You haven’t found your passion yet because it’s too damn hard.
Remember that time you wanted to learn how to play the guitar and gave up after a month? That dusty guitar in the corner reminds you of your failure every day.
What about your dream of being a contestant on American Ninja Warrior? You gave that one up when you found out you couldn’t even do a single pull-up. Whatever. The people on that show have been training since they were 3 anyway.
You thought being your own boss would give you the freedom you’ve longed for. But then you realized that starting a business is hard. Like for real hard. Sticking with your job and your awful boss is so much easier. Plus, you don’t have to worry about not getting a regular paycheck.
Everyone else seems to be living out their dreams, but you’re stuck. You’ve already found your passion. You gave it up because it was too damn hard.
It was my 30th birthday, and I had planned to celebrate by running 30 miles before my birthday dinner. I’m not sure why I thought that would be the ideal way to celebrate. So at noon I left work without telling anyone what I was doing or where I was headed. I walked out the door like I was taking a lunch break and didn’t come back.
By mile 29 I felt like I was floating above the trail. I wasn’t running. My body was running and I was along for the ride. It was a feeling of effortless freedom. It was what psychologists call Flow. The Runner’s High. According to recent research, I may actually have been high. It was beautiful.
I’m not a born runner. My vision went purple and red every time I ran the mile in high school. I would dry heave on the pavement after crossing the finish line 10 minutes later. Then I’d have an asthma attack and I’d start to suck at breathing.
I was born with negative athletic ability. You know the kid. Last picked for the team. Stands in the outfield facing the wrong direction. Eats boogers. Picks dandelions. The only reason I played any team sports was because they were mandatory, and I had to be on someone’s team. I struck out in Tee-ball. The only ribbon I ever got was for second place in tug-of-war. True story.
How was my transformation into a runner even possible? I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t even close to being in shape. How could I be doing this impossible thing and have it feel so effortless?
The answer is simple. I trained every day for 12 months straight. If you do a thing every day for a year it’s going to eventually start feeling easy.[easy-tweet tweet=”If you do a thing every day for a year it’s going to eventually start feeling easy” user=”henkler”]
Only when an activity doesn’t consistently suck can you evaluate if it is truly your passion. When I started running, I didn’t know if I would become a runner. I had built up a burning desire to become a runner. I wanted to be passionate about it. I loved the idea of it. If I had given up because I sucked, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. With a year of daily training I finished those 30 miles with ease. I went on to run race after race. I finished my 10th Marathon this week. I am in the best shape of my life. I am in love with running. It has been one of my keystone habits in my success in life. But it wasn’t always this way.[easy-tweet tweet=”Only when an activity doesn’t consistently suck can you evaluate if it is truly your passion”]
I sucked. I didn’t want to do something every day that sucks. Running sucks. Sucking sucks. But what if it didn’t? What if you aren’t pursuing your passion in life because doing it is too damn hard? Would you put up with a few months of sucking to discover your passion?
Running is hard when you are a beginner. Physically, psychologically, and spiritually hard. My body wasn’t able to take more than a mile or two before starting to break down. I could have raged against the time I lost in my youth treating my body like a dumpster. I could have compared myself to everyone I knew who was a better runner than me. I could have told myself that I didn’t want to be a runner after all. That my body wasn’t meant for running. That I didn’t have the willpower. That I was too old. That it wasn’t worth the effort. That it would destroy my knees. That my career was more important. That I didn’t have enough time. That I should do something else that wasn’t so damn hard.
If you wake up every morning expecting to do something monumental that day, you are on the path to massive failure. I wasn’t planning to be able to effortlessly run 30 miles when I started. I only wanted to be someone who ran every morning. Every time I tried I felt awkward, frustrated, and slow. I would get passed by senior citizens. I would trip on the sidewalk. On holes in the ground. On pigeons. I would be sore from all the running I was doing. I was tired. I wanted to quit. I got hurt. I wasn’t any good. I didn’t feel like I was improving.
Instead of quitting, I would get up the next day, lace up my shoes, and go out for another run. If I was feeling tired or sick, I would run slow or walk. If I was injured, I would adjust to let my body heal. If I was feeling energetic, I would work in sprints or try to push my pace. I would pick a location to run that would inspire me instead of defaulting to the same boring stretch of pavement. That way I could at least enjoy the scenery while I embraced the suck.
