Photo Credit: Alexander Redl,
Photo Credit: Alexander Redl,

Growing up, much of my identity was rooted in athletics.

If you were to have asked me who I am, I would’ve said a football player and a wrestler. Beyond simply being activities I did, these were ways my character manifested themselves in the material world. Football had my heart, and from that foundation sprung series of correlating behaviors, attitudes, and actions.

This translated into a brutal training regimen. I was dogged in pursuit of the player, and the person, that I wanted to be. Every rep, every sprint, every moment was split between the present and the touchdown I scored in the future.

However, not all training was created equal. I loved doing things that made getting better fun– things like running with a punching bag tied to my waist or flipping a monster truck tire. Other things weren’t as engaging. The epitome of that end of the spectrum was something simply called “110s.” 28, 110-yard sprints separated by 30-second breaks. They were the worst. Nothing fun, nothing dynamic, just pure grit work. The highlight of eating your veggies.

But here’s the thing: a sick part of me kind of liked them.

Not the actual act of sprinting up and down a football field in 105-degree summer heat. The part of me I’m referring to reveled in the fact that I was pushing myself to the limits of my body, to be the player I wanted to be. That part of me embraced the suck and put it on an altar to be sacrificed to my end goal. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable, but I had a strong respect and appreciation for how they forwarded my goals.

Aim for Process

There’s a harmful myth that pervades the world of self help: that once you make the necessary adjustments, things will click and voila! Perma-happy. It’s just not true.

The idea that given X, Y, or Z, life will be forever peachy isn’t only nonsensical, it’s dangerous. Expecting a baseline high can only leave you disappointed and depressed. Life has ups and downs no matter what. So which downs are you down with?

Mark Manson beautifully explains the topic in his insightful book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. He essentially says that choosing one’s struggle, choosing what pain you’re willing to endure, is more important than choosing what your goals are. Of course everyone wants a rocking body or to be the CEO, but only those who genuinely enjoy counting calories and office politics are going to achieve them. It’s our struggle, not our goals, that define us.

Struggling Authentically

My first job out of college was at a financial recruiting agency. At a glance, it was exactly what I thought I wanted. A work-hard play-hard environment where fresh graduates can live material lives most people only dream of. The fast, flashy life was definitely where I wanted to be headed. It was the movie I wanted to star in… so long as I could skip to the last scene. I would find out that I wanted no part in that character’s journey beyond that.

I hated making call lists. I hated pounding the phones. And I hated trying to sell candidates on jobs I was working. It turns out I liked very little about the job besides what I thought its equivalent of a touchdown was. I knew the job wasn’t going to be particularly glamorous, I was going to strap a headset on and cold call for 14 hours a day. However, I knew I wanted what was at the end of the rainbow. My performance was underwhelming and I felt frustrated at my lack of motivation. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t visualizing the six-figure goal-line and reverse engineering my actions the way I did with football.

That year was a big blow to my confidence. In most things before then, I’d been able to set my goal and put one foot in front of the other until I got there. It took me a while, far past the time I stayed at that job, to figure out what had happened. I wasn’t a great football player because I liked touchdowns. I was a great football player because I liked 110s.

Everyone wants to score touchdowns (no shit). However I was willing to revel in the pain, drudgery, and minutia of what it took to get there– not just tolerate it.

Watching Your Movie

Grunt work’s not fun (you probably got that from the title). However, every path and way of life has its grunt work; football has 110s, headhunting has cold calling, and so on. You can’t get better and have fun both at the same time, all the time. So it comes down to what grunt work you can look at from a different perspective.

Take a look at your life.

Are you starring in a movie where you’re trying to fast-forward to the end after the journey’s over?

Or are you on a path where you relish the challenges and appreciate the grit work for how it improves you?

If it’s the former, it’s time to think what you want your 110s to be.