“Do at least one thing every day that’s hard—that you don’t want to do.”
“Successful people never quit just because the going gets tough.”
Those are the things that I heard growing up, and I internalized them. They’ve served me reasonably well, I have to say. I’ve said “yes” to a lot of things in my life that I wasn’t sure I could do. In fact, I’m still not sure that I can do them, despite having done them.
I wrote a pile of books for major publishers that were translated into a pile of languages and wound their way into a pile of libraries. I went to the University of Utah and did a double major. Then I went to the University of Chicago and got a masters degree, then to the New School for Social Research and did a Ph.D in sociology. I taught a bunch of different courses, over years and years, at a bunch of different campuses. I edited big encyclopedias on world history with dozens of volumes and hundreds of contributing authors, all doctors themselves. I became a senior communications and public relations manager, then a marketing director. Did television and radio. Became a father. Filed for divorce and fought a custody battle. Last couple of years, I’ve taken up taekwondo and worked my way up to a couple colors away from black belt and I’ve learned to rebuild my own car engine, remediate asbestos-contaminated areas safely, and redo plumbing and interiors.
I had no business doing any of these things, but I did them. I had no formal training in any of them before I did them, but I did them. I was never the A-list candidate, the obvious gonna-be-a-success, but I took them on and by god, I did them. I said “yes” even when I thought it was likely that I was going to fail, or even when they seemed insurmountable, or even when the costs and pain involve were likely to be huge. Often, the costs and pain were huge.
But they’ve all been done. To successful completion. By me.
This is a blog post, by the way, about Kobe Bryant. No, I’m not comparing my achievements to his; obviously they’re apples and oranges (and, in fact, some very large apples and some comparatively very average oranges).
When I heard about the helicopter crash, I was driving across a suburban parking lot on my way to buy groceries. I stopped, mid-parking lot, and just sat there, thinking.
In the days following the crash, I’ve heard one thing over and over again: Kobe loved basketball. He found something that he loved and he lived that love, lived it body and soul, achieved greatness and didn’t care because it was love. Simple love.
— § —
I’ve done a lot of hard things.
It’s second nature in my life now: every day, I do something that I don’t want to do. Something hard. It’s a rallying cry, even. I see something that I don’t want to do but that maybe could stand to be done, that maybe is the right thing, and I say to myself: that’s why I have to do it—because I don’t want to.
And then I do it. The fact that it’s hard is, precisely and directly, motivation for me. I do it.
Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but all in all it’s led me to climb from lower-middle class kid in a poor minority neighborhood with no particular prospects to multiply-published author, doctor, former professor, boss, single father with reasonably well-adjusted kids, and a bunch of other stuff. All in all, yes, I’m proud of what I’ve done in life.
But—what do I love?
What’s my basketball?
There’s never been a love. I have never once, ever, in all of this, done something that I love. The closest I’ve ever come was probably at about ten years old, learning how to code in C. Before almost everything else. And I can’t really even say that I loved that—but at least I enjoyed it.
The rest has been doing hard stuff, because it was hard stuff. Taking it on, stumbling through, coming out the other end “triumphant” having succeeded and—quite often—silenced some naysayer or other.
That was enough, for a very long time. But now, I’m about to turn forty-four years old.
Life is finally in the process of passing me by, as it does to everyone. I have a kid that’s about to become a tween. My body is starting to give out—if I’d left this taekwondo stuff for another five years, it would have killed me. (In fact, it may still do so.)
— § —
I didn’t realize how much I admired Kobe Bryant until I was sitting quietly in that parking lot, stunned at the news. I sat there for maybe a full ten minutes in silence. Part of me caught under the weight of the moment, part of me wondering just why it seemed so weighty to me.
I’m not a basketball fan. I’m not really even a sports guy, and when I do do sports, it’s football, and then because it’s my alma mater.
Here’s the thing. I admired him so because he was the world’s purest embodiment of—in a state of direct unity with—that which he loved.
I realize only now how captivating that was to me. And that I knew, as everyone knew—without a moment’s thought—that he wore his love everywhere he went. He wasn’t just good at what he did, he reveled in it. He savored it. He lived it, breathed it.
Me? I’m just doing shit because it’s hard. As I’ve been doing all along, for dozens of years.
But what do I love?
Years and years ago, before all of the things in my life happened, my father asked me what it was that I loved to do. I told him then that I didn’t know. I couldn’t answer. He warned me that that just wasn’t going to be enough. He was right.
All these years later, I still don’t know.
What, pray, do I love?
It’s time for me to be doing that. If only I knew what it was.
— § —
I’m forty-four years old. Time’s a wastin’.