This is a post I wasn’t sure whether I should make it at my fitness blog or here, because it’s about fitness and life and how we choose to spend our time.
There was a training blog I used to read that had a great post about hard-hard things vs. easy-hard things. Yes, running a marathon or deadlifting 500 pounds is hard, but that sort of training can also be used as an escape from the actual hard parts of life. He would train people who were going through nasty divorces, or who had failing businesses, who put all of their energy into some huge physical goal, and used those as an escape from the hard things in their lives.
There’s nothing wrong with staying fit or having big ambitious fitness goals. But his point was that if you use the easy-hard thing (running a marathon) to escape the hard-hard thing (doing the soul searching it takes to figure out why a marriage is failing), then that is a problem for your growth as a person.
I remembered this again when I was listening to a podcast interview with Joe De Sena, the founder of Spartan Races and writer of Spartan Up!. He had some great stories on the podcast, and I definitely want to read his book, but something about the interview made me uncomfortable. He describes himself as being someone who always wants to work 20-hour days, and always wants to find other people to work for him who are willing to put in that amount of time. He particularly liked hiring Eastern Europeans, because they would work that hard. (Questionable ethnic stereotypes? Check!)
He runs these Spartan Death Races, which are obstacle races where his intent “is to break you”, which last up to 72 hours, and they keep on going until all but 15% of the participants have dropped out. He sets the competitors all kinds of grueling, dangerous and pointless tasks until he’s broken most of their spirits and they quit. The people who win, he says, are the people he wants to know.
I have no doubt I could be broken quickly by something like that, and want to quit. And sure, too many people quit too many things.
It’s definitely good for me to challenge myself in all kinds of arenas, but I don’t think that hard work is positive simply because it is hard work. After all, digging a ditch is hard work, but very few parents want their kid to grow up to be a ditch digger.
But as an over-achiever, a big challenge is balance, and putting my energy in the right place. I don’t want to be someone who does hard things just because they’re hard. I believe that all of the things that are really worth doing are hard, but not everything hard is worth doing.
That is the hard-hard thing. Not to quit something because it’s hard, but because it’s not right for me. And not to keep doing something because it’s hard (or easy) but because it is right. It’s a lot more useful and conducive to a happy life than this harden-the-fuck-up attitude.