The Four Faces of “What If” as Shown in Films

For the past few weeks, I’ve taken to listening to motivational speech montages. It’s easy to find them; just go to YouTube and type “motivation”, and you’ll find any number of content creators who took audio clips from motivational speakers (usually angry black men), set them to epic music (probably by Hans Zimmer, or whoever the composer for the music in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies is), spliced them onto montages of inspiring images (mostly of people working out), and posted them for people to see. A couple of my favorite creators are MotivationGrid and Younes Marxieu, though I’m sure there are others that are as good, if not better.

Anyway, one of the speakers featured is Greg Plitt, who was apparently a fitness model, actor, former army ranger, and reality show contestant on top of being a motivational speaker (he unfortunately died earlier this year trying to outrun a train, a fact that a friend of mine finds deliciously funny). The quote of his that stuck to me was this:

“I failed” is ten times more of a man than “what if”, because “what if” never went to the arena.

The first time I heard it, it sounded so powerful, as real and rousing as a bucket of ice water in the face. But when I shared it with my friend, he dismissed it outright. “Just because you say ‘what if’ doesn’t mean you’re afraid”, he said.

Thinking about it, I realize he’s right. “What if” is a phrase that is purely speculative by itself. Depending on how you fill the blanks after that, it can mean different things.

Picture3
“What if” can show a forward-facing or an over-the-shoulder perspective, and it can be a buoying or burdensome question.

You may not believe me, that friend of mine, or the awesome table above that I took the trouble to create. Fine, don’t take my word for it… but you might consider listening to Hollywood.

Some people say “what if” in the context of fear of failure, rejection, or pessimism.

“What if” can be a preface to bleak possibilities. This is the perspective that sees the future as a minefield, a constant stream of threats to be avoided and risks to be minimized. When I think about this aspect, I think about George McFly from Back to the Future:

Some people say “what if” in the context of innovation, brainstorming, and a spirit of adventure.

This one tumbles out of the lips of inventors, scientists, artists, explorers, and imaginative children. This is basically the “what if” that pushes the envelope, a conviction with such substance and weight behind it that it has the potential to change others’ perceptions–and possibly reality itself. This is the bravest incarnation of “what if”, and it reminds me of Ellie from Up:

Some people say “what if” in the context of regret or agonizing over a missed chance.

There is a Filipino word, sayang, that doesn’t have a perfect English counterpart. People have dreams, desires that they want to fulfill, and sometimes they do not act on them because of fear. When they decide not to act, and after the time to act passes, regret sets in. Sayang.

(Note: Sayang can be used in other contexts, like a near-miss or something that didn’t work out in the end.)

This face of “what if” is reminiscent of a character from Heart and Souls, a film from the 90’s starring Robert Downey Jr. I couldn’t find a clip of it online, but basically, it’s about a man, Thomas Reilly (played by RDJ), who helps four souls correct mistakes that they made in life. One of them, Harrison, regrets not having sung onstage, and the group decides to make this right by having him sing the US National Anthem in front of a crowd. When Harrison tries to back out out of fear, RDJ confronts him:

Harrison Winslow: Who came up with this ridiculous concept anyway? Resolve your entire life in one bold stroke? What if I fail? And I will. I’ll fail. I’m telling you. I always fail. Then my whole life will be a complete failure.

Thomas Reilly: No offense, Harrison. But you died a failure because you never tried.

If you get the chance, watch this movie. If it doesn’t make you smile or cry at any point, I have to conclude that you are a robot or some kind of soulless yet animated husk.

Some people say “what if” in the context of relief, of realizing how lucky they are. 

Every decision has a cost and a benefit. For everything you gain from every choice you make, you also stand to lose something because you gave up doing something else. That’s called opportunity cost, and while Mr. Plitt saw the backward-facing “what if” as an expression of regret, it could actually be a way to appreciate your good fortune because for all you know, you might have gotten off lucky. A wonderful example can be found in 500 Days of Summer:

Depending on how you look at your life, whether you look at the past or the future, whether you lean towards hope or despair, you’ll have a different take. But remember, all those perspectives are just based on speculation. If you want to avoid all the heartache and headache associated with “what if”, perhaps the best thing to do is to just act on things, not necessarily without fear, but certainly with the acceptance that while things might go wrong, they just might go right.

