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How to Embrace the Long March to Personal Growth and a Better Life

Patience, Persistence, and Belief Required

“Great Wall of China” by Violette Filippini on Unsplash. Of course I used a pic of the Great Wall! It’s in China after all.

The road to fulfilling your potential in life is long and difficult. It doesn’t happen overnight unless there’s something I’m missing out on. And if I am missing out on it I am going to be very pissed off, but I digress.

Our journey toward improving our lives takes time and involves many setbacks. Yet, like all great achievements, it is the journey that we look back on with fondness, realizing it was then that we forged and improved our identity. So it was with the Communists of China in the 1930s.

“No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories.” 
― haruki murakami

Beginning in the late 1920’s, a civil war broke out in China amongst the Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-Shek, and the Communists, which eventually came to be led by Mao Tse-tung (Zedong).

Between 1930–1934 the Nationalists succeeded in severely weakening the Communists to the point that the Communists decided to flee for safety and to regroup in the remote regions of northwestern China.

This flight, which began on October 16, 1934, became known as the Long March. It spanned over 6000 miles, 18 mostly snow-capped mountain ranges, 24 rivers and lasted an entire year. Out of roughly 85,000 troops that began the march only about 4000–8000 remained at its end.

Yet, the arduous journey of the Long March ultimately proved fruitful for the Communists. The remaining survivors were toughened and unified. Thousands of young Chinese made the journey to enlist in the Communist Army upon hearing of the heroism and determination displayed the survivors of the Long March.

The Communists used this time away from power wisely, as did Mao. The Communists united their factions and even united with the Nationalists for a time to drive out the Japanese, which had invaded China.

During this time after the Long March Mao became the undisputed leader of the Communist party and synthesized the ideologies that would later guide his rule. Eventually, the Communists recovered fully from the Long March and wiped out the Nationalists, taking over China completely.

“aerial photography of road” by Jack Anstey on Unsplash. Long road = Long March?? Maybe?

Your Long March to Self-Improvement

So you might be wondering if that didn’t bore you into a coma, what the hell a bunch of Chinese commies 90 years ago has to do with you. My answer to you is … everything!

Perhaps you may find it a stretch, and if you do it’s surely not my fault because I am never wrong, but my massively abbreviated retelling of the Long March and events thereafter should give you comfort as you march toward becoming a better participant in the human race.

Before I became a writer on Medium of little to no regard and laughed at my own jokes in print, I was merely a wreck of a human male of little to no regard and laughed at my own jokes out loud. So big improvements then and a glowing advertisement of why you should listen to me.

“There’s no advantage to hurrying through life.” 
Masashi Kishimoto

Seriously though, I’ve been actively working on improving my situation and myself for quite some time now. It’s frustrating sometimes when you read great things about how to jump start your progress and you keep making some of the same mistakes when you try to put them into practice.

But be frustrated not! Embrace it and don’t be so hard on yourself. Look at the Long March and take comfort in how that turned out. The Communists were almost dead and buried but they got the fuck out, laid low, regrouped, worked on themselves, came out and kicked some ass and eventually took over all of China.

Flipping China! That place is huge! Did I mention the Communists are still in control of China? Consider it mentioned. But that’s the model for your own personal journey right there. It will be tough and you will be beaten down sometimes, but so long as you keep, ahem, marching you will succeed.

“man walking on desert” by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash

My life was definitely not where I wanted it to be a couple of years ago. My ex-wife and I were on the eventual road to permanent splitsville, my finances were poor, my job sucked, I was depressed and wasting my life on instant gratification.

Slowly, painfully slowly, I began to seek a better path because I was unhappy and believed that I was capable of doing more with my life. I knew I had to do something different than what I was doing because the results were disastrous. My Long March started with a retreat from the partying and skirt chasing.

I started reading more, specifically seeking out ideas on how to improve my confidence and my people skills. Less booze and babes; more books and blah. Like Chairman Mao, I was plotting how to take control of my life and organizing my guiding principles and goals.

And yet there were setbacks and suffering. I struggled to let go of my ex-wife. I was lonely and I missed the socializing and partying so there was the occasional slip up, and the random rationalization to go along with it.

But I stayed at it and righted the ship. I started having success in my dealings with others. I grew more patient and understanding of how other people think. That chilled me the hell out and also gave me a tremendous amount of confidence in myself.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” 

Slowly I overcame years of letting myself rot. I’d say in 20 years I probably read 5 books, and what I did read wasn’t exactly War and Peace. I’ve probably read 15 this year alone. Much less than many people, but a massive improvement for yours truly. And I’ve read a bunch of great self-help shit on Medium too.

I binge watched seven seasons of Game of Thrones last year in about a month. Now I don’t even have cable TV. I’m reading, working, working out, writing this shit, and hanging out with my awesome girlfriend. All productive and healthy activities.

I’m closing to landing a good job, totally positive about my future, and happier than I’ve ever been. I’m looking for a country to take over next. But the key to all of this has been persistence and belief in the cause.

None of that happened in a week, or a month, or even a year. Hell, there’s still plenty to work on. It’s been a Long March, and that’s totally OK. I look back on it as a great time in my life and you will too.

Just know that at times the journey towards self-improvement and achieving whatever goals you have will suck donkey. It won’t be fun all the time and may be filled with drudgery and pain, but if you endure you absolutely will succeed. You are playing the long game on your Long March.

“red and gold temple” by HONG LIN on Unsplash. Don’t forget the marchers.

So let’s nutshell it shall we? If your life isn’t where you want it to be, or you just want to improve your situation, your personal Long March towards world domination, er, personal growth will consist of the following:

  • Recognition of the Need to Retreat — Like any recovery, you first have to realize you have a problem that you need to fix or a goal you want to reach. The Communists needed to get away from the Nationalists or be annihilated. If you are on an unhealthy path then beat a hasty retreat.
  • Proper Utilization of Your Time Away — After you detour off the wrong path and start heading for the right one you will want to start studying on how to make things better for yourself. The Communists regrouped, unified, took stock, grew their numbers and Mao took over the party. Time for you to dig in and start taking responsibility for your actions, analyze what you need to work on, and then start researching and reading up on how to make progress.
  • Patience and Persistence Most of All — It took the Communists a year to complete the Long March and they suffered horribly during it. It took them another 10 years to regain strength to take over the country. You typically don’t accomplish your goals or become a better person in short amount of time. It takes around 2 months just to build a habit. Count your blessings if you radically reinvent yourself or meet your goals in a short time, but otherwise know that patience and persistence are needed and should be welcomed.
  • Similarly, Endure the Setbacks — The Communists had to weather dissension within their ranks, fight the Japanese, and then fight the Nationalists again before they finally prevailed and took over China. You will fall on your face in trying to grow and accomplish your goals. Just like you have to take tests to pass a class, you have to weather setbacks on your journey to accomplishing your goals.
  • Belief in Your Cause — You don’t go 6000 miles and suffer like Mao and the Communists did unless you absolutely and totally believe in what you are doing. What better cause is there than becoming the best person you can be and making your life something to be proud of. You’ll want to remind yourself of that during your Long March towards a better you.
You and your followers at the end of your Long March

Look, if Mao and his followers can put up with all that death, disease, devastation and any other awful thing that begins with the letter D, surely you can keep your comparatively pampered butt on the straight and narrow and meet your goals.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +367,690 people.

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