After I got the highest grades in our equivalent of the O-level exams (in 10th grade), and received a bunch of school prizes, for years classmates and casual acquaintances would remark: "Oh, how lucky you are to be so smart. I could never get such good grades!" The first few times I heard this I cringed, thinking, if only you knew that it wasn't like that. After that, I started to get annoyed. Sure, I wouldn't always express my irritation; instead I would smile tightly and say "Thanks". But in my head I would say something totally different. I would say to myself: "It's not a question of being smart. I worked my tail off for those grades, after nearly failing half my subjects. You could have done it too if you had worked that hard".
I was reminded recently of this feeling while reading Brian Tracy's (best-selling author of motivational books) book No Excuses: The Power of Self-Discipline. It’s a great book, and while I would highly recommend it to most people, I would add the caveat – if you don’t like the tough love approach, you may not like this book. Anyway, having said that, back to why I brought up the book - the author talks about "paying the price for success". He says that if you want to be successful in a certain area, just figure out what the price for success is, and then pay it.
I realize this sounds overly simplistic, and can even offend some people, but when I read it, I was jolted out of my complacency. I love to complain about things and explain, to myself and others, why I can't change something or make something happen. I feel stressed about the quality of my writing, or how many books I sell, and a myriad other things. And while in general I believe that we can change things, when it comes to specifics I love to trot out the excuses, and list everything I have already tried to change the situation, which haven’t worked. Reading this particular sentence, I realized, that it wasn’t about what I had or hadn’t done already. The question I needed to ask myself – did I know what the price for success was, and was I willing to pay it?
Let me illustrate. Let's say you need or want to lose weight, a significant amount. While weight loss is an emotional minefield for most people, and there are many legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons why people find it difficult (trust me, I totally get it), if you are honest with yourself, you know what the price for weight loss is, at least for most people. It means making time in a busy schedule to exercise (even when that’s the last thing you feel like or have the energy for). It means giving up dessert most of the occasions when you want to indulge, especially when everything in your life is falling apart and a slice of cake is everything you're looking forward to. It means learning to like to eat vegetables, and substituting fruit and yogurt (or insert healthy option here) for your favorite snack of toast and cheese. It means a lot of little sacrifices and tough choices that aren’t so little and seem overwhelming to someone who has tried and failed many times before. But the question wasn’t whether it is easy or doable – the question is whether paying that price will get you closer to your goal. And if you're honest, you know it will. Now depending on your current circumstances, you may not be able to or want to pay that price, but even framing it in those terms makes the actions you take seem like choices, not simply a hand that has been dealt to you.
As I thought about all this, and pondered all the areas in my life that are stuck, or that I am frustrated about, I started to remember times when I did succeed. And everyone that I can currently bring to mind, I did pay the price for that success. Whether it was spending hours in the library and declining invites to the pub to get through my difficult courses in grad school, or chaining myself to my desk and staying up till the wee morning hours to complete my recent book or wake up at 4 am to get ready and travel for two hours by bus to rehearse for a cultural show that brought me friends and an exhilarating and memorable performance. None of these accomplishments were easy, and while I was going through them, there were countless moments when I wanted to give up. But luckily I didn’t. I paid the price. And got so much out of it.
And that brings me to the most important realization. I don’t remember the price I paid. Not really. I intellectually remember some of it. But the emotional pain is no longer there. I remember the thought that it was really tough. But I don’t remember the feeling of hardship. I do remember, and still benefit from, the outcome – the memories, the experience, the boost to my resume. The price I paid doesn’t seem such a high price now, though that wasn’t the case at the time I was paying it. Some days it seemed like no matter how hard I worked, I wasn’t making any progress. Some days I didn’t think I would make it another day. I thought about quitting, and if I wasn’t going to be letting down a lot of people, I probably would have. But I kept going, and in the end, it seemed worth it.
Why then, have I now decided that I can't pay the price? Or am reluctant to? I wish I could write certain kinds of books, but think I don’t know how. I wish I could be more successful, sell more books, get more engagement from readers, but I don’t try to find out what that would entail and go after it. I want to have the financial freedom to travel all over the world, and have exciting adventures, and yet I haven’t even articulated this dream out loud, never mind taken any steps towards it. I want more than anything to return to my college and high school weight, which at the time I thought wasn’t low enough, but now feels like a pipe dream. Why am I not making progress on these goals? Is it that I don’t know what I need to be willing to do to make them happen? Or is it that I know, and have decided that the sacrifices I would have to make and the work I would have to do is something I cannot or choose not to undertake?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that even thinking about this question has made me more aware of what my choices are. I may not be able to control everything or many things in my life. But there are many more things that I can control, but overlook when I am lamenting about how things aren’t the way I would like them to be. From now on, I resolve to be aware that whether I choose to take action or not, I will remember at all times that the choice is still mine.