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Tips for the Aspiring Master

I talked before about the path to getting things right, and how masters got to where they are. It’s not an easy path, and it can take a lot of grueling, repetitive work, involving a lot of mistakes, to get from wrong to right. It’s relatively easy to grasp this principle, but actually accepting and applying it can be very challenging. As human beings, we’re not purely creatures of principle: we have egos that need to be stroked, and a need for fulfillment that must be satisfied. What can we do to make the error-laden path to perfection sting a little less and pay off a little more?

Here are a few things that I think will make the leap from understanding to application a little bit easier.

Pick an Activity that You’re Motivated to Do

Whether it’s via intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation, drive is something that makes you more willing to practice, because practice requires immersion. It’s easier to immerse yourself in waters where you can swim rather than drown. So you have to go for an activity that you have motivation to work at.

As a student, I was very motivated to study because of a blend of intrinsic motivators (I enjoyed learning and relished the achievement of understanding difficult concepts) and extrinsic motivators (because a scholar, I was entitled to a stipend, provided that I maintained a certain grade). Think of intrinsic motivation as a gill-based respiratory system, and extrinsic motivation as SCUBA gear; both let you breathe underwater, but extrinsic motivation tends to be more limited. That’s why a lot of the time, it’s important to rely on intrinsic motivation and find the waters where you can thrive. And it’s not a simple matter of finding free swimming space.

Not every company adopts the Blue Ocean Strategy with success.
Because I’m a realist, I’m fairly sure that not every business that adopts the Blue Ocean Strategy succeeds.

Choose an Endeavor that You Can Probably Be Good At

Picking up from a metaphor I used before, a skill is a blade that you sharpen, and different types of blades are sharpened in different ways. If you try to hone a knife so that it has the same cutting properties and functions as an axe, chances are you won’t have much success. So beyond the criterion of passion or interest, you’ve got to find a place where you can positively kick butt. If you have a bigger probability of succeeding at your chosen endeavor, you’ll have a better shot at a payoff at the end of the pain, so you should go for something that betters your chances.

We all have different sets of talents, skills, and knowledge, so nobody can be good at everything. Not everyone can achieve mastery at all things; pick the target you can realistically hit. Assess your skill sets and talents, see what field you can apply them to, try to figure out the types of practice you can use to improve them effectively, and then you can begin.

Make Sure It’s Not Too Easy, but Not Too Hard

People tend to want to avoid stress. However, there are actually two different kinds of stress: eustress and distress. What you want is to have just enough stress to be challenged and but not push yourself too hard. Don’t exercise to the point of injury; don’t study to the point that you get burnt out. Keep everything in moderation, and push just enough so you can grow. If you feel that you’re not performing at your peak, then chances are you need a push. Sometimes, the judgment is hard to make, as is beautifully illustrated in the movie “Whiplash”:

Realize that Mastery doesn’t Always Involve Rivalry

Okay, at this point, I have to apologize. In my previous blog post, I talked about our competitive world, and how it’s important to win. However, I have to admit that not all games are zero-sum in nature. There is such a thing as a win-win situation, and anyone who’s played team sports or co-op games knows that success can come from working with others just as much as it can from competing with them. Teammanship, cooperative and friendly play can drive adaptation and evolution just as much as competition can, so consider finding a coach or mentor and peers you can share your path to perfection with.

Kids have been known to make adults better, too.
Kids have been known to make adults better, too.

So, what is one thing that you’d like to master? What skills, talents, and knowledge do you have to get on the road to mastery? What motivates you to want to master it? Is it career-related or just something personal? Are there any people who are helping you with that? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, and let’s try to get a conversation going.

