will NEVER please everyone and each one has their own, legitimate approach from which anyone can learn and grow), and probably a consequence of my own insecurities and evident limitations, but these insecurities and limitations made me work my ass off, like a trouper, striving for excellence or, at least, for the satisfaction of a job well done.
Have I stopped caring, then? Well, not completely, but I guess at some point I lost focus. Feeling safe because of my recently earned condition of lifetime public worker probably didn’t help. Feeling rather self-confident about my performance of my teaching duties possibly didn’t, either. The thing is that I was not completely happy about the bulk of work I had pulled off lately, especially compared to that in the past, and wanted to write about it (Heck! I also hadn’t written for quite a while, how come?).
Comfort and contentment can (or may) lead to self-complacency and self-indulgence, which can lead to apathy, which may lead to just seeking pleasure and fulfillment in external, excitement and hedonistic recreation- or recreational hedonism- (you know, video games, porn, alcohol, food, sex, drugs, shopping, gambling…), which in turn can lead to a pretty dangerous and self-destructive path. Wow, am I sounding rather cryptic here haha. Well, I may, but I’m not completely wrong, or so I think.
Social media is full of stories of ordinary people who, out of real talent and, especially, iron discipline (ditching, for sure, many of the transient pleasures described four lines above) have actually SUCCEEDED, I mean, making a living of what they really love in life; guys and girls I actually have to take my hat off to, out of pure admiration. Do I regard them as our modern-day Alexander the Great/Einstein/Edison? Well, Jesus, no, but not unlike these, I find them equally inspiring. Just like Homer Simpson realized when at the age of 38 he was comparing his achievements with Edison’s, I realize I came a little bit too late for the game of becoming an actual great man (just maybe!). It may be time to go back to those rousing and energizing podcasts again!