© Rafael Sarandeses

You Want to Be Great? Choose Your Pain

There is a price to pay first

Barcelona, 29th September 2002.

Telefonica World Series by Nissan (pre-F1 racing category). Warm-up session on race day. As I drive past the main finish line on my last lap I hear my engineer cheering over the radio. I had ended P1 for the session. On old tyres.

That was a sweet end to a terrible season. I started strong that year, qualifying P2 and finishing on the podium alongside Frank Montagny and Ricardo Zonta (both later became F1 drivers) on the opening round, but then it all fell apart. I was even out of a ride for some races mid-season. Then I managed to make my way back for the last few races, going from strength to strength and peaking at the Barcelona warm-up session.

Coming up to that race I felt uneasy, as if something was out of place. I had dropped out of college and I had left home, antagonising my parents in the process. I was resenting the many hours per day of necessary physical conditioning (which to me felt like a chore). And I dreaded living on a racing track for more than 250 days a year.

The pain was not worth it anymore, I was not willing to go through the struggle associated with becoming a F1 driver.

So I drove back to the pit lane, jumped out of the car, took the helmet off and decided that at the end of that season I would retire. The determination was gone. I had to pack my bags and do something else.

“Hey! You Are Entitled to Greatness. Follow These 7 Steps!”

You too can be exceptional. At least according to the social media marketing machine.

Start by learning the “11 things you should be doing to become a millionaire” and make sure you avoid the “top 14 character traits that are holding you back from being truly successful”. Importantly, pay attention to what “95.8% of great entrepreneurs do in the morning at 3.47am”.

Then you will come up with the best industry-disrupting idea, raise some capital like it is yours already, grow your company for a while… and voila! Company sold and money in the bank. Now you are officially a guru and you can have your TED talk.

Success is Now a Product we Buy Online

Many businesses benefit from us believing that everyone is destined to become an exceptional business person, an exceptional artist, an exceptional manager, an exceptional husband or an exceptional [insert your favourite ambition].

Whenever there is a way to hack success we all crave for the shortcut. It is easier to feel entitled rather than working hard to get results. To make matters worse, our brains prefer instant gratification over longer-term achievements. Hello, human nature.

Success, however, is not a linear concept. There is no rule of thumb and it depends on how you measure it. If all you want is a low-stress 9 to 5 job and plenty of time for family or other interests, why should you measure yourself against Steve Jobs, who sacrificed pretty much everything to build his businesses?

Living through someone else’s expectations defines success outside of our domain, instead of being a consequence of our principles and our own choices.

How About Some Acceptance and Self-awareness?

Anything you want to do in life comes with its own share of problems and pain. Being an employee may imply not having a flexible schedule, not being your own boss, or depending on a salary scale. Being an entrepreneur can be painful in other ways, like living through risk, financial insecurity or sacrificing other areas of your life. You suffer because you are a parent, and kids can sometimes drive us mad. You may also suffer because you cannot be a parent and you desperately want children.

Which struggles you are ready to live through? Which pains you are ready to take? Answer these questions for yourself and accept the path that is consistent with your sacrifice threshold. There is no right or wrong answer. We all have our own.

I stopped racing at a professional level because I no longer wanted to go through the necessary pain to get to F1, vis a vis pursuing other aspirations in my life. It was my choice and my responsibility. I decided I would live other struggles and solve other problems. Regrets? None. I learned valuable lessons and my racing experience is an important piece of my career capital.

What is Available to us Then?

Focusing on being a little bit better at your chosen path, every day. Becoming 1% better at something day after day will compound to a massive 3,800% improvement over a single year. That, and not pret-a-porter greatness, is fully available to you.

So before feeling like you need to be successful at something, work on your self-awareness. Decide the kind of struggle you are willing to go through. How much pain are you ready to go through to get to your ambition? How much of your personal life are you willing to sacrifice? How much lack of sleep or travel can your life tolerate? How obsessed are you with succeeding at your plan?

In essence, what is important to you?

And then, pick your struggle, choose your pain. Choose the problems you want to solve. Choose the problems you don’t want to face. Try a path that is consistent with those principles and work on yourself to improve your craft bit by bit, day after day.

The return on time invested on becoming good at something is not quick nor linear. And as we continue our paths in life, you and I will continue to be good at a few things and average at everything else.

Guess what? That is perfectly fine.