The Road to Right

I used to be a big CSI fan. Say what you will about how unrealistic some parts of it are and how it has affected expectations in the real-life justice system, but the characters were just too damn awesome. Gil Grissom, the lead protagonist of the flagship series who described himself in high school as a “ghost”, was my hero. He was smart, he was stoic, and he was wise. There’s probably a collection of his best quotes from the series out there, and I’m willing to bet more than half of those would be great nuggets that philosophers, scientists, managers, and practically anyone can learn from.

Hat tip to Pinterest user Maddie Marsh: https://www.pinterest.com/maddiemarsh14/csicriminal-minds/

But the one quote of his that sticks out for me, from the minute I heard it until now, is this: “I’m wrong all the time. That’s how I get to right”.

One-Strike Perfection Doesn’t Exist

Businesses talk about how it’s important to get things right the first time. It all has to do with cost minimization, of course; the fewer times something has to be done, the less time and energy and fewer resources have to be invested in that thing, so less money spent. The thing is, in the real world, we know that hardly happens. It’s not like Tiger Woods picked up a golf club and hit a hole-in-one his first time out on the green, and I’m sure Bruce Lee didn’t get the one-inch punch down perfect overnight.

And it’s the same for me. In anything I do, I never could get it right the first time. For example, people might have thought me smart during my school days, and to some degree they were right. But I wasn’t smart… at least, not in the way they thought I was.

Everyone’s Aiming for the Bullseye

We live in a highly competitive world. Each person added to the population is a drain on the planet. Resources are limited, wealth is rationed, and every person has to prove their worth every day. So it’s hardly surprising why businesses don’t like the idea of mistakes being made. It makes sense; each time you miss a point in the first quarter makes it easier for your opponent to win the game, and the game is made so one side can win. And everyone understandably wants to win. (To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this justifies being a jerk. DO NOT BE A JERK, OR AT LEAST TRY NOT TO BE ONE.)

However, perfection isn’t a target you hit the first time. It takes practice; you aim for it, and it takes hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of attempts before you get it right. Anyone who’s ever tried to coach or teach anyone else knows that it’s unreasonable to expect much from a newbie.

Frigging Perfect

So what’s the answer? How do you reconcile the reality and necessity of mistakes with the need to get things right?

It’s simple. There’s no secret to it.

Don’t Be Wrong for Long

Art. Sketches. Boxing. Sparring. Singing. Rehearsal. Marathons. Training.

For every field of endeavor that requires perfection, there is a mechanism that allows for mistakes… and those mechanisms allow people to make mistakes before they count.

As a student, I didn’t pick lessons up in the class the first time I heard them; I started picking them up the day or the week before, when I studied them in the textbooks, and went over them repeatedly until I got them through my thick skull and imprinted into the grey matter of my brain. (Personally, I think few students appreciate the value of a course outline or syllabus anymore; the real world is not kind enough to provide a heads up, so the young ones should enjoy the privilege.)

Each perfect swing Tiger Woods makes is not purely a product of raw talent. Bruce Lee didn’t get his martial arts mastery handed to him on a silver plate. And everyone remembers that commercial where His Airness recognizes the value of his mistakes.

The skills these masters are associated with took honing and polishing. These were not divine, supernaturally sharp blades handed down from on high; they were honed on whetstones or grindstones, forged in furnaces, created from iron and carbon extracted from the earth. They were products of a long, long process.

What is one thing that you’ve done that you really worked hard at to achieve or get right? What were the drills, exercises, and routines you had to do to achieve it? Did anyone help you with it, or did you do it all on your own? I’d like to see your input in the comments below. 🙂

P.S: It took me ten drafts to get this blog post to a point where I’m satisfied with it. Sometimes I added something, sometimes I removed something else. It’s a messy, unsystematic method, and it’s a process I spend a lot of time immersed in. But it’s my way, so it’s well worth it.

Score Points with Your Future Self

We all have a problem with immediate gratification, I think. No matter who you are or what your situation in life is, there’s always one indulgence that, despite your rational mind instructing you otherwise, you cannot resist. It could be video games. It could be watching movies. It could be sports, or drinking, or eating, and you just can’t get enough… or at least, you just can’t get it soon enough.

