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Accomplishment is irrational
Why being different is the only path to success
Imagine you’re a government employee and you want to write a novel. A mystery. A local mystery, where you’re from, with the landmarks and historical bits that add color.
Your day job is secure. It pays the bills. You like your co-workers. (Except Elliott. Nobody likes Elliott.) You take a vacation once a year, some years it’s even a good one, and skim some away each paycheck toward savings. Healthcare’s solid enough.
So why write? You’ve already got everything you need and even a few wants. To make time to write, you’ll have to either wake up extremely early to get in an hour before work, or wait until after the kids go to bed (and give up streaming), or turn your back on weekend fun to make it happen.
Besides, you live like royalty. Compared to the rest of human history, you’re better off than 99.9 percent of everyone that ever lived.
Reaching to write a novel is uncertain. What you’ve already got is certain. It seems irrational.
A version of that story plays out for nearly all forms of achievement. Actors, comedians, writers, dancers, musicians, filmmakers, speakers, and thought-leaders. All have had a choice. Take the certain, normal, sufficient route. Or steer toward something uncertain, abnormal, better-than-your-dreams.
For my own self, I’ve noticed that work is often something I do to establish a baseline for my family. Roof, heat, food, a little fun. That’s work.
While I’ve never had any designs on being well known, about a decade ago I realized I had a lot to say. Nothing political, nothing sharp, but my own deeply-held opinions and ideas that I felt were my own contribution to moving the world forward a tiny bit.
I started to write. I realized what our novelist friend from the example above did—finding time is hard. The only time available is the time nobody wants to use.
I started getting up early. 5am wasn’t early enough, because running and exercise would always get in the way. So I pushed it to 4am. And so for a long, long time, I’ve beeen waking at zero-dark-four. It’s the only time of the day uncluttered by interruptions, phones, notifications, and emails.
It comes at a cost. What goes up, must come down. I rise early, I fall to sleep early. I don’t love that part, but, hey, a deal’s a deal. I miss out on a lot of later-night fun (although having kids nixes some of that naturally).
If I want to accomplish anything beyond normal, this is the cost.
The next one is financial. I typed the first draft for this essay on a digital typewriter. It’s the second I’ve owned. This one’s travel size. The first one was bulkier. They’re a keyboard, a small black/white e-ink screen, and drafts get sent to the cloud. They’re not cheap.
I often avoid telling people about the digital typewriters because they seem nuts. Why spend that money when you could do it cheaper on another device? For me, my experience is that many of the amazing tools today come with built-in distractions. So by using a machine without any, I can work and produce better and faster.
Irrational? Sure. I’ll cop to that. But these are the prices I pay to squeeze out the work that I’m committed to doing.
It’s hard to break from the norm. But in my experience, irrational, difficult moves to be different are the only way to extracurricular accomplishment.