You’ve almost certainly heard of the marshmallow test, research done by Walter Mischel over more than forty years at Stanford University. The short version: Small kids (three to five years old) are put in a library and offered a deal: Here’s a marshmallow. If you eat it now, we’re done, but if you wait fifteen minutes and the marshmallow is still here when we come back to you, you get two marshmallows.
It turns out that this single indicator of self-control and the ability to resist resolution is incredibly accurate. Twenty years later, the kids who showed they could wait ended up being happier, wealthier, on a better path forward.
New research makes something very clear, though: Kids who didn’t think the promise of two-for-one would be kept ate the marshmallow right away. Of course they would, wouldn’t you? The home you grow up in and the culture you live in matters more than we can imagine. If you are raised in a chaotic environment filled with broken promises, it’s incredibly difficult to bet on the future.
Industrialists made all of us promises as we grew up. Promises about the rewards of doing well in school or being obedient. Promises about good jobs waiting for us, about upward mobility, about fairness. As the industrial era fades, those promises are being broken for too many.
The opportunity that the connection economy brings with it offers a different set of promises, promises about freedom and taking your turn and doing work that matters. And it’s not at all surprising that so many are hesitant to take action… we eat the marshmallow instead because, hey, we’re used to our system breaking its promises.
Of course we’re wary of a glistening new offer, especially when it involves so much fear and requires us to trust others (and ourselves).
Picasso was a terrible colorist. Turner couldnʼt paint human beings worth a damn. Saul Steinbergʼs formal drafting skills were appalling. T.S. Eliot had a full-time day job. Henry Miller was a wildly uneven writer. Bob Dylan canʼt sing or play guitar. But that didnʼt stop them, right?
So I guess the next question is, “Why not?” I have no idea. Why should it?
There is always someone in the world waiting for someone else, whether in the middle of the desert or in the heart of some big city.
And when these two people’s paths cross and their eyes meet, the whole of the past and the whole of the future lose all importance,and there only exists that moment and that incredible certainty that everything under the Sun was written by the very same Hand.
The Hand that awakens Love and creates a sister soul for everyone who works, rests and seeks treasures under the Sun.
Were it not for this, the dreams of the human race would make no sense.
taken from The Alchemist
The pain of making the necessary sacrifices always hurts more than you think itʼs going to. I know. It sucks. That being said, doing something seriously creative is one of the most amazing experiences one can have, in this or any other lifetime. If you can pull it off, itʼs worth it. Even if you donʼt end up pulling it off, youʼll learn many incredible, magical, valuable things. Itʼs NOT doing it when you know you full well you HAD the opportunity—that hurts FAR more than any failure.
Frankly, I think youʼre better off doing something on the assumption that you will NOT be rewarded for it, that it will NOT receive the recognition it deserves, that it will NOT be worth the time and effort invested in it. The obvious advantage to this angle is, of course, if anything good comes of it, then itʼs an added bonus.
You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. But if you donʼt make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness.
This metaphorical Mount Everest doesnʼt have to manifest itself as “Art.” For some people, yes, it might be a novel or a painting.
But Art is just one path up the mountain, one of many.
With others, the path may be something more prosaic. Making a million dollars, raising a family,finding solution to the problem of education in your community,starting that company that goes on to change the world, building some crazy over-sized model airplane, the list has no end.
Whatever. Letʼs talk about you now.
Your mountain. Your private Mount Everest. Yes, that one. Exactly. Letʼs say you never climb it. Do you have a problem with that? Can you just say to yourself, “Never mind, I never really wanted it anyway,” and take up stamp-collecting instead? Well, you could try. But I wouldnʼt believe you. I think itʼs not okay for you never to try to climb it. And I think you agree with me.
So it looks like youʼre going to have to climb the frickinʼ mountain. Deal with it.
My advice? You donʼt need my advice. You really donʼt. The biggest piece of advice I could give anyone would be this:
“Admit that your own private Mount Everest exists. That is half the battle.”
Nobody can tell you if what youʼre doing is good, meaningful or worthwhile. The more compelling the path, the lonelier it is.
Every creative person is looking for “The Big Idea.” You know, the one that is going to catapult them out from the murky depths of obscurity and on to the highest planes of incandescent lucidity.
The one thatʼs all love-at-first-sight with the Zeitgeist.
The one thatʼs going to get them invited to all the right parties, metaphorical or otherwise.
So naturally you ask yourself, if and when you finally come up with The Big Idea, after years of toil, struggle and doubt, how do you know whether or not it is “The One?” Answer: You donʼt.
Thereʼs no glorious swelling of existential triumph. Thatʼs not what happens.
All you get is this rather kvetchy voice inside you that seems to say, “This is totally stupid. This is utterly moronic. This is a complete waste of time. Iʼm going to do it anyway.”
And you go do it anyway. Second-rate ideas like glorious swellings far more. Keeps them alive longer
Nobody comes home and says, “I had a great day today—I was under enormous pressure all day long.” Nor do we ever wish our kids were under more pressure at school. Experiencing pressure does not enhance our lives—it undermines them. At heart, the feelings of pressure are rooted in the primal, evolutional concern that “I have to produce or I will be weeded out.” It is an early warning survival mechanism. For our early ancestors, a failure to perform under pressure often meant death. If he or she couldn’t sprint fast enough to escape a predator, or maintain focus while navigating a treacherous path, he or she might not have survived. There was no second chance; literally he was one and done. “I have to produce to survive,” was a daily and realistic concern based on the fact that our ancestors’ existence was dependent on being able to perform effectively in the do or die moments they encountered.
That fear kept Early Man almost continually on point and ready to act. Today, so many of us continue to experience pressure in the same way as our ancestors—our brains experience such situations as “do or die.” As a result, we remain on high alert, creating nonstop pressure— sometimes over even the smallest things.