The thing is, when you make a choice to indulge yourself, you have to give up time and effort that could be spent some other way. There may be other productive things you could do. Maybe you have homework to do. Maybe there’s a project you have to get to, a deadline you have to beat, or a test you have to prepare for. And maybe, just in that moment, you decide to blow it off in favor of indulging yourself, because your future self can take care of it.

"Y'know who I think we should let deal with this problem?" "Who?" "Future Ted & Future Marshall."
“Y’know who I think we should let deal with this problem?”
“Who?”
“Future Ted & Future Marshall.”

Don’t Deny Your Gratification…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with decompressing. We’re human beings, and we all need to decompress from whatever pressures we deal with in our day-to-day existence. It’s all part of us being multidimensional and being something beyond our work or obligations.

Imagine what life would be like if we did nothing but fulfill our obligations every day. We’d eat not for the pleasure of it, but for the energy that it gives us to do our job; we’d have no awareness of anything that doesn’t concern protocols, procedures, and productivity. We’d be no fun. And probably a bit weird or sociopathic.

Just Delay It

However, what I do suggest is that when we do something to gratify ourselves immediately, let’s consider whether there would be any repercussions to our future selves. If there’s an immediate choice I have to make between binge-watching a series or working on a project I absolutely must finish, I should think about what will happen if I go for option A. Will my future self still be able to beat the deadline?

Whenever we make these kinds of decisions, we have to look back and see how much we’ve done to curry favor with our future selves. Did I work on the project enough over the past few weeks that I can afford to take a break? Have I crossed enough milestones that I can afford to walk or jog a little and still finish the race within the time I set for myself? If the answer is “yes”, then by all means, go for it.

So, whenever we feel like doing something that has an immediate payoff, let’s consider the future costs that we must pay when you do it. We should think about our future selves; hold ourselves accountable to them if necessary. It can take some getting used to, but if we let our future selves have a say in our present decisions, then I think we’ll all be better off.

5 Reasons to Try Not to Be a Jerk

People can be jerks. This we know. Whether it’s bullying, pollution, theft, vandalism, gossiping, or just simply the feeling of schadenfreude, we know that people can all get a little mean. Nobody’s perfect; we all have our weaknesses that hold us back, appetites that we have to satisfy, and blind spots that can make us a little insensitive. Even the most decent person has bad days, when steam just builds up and he unfortunately has to unload or vent on the nearest person. We all understand.

That doesn’t make it right, though. Even though people can be jerks, they shouldn’t, and I think people, by and large, don’t try hard enough to be decent. Label me a bore, call me a square, or say whatever it is people say to mean “being good isn’t cool”, I really think everyone should exercise a bigger effort to be a good person. And I think everyone knows this; they just need to be reminded of the reasons once in a while.

1. We’re All Connected (Whether We Like It or Not)

“What goes around comes around”. “Pay it forward”. “Karma’s going to catch up with you”. There are plenty of cliches, usually spun off from religions and new-age philosophies, that suggest we’re all part of some moral economic system, where good deeds and bad deeds are somehow counted, good people and bad people sorted, and sometime, somehow, everyone gets what they deserve. Whatever narrative they use to justify it, the bottom line is always the same; you have to be a good person to others, and they have to act the same to you, because we’re all connected. “We’ve got to love others as we love ourelves”, “we’re all children of (preferred deity/religious icon)”, and so on.

But let’s say you don’t buy into that. Let’s say you don’t let yourself be governed by the rules in some book, or the words of some “holy” man, and you don’t see how coming from the same spiritual source means that you should act straight-laced and not be selfish. You don’t believe in the afterlife, or some sort of moral reckoning at the end. Maybe you think there’s no justice; there’s just us.

