As Dan Pink says in Drive, “mastery is a pain.”

Have you ever wanted to do something, but knew you would have to get through tough times to get there? To go through the dip? Unsure about whether it’ll be worthwhile or not?

If something will take a year of my life, I don’t think much of the suffering I’ll have to go through. But if it’ll take three, or five, I consider it very seriously. Sometimes, it paralyzes me.

I still believe in the myth of the young genius— that if I work so hard at something and only see results in five years, it won’t matter, because I’ll be old and insignificant by then. The beast still has its claws in me; it’s pernicious, and I can’t let it go.

This is why I’ve never really had a career in my life, despite my father being a career counsellor. One day, I’ll have to choose something; I won’t be able to just let the waves of fate propel me forward, avoiding the hard decisions, forever.

Are you like this? Maybe there’s some kind of suffering you can handle, but another that you’re entirely incapable of even considering.

I’d like to train myself for this kind of suffering. I do it through doing pretty insane Crossfit workouts. I did it while meditating in Japan. I even do it through getting tattooed a lot. But obviously I haven’t figured everything out.

What kind of training is there to be ready for the long haul? Is it something that you’re born with; do your parents teach you how? If it’s a skill you can learn, then goddamn, I’m ready to learn it.





9 responses to “Suffering”

  1. Melissa Dutmers Avatar

    Hi Julien,
    I wrote this blog post the other day. I continue to be amazed at how we train our bodies, but spend little time training our minds. Food for thought to noodle on. Cheers!
    Leading Change When There Is No Sense of Urgency

  2. John McLachlan Avatar

    Julien, if you find the answer, let me know. 🙂

    Of course, your question could possibly be answered the same way Louis Armstrong answered someone who asked him “what is jazz?” He said, “if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

    The trouble is, I’m more optimistic than that. I suspect you are too. The quest continues.

  3. Brian Frank Avatar

    In my early 20’s (also the early 2000’s) I had a lot of “young genius” anxiety too. I couldn’t commit to going back to school ’cause I was in too much of a rush. I wanted to be successful when I still had hair.

    Ironically, by pushing myself forward by semi-annual deadlines, it evolved into 5+ year project that’s coming to fruition — that I never would have sanely decided to start if I thought it would take longer than 1 year.

    I think it’s something we’re born with. A lot of people need to know what they’ll be doing in 5 years (not to mention 50). That scares the hell out of me. Five year plans are so 20th century. As long as we’re moving forward then something’s working; that should be what matters most.

    I say run with it. We’re already learning as we go. There’s too much uncertainty anyways. Navigating through uncertainty is a discipline that’s becoming more essential; sticking to 5 year plans is becoming as much of a vice as a virtue.

  4. ginevra Avatar

    Oh f*** that. I don’t believe age has anything to do with the quality of the art.

    Rosalie Gascoigne first exhibited at 57, gained almost immediate success, both in Australia and internationally. And she worked into her 80s. Sure, she’d done artistic-type-things all her life, but I’m betting no-one would have predicted her success when she was raising kids in a rural area, doing some Ikebana.
    Then google some of her works, you’ll see why she is so respected.

  5. Tamsen Avatar

    You *have* chosen a career, and you’ve spent a lot of time working on it–and succeeding. Is it traditional? No. Easily career counsel-able? No. But it is a career. Does it matter that you didn’t plan it? No. You chose it.

    The career you plan looking forward is never the one you have when you look back.

    Which one is better? Well, who knows? But only one of them is real.

  6. Whitney Avatar

    I think you have to look at things as infrastructure versus stuff to outsource.

    For example, People used travel agents for everything- they had a stranglehold on resources we needed access to- now we can all do it ourselves. We can still outsource this task and don’t have to approach everything as DIY, but clearly, those folks who went to school to be travel agents feel a bit gipped these days because their credential depended upon an external monopoly more than the knowledge in their head.

    Law school for me, was, in contrast, infrastructure. I was once heading towards med school or a PhD in biology, but decided a 6 yr graduate program and an uncertain job future thereafter was not the dues I was willing to pay compared to my passion for the subject. At that crossroads, my mom told me I should try law school. So I committed to at least take the test, and I did amazingly well, which made me think this was something I should definitely do.
    I loved law school- it played to all of my strengths. While I have only ever been in a standard practice for brief periods, this background knowledge of the “rules” of the game has been immensely useful to me, to my family and friends. It was the best infrastructure investment I’ve made, and it was relatively short- 3 years.

    It’s also a credential that is like a ticket that opens doors- doors to trust and respect and gate-jumping some of the initial skepticism people might have, because in order to get through law school and pass the bar- well, that takes a lot of work and effort, so people naturally (and hopefully rightly) assume that I can get things done and accomplished, and when I say I will do something I do- it comes with some credibility built in- and I work hard to maintain that reputation thereafter.

    I think about going to take classes on coding, and building my own iPhone apps, but the tech changes faster than I could reasonably master it at this point, and it’s something I can largely outsource to other experts who have this specialized knowledge, like I do with law, and it can’t be easily attained just by a monopoly on resources. I need someone’s talent for this, I need their brain and effort and education- I need their infrastructure.

    What I am inelegantly trying to say is that if you feel you need the calling card, the secret handshake, the verification of expertise, I think the book has gone a long way towards that goal. You are now officially a writer.

    What do you think a career looks like? Is it like Matt and Medicine? Sometimes, but it can be many other things. The suit and tie gigs are more steady. They can also be boring, and can occasionally be not as “safe” as we might think they are. But in the end, look really long term- where do you want to be at 45? 50? What do you want to have, to have accomplished? Where are you living? Are you sharing that life with other people? Who are they?

    Looking at a life working in a lab on science projects versus changing from science and trying law worked for me-I knew what I wanted long term and it wasn’t coming from the benchtop and bunsen burner.

    What does that future look like? That will help guide your decisions now.

  7. karim kanji Avatar

    Why does it matter that you don’t have a career that can be explained on a business card.

    Enjoy life. You seem to have a genius head on your shoulders, a passion for helping people and a desire to continually learn.

    Good career!


  8. Alexandra Avatar

    I would think that the training is “learning to stay”, to be present to what you’re doing in the moment

    & then,

    depending on what specifically your looking to achieve,

    there will also be a lot of, or a few, things you’ll need to learn to do a certain way, or results you need to achieve, regardless of how.

    It will get specific when you choose a destination, a result, an experience: a target of some kind.

    But that generic training that gets you through the unnamed long haul, all long hauls, seems to me to be the willingness to stay with it.

    To stay awake, engaged, flexible, strong, willing, soft – open: present.

    I train everywhere. [read that as not-mastering anything: training]

    My yoga classes are sometimes about this, but really everywhere is training ground.

    “learning to stay” comes from Pema Chödrön – I forget which talk or book.

    What is it that you want to do?

  9. scott Avatar

    Very cool and well designed blog. Slick. sick.

    Mindfulness meditation comes to mind for me as something grounding and inspirational, in a subtle and powerful way.

    Best wishes for 2010, hope to see you again soon.


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