If it feels like work, you’re working too hard. This is your mantra in the beginning. I wasn’t going to win any races. I only wanted to finish the run. There’s something magical about giving yourself permission to slow down and fall in love with what you are doing. Don’t focus on the outcome. Get up every morning, throw on shoes, head out the door, fall into the rhythm of your feet on the earth. At that moment there is no record to set. No race to win. Only you. The ground beneath your feet. The air in your lungs.[easy-tweet tweet=”If it feels like work, you’re working too hard. This is your mantra in the beginning.” user=”henkler”]
I began to fall in love with the process of sucking. I didn’t start by setting a huge goal and then getting frustrated when I was off track. I was focusing on turning myself into someone who ran every day. If I felt like quitting after a few minutes, I would stop. If I felt like extending my run for another few minutes I would. If the weather was miserable and I couldn’t handle going outside, I would force myself to commit to 5 minutes. If I still wanted to quit, I would go back inside. It’s amazing how much of our lives are controlled by momentum. Once you break through inertia by going out the door, it’s hard to stop.[easy-tweet tweet=”Once you break through inertia by going out the door, it’s hard to stop” user=”henkler”]
Over time my body got stronger. It adapted to the stress I was giving it, so I gave it more. I adjusted my training plans to increase my weekly mileage. Running started feeling more natural – a part of who I was. I started to find myself getting lost in it – large chunks of time would go by and I would hardly notice. I was finally at that magical tipping point when things go from being a struggle to becoming part of who you are. My brain had rewired itself to subconsciously understand the kinesthetics of running. I no longer had to focus on my breath or every step that I took.
You don’t get to effortless overnight. It takes months or years of suck. It is extremely frustrating. I had mastered other things. But not running.
This is a phenomenon that I call The Expert Problem. Experts in one skill become defeated when they don’t see immediate results learning a new skill. We’ve forgotten how hard it is to get good at something. We want to skip right to greatness. The more of an expert you are at one thing, the harder it is to suck at something new. Being a neurosurgeon doesn’t mean you can play Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique with a year practicing on the piano. Being an Olympic swimmer doesn’t mean you can master web development in a month. No matter who you are, you will suck for a while when learning something new. People who claim otherwise are hiding something.[easy-tweet tweet=”We’ve forgotten how hard it is to get good at something. We want to skip right to greatness.” user=”henkler”]
Are you afraid to let other people see you suck? If you are, welcome to the club. You are completely normal. We all want to feel like we are doing a good job. We don’t want to let others see us struggling. We can’t show weakness. We want to look good and feel good doing it. We post our successes on Facebook and bury our failures in the back yard.
Here is the secret. Everyone who is extremely good at something used to be extremely bad at it. When I’m passing slower runners out on the trail, I don’t focus on how slow they are. I don’t judge them. I’ve been there. I know what it feels like to be slow and awkward and useless and tired. I’m proud of them for showing up and doing it in spite of the suck. I’m proud of them for their courage to do what most people won’t. There is no shame in this. I love them for it. Anyone who doesn’t feel the same is probably a sociopath. Why would you care what a sociopath thinks?[easy-tweet tweet=”Here is the secret. Everyone who is extremely good at something used to be extremely bad at it.” user=”henkler”]
Writing sucks. This article probably sucks. This is my 10th day of learning how to write. I’ve made over 100 revisions to this article after finishing it. I’ve used the word suck at least 40 times. It’s hard. I want to quit. Every day I get up, go for a run, and then force myself to sit for 30 minutes in the Throne of Agony and write. My writing is often unclear. It’s a tangled mess. It breaks every rule in The Elements of Style and On Writing Well. I haven’t even finished reading either of those yet. I’ve never taken a class on writing. Or studied writing. Or written anything longer than an email since college.
I don’t have an overall goal for writing. It’s not part of some ten-year plan for my life. I’ve always sucked at writing and want to see what it feels like to not suck quite so badly. Maybe then I’ll find it as a passion to pursue. Until then, I will keep on embracing the suck every day. And some day, you will be able to read something I wrote that doesn’t suck quite so badly any more.
Embrace the suck until it doesn’t. Love the struggle. It’s perfectly fine to be terrible at something today so that some day in the future you won’t be quite so bad. Struggling means you are improving. You don’t grow by doing what comes easily. You grow when you struggle. When you stop growing, you start dying.[easy-tweet tweet=”You don’t grow by doing what comes easily. You grow when you struggle. When you stop growing, you start dying.”]
Suck every day. Some days will be hard. Some days you will fail. If you embrace the suck you can try again tomorrow and keep the struggle going. Keep struggling and you will inevitably get better. Struggle long enough and one day you will be good. Then you can make it your passion and become truly great. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.[easy-tweet tweet=”Keep struggling and you will inevitably get better. Struggle long enough and one day you will be good.” user=”henkler”]
Need more inspiration? Watch this short video. Good luck rationalizing giving up because something is too hard after seeing this:
What passion have you failed at in the past? Tell us your story in the comments below.