Well, sorry, but even if it’s not by spiritual means, we’re connected, for the simple reason that resources are limited and shared. No matter who you are, you partake of money, food, water, electricity, and a million other resources that come from a common source. We’ve got just one planet, and there’s only so much of it to go around. Even the simple problem of overpopulation is causing all kinds of problems with living space and strained public services which, especially if you live in a poor neighborhood, can lead to a lot of friction and frustration. And since we don’t know how to go to other planets and make them livable, this situation will continue.

2. What You Do DOES Matter

There are some people who think that it’s okay for them to be jerks, because in the big scheme of things, they’re not the biggest jerks. “I may have flushed some kid’s head down the toilet the other day, but hey, I’m not Hitler, so I must be doing something right”. A variation of this is people telling themselves that there are figures who have more influence, more power, and more authority than they will ever have, and those figures get to be jerks; “My being a jerk affects the world on a much smaller scale, so don’t talk to me about my being a jerk until those bigger jerks are dealt with”.

Sherlock Holmes has better things to do than catch the guy who farted in the elevator, right?
Sherlock Holmes has better things to do than catch the person who stole one guy’s office lunch, right?

There are a lot of reasons why people would feel like this. They may feel like they don’t matter. They may be feeling some sort of insecurity. They may not be getting a lot of love, and you may have decided that attention is the next best thing, no matter how you get it. So you put others down to build yourself up.

To those people, I’ve got one bit of advice: GET OVER IT. You’re better than that, no matter what you think. You count. Don’t think that a little teasing or a little offense is excusable because you’re too small to make a big difference. That’s the gateway philosophy that leads to things like “History won’t remember that I beat this kid up” or “Civilization won’t crumble just because I called this person a moron”. And even if you say that you won’t let yourself get any worse, that you only need to allow yourself a little malice every day, it’s still not a good reason, really. Because…

3. There’s an Oversupply of Jerks

As I mentioned above, there’s a problem of overpopulation in many places. Hell, the human population is expanding at an increasing rate; some may compare it with a cancer or a virus, while others may just snigger at the degree to which the human race seems to enjoy “getting some”, am I right?

Well, with an increase in population comes an increase in the number of jerks. Especially in a world with limited resources, it’s much too easy to justify being selfish, much too difficult to disregard others’ feelings and circumstances. Entitlement mentality abounds. They say that it’s okay to be selfish, because under the “invisible hand” model advocated by old-timey economist Adam Smith, it evens out in the end; everyone’s pursuit of their own selfish ends averages out into one common good.

I'm showing a greedy woman here because I believe in gender equality.
Gender equality: accepting that women can be greedy, too.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that this interpretation of the “invisible hand” only works if people are equally selfish and equally enabled and empowered to act on their selfishness. Let’s talk basic economics for a bit: you have a market, filled with many small players, each of which do what they do to maximize their own share. Each player has only a small degree of influence, so they can’t get more than they deserve. Now, think about the real world, and how there is only one or a few big players in practically every industry that matters. Think smaller; think about how many people in the world are poorer or less able than you, but want and arguably deserve the same things. Still think the “invisible hand” theory works?

But not many people think about that, so they blissfully go through life acting on only their own interests, and their individual actions add up. I think this mentality is too prevalent nowadays, so if your life’s calling is to be a selfish jerk, you’re out of luck. There really is no vacancy, and there are way too many of you already. I admit, I have no solid basis for that assertion; to my knowledge, there is no census counting the number of terrible people in the world. But frankly, I don’t want to be the guy to start the tally.

"Hello! I'd like to ask you a few questions to determine if you fall within the 90th percentile of terrible people in the world."
“Hello! Are you a pitiful excuse for a human being?”

4. Life Can Be Terrible Enough

Life can suck. People die, people get sick, children don’t get an education, families starve, and cities are devastated by storms, earthquakes, or tsunamis. It’s a big, steaming pile of unfairness, sure. But a lot of it is just random. Natural calamities and tragedies are not mustache-twirling villains wearing capes and stovepipe hats; they just strike, and they have no judgment over whom they affect.

