Love of the Game
I have friends who run companies of various sizes. What they universally complain about is all the things that get in the way of actually running a business.
- political arguments between employees
- licensing issues with state & local governments
- setting up payroll
- finding reasonably priced office space
All dumb stuff that has nothing to do with selling a product to a customer.
And yet this stuff is universal. Everyone has to get through it.
Even if you invent the airplane.
The Misery of the Wright Brothers
The brothers endured plenty of pain that had nothing to do with flying.
For starters, they had to get to a place with enough wind to even make an attempt.
Their preferred test location was the now-famous Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, some 700 miles away from their Dayton hometown.
Wilbur travelled there 1st.
It took him 6(!) days to arrive, including a 40-mile leg by boat that took 2 days during which he didn’t eat.
Once Orville arrived separately they slept together in a tent, but sometimes the wind was so strong they had to jump out of bed to hold the tent down. Orville kept his sister updated on the trip:
We each have two blankets, but almost freeze every night… the wind blows in on my head, and I pull the blankets up over my head, when my feet freeze and I reverse the process. I keep this up all night.
Okay so the weather sucked. What else?
On their 2nd trip to Kitty Hawk a storm of mosquitoes appeared, “in the form of a city cloud, almost darkening the sun.”
It was by far the worst experience of Orville’s life:
The sand and grass and trees and hills and everything was fairly covered with them. They chewed us clear through our underwear and socks. Lumps began swelling up all over my body like hen’s eggs.
Our blankets then became unbearable. The perspiration would roll off of us in torrents. We should partly uncover and the mosquitos would swoop down upon us in vast multitudes... Misery! Misery!
Orville's letter to his sister complaining "Misery! Misery!"
He said this was even worse than an earlier bout of typhoid fever.
These are just a few examples. They ran into plenty more problems after they’d become successful, including patent lawsuits & other schleps that come with running a growing business.
Why Do This At All
Ah, the joy of pain that has nothing to do with your goal.
So why’d they do it?
In one of Wilbur’s first letters to a well-known aviation expert he starts off introducing why he cares about any of this to begin with:
For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life. I have been trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that I can devote my entire time for a few months to experiment in this field. [emphasis mine]
In fact Wilbur had been interested in flight since childhood and it was the death of fellow flying inventor (in a crash naturally) that had rekindled his desire.
Let’s call it “the love of the game.”
Los Dos F-Bombs
What they absolutely weren’t motivated by was fame or fortune.
They did run a bicycle shop that made them enough to run their experiments, but Wilbur in particular did not consider himself a very good businessman:
I do not think I am specially fitted for success in any commercial pursuit even if I had proper personal and business influences to assist me. I might make a living, but I doubt whether I would ever do much more than this. Instead he felt “Intellectual effort [was] a pleasure”.
(Later they did do well with the Wright Company, but they didn’t become nearly as wealthy as many of the multimillionaires of the day.)
They did eventually become famous. In my research I didn’t find commentary from the brothers about their desire (or not) for fame, but I do think their behavior indicates they had zero interest.
They were always more interested on flying than whoever might have been watching.
Why Wilbur Made the Right Choice
Wilbur died a mere 12 years after their first successful motorized flight at the young age of 44.
Sure, he did to enjoy the fruits that came from being the co-inventor of the airplane.
But he probably would have been happy even if they hadn’t been the first.
If you work on something you love it doesn’t matter whether you eventually make it big because you can look back on your life with personal satisfaction & have pride in your work.
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