It was one of those ordinary evenings in my ordinary flat at the end of an ordinary day. Not one that was worth celebrating or that you would even notice, for that matter.
But a good idea strikes in the most unexpected circumstances, they say. And for some reason, instead of scrolling through old episodes of The Office while gulping down some healthy-ish homemade crap that’s never enough, that ordinary night I decided to scroll through Netflix’s documentaries.
Good idea No. 1.
One amid the rest catches my attention and I’m all ears and eyes until good idea No. 2 hits and there I am, blown away by that revelation, brainstorming ways to put in words what follows, yet still watching.
Yes, Free Solo is that good.
It follows the journey of Alex Honnold, a 33-year-old rock climber from Sacramento, making his way up El Capitan, 2,700 vertical feet of granite in Yosemite National Park.
And the reason why it’s so exciting to watch it’s because he does that free solo, without ropes or help of any kind. It’s just him, his shoes, a bag of chalk, and the cliff, as well as a few cameras to document the venture, of course.
But what got me thinking was the fact that he has been free soloing for 20 freaking years and none of his climbing had been recorded before. He was climbing before fame, he climbed while famous, and he would continue to climb even if no one was watching.
He would do it anyway, cameras or not. He would risk his life to pursue his passion.
To put it in his own words: “I think honestly my passion for climbing, my desire to climb all the time, is a huge part of what’s made me successful.”
It’s his single-minded love for climbing and the enormous amount he’s done of it that made him such a great soloist.
And he doesn’t only enjoy the emotional rush he gets when he makes it to the top, he loves the journey, the flow state he gets in while climbing, how peaceful, slow, and controlled every movement becomes.
He loves the prep work, which involves a detailed study of the cliff, the visualization of every crack or edge, and an extensive itinerary plan.
He loves everything about climbing, not just the success that came from it. That’s probably the thing he likes the least. And it came only thanks to his profound love for his craft.
If You Love It Enough, You’ll Get Good Enough
As Honnold climbs his mountains, we climb ours in our own ways and different avenues.
Many of us want to get to the top of their mountain as quickly as possible with the least amount of effort.
But the truth is that nothing worth achieving comes without hard work and a good amount of sweat and tears.
Think about any of your idols. David Bowie? J.K. Rowling? Walt Disney? Steve Jobs? Jay-Z?
None of them had it easy. They failed multiple times, then they stood back up and built themselves up again. And again.
They didn’t become the best in their industry “with the least amount of effort.” They had it hard. I’m sure they went close to give up more than once, but they never did. They persisted and improved along the way until they were so good the world just could not ignore them.
Why did they persist if it was so hard, then?
Because they loved their craft. They simply could not live without doing what they did. Success or not, they had to make art. It’s the only way they chose to survive.
As corny as it may sound, love is the answer. It always is to me.
Why Achievements Don’t Make Happiness
No matter how much money you make or how much weight you lose. No matter if you get that promotion or if you become the next Hollywood sensation.
After the initial sense of accomplishment you get when you achieve a big goal of yours, you settle back into the same, more stable level of happiness.
Our expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no real, permanent gain in happiness.
That means that if you expect to feel accomplished or feel happier after you make more money, get a promotion, lose weight, become famous, or just get more work done, you are looking for happiness in the wrong place.
Of course, having ambitions is good and healthy, but if you genuinely enjoy what you do, money or not, fame or not, success or not, then you’ll be more likely to overcome the obstacles you’ll find on your way.
Life Is A Journey, Not A Race
When you love what you do and enjoy the process, you learn faster and become better quicker. You come up with more efficient solutions and everything goes smoother.
Working on your craft, art, or passion may be harder than working a regular day job, but it doesn’t feel like working at all when you love what you do.
If you enjoy the journey to the top of your mountain, chances are the top will be even a more beautiful place than you have imagined.
Keep the top in mind, but don’t miss the details of your itinerary either.
That’s where you’ll spend most of your time. After all, real beauty hides in the pain to get to the top—we appreciate abundance better after knowing misery just as we appreciate success better after knowing failure. It’s all part of the journey. Enjoy it and you’ll enjoy life.