Work, Pain and Purpose
“If you presume to love something, you must love the process of it much more than the finished product.” — John Irving
I love this quote.
I hate this quote.
I love hating this quote.
I love it because it’s a reminder to slow. Down. Take pride in the mud on your shoes and sweat in your pits.
I dislike it because I need more information. I do. I don’t like needing more information all the time. It’s exhausting.
The “I need more information” is prompted by Irving’s “you must love” command statement. That statement nags at me because it reeks of singular thinking, which is a nifty way of alienating people. And that seems a bit unfair since we’re talking about how people define and pursue their passions, something personal and most certainly subjective.
In high school, I’d spend my afternoons at soccer practice. The most grueling practices started with a recommendation from our coach, “You won’t need shinguards today, just cleats.”
So nice of him, right? Saving us the hassle of tape, shinguards, and socks. Nope. That meant two hours of conditioning. Replace tape, guards and socks with sprints, hills and frog jumps.
I’ll always remember what he’d yell while we ran hills. With my chest on fire, snot in my throat, this statement would echo in my ears:
“PAIN IS CANDY!”
“PAIN IS CANDY!”
All I wanted to do was lie on the ground and curl up in a warm blanket of my own vomit. As annoying as that statement was, sixteen years later I still find it oddly comforting.
Hard training and practice is what makes you a better player, which leads to better confidence and results on the field. So the pain of being pushed to our physical max during practice was ultimately good for us. Our coach wanted us to savor the pain, like you’d savor delicious candy, because pain and discomfort ultimately meant growth. And since you practice (i.e. the process) much more than you actually play in games, you better not mind practice. You better eat that candy. And you best like it.
So, if we look at Irving’s quote,
“If you presume to love something, you must love the process of it much more than the finished product.”
Here’s where I need more information: How do you define “the process?”
Enough soccer (although I do think most things in life have a soccer metaphor). Let’s look at creators and makers; we’ll swap out a soccer player for a writer.
The process of composing a story is full of pain. Fruitless drafts. Diluted ideas. Feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness. Candy wrappers everywhere: on the desk, stuck to her shoe, in her hair. But, the thing is, that writing process didn’t begin when she sat down at her desk with an inkling of a storyline to develop. That process began when she first started writing for fun, out of gumption, out of joy, out of desire, out of an itch (known as self-motivation). The process can’t always be mapped on a timeline!
This begs my other question: What is “the finished product?”
The published story? The final draft? Winning that prestigious award?
Here’s what I think. None of the above.
First, “the process” isn’t finished until the writer makes a decision, until she decides writing doesn’t make her whole anymore. It’s no longer a passion. Or, worse and more commonly the case, until her busyness convinces her that she shouldn’t prioritize it, or she allows someone else to convince her she’s not good enough.
As long as the creator feels a sense of purpose and meaning while pursuing her craft, the process doesn’t have an end date. There are simply milestones, like finishing a story, getting published in a respected publication or having a close friend respond to her writing. The process isn’t finished until the writer stops writing, until the maker stops making. For reasons x, y, z.
The “finished product” is the state of the person after they’ve reached a milestone. What did all that candy (i.e., pain) do to him? Did it force him to stretch a new skill? Explore a vulnerable idea? Problem solve differently? Or did it wear him down, burn him out and deflate his enthusiasm?
The product is the person.
I love what I do: creating meaningful experiences between humans and brands. But sometimes I don’t always love the entire process of it. Sometimes the process can feel a bit unlovable. Things don’t always go according to plan, work implodes and at times it can feel….painful. But guess what? That’s normal.
What continuous to connect the person to the process is a sense of purpose. When people feel like they’re contributing to a greater sense of purpose—something bigger than themselves—amazing things happen. Even if the path to getting there feels like running hills. What matters most is how we answer this question:
Do I want more candy?