22 Feb

“All people dream, but not equally.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the
morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous
people, For they dream their dreams with open eyes, And make them come
D.H. Lawrence

My grade school English teachers always suggested I start with a quote.  That’s my “attention getter.”

I’ve always been attracted to ambition.  I love hearing stories about people that really want something and try relentlessly to achieve it.  It makes sense to me.  You want it, you try to get it.  On the other hand when people say they “want” something but put in none of the effort required to achieve it, I find it a little off-putting.  It’s like a disconnect.  How can you want something and not try to achieve it?  A dream without a plan is a wish!  That’s what I tell ’em!  Just kidding, I don’t say it.  I just think it.

I am not hating on type B personalities, I understand that one is not better than the other, the brain is wired in different ways.  But being a serious type A myself, I relate better to other type A’s.  So sue me.

The most extreme version of ambition is 100% ambition, single-mindedness. To me, this is a very romantic notion.  I see it more as ultimately freeing rather than a gigantic ball and chain.  Think of waking up every day and not ever being like, “What am I going to do today?” Because it’s the same as yesterday and the same as the day before.  One goal: build a Fortune 500 company, own a sports team, win an Olympic gold medal, become the best poker player.  Each day you work toward accomplishing X.  Nothing else matters.  Every day, it’s all about X.

In my life when I have an X, I am happy.  The stronger the desire for X, the happier I am.  I am at my most miserable when I have no X.  I know it’s the way my brain is wired.  It’s not something learned.  It’s funny, I think I see signs of it in my son.  I can’t be sure, but he definitely has the spinoff traits – hatred of boredom and mental complacency.  I hope he is like me.  His mom is a Type A (although much more reasonable than me) so that gives me hope at least that he’s not the dreaded type B.  I digress.

I don’t think true single-mindedness exists in the real world.  It’s more of a hypothetical idea, but I’ve met some people that I would consider pretty close.   Haralabos Voulgaris is one: Bob’s passion for the NBA and to become a great sports bettor is pretty epic.  It helps when your passion is also your job.  And by helps, I mean it’s a must.

I read a book the other day that resonated with me more than any book has in a long time.  It’s written by Hank Haney called, “The Big Miss,” and it chronicles his time as Tiger Woods’ golf coach.  Tiger Woods is one of the best examples of true single-mindedness.

****Tons of spoilers ahead.  Stop reading and go read the book.

The top of the mountain.  The golf swing perfected.

A lot of people have heard of “Tiger Days,” a termed coined to describe his rigorous daily practice routines.

“He would begin a typical one by waking at six a.m. and working out until eight.  After he showered and ate breakfast, we would meet on the practice tee at nine for 90 minutes of hitting balls.  Form 10:30 to 11 he would practice putt, then play as many as nine holes on the course until noon. After a one-hour lunch break, we’d meet at one p.m. for an hour of short-game work, followed by another 90 minutes of hitting balls.  From 3:30 to 4:45 he’d play nine holes, and then return to the putting green until six p.m. This would be followed by an hours of shoulder exercises before retiring for dinner at seven.  If he had a week off from tournament play, he’d start over the next day.”

Yeah, we know Tiger works hard at golf.  He plays a lot.  That’s intense, but now we’re talking……

“Tiger called me back the next morning, a few hours before his starting time.  He said he’d worked two hours in front of the mirror before going to bed.  Then, when he awoke at two a.m. to go to the bathroom, he looked in the mirror and started working on his swing again.  He said he spent another 90 minutes working on the same stuff before going back to bed.  Then after rising in the morning, he did another hour of mirror work, at total of four and half hours of studying position and movement since I’d passed along my suggestions.  In the final round, Tiger went out and shot 29 on the front nine and passed Vijay. He ended up shooting 63 to win by three.”

