“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ ” — Muhammad Ali
I’m a fanatic of sports. My favorite time of the year is right now. Why? [American] football has begun. I particularly love College Football, thus, fall is almost always a blessing and rarely a curse.
I tell you of the words I hear most often while watching this great sport the one that resounds like a bullhorn is Adversity. With the frequency I hear this word I swear it’s like some kind of personified deity.
In a way, it makes sense. When an abstract idea is physically manifest by the mind it becomes something to work for. To overcome just the same. Defined by Merriam-Webster, adversity is,
“A state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.”
I like to think of a personified Adversity as the sister of Victory. And here we come to another love of mine: Graeco–Roman Mythology. Our word for victory derives from Latin victoria.
In Graeco–Roman myth victoria was a winged goddess always there to crown the victor in his respective field (often in military affairs). In her hands was usually a laurel wreath that must have felt extra sweet to the victor when placed on top his head.
To my knowledge neither the Greeks nor Romans had an equivalent for Adversity. The gods could be seen certainly as adversarial but an actual god of adversity? That I’m not aware of. If she were though, if she did exist to the Ancients, I would imagine her with a crown herself like Victory, but a crown of thorns.
Because Adversity is a pain. All of us experience this goddess of pain in our short lives. As writers, or whatever pursuit we’ve chosen for our destinies, we cannot escape her. She is an unsympathetic and abusive woman.
Adversity, and all her many schemes and designs, really doesn’t care what you do as long as you don’t succeed. She loathes her sister Victory.
The author might feel her while they attempt to complete their novel; the athlete when confronting their highly favored opponent; the entrepreneur before they present their startup to a group of stingy investors.
Being an author myself she is always there. At this early stage, regardless of profession, she is with you as you strive to prove your worth. She likes to have you question your chosen path and your ability to perform: “How do I finish this? Do I really have to do that — can I do that? How do I make a bunch of people care about my product?”
So she raises the obstacles in your path. She invests you with her crown of thorns. She makes you feel fragile at once. But how do you prevent her from destroying your will to endure?
First, what’s your definition of success? I ask because the strength of Adversity can either intensify or stay rather mellow depending on your desires. In other words, the more you want, specifically, the more you really want (how bad do you want it?), the harder she’ll fight. Defining your success will give you perspective with respect to your goals, expectations and what will likely be required of you in order to succeed.
With that decided, to prevent Adversity’s dominance over you it requires one thing of you: think like a philosopher. To think like a philosopher means five things to me when facing the queen of thorns.
When you think positive, you build confidence. That’s another word, confidence, I hear so often in sports, especially among solo sports like tennis and golf. Just a slight drop in an athlete’s game can significantly affect their confidence for months. When you are confident, you feel its buoyant effects, and when you’re not, you wish you were someone else. With low confidence, Adversity will triumph.
With keeping positive you keep negativity at bay. Negativity are the thorns boring into your skull which, the longer they continue to remain without relief, the more difficult it is to want to endure. It always begins with the questions, whether internally from the self, or externally from friends and family. It adds unnecessary weight over your head. You feel unhealthy.
So think positive. Don’t hang on to what others say; they’re opinions after all, and though many people swear off otherwise, opinion isn’t fact. It never will be.
Think instead to what you have accomplished on this day or how your accomplishments of days, weeks, months prior have incrementally led you further along to your goal(s). There’s true value. The effort you give to thinking positive can begin to stack, just like the progress a writer makes each day with writing, or the person who works out daily at the gym.
Positivity opens your mind instead of shrinking it, haven’t you noticed? You experience more days of wanting to conquer the day. Then you’re ready to perform your daily tasks with vital energy and maybe even vivacity.
It will give you the strength to carry on when the inevitable negativity (because we can’t prevent it completely) hounds you for a day.
Live In The Now
This precept could very well be called: “Take it one day at a time.” But the principle is the same. Focusing on the now trains you to concentrate on todayand what you must work on/at. The present is the only moment in time that has any real value — because it’s the only state you experience. You don’t live in the future since the future doesn’t exist, and the past, well — is in the past. Living in the past consumes your thoughts and ultimately distracts you.
When I think of the past’s influences I’m sometimes reminded of Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. In his head was the constant question “what if”: What if coach had put me in the game as QB? We would have won. I would have gone pro!
He couldn’t simply move on. His past memories continued to harass him because he let them. Know of anyone like that? They’re habitually lost in their head living in a state that has neither value nor meaning. They’re distracted, never letting go, and so it holds them back. It’s an impediment. There’s a scheme of Adversity: to get you thinking away from what you have to do.
Don’t allow yourself to be bothered by either of the two extremes: what was (that you have no control over) and what could/might/should (that you have no control over). But you do have control over the now.
