When I run, I’ve always had this habit of breaking down whatever distance I set out to accomplish in increasingly diminutive yet illogical units to keep my mind busy. 4 miles becomes just 2 miles when it’s halfway done and 2 miles is easy because you’re hardly even warmed up at .5 which is already halfway to the halfway point of the first leg. And of course the 4th mile has the end in sight so it goes by the quickest. Or when I’m swimming, I change strokes for a pocket in the middle before changing back, so there is a rising up, a hoop to jump through, and a winding down.
This works, I think, because it keeps you immediately and constantly focused on a single point directly in front of you, and when that point is passed, another presents itself and is passed in turn at just the right interval between manageable and significant.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how Darwin spent something like eight years studying barnacles. Or Stuart Kauffman spending a decade on the mutations of fruit flies. And how we pass along little tidbits like this without any empathy for what they must have meant. These weren’t foundational education periods at the beginning of their careers, they were detours and tangents—years of learning to clear up a few details. We lose the humanity behind that decision, what it must have been like for them in this phase: waiting it out, putting in the hours. We look at it with the hindsight of knowing that it ended, thinking that they probably broke it up like we could—a few years to get familiar, a few for theorizing, and of course the last year flew by because it was finally over. But it wasn’t like that at all.
Try to think of the humility and of the patience. Wading into a pool you have no idea if you’ll ever get out of. Going back and forth until you’d done what you’d needed. No clue yet that it will tie their theories together. To bear this with grace and commitment and a quiet sense of self-control. To accept that no one will ever know what it all felt like.
For me, this year was about wanting less. Being okay with less. Learning how to tolerate dissonance and cultivate indifference. At 23, I’m thinking this is the skill everybody assumed was obsolete.
All the talk about real estate, working at a startup or internships—so much of it is about convincing yourself that you’re “investing” when its really just a way to give yourself what you want now and pretend the payoff is somehow deferred into the future. What part is delayed? What have you gone without? How have you learned to deal with uncertainty? Or the growing bewilderment of the people around you? The truth is that we make these decisions precisely because they’re thought to be “sure things.” But that is not strategy, it’s not even real.
To be able to handle even a fraction of the tension of one of these multi-year draw-down periods. To do the time on the treadmill and then a little more and then get off to do the next thing (and not take the baggage with you). To steadily increase the amount of time that we can stand without getting anxious or restless. And in this process of teaching yourself to do it, to complain as little as possible.
I bet your blog is really popular amongst nerds who try to overanalyze everything to try and gain a competitive advantage over people who can beat them without even having to think.
“Beat”??? That’s a very narrow minded comment; assuming that people who read what you write are going to share your idea of what “beat” is…
Most of the Maldives islands are about 1.5 meters above sea level, with reefs abundant with various species of marine life. Hence, vacations in Maldives offers diving and water sports everywhere.
It’s like, for an unelegant yet somehow fitting example, wanting to promote my own website. I go to websites that I enjoy, like this one, and I make a comment. And I do this on a whole host of blogs, like Tim Ferris and Steve Pavlina and whomever I enjoy reading for whatever reason, and post random comments, not really knowing the value of doing so.
But I just keep making them. And even though physically these actions, to the outside world, don’t really look to be bringing amazing results right away, as in NOW, a million unique hits to SpiritSentient.com and ebook sales – I feel compelled to keep doing these actions, not knowing the result and simply giving and giving and giving, marketing and promoting the fuck out of what I believe to be providing massive value on many levels.
And I think in order to do this, like looking at fruit flies for a decade and being happy with it, to really be able to do this, has 2 parts. One is absolutely loving your own decision despite what any external forces may think of you, and not caring about results.
And the results do come. Just not always in the ways one expects.
I read this post yesterday – then read the following today in “War and Peace” and immediately wanted to come back and share it as it encompasses, I think, a bit of what you were saying in this post.
“When a man finds himself in a movement, he always invents a goal of that movement. In order to walk a thousand versts, a man must believe that there is some good beyond those thousand versts. He needs a vision of a promised land to have the strength to go on moving. The promised land for the French on their march into Russia was Moscow; on their retreat it was their country. But their country was too far; and a man walking a thousand versts must inevitably put aside his final goal and say to himself every day that he is going to walk forty versts to a resting-place where he can sleep; and before the first halt that resting-place has eclipsed the image of the final goal, and all his hopes and desires are concentrated on it.”
Darwin must have loved those barnacles . . . eight years is an awfully long time to spend wih one species!
The world moves so much faster now, there’s more pressure for everything to happen faster and to get results quicker. Then again, becasue everything happens so much faster, lab experiments, shipments of barnacles and necessary communications would not take as long today and his studies would be concluded quicker.
So I suppose it’s not the length of time that’s impressive, it’s the committment to do something for as long as it takes; and that’s quite a scary prospect!