“Real magic can never be made by offering someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.” ~ Peter S. Beagle
When I was 16 years old, I missed the last two days of school because of a cold.
The weather was freezing and it was raining hard, but my friend called to say our football game was on in an hour.
Wearing my football kit, I escaped quietly from the house so my mum couldn’t see me, coughing and feeling groggy all the while.
We can endure the worst pain and suffering when we’re doing what we love.
At age 16, I loved playing football. The camaraderie with my friends, the ecstasy of scoring a goal, and the adrenaline pumping after the game gave me a lift that far surpassed any illness.
Fast forward some 35 years: with a week left to the deadline for a long critical paper for my MFA program, I was almost finished. But then disaster struck. As I reread the requirements, I realized I had misinterpreted the guidelines. I had to start afresh.
Luckily, it was Easter weekend. I had no work. My wife was away visiting the kids, so I had the house to myself for five days. Just me, my laptop, and the cat. I worked 10-hour days reading, writing, and rewriting—and somehow—made the deadline.
I didn’t shave, barely showered, and never left my house. I was exhausted; I slept on the sofa close to my desk.
I only wrote, ate, and slept.
I spilt all my sweat, guts, and blood to get my paper in on time. I did all that, and would be willing to do it again and again, because I loved what I was doing: writing.
When asked, “What do you want in life?” most people may answer, “I want to be happy,” “I want to make money,” “I want to be famous,” or, “I want to have a big house.” So, maybe the better question to ask is this:
How much are we willing to suffer, and what sacrifices are we willing to endure, to achieve our happiness?
I know we are not here to suffer, per se, as some of my friends and readers keep reminding me. However, there is something fulfilling, and even strangely euphoric, about suffering for what we believe in.
Look at parenting, for instance. We wake up earlier than usual (not always voluntarily) to be with the kids; we drive them to nursery, schools, and sports games, and we worry all night about their well-being. We accept this form of suffering not only because we love them, but also because there is meaning to our sacrifice.
However, it’s not always about working hard and suffering. We also have to be emotionally connected to what we do. How many people do we know who worked hard for decades, living like robots to (ostensibly) feed their families, and yet, have died feeling miserable? They didn’t do what they truly wanted, but rather compromised their passion, values, and sense of self.
But, if we are following our authentic values and passions, then we must be prepared to sacrifice a lot in chasing what we love.
And before we do that, we must answer these three questions in order to reach greater self-awareness:
Who are you?
We spend a lot of our time getting to know others, whether it’s someone we fancy, a hero we worship, or a character whose the talk of the town. However, we don’t often examine ourselves. A journey of self-discovery is also one of self-enquiry, so the more information we gather on ourselves, the better.
We must explore our strengths and weaknesses and learn how they support our values and desires. Most importantly, we need to act deliberately in accordance with those qualities.
Over the past seven years, I have completed all kinds of personality, strength, and behaviour tests that have helped me to understand myself more deeply. I’ve asked my family and friends to identify my strengths and weaknesses and articulate what I represent to them. I’ve revisited my childhood to investigate how it shaped me. I’ve experimented with endeavors that piqued my interest to see what was worth pursuing.
I came to understand that I’m an introvert who loves alone time—whether that’s reading, writing, or drinking my coffee and reflecting. I’ve recognised that I like to learn, and that I love sharing what I’ve learned even more. I also enjoy helping others to grow.
What would you die for?
Values are core beliefs that we have developed over the years. They are the ethics that we feel most strongly about, or the points of view for which we repeatedly find ourselves arguing in conversations. They drive us from the minute we open our eyes in the morning, to the moment we go to sleep. They are the beliefs for which we would die.
Our parents, society, and the media often complicate our beliefs, and as such we need to dig deep to discover our true values. We should avoid choosing the ones that would simply help us fit in with our peer group, instead selecting what is authentic to us.
For instance, we are often in love with the idea of the movie star, but we don’t dwell on the other part of their lives—the hours of dedicated practice, the waking up early, and the effect of a fickle fan base that can turn within hours. We want the fruits without enduring the struggles. We are not willing to die for an idea that seems appealing only from a distance.
I want to have the body of an athlete, but truthfully I’m not willing to sacrifice the many hours required to achieve it. On the other hand, I’m eager to put 25 hours a week into my MFA writing program, all while I run my own company, because I love writing.
I can endure the stresses that come with a writer’s life, such as loneliness, insecurity, and disappointment. However, I can’t bear the discipline and physical pain of working out in the gym for hours every day.
What makes you truly happy?
It’s different for everyone, of course. For some, it’s doing yoga two to three hours a day; for others, it’s creating a stellar business and then selling it. And for others still, it’s working on a farm to produce the best organic strawberries ever.
For me, sitting alone to write a poem or prose comes naturally, and deep from my heart. I feel certain that my words will touch many readers. I’m at my happiest in these moments; I’m in the zone. I feel connected to something much larger than me.
Our struggles will ultimately define our successes. It is in the problems we overcome that a semblance of happiness is born. It’s like we are climbing a ladder that never ends. Baser struggles are replaced by more meaningful ones.
Life is all about the climb up that ladder.
In writing, I’ve found the platform that fulfills me, where I can also readily sacrifice myself. Writing encompasses all the values I aspire to: solitude, creativity, self-growth, freedom, and service.
These values stir my heart and drive me to stand up in front of hundreds and defend my opinion. That’s why if it means getting up at 4 a.m., missing a few dinner dates, watching less television, or cutting out meaningless relationships, then I will gladly do so.
What is it that drives you to sacrifice time, effort, and comfort?
If you haven’t found it yet, then stop everything now and go seek it.
Find that pursuit where you can rise, fall, rise, and fall again. Keep climbing.
Author: Mo Issa
Image: Pursuit of Happyness/YouTube
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen