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It's The Grind


This is kind of a take-off on a subject that Mark Manson talks about in THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F*CK. Mason's thesis for this particular segment is that suffering is ubiquitous and it's useless to try and avoid it; the trick is to decide what, exactly, we're willing to suffer for.

He uses the example of wanting to be a rock star as a teenager, but never being willing to put in the time to practice or even really learn an instrument. Which is to say, in Manson's words, he wasn't willing to suffer to make it happen.

Obviously, he never became a rock star.

I'm not sure how I feel about Manson's terminology--suffering, to me, connotes something traumatic, like, say, cancer. I'd rather look at it as a question of effort.

When I was a teenager, I announced very proudly to my mother that I wanted to be an actor when I grew up.

She laughed in my face.

(She still feels bad about that to this day, but hell, I don't blame her; aside from one calamitous portrayal of Santa Claus in the Grade 3 Christmas Play, ya boy had never acted in his life. Pretty damn presumptuous of me to just decide I was going to be the next Tom Cruise.)

Thing was, it wasn't that I was announcing that I'd like to get into drama classes. I wanted to devote my life to something I'd never actually done before.

You're damn right she laughed in my face!

I hadn't decided I should be an actor because I loved acting. I wanted to be an actor because I thought it would make me rich and famous and give me the external validation I craved.

Just as Manson realized later that his desire to be a rock star was propelled more by his wanting to meet women and make a lot of money.

(Sidebar: Wanting to make lots of money is a pretty silly reason to pursue a career in the arts. Why not try, I dunno, investment banking?)

Around the same time in my life as my mom was shooting down my thespian dreams, she told me to print out a sheet of paper and tack it above my computer in my bedroom with the words: NO PAIN, NO GAIN in big letters.

This was pretty astute of her, too.

I had life pretty good as a teenager. I was smart, tall and naturally athletic, so a lot of things came easy for me.

I'm not saying this to brag, because I sure as hell had nothing to do with it, but more to illustrate how I'd won the genetic lottery such that I would never have to try very hard to reach a comfortable level of mediocrity.

And that's more or less how I lived my life. Things fell into my lap, and I followed the paths that unfolded in front of me, and before I knew it I was twenty-five and making $80k a year to travel the world and write glorified ad copy about high stakes poker tournaments.

Which was awesome for twenty-five-year-old me. It would be significantly less awesome, I knew, for thirty-five-year-old me, or fifty-year-old me.

I believed there was more that I could do with my life than earn a comfortable living writing about how famous people played cards.

I wanted to write fiction.

And I mean, I really wanted to write fiction. I didn't just want to sell a million books and buy a Ferrari and bed as many women as Hank Moody on Californication.

I wanted to write because I loved writing, because I couldn't live without writing, and because I was pretty damn good at it and I wanted to see how far I could ride it.

No pain, no gain.

That meant giving up the steady paycheque and the five-star hotels and the frequent flier upgrades. It meant moving away from the city and friends that I loved to crash with my mom for a few months while I churned out a novel a month, six-thousand words a day, and lived off of my savings.

It meant really grinding, working harder than I'd ever worked in my life.

And the only way you can work that hard is if you truly love what you're doing.

I don't generally advise people to quit their jobs to follow their dreams. But it worked for me, with an assist from my supportive family.

Within a year of leaving poker, I had a literary agent. Within eighteen months, I had a six-figure book deal.

I had a career.

The hard work didn't stop there, obviously. This writing gig is still a job. There are sacrifices and uncertainties and long stretches of work for minimal reward.

But to me, it's worth the sweat.

No Pain, No Gain.

I thought about that last year, when I joined boot camp and immediately exposed myself as a floundering, uncoordinated, out-of-shape boob.

Was I embarrassed? Yes.

Did I want to quit? Definitely.

But was I happy with my appearance and my level of fitness? Hell no.

Was I motivated enough to change level of fitness to grind as much as it took to get better?

Turned out I was.

Turned out I still am.

So maybe someday I'll actually try acting. See if I maybe might like it.