So we can all agree that life has plenty of levers and tools at its disposal to blindly bring people to their knees. Given that, we can also probably agree that there’s no need to add to the frustration by being emotional vampires or unfeeling, uncaring robots in human form. People have bad days; bad days can sometimes lead to bad months or bad years. Does anybody really want to be that guy who kicks someone who’s down?

I’m not saying everybody has to be loving. Nobody has to really care about anybody they don’t care about, because some people just aren’t built for it. Some people are just born with a limited ability to accommodate and dispense compassion, and that’s fine, I suppose. So in consideration for those people, I think the only minimum requirement for this world to be a good place is for people to not be a jerk.

But I’d also suggest that, even once in a while, we try to go the extra mile and be good as opposed to just being decent or civil. Because…

5. Being Good Just Might Feel Good

Let me tell you something: one of my favorite movies is “It Could Happen To You”, starring Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda. The basic setup is that Cage is a small-time New York city cop, while Fonda is a waitress. Cage buys a lottery ticket for himself and his wife; finding himself short of money to give Fonda a tip, he offers instead to give her half of what the ticket would win in the lottery. Fonda, on a lark, accepts the offer. My favorite sequence in the movie is shown in the video below (it’s around 13 minutes long):

When Cage has to decide whether he should go back on his promise to  Fonda, he says that “it’s not the right thing”. His wife is understandably unhappy, and doesn’t want to split the money with a stranger, even though it was promised. Cage does all he honestly can to get out of his bargain with Fonda, but when he realizes that there’s no way he can get out of making good, he actually seems relieved to be doing what he believes to be the right thing–crazy, but right. That part gets me every time.

Now, I know it’s just a movie, and not the most realistic movie at that. It’s idealistic and sappy, and even though it’s based on a true story, it’s not what really happened. Even if it were, the chances of the same thing happening to anybody is infinitesimally small. So if it happened to me, I don’t know if I will ever have the strength to make that kind of decision, and make it happily.

But what if I could? What if there were some way that I could do something amazing for another person by making an unconventional choice? What if I could prove that I could think and act beyond my own interests? I think if I had the chance to be that kind of different, I’d feel tons better about myself as a person. And I think a lot of people would feel the same.

"Not an ass! Thank God almighty, I'm not an ass!"
“Not an ass! Thank God almighty; I’m not an ass!”

What are some of the reasons/excuses/stories you tell yourself to refrain from being a jerk? What are some of your most hated examples of jerkitude? What are some of your favorite examples (factual or fictional) of being a good person? Feel free to share by commenting below.

On Discipline and Satisfaction

The thing about discipline is that it’s got this connotation of being just this tedious, repetitive, mundane activity that only bores, bureaucrats, and the anally retentive will get any measure of satisfaction from. Discipline is about restraint. It’s about lines that you’re not supposed to cross, or color outside of, or deviate from. It’s about rules that will, supposedly, hinder you or another in some way or another. And that’s not cool, man. Like, totally not cool.

We NEED Structure

But what a lot of people don’t realize (or maybe, what everybody doesn’t realize most of the time) is that discipline is what builds the framework around which we build everything. It’s the trellis that vines grow around. It’s the highway systems and railroads and trails that you follow as you backpack through Europe. It’s the pentatonic scale that your voice bounces along on as you attempt to hit those runs on your awesome rendition of “And I Am Telling You” or “Let’s Get It On”.

So when someone says that discipline is not their thing, and they’ll have nothing to do with it because it hinders them as an artist, or otherwise interferes with whatever inexplicable energy-based, mood-dependent activity or creative endeavor that they are pouring their passions out into, it might be good to remind them that hardly anybody starts off being great or a genius. You don’t just pick up a guitar, then feel a magical connection based on its feeling “just right” in the crook of your arm, and suddenly come out with this great, tear-jerking cover of “Let It Go”, your fingers plucking the strings as if they were red-hot, the chords ringing out like bells in the silent space formed around you by a spontaneously generated, awestruck audience that whip out their smartphones, taking videos of your feat and uploading it onto YouTube, where it gets like 999 million hits, and then turns you into a star overnight (whether that’s the time it takes before you become a star or the duration of your stardom, it’s anyone’s guess, but if it were mine, I’d guess the latter), and you are happily crowned as the miraculously musical prodigy of your generation.

