What are you willing to suffer for?

“Buddha says there are two kinds of suffering: the kind that leads to more suffering and the kind that brings an end to suffering.” — Terry Tempest Williams

I came across the stoic-ish phrase — “what are you willing to suffer for?” — from a podcast interview of Vitaliy Katsenelson on “We Study Billionaires” podcast. This phrase also finds place in fundamental ethos of good living in India for many thousands of years. In today’s world, suffering is generally considered a bad word — something to be avoided if possible. Suffering for the sake of suffering definitely does seem like something to be avoided. However, suffering is almost, always an integral and inevitable step on the path to achievement.

It is my experience that in brief moments of inspiration that get triggered while watching few movies, reading certain books as we come across stories of ordinary people achieving extraordinary stuff in their lives, we do tend to get highly motivated to create something extraordinary ourselves, buoyed by positive, happy feelings in our hearts. Sadly, this enthusiasm is generally only fleeting and it tends to fizzle soon.

Why does this happen?

Not trying to pose as an expert but here is what I think contributes to this:

  • At their core, these goals may not be very important to you as they are borrowed from situations that triggered them
  • Will power is always in limited supply and it tends to wane by end of the day, week, month etc (until it gets replenished again)
  • We tend to chase one too many goals dissipating focus, will power and energy
  • Goals emanating from ad-hoc passion and motivation triggered rather randomly, rarely sustain
  • Being constant subjects of “attention engineering” of the world (significantly exacerbated by social media) barely leave us time or energy to think critically, let alone pursue goals
  • It is perhaps a ruse for the feel-good effect of dopamine kick, with no real intent to suffer the hard path of achieving them

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” — Kahlil Gibran

So, how do we remedy this?

Let me list things I have seen work for me and many others around me. I will also present a recent example that partially triggered me to write on this topic.

  • Sustained progress requires the intent to suffer through the pain of efforts involved in achieving the goal. Apart from the sheer energy required to go through with the efforts, one may have to suffer through bouts of self-doubt, boredom, listlessness, ostracization, loneliness etc
  • One should have discipline to execute efforts, humility to constantly seek feedback and learn, perseverance to get through setbacks and maintain the discipline, and “rest” and “secure self worth” to maintain perseverance
  • The goals and the efforts required to achieve these goals should be aligned with one’s personal inclinations

“Most of the gains in life come from suffering in the short term, so you can get paid in the long term.” — Naval Ravikant

One trick is to make the suffering tolerable, if not downright enjoyable. A sure way to do this is to enjoy the process of achieving the goal rather than being obsessed with the end results. Most goals take time to achieve and given dynamism of life, timelines are rendered fluid and many times even goals may become fluid. Obsessing over goals could make us restless, tired and error-prone. Instead, focussing on the means of achieving goals liberates us from the tyrannies of expectations. In fact, I believe that one could go well past the original goal post if one breaks free from the obsession of achieving the goal and instead commit to the process of achieving the goal.

To concretize this, let me present a recent example.

In the last one year, I have helped a bunch of friends by providing an analysis their financial situation. The idea was/is to do a diagnostic of one’s financial situation with an aim to meet one’s financial goals in the context of their current financial wherewithal (assets, liabilities, incomes, expenses etc). After analysing the numbers, I finally categorize the situation as “fragile”, “robust” and “antifragile” (if you are shaking your head, yes I borrowed these categories from Taleb’s book “Antifragile”).

Last week I analysed the finances of a couple I have known for a while now. My analysis put them between fragile and modest. I have not seen too many people go beyond “fragile” state, so this is an encouraging situation. The couple did not come from any extraordinary background or means. The husband’s background, if at all, was more disadvantageous than most. While this is so, there is something remarkable about the couple too — they have already demonstrated amply that they are willing to suffer for the goal of financial independence (without compromising current quality of life). Husband has time and again taken a back step in his career to tend to his family’s needs. Wife has invested extraordinary efforts to make progress and create meaning in her career. Mind you, they are not in senior management roles raking in large moolah. They perform regular technical roles. They spent time and efforts learning about various financial asset classes, return possibilities and the risks involved. They put in efforts to maintain healthy lifestyles and constantly put efforts towards maintaining a secure and supportive family environment. They also do their bit for wider society.

Learning about financial instruments and investing hard earned money, eating right and incorporating exercise in regular routine of life, maintaining a healthy psychological environment at home while balancing demanding careers — none of these come easy. There is lot of suffering involved. But they are willing to suffer through them for their larger life’s objectives. In my assessment, they are able to sustain the suffering only because they do not see it as suffering; they made peace with the process. Financial freedom will be a natural by-product for them. They realized that suffering is a choice that they are happy to make.

Are you willing to suffer for what you want?

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Thanks for your time. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that can help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. In other words, I eat using the same recipe that I share with you.

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