In addition to coaching, I’m an author. I enjoy writing across genres and right now, I’m writing a novel. To learn how, I’ve been watching and reading classic stories as well as taking classes. There are themes to these things.
First, there’s an unselfish goal. Our hero can’t have any personal gain from their achievement. Second, several mighty obstacles to reaching that goal appear and defeat seems imminent. Finally, an enormous sacrifice made by our hero helps them reach their goal but at a huge personal price.
It makes for a great story, but in real life it’s a recipe for misery. We’re biologically programmed to self-preserve, to grow, to avoid pain and seek out pleasure. And unless we’re sociopaths, we also get a nice hit of feel good chemicals when we do good in the world.
While our biology tells us to seek out pleasure, our stories tell us this is selfish and hedonistic. Then there’s the judgement of others who are also conditioned by the same cultural stories and denial of their own drives. We end up in this messy place, uncertain of what goals to set.
Scott Adams has a great book called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life and he’s got an interesting theory on selfishness. I won’t spoil the book for you, but it got me thinking. Suffice it to say that he suggests you look out for your own best interests without being a jerk. And that may be a good formula.
I think it’s from our stories that we get the idea that if the journey is miserable, it makes reaching the goal sweeter. There’s a puritanical belief that suffering is the only path to real achievement. I work with people who, after a long, hard, miserable climb, have gotten to the mountain-top and had a fleeting thrill followed by a crushing let down. They got to the top, but aren’t sure why they even made the climb. My job is to help them deal with the disappointment and then sort out what they really want and start moving in that direction.
I believe that misery is an indicator. My philosophy is that there may be moments of boredom or discomfort along our path, but the journey we choose to take should be enjoyable most of the time, punctuated by moments of excitement and driven by passion.
You would never prepare an entire meal with spices and ingredients you loathe in hopes of having a delicious meal. Yet, we do this with our goals all of the time. College students buckle down and power their way through classes they hate so they can get a degree in a field of work they think they’ll love. People plug into willpower and endure jobs they hate so they can get a promotion in hopes that job will be better. We feel we can punish ourselves into a happy and fulfilled life. That’s what the stories tell us, but it’s not true.
Passion and the inevitable consistency that flows from it is far more important to success than willpower. Passion carries us through those brief boring or unpleasant bits we need to do so we can get to the fun stuff. But it should be interesting and fulfilling and fun along the way.
Think about the goals you’re working on. Yes, it will be exciting when you get there, but are you enjoying the work you’re doing to reach that goal? Do you feel passionate about each step? If not, do you have the right goals? Do your steps need adjusting?