The road less traveled is not easy to traverse. When inspirational speakers talk about following our dreams, they often suggest that since they became successful, anyone can. These people aren’t delusional, but maybe a lot of them have forgotten how difficult is was for them to get where they are.
One thing that not many successful people stress is how phenomenally difficult following your passion can be. No matter what alternative path in life we choose, whether it’s as an artist, musician, writer, skateboarder, surfer, weightlifter, skydiver, or anything else, it’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be harder than anything we’ve done in our entire lives. It’s going to be like slaying a dragon.
When walking along the road less traveled, we will experience a lot of failure. We’ll fall 500 times before perfecting that skateboarding trick, get injured dozens of times before squatting 500 pounds, or get rejected thousands of times before earning money as an artist, writer, or musician. People don’t tell us this at the outset. Maybe that’s because taking alternate paths in life is so rare that it’s difficult to find mentors who can tell us how challenging it will be. Perhaps it’s because people in the tops of their fields want us to learn the way they did, so we can come to understand the value of failure.
People in regular careers don’t seem to understand the will to reject traditional paths to success. Even those of us following these paths don’t grasp the magnitude of casting aside common jobs in hopes of greater success later on. People pursue normal careers because they provide security. If we try to be professional athletes or artists, there is no guarantee of success, and if we do get it, we’re almost guaranteed to fail miserably innumerable times first. Taking one massive risk doesn’t mean the road to the endgame is going to be freshly paved and painted.
To become successful in careers that have phenomenally high failure rates, tireless determination is essential. We won’t make it if we spiral into despair every time we fail. If we want to achieve our dreams, we have to be willing to try a lot of different methods, many of them will not work at all. Making it as a painter or a surfer is not a science, so there are a lot of things that will work like magic for many people, but will cause others to crash and burn. We have to figure out what works best for us, and this requires a lot of trials and tribulations.
We have to be like warriors fighting dragons if we want to achieve success in non-traditional career paths. The unshakable fortitude of heroes is a requirement. As Bruce Wayne’s Dad said to him in the film, Batman Begins, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”
Think about instances in books and movies when warriors slay dragons. Almost always highly proficient in using a wide variety of tools and methods to accomplish their ultimate goal, they have often spent years perfecting their skills. One tiny mistake can lead to instant death.
One aspect of this journey that is less interesting, and often not shown, is all the failure that led to perfection. The hero didn’t start off instantly being able to shoot a bow with perfect accuracy and speed, swing a sword hard and fast enough to take out multiple opponents, or block and dodge at the perfect time to avoid being killed. Everyone has to start somewhere. We have to learn how to properly hold and aim a sword or bow before attacking with it. We must figure out how to anticipate an enemy’s movements before we can dodge and block them correctly. This all takes an unbelievable amount of work. How much did someone who can bench press 500 pounds start off with? The empty bar, just like everyone else. And it took a long time to get from 45 pounds to 500.
If we want to slay the dragon, we have to start with small goals, and fail miserably thousands of times until we achieve those, and set larger ones. After hurting our fingers a lot, we’ll learn how to line up a shot with a bow. Once we’ve learned how to balance a sword in our hands, we’ll figure out how to swing it. This process will continue until we master all aspects of our weapons and skills.
There will be far too many times when we hold an arrow incorrectly, and it shoots wildly off to the side. We will swing our sword to the left instead of the right, and get hurt. We will miss an opponent’s parry, or be too slow to block, and fall into the mud. Inevitably, we will feel like giving up. We’ll start to no longer see the point of all the hard work. We will want to lie there in the mud, wallowing in defeat.
But then we will remember our ultimate goal. We have to be impenetrably resilient. We have to slay that dragon, and save all the terrorized villagers. Fear can kill us in life-or-death situations. So we will block the incoming blow from our enemy, kill them, stand up, and go to fight the beast.
As we enter the dragon’s lair, we will remember our training, and stay focused. This is the final test, and there is no turning back. We will ignore our fear, and trudge forward into the enveloping blackness. When we see the fire-breathing behemoth, we will do exactly what needs to be done at the right moments. We will act automatically. First, we will shoot at it, then dodge it’s fire, and strike with our sword after it lunges. Continuing in this fashion until the beast is close to death, we will then run along the ledge encircling it, and jump onto its head, thrusting our sword down for one final, fatal blow.
Then we can bask in our achievement, thinking of all the torture we went through to get here. It has all finally paid off. We kept training, kept improving, in spite of seemingly endless failure. We executed our plan almost perfectly, and we survived the ultimate test. We are not unscathed. Plenty of scratches, bruises, and strains line our body. But we can now rest, and recharge before thinking of our next goal that seems insurmountable to most people. We have, at long last, slayed the dragon.
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