If you think about what you have to do now, and focus on that for just that day, then on the next day you can start anew, working on what came before. Then you’re utilizing your energies efficiently and effectively.
You’re not distracted. You’re locked in.
Forget What Others Have
Don’t you find that when you focus on another’s life, say a celebrity, you start wishing you had what they had?
If you can use that as motivation, then by all means; but if not — don’t do it. Bad! Again it’s a distraction. Who cares what they have? Is it really all that important?
So JK Rowling has a billion dollars, worldwide fame and legions of fans. So Elon Musk has a pair of groundbreaking companies and his own island (I’m assuming; and if not, he probably has a bigass mansion with its own space shuttle dock). It doesn’t matter. They’re not you. And they’re never going to be you. Just like you’re never going to be them.
What matters is what you have, what you know they don’t have, and what they could never possess. Guard it like it were your child, maybe it is your child. Appreciate it like if you lost it you would lose a part of your soul. Thus, never take it for granted.
If you think too often about what others have — that you want to have — you’ll surely grow jealous, and this emotion can beget a rank few others: impatience, irritability, frustration, desperation and dejection. Underneath all that is a sense of feeling sorry for one’s self.
That’s the wrong mindset to have in life. The aforementioned are one too many thorns to deal with and have no good result when you continue to feed them.
So don’t. You don’t need those things, you just want them. That’s an important distinction.
Appreciate what you have already, because not a lot of people do, and why it’s so special to you. And if anything good comes from it, just know you’re doing your job. You’re doing it right.
Suffer Now. Win Later
Muhammad Ali was exiled for three years from boxing as he spread his distastes for the Vietnam War. This was during the prime of his boxing career, between the ages of 25 to 28. He would not have sacrificed these years (professionally speaking) had he not believed in his cause. Though he was heavily criticized and condemned for his anti-war stance at the time, now he is praised.
It had to do with belief. When Adversity seemingly attacks you from all sides, practically nailing those thorns in, it’s belief that can often be your last resort. It’s belief that will give you that spark of fire to endure when you most need it. It’s the prize at the end that your subconscious thinks to in that trying moment.
Like Ali, you must fight on. Like a philosopher you must bring in reason. Remind yourself why it is you do what you do. Why it matters to you. How it is that this thing you’ve created is worth the suffer. Tell yourself that your creation is a champion.
So who will champion its cause? Only you.
You Will Die
This one probably sounds morbid and highly inappropriate and surely out of place. But I include this because we do have precious few minutes on this earth. Of course it doesn’t seem or feel like it, but, when you put it in context, to age of the Universe with the average age of a human being, the realization is supreme.
“Think of substance in its entirety, of which you have the smallest of shares; and of time in its entirety, of which a brief and momentary span has been assigned to you; and of the works of destiny, and how very small is your part in them.”
So spoke Marcus Aurelius (translated by Robin Hard). He understood and he lived in a time far removed from ours. Aside from one decision, it’s not up to you when you go. Then time moves on without you, never blinking.
So are you going to spend that time that you have before you right now to sulk in your woes, your dissatisfaction, your doubt? Or will you act for your betterment?
Do you want to leave this life with nothing to show for when you know you have something the world needs? Or might you want to leave this life without regret?
I can’t think of a more powerful, cogent and haunting quote I’ve ever read or heard thus far than this one —
It’s something to be said about. It’s the difference between allowing Adversity her strength, by triumphing over you; or sticking it out, enduring her pains and pangs — her crown of thorns — and meeting her sister Victory at the end with the laurel crown in her hands.
Which crown do you prefer? Which person do you choose to be? It starts and ends with you.
Is the above easy?
Hell no. It’s so easy to stray as in my case which I do practically every day. Being an author I have my moments where I habitually ask myself “What’s the point?” The path ahead of me seems insurmountable.
But you know what? I continue on. I plant my feet square in turf, brace my body for the winds and push ahead. It’s all I can do, other than quit, and so give in to Adversity.
I don’t want to give in anymore and I hope you don’t want to either. Too many people do that and what’s their reward? Their safe space of emotional security and contentment? That’s small reward that never adds up but only dwindles, until it expires and you’re left with your hollow self.
Thus I follow/remember the above precepts as best I can, as honest as I can, toiling away at my craft each day. And if you need them, I hope they help you.
The five precepts above were adapted in some manner by Meditations. If you’ve never heard of it, if you have but never read it, I say buy it. Its enlightening precepts, maxims, proverbs and concepts are above and beyond anything I’ve stated here that could do you wonders if you’re really struggling at the present. If you read it with an open mind, it might change your life, or at the least give you a new perspective of it.