The Ease of Epic Feats

When we think of “epic feats” we’re first attracted by their shininess but then discouraged by the effort and luck we imagine their achievement requires. Even for my generation of people who grew up being told they were special, it’s more comfortable for to label epic as “impossible,” first because it makes logical sense–it wouldn’t be so epic if it were easy–and second because it dismisses us from the possibility of knowing we could be doing better for ourselves.

But epic is easier than we think. When we think of epic feats–climbing Mt. Everest, eating hundreds of hot dogs in an hour, starting a movement–the reason “impossible” is the word that comes to mind is because we concentrate all the effort over time that it would take to achieve something into the space of a vivid nanosecond of projected imagination. When we imagine what it would take to climb Mt. Everest, we think of the pain of frostbite, the threat of death, the difficulty of breathing, the pangs of hunger, and maybe the glory of reaching the top, but we never think of what impact all the training and time invested into the journey will do to make the suffering more tolerable. Similarly, when we think of starting a movement, we judge ourselves, thinking of the rejection we’d suffer by thousands if we ever tried to spread our ideas virally. We think of the pain we’d experience if our beliefs were challenged to the core by detractors and critics. We rarely think of the easy baby steps we can take to get a few friends on board, host a potluck dinner around a theme, get some cool advisors to help out, and find organizations with similar missions as sponsors and partners.

Biologically, our aversion to pain is greater than our attraction to pleasure, but mentally, our ability to project the actual pain or pleasure we’ll get out of an experience is pretty flawed. Better to set out to achieve epic feats and take breaks to reflect or rest when needed than to never step out into a painful realm. Shelling up for an entire lifetime makes you a slave to fear, which I imagine, is a far more painful existence than even the most terrible frostbite or the most public humiliation.

 
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