The Search for Greatness

By Trevor McKendrick 👋 - Have you read my free newsletter?

I just watched Free Solo, a documentary about Alex Honnold free climbing the 3,000 foot El Capitan without any protection or rope.

There’s an interesting dynamic between Alex and his girlfriend, Sanni.

In one scene, he’s he’s trying to climb a mountain w/o rope, i.e. Do Something Great That No One Has Done Before.

And in the next scene it cuts to them shopping for refrigerators at Home Depot.

One version is domestic bliss & happiness.

The other is Greatness.

Alex has this great line that sums it up:

“She (his girlfriend) sees things in a different way. For Sanni, the point of life is happiness. To be with people that make you feel fulfilled and have a good time.

“For me it’s all about performance. The thing is anybody can be happy and cozy. Nothing good happens in the world by being happy and cosy. Nobody achieves anything great because they’re happy and cosy.”

If he were rich, or in tech, or that was a Tweet, a mob would have assembled to cut him down.

In America there’s a new culture war of values that’s ostensibly about work-life balance but is really about what it means to live a good life.

Can we at least agree that nothing great happens on 40 hours a week. Or without sacrifice. Or without intense, unmoving focus?

That doesn’t mean you have to do that yourself, or that you’re lesser if you don’t.

But maybe we shouldn’t also cut down the Alex’s of the world?

It’s like some people are OK with other people being great as long as they don’t also get rich.

What is Greatness for you?

As I often say here it’s not about What’s Right but about What’s Right For You.

If climbing El Capitan isn’t for you, what is?

I strongly believe everyone has some version of climbing El Capitan in them and that, more importantly, they’d be more fulfilled and satisfied if they discovered what that is.

To be clear: it doesn’t have to be something sexy, or make money, or even be impressive to others.

What’s the thing that, if no one ever saw you do it, you’d be able to look at and be proud of?

Inevitably the people who do Great Things are doing it more for themselves than for anybody else. They judge themselves on their own standard.

It’s this weird thing where if you do it for the fame you’ll never succeed, but if you do succeed you’ll probably get fame anyway.

The Default Choices

The defaults in everyone’s life are different, so I’ll tell you what mine are:

having children

living in the suburbs

buying a house

working in a 9-6 job

going to church multiple times every week

Examine your life: what are the default choices in your environment? That doesn’t mean they’re bad, let’s just be aware of them when we’re choosing how to live.

In the same way that a lot of Mormons who go to church every week don’t actually believe Mormon theology, a lot of people accept the default life choices because they’re scared of trying something outside of their norm.

But with only one life to live, why not try to do something different?

Whatever that is. Just make it your thing.

One small example: some people think it’s insane to leave the cheap suburbs to go to an “expensive” city.

“Why move to San Francisco when you can get $350 rent in Thailand for a huge house, amazing food, and all the comforts of life?”

Patrick Collison had a great response to this: “because people are more important than comfort!”

That doesn’t make him right, but at least he consciously knows where he stands.

What would your response be?

Mine is that the point of life isn’t to maximize pleasure & minimize pain.

Making, and building, and doing, and creating things: whether that’s art, a business, a family, a book, music, whatever. These are the things that bring lasting satisfaction and joy.

Doing what you choose to do because you want to do it, and being great at it. These are the things one can look back on in life and be uniquely proud of.

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