Discover more from Shady Acres
On the drive to succeed
This past week I experienced a slipped disc in my back. For those of you who have never had chronic pain, let me explain to you how it works: it sucks. No, that’s not quite right. It SUCKS.
Imagine every single thought being shoved out of your head, at all times, only to be replaced with the single desire of being in less pain. Standing up is no longer a half-second activity, it’s a ten-second, deliberate, fairly uncomfortable ritual, followed by a pseudo-stretch and a grimace as your back adjusts from “sitting” to “standing”. Something as simple as putting on a sock goes from a mindless thing you do to a ten minute, exceedingly unpleasant, and honestly fairly pathetic endeavor. Every single motion—and for some people even being still—becomes an exercise in minimizing pain.
The first impact is that that everything takes an awful lot more time. The second impact is that you feel like an invalid. The third and only moderately less noticeable impact is that you stop thinking about normal things, because you simply don’t have the mental energy to pay attention to them. If I’m focusing so much on my back—and believe, if I stop it my full attention, it will call me back VERY quickly—I simply can’t focus on normal things, like what I’m eating, or what this book says, or what you’re saying. Even when sitting completely still I’m focusing on how I can adjust myself to be in less pain. Everything takes second fiddle to the immediate need to not hurt.
Over the weekend, I realized that the way I’m feeling pain now is the way that some people feel the need to succeed. There are some people who seem absolutely driven. Nothing can stand in the way of their success, be it in school, work, sports, anything. Maybe you’re one of those people, or maybe you know someone like that. I never understood those people. Personally, I can sit on my couch snacking on my kid’s Cheerios while reading Dilbert comics for weeks and be absolutely content with life. These people seem to be unhappy unless they’re working towards some goal. After this week I think I’ve been enlightened.
Picture yourself overtaken by a desire. Any desire will do: hunger, lust, anger, even the need to pee. The stronger the desire becomes the less you can think about anything else. People with a drive to succeed feel this all the time. Like other desires, it comes and goes, but it’s always there. Even feeding the desire—doing well in school, succeeding in business, winning a game—simply calms it for a moment. It will return. It always returns.
In a darker comparison, it strikes me that this must be the drive that addicts feel when looking for a fix. A complete inability to think about anything other than getting high, or at least avoid withdrawal. Somewhat terrifying when you think about it.
With my back pain, I’m focused laser-like on one goal: be in less pain. You can’t distract me with anything, because you’d have a hard time finding something I care about more. With these people it’s the same way.
Thank goodness, my back is healing. To those of you with chronic, untreatable pain: you have my utmost respect. I don’t know how you manage every day. But while the desire to avoid pain can now slip to the back of my mind, I have a newfound understanding of those for whom the will to succeed—to win—is an ever-present whisper in their ear.