Brief Thoughts on Courage

Cal Newport has an interesting post up at Study Hacks on the problems with, as he puts it, “the courage culture.”  He means by this the construction of our lives as one in which we are the heroes, battling against the surroundings which seek to keep us tied down to our boring jobs, rather than seeking our passions.  I love Study Hacks.  I love it deeply.  Even though I work with the concept of aventure, within which my clients and students are indeed spinning out stories, creating narratives out of their lives, and are indeed in hero positions, I am REALLY dedicated to sanity.  So I love Study Hacks, because, though I usually think Newport paints with too broad a brush, I usually think he’s foundationally right.  And he is all about living sanely and with dedication to craft. 

His objections to “courage culture” are 1) that it’s narcissistic; we’re not Frodo, as he points out, and nobody is really fighting against us; the larger society really just wants us to produce something of value; 2) difficult achievements are, as he says, “hard, not scary”; and 3) actually people around you may well know more than you do about life, and therefore when they try to discourage you from following your passion and quitting your day job, they might just be right, rather than trying to stifle you.

To all this I say, fair enough!  and true. 

With one main exception: hard achievements are often also scary.  Just because you’ve done all your homework, and made sure that you have enough of a foundation to get a big job done, or a giant change effected, doesn’t mean you’re not going to have nights spent in anxiety-laced insomnia.  For many of us, that’s just how it is.  So I still say, where there’s fear, there’s power.

But I agree completely with him that remarkable lives require hard work and long term investment.  It takes a long time to really learn a craft, any craft, whether it’s physical or intellectual or emotional or spiritual.  Any of which fields may be the ones your best careers lie in.

And hence, I advise, when you find yourself drawn to a major aventure, pay attention to what it is that’s calling you.  And pay attention to the realities of the situation.  And allow for preparation.  And assume that the big aventures will lead you into narratives that take a long time to walk through, and often require a lot of hard work.

And that, as Newport says, the passion for your work will often come after years of learning the craft.  Because true passion comes from depth.