I was in Nepal a long time ago, on a trail in the Himalayas. I had stopped to rest on an overlook, following a steep climb up to a village. A Sherpa stopped at the same spot, carrying a basket stacked with sacks of rice.
We sat and talked for a bit, and I asked him about his basket. He explained that he was paid in 20-kilo increments. If he added weight to his pack, he wasn’t paid a penny more unless the extra weight crossed the 20-kilo threshold. I looked at the three 20-kilo sacks of rice strapped into his basket. They weighed about as much as he did.
“That’s… a lot of weight.”
He took a sip of water and looked out across the valley.
“More carry weight is more money for family.”
It was that simple. And it hit on a universal theme followed by people who do hard things consistently for a long time in order to fulfill a deeply meaningful purpose.
Think back to Demetrious Johnson on the other side of the world using his “Every F**king Day” mantra to grind through his daily training for the UFC.
As Epictetus wrote nearly 2,000 years ago, “First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do.”
It’s not about waiting to feel inspired, or finding the right “hack” to make the work feel easy. It’s about accepting what is necessary to do what you want to do and moving forward.
Those who are most successful in the pursuit of difficult things that take months and years of consistent effort, whether they’re special operations candidates or Himalayan Sherpas carrying refrigerators up mountains, have something in common: They put their behavior before their feelings, and their suffering has meaning.
They don’t wait to feel motivated to do the work. Their forward progress is not dependent on the passing weather of their emotions. They simply do what needs to be done, regardless of how much comfort must be traded away to make it happen.
Over time, these choices don’t just reveal our preferences. They add up and shape the secondary emotions that we associate with the situations through which we struggle. Eventually, these choices shape our preferences. Carrying the weight and doing the work becomes the reflexive action that just feels right when we’re too tired to really think about what needs to be done.
If you’re setting out on a difficult path, it’s important to keep these two concepts in mind.
Early in the process, you must expect your feelings to pull you back toward comfort and stasis, and be ready to set those emotions aside in order to keep going anyway.
And, you must have a deeply held purpose that is reflective of your identity, values and goals in life.
You must know why you carry the weight.