Skipping Down the Road of Trials
Just got off the phone with my wife Tananarive, who has been teaching in Santa Barbara while I’m taking care of son Jason down here. A sick or convalescing kid takes a huge amount of energy of course, but you make do.
We have a film script in play, for which we have a meeting coming up at a studio next week (probably just a general meet-and-greet), while other companies are reading. I’ll tell you though–if I think about it, my guts will churn. That script is one of those “this is the best I can do” works, the “home run” vibration going right down to my toes the minute I finished the first draft.
The question is: is it a home run in the minor leagues, or the majors? Is it good enough to get into the Big Game? Was it even a home run, or just a base hit? When you invest yourself fully, it HURTS to wait. It hurts to fail. I totally understand why so many people don’t “go for it” over and over again in life. At some point the voices saying “why bother? Why keep pushing yourself? This is enough.” grow so loud that you can’t argue with it any more, and you settle for the level you currently hold.
But…while there are other opinions, every expert on human performance I care about says that “talent” doesn’t matter remotely as much as focus, and modeling, and willingness to practice, and acceptance of pain and disappointment.
That when you look at the highest performers in the world, in any field, what you see is a clear differentiation in one arena: the amount of time spent practicing.
That’s it. The very, very best in ANY field spend more time than the “merely excellent”, who spent more time than the “good”, who spend more time than the “average.” It really is that simple. Does that say that if you spend that time you WILL be the best? No. It says that if you want to be the best, you must spend more time than anyone else.
And…practice HURTS. Because you must push yourself out of your comfort zone again and again and again, when any sane person wants to stay in bed, or party, or quit.
“You’ll never be as good as the other guy” is a reason to quit.
“It hurts” is a reason to quit.
“If you fail, you’ll break your heart” is a reason to quit.
“How many times are you going to beat your head against the wall?”
“You’re too old”
“You’re too young”
“This is unrealistic”
“You’re already good. Why keep pushing?”
And on and on and on. And you can find smart, good, people who will reinforce each and every one of those positions. And beyond a shadow of a doubt, sometimes…they are right.
But the world is not changed by reasonable people. Reasonable people don’t hit the heights. Crazy people, focused people, obsessive people do. Of course, that’s another trap, which is why I “judo’d” that imp, and decided to become obsessive about balance. THAT was the “safety rails” I put on my life, so that I wouldn’t crash and burn as I’ve seen so many do.
Or…sell out. Once you have some success, you will be offered the kingdoms of the world: sex, money, power. They are fool’s gold, and if you chase after them, your chances of ruin are multiplied many times. You have to set your life up so that doing your duty, doing the things that are close to the essence of your existence, you produce those things as a BY-PRODUCT. They are ephemera, sparks flung out of the furnace of creation, not the fire itself.
So…what is the furnace? It is the first four “chakras”: survival, sex, power, and emotion. Interpreted in my life as Martial arts, family, business, and art. Get those four, the “root four”, and I’m anchored into the world.
T and I have had challenges. That’s life. But I CHOSE THIS LIFE. I chose to love this woman. To have this beautiful son and daughter. To commit myself to this process, so that I could experience life to the fullest. And…right now, as I wait to hear about the script, it is critical to have other things to focus on, or I’d go crazy.
Why? Well…it is that “a watched pot never boils” thing. That “effort is foveal, success is peripheral” thing–that the external world’s rewards come out of unexpected directions, and YOU just have to focus on what is right in front of you: chop wood, carry water.
It is Krishna telling Arjuna that HIS task is to do what he is honor-bound to do, that the results are not his concern.
It is the M.A.G.I.C. formula: Magic equals Action times Gratitude times Intention times Conviction: do what you can, all you can, with positive emotions, every day, and the magic will happen at unexpected moments and from an unanticipated direction.
It is taking care of Jason, seeing the blessing in his “down time”: a chance to bond more deeply, to help him understand the importance of his academics, to get him to realize that physical awareness is critical to performance.
To focus on my business. Who is my ideal customer (a younger version of myself), what is my Unique Selling Proposition (balanced life seen through the lens of Storytelling).
To focus on my body. I’m getting another private lesson from Danny Inosanto as my Christmas present. To take advantage of that opportunity I want to be in terrific physical condition, with a clear mind and the ability to show that I’ve practiced what he gave me two years ago. That I am a worthy student.
And…to play with my art where I can. I’ve finished and sold another story since finishing the script, as well as working on the new Niven project “Ghost Writer” which is strange. I don’t know where its going exactly, or what length its going to be. I suspect that what I think I know about it isn’t totally accurate. And I am back on “Traveler” my time travel story, working on a 30-page chunk of script that is critical to the entire book. Or is it a book? Maybe a screenplay…but a massive 245 page script right now. Do I cut it down? Expand it?
- Right now, today, just focus on those 30 pages. Get them right. And when I’m working on it? Oh, I’ll probably be streaming some television show or another, because this is “dream work” not intellectual work. It is just letting my unconscious mind move blocks around, seeing how they fit. La de dah, la de dah…how does THIS look? How does THIS flow? And not be frustrated that I don’t’ have answers, settle for coming up with good questions. Let time do the rest.
Jason’s leg can’t heal in a day…he must focus on what he can do NOW: rest, balance his emotions, do his schoolwork.
My business cannot bloom overnight. I need to master a very specific aspect of it, then coordinate everything so that I am giving the greatest service to my customers, and helping to build a world for my children.
My body cannot change overnight. I have to focus on rest as much as work. Decompression of tissues and realignment of joints, not just how much pressure I can take, or speed or power I can generate. Flow.
And…there is NOTHING I can do directly to make people love and buy my script. Right now, I have to trust my allies, trust the process. Wait for the magic.
What pushes you beyond the average? The commitment to BEING THE BEST YOU CAN POSSIBLY BE. Working every day to get better at some component of your task. EVERY DAMNED DAY.
I remember what that Grandmother said: “parenting isn’t difficult. It is just daily.”
Grandmasters say that about Mastery, as well. Duh.
If walking the path of Mastery also makes you better than some particular person, fine. But once you get that people better than you probably put in more time than you, life seems much more fair. It is RIGHT for them to be better. That means that if I want it, REALLY want it, I have to be willing to give more than the other guy. And when I’m in “waiting” mode I have to shift attention so that I don’t burn out with adrenaline and fear. Balance.
Oh, its fun. But from story viewpoint, this is all just the “Road of Trials.” There are no dark nights, no giant crashing waves of problems. There is the work.
And the recovery, of course. We grow while we rest. Which brings me to what the VERY VERY VERY best thing I can do right now..?
Get into the Christmas spirit.
Love my family and friends. Drive to Burbank tomorrow to pick Tananarive tomorrow and kiss her thoroughly when I see her, so that she knows and feels how much I adore her, how proud I am that people come from all over the country to study with her. That she has a pitch meeting on Tuesday, and later we have that meet’n’greet at the other studio.
That we will conspire together to make Jason’s broke-leg Christmas the best he’s ever had, and celebrate that we are together, and have hope, and love, and expectations that 2018 will have been our most successful year ever, and 2019 will be even better. That we have more to live, and to give, and that Jason is starting to understand the importance of studying and actually applying himself. That Nicki is happy and healthy and warm and loved and out in the world living her life.
Life is good. The MAGIC formula says to take daily action with gratitude and focus, and expectation of positive results. I will do that, every day, for the rest of my life. That is my duty to my soul.
And the external stuff? The sales, and money, and fame? Well…the world will make those decisions. It isn’t my major concern. Right now, my concern is how to be the very best Santa Steve I can be.
And you know what? That’s enough, my friends. It really is.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!