I often feel guilty that I don’t work harder at things – and I sometimes feel that maybe I should be more like Tiger.  But I take solace from this quote in the book which I would call the crescendo:

“I also genuinely cared about Tiger as a person and knew his life wasn’t easy. I sensed that despite the assumption that he’d followed his dream, he hadn’t chosen his life as much as it had chosen him.  Giving himself over to golf instead of a more normal life had many advantages, but being a well-adjust, fulfilled person wasn’t one of them.  I admired tremendously the way he held up his end of the bargain to produce excellence.  But I’d seen close-up the cost of so much single-mindedness, and I wondered —  As much as Tiger has gained in wealth and glory, is it possible that he feels used?”

That’s the rub.  Such an unbalanced life, doesn’t seem to be necessarily happy.  One might argue that the joy is in the chase.  I’ve always felt that was just something that people say.  There is joy in the journey, but I don’t think it feels like joy in the moment.  I bet Jordan, before his titles wasn’t happy, I bet he was constantly wanting, uncomfortable.

Psychologists have studied happiness and they’ve found that most people converge on a certain level of happiness despite their life situation.  It’s a bio-defense mechanism.  An example would be quadriplegics and lottery winners rating similarly happy after a few years – the same baseline for most people.  The people that are the most unhappy were those that felt they were just below a certain threshold they wanted to get to.  Trying to “keep up with the Jones'” if you will. (Here is a link to my source. Because of this, I imagine the true overachiever finding the journey angstful and only joyous in the memories well after the fact.

The real problem, though, is when you actually get to the summit.  You get there and look around and I bet it’s a lonely place.  A little bit of a “what now?” feeling, but more pronounced.  It’s weird but I think its something like this.  I love to fish.  Sometimes I’ll even go fishing by myself.  Like a true A personality, I work feverishly with my minimal skills to catch as many as possible.  I work non-stop, fish as many lines and legally allowed, constantly baiting and checking lines.  Then,  about once a summer, I’ll just stop and think, what if I catch a huge fish or a 100?  So what?  Who cares? I’m gonna throw the fish back anyway.  Sure, I’ll go brag to my friends, but that will be it. What’s the point?  It’s weird and it sucks.  I imagine that is how Tiger felt times 1000.  “I’m the best golfer in the world.” “So what?” “Did I just waste my life?”

Here is a recent Michael Jordan article where he refers to his mindset as a “curse.”

I genuinely felt sad for Tiger after reading the book.  Super overachievers give us the joy of seeing the full human potential realized.  People should thank them for that.

I want to share one more passage from the book – even thought it’s off topic.

Clutchness.  I’ve always had a million questions.  Here it is and thanks for reading:

“There will always be a mystery as to what makes Tiger Woods so amazing under pressure.  I still don’t exactly know, and I wonder if he does.  But what was revealed in his thought process before that putt was not a hard “this ball can only go in” mind-set, but rather a healthy, almost Zen, fatalism.  Some of it might have had to do with the Torrey Pines greens, which are notoriously bumpy, especially late in the day in the final round of a tournament.  But I found it amazing that for a person who was so bent on having control, Tiger instinctively knew when he had a better chance of success by surrendering.”


4 Responses to “Singlemindedness”

  1. Ben February 22, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Awesome post man. Really resonated.

  2. Paul Raso February 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    In 1962, he began living alone in the family apartment (his mother and Joan had moved out). Bobby Fischer began to devote 14 hours a day to chess. He had some 200 chess books and countless foreign chess journals stacked on his floor. He had an exquisite inlaid chess table, made to order in Switzerland, and three additional boards, one beside each bed in his apartment. As part of a Spartan training regime he would play matches against himself that lasted for days, sleeping in the three beds in rotation. Asked how he spent his free time, Fischer replied: ‘I’ll see a movie or something. There’s really nothing for me to do. Maybe I’ll study some chess books.’

    Similar to Tigers routine. Genius combined with an obsession to win results in excellence.

    • justinsadauskas February 22, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

      Really interesting Paul. I don’t think Bobby would qualify as particularly “happy” either.

      • @PatrickConnell2 February 23, 2013 at 5:51 am #

        Isn’t greatness more about creating a legacy than being happy? Being able to sacrifice happiness and many other things to make our short time worth more. Don’t most people have a dream of being remembered as a great ” _______”? The tough part is the sacrifice.

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