Pleasure without Pain? Dream On

You know what the more statistically likely scenario is? It’s that you won’t get it right the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. It’s going to be an ego-crushing, humiliating, why-the-hell-am-I-doing-this marathon that will never seem to end, during which time you will continually question the sanity of going back and doing it over. On that score, the complainers probably get it right; there’s very little satisfaction to be gotten during that grind, that place and time when no matter what you do, it hardly seems to get any better.

But that’s the thing about satisfaction: more often than not, it’s delayed. Gratification that comes without effort is a myth, I think. Or, more likely, when you find yourself gratified with hardly any effort on your part, it’s because of the effort of other people who are carrying your hedonistic, McHappiness-seeking butt.

Behind every superb meal is a team of chefs, sous chefs, sommeliers, and other professionals who spent years learning about every nuance of the food that you’re about to consume, and you’ll probably have no more intelligent comment on it than “This is pretty good”.

Every great movie that tugs at your heart and fires up your soul is the product of thousands of man-hours spent by talented and creative workers (whose talent and creativity are honed, not inborn), more than nine-tenths of which will never be seen on the silver screen, left as nothing more than cellulose acetate ribbons on the cutting room floor, or dormant MOV/AVI/MP4/name-your-format files on some no-name videographer’s hard disk drive, never to be found or even sought out.

Every “miracle” drug (I put “miracle” in quotes because drugs don’t just happen) comes from millions of dollars and hours’ worth of research, quality control, regulation, administrative cost, failed experiments, and sleepless, coffee-fueled nights in the laboratory spent by people in lab coats who spent decades of their lives learning what they know, and earning the right to learn more about things that you’ll never even wonder about.

My point, I guess, about discipline, is that it’s a necessary cost. There are no miracles. There is no sorcery. There’s only input, work, and output.

What’s Your Discipline? Go and Find Out

So whoever you are, whatever you’re doing right now, I suggest you go out and find that discipline that will give you the most satisfaction. Find that one thing that you won’t mind mindlessly pouring weeks, months, and years into. Find the grind that will sharpen you rather than wear you down. Recognize how much it will take from you, and be prepared to pay for it.

If you’ve already found your discipline, kudos to you; you’re better off than I am, and probably 99% of the world’s population.

And what if you haven’t found yours, and probably never will or can?

Well… condolences, and welcome to the club.

Worth is Worthless without Risk

Yes, I understand, you wretched person. You are faced with choices and challenges every day; you have to make decisions, to determine where you will invest your time, money, effort, love, and other God-given resources. And what if the choice you make does not work out? It has happened before. You were left broken, helpless, lost, questioning every choice you made. You made a very bad bet, once in your life, and you are still paying the interest.

And so here you sit, still as a stone, for fear of knocking over the precariously piled-up stack of chips that you have successfully gathered over the years, adding to it one chip at a time, terrified of the possibility that it all comes crashing down.

Get Over It

But here’s the thing: it is not the tower itself that has value, but the individual chips that make it up. Whether they are in a stack or in a heap, a thousand chips is a thousand chips. Should the tower collapse, as long as none of the pieces are lost, nothing is lost.

And should you make a wager once more, and once again it does not pay off, the game goes on. You can get back what you lose, and then some. It’s all about learning from your losses.

And should you encounter a situation that you never have seen before, and you fear you don’t know how to approach it, approach it anyway. When has opportunity ever presented itself in a form that was not different from other chances that have presented themselves to you previously? If it were exactly the same, it would not be an opportunity, but another version of the sameness that you find yourself stuck in, day in and day out.

Become a Better Better

Be not afraid of what comes. Be willing to take big punches to dish out big hits. Go all in once in a while. Trust in your judgment. Trust in your worth, and in your ability to create and accumulate worth.

Your willingness to risk what you have is, in some respects, what shows others that it has value.