Pushing Forward When You Don’t Want To
I’ve been listening to a bunch of podcasts related to entrepreneurship and reading a lot of stuff about putting yourself outside your comfort zone in unconventional ways. In light of all that input, something dawned on me recently that is kind of bothersome: I haven’t truly failed in a very long time. Maybe that’s good, maybe I’m just super successful at everything, or, perhaps, I don’t really push myself in a way that pushes me outside my comfort zone.
Either way, as I’ve been meditating on this idea, I am reminded of my days spent rowing. During those early morning practices, we would be pushed beyond where we thought we could go mentally and physically. Muhammad Ali said that he didn’t start counting his crunches until they started hurting. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that champions are made on the other side of the pain boundary.
Two weeks ago I bumped up against something similar but not nearly as dramatic. Erin and I had planned on a three day, two night backpacking trip into La Junta Valley in Cochamó. We got a late start on Friday, and didn’t hit the trail until 3:30 in the afternoon, much later than our anticipated start time of 2pm. Also, did I mention that it was pouring rain and we were carrying 60 pound backpacks? We sat in the car as rain pelted our windows. Everything was ready to go, all it took was us. And we sat. Erin was ready, but I was running my mind through the consequence of that yes. Freezing hands, camping in the rain, and potentially getting lost in the dark and having to backtrack our way were not appetizing possibilities. I thought about this concept of failure, and while my mind envisioned us staying at a nearby hostel with a warm meal, I felt compelled to not let failure creep in.
We put on our packs and left. In the first five minutes we got to a stream where we had to take off our shoes and walk barefoot through freezing water, frigid from the melting snow on the nearby mountaintops. It was really shitty. In the next two hours, after thinking my hands weren’t that cold because I’m an idiot, I tried to put on my gloves. I couldn’t articulate my fingers properly, and I needed Erin to put my gloves on for me. What the fuck were we doing? Oh, and did I mention that an hour earlier we ran into a horse guide who told us that it was getting dark and muddy and we might not want to go?
So there we were. I had my gloves on, and we were trudging through mud in soaking wet shoes. If you haven’t read With the Old Breed, I highly recommend you do. It’s an incredible first-hand account of the battles of Okinawa and Peleliu in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. The conditions these men endured on both sides were outrageous. Contaminated water, removing shoes once every 20 days or so, limited food. Oh and they were losing their friends at alarming rates due to constant shelling. And here I was doubting my resolve during a five hour hike that was just cold and little difficult. What the hell is wrong with me?
So, using immeasurable hardship as a comparison to my rather luxurious surroundings (I had PB&Js, a tent, and I wasn’t being shelled every time I moved), we pushed on. Actually as a side note, I don’t think Erin was having quite so hard of a time. She was raring to go. I was the one complaining. Alas, at that point, failure wasn’t an option as we were more than halfway to our destination. We ended up making it to the campsite, no worse for the wear, and there were two dudes who already had a fire built so we got to enjoy ourselves while also camping under an awning, so we weren’t even under the rain.
The next day we went on a technical and highly risky hike, but didn’t have any problems. Later that day as I was lying in the tent reading, Erin walked up and told me about a waterfall that doubled as a waterslide. She asked if I wanted to go look at it. I asked if she wanted to slide down it, and she swiftly replied “no.” I convinced her that it would be an adventure. Before we even got to the waterfall, we had to ford a very large, ice-cold stream. The current was moving quickly and the rocks were slippery. Halfway across, Erin said “fuck this” and I agreed and we turned back. As we stood on the shore, it was my turn to not let us end up regretting embracing the cold. We decided to try again. This time we made it across, and found the waterfall. It was not small, and in order to get to the beginning of the “slide,” if you even want to call it that, we had to ford the river again.
Let it be known that the water was freezing. We were the direct recipients of a snow melt, but we pushed on anyway (foolishly). It was finally time to drop down into the water. I felt a tinge of fear as I prepared to put myself in the currents way and let it take me into the icy abyss. It was over as soon as it had begun. After sliding down, Erin and I were hooting and hollering, knowing we had faced failure and decided to overcome.
So what’s the point of this story? Well I’m making a new commitment. The last one I made was to learn Spanish so that I could start making some actual friends, and it turns out that on this camping trip we made some Chilean friends who want to hang with us again when we’re back in Santiago, so while that’s still a pursuit, my next commitment is to actually try hard enough to fail (or actually succeed, but not fear failure). It’s really easy for me to give up (aka not cross the icy stream) and say something wasn’t meant to be, but that’s not the type of thing I want to do anymore. So, as my first move toward failure, I’ve started something. It’s a t-shirt company. Actually it’s not even a company. It’s just a shirt for sale online. But it’s a start.
I saw a great ad for clothing with stock photos from Adobe, which turned out to just be an ad campaign and not actual clothing. I thought it was freaking hilarious. When I googled around and found that there weren’t any shirts with stock photos on them, I decided I would be the one to deliver to the people. So I set up a Shopify store, bought the rights to a stock photo I found hilarious, and then I put some money toward some Google Ads. In the past, with an idea like this, I would have just waited until the idea had passed or I could come up with a good reason not to do anything at all. My new commitment, to myself and to you, lovely reader, is to actually test my ideas to either success or failure, rather than letting them languish in my mom’s garage forever (this is a reference to a real thing). If my ideas or plans fail, it won’t be for a sincere lack of trying.
Just like the crossing of the stream or getting out of a warm car (or moving to Chile with 0 friends and a skeleton of a plan?), I’m going for it. Wish me luck (or more discipline).