Why the universe is trying to beat you into submission
I have a bone to pick with William H. Murray and Paulo Coelho.
Murray’s famous quote, written at the beginning of his mountain climbing expedition to the Himalayas, has been misleading adventurers since 1951:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!'”
Yes, it stirs the soul. Yes, there’s some truth in it. Yes, commitment is a magical thing, and yes, it does open doors. At least initially.
What the quote ignores is that after that initial boost from Providence, doors are slammed in your face, unexpected challenges erupt on your path, monumental trials shackle your soul.
At that point, Providence is taunting you with a question.
Paulo Coelho’s famous quote is also dangerously incomplete:
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Ultimately, this is true. But before you see the results of this divine conspiracy, the universe tries to kick your butt and force you to give up.
Just ask William Murray what happened to him after he wrote his beguiling quote.
In the first stage of your journey to achieve any goal, Providence, the universe, God, whatever or whomever you want to attribute it to, confronts you with this question:
The intensity of your challenges are in direct proportion to the magnitude of your goal; the greater your goal, the harder your challenges.
Counterintuitively, this resistance is an expression of love from Providence. Thomas Paine explains why:
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”
There’s a reason why most would-be entrepreneurs give up — and it’s the precise reason why entrepreneurship can pay such high dividends.
Providence is out to make heroes of us all. An easy path paved with gold, where there are no potholes to stumble over and no mountains to climb, where all doors fling wide open, and where storms pass over us, makes us weak, spineless, whiny victims who feel entitled to everything going our way.
The quotes from Murray and Coelho are spoken from the initial stage of the classic Hero’s Journey, as detailed by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. As such they are romantic, naive, and ignorant of the harsh realities of the journey.
Campbell summarizes the journey thusly:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Two key words: “fabulous forces.” Universe conspiring to help, my eye. That, my friend, is the universe wrestling you to the ground, kicking your teeth in, and then spitting on you for good measure.
To be sure, the universe is eager to help you up and send you on your way — but not until after testing your resolve.
Consider this illustration of the Hero’s Journey:
Murray and Coelho refer to the “supernatural aid” at the beginning of the journey, in the known realm. But cross the threshold and venture into the unknown and that pleasant little honeymoon is over, baby.
I don’t know what your particular journey is or what challenges it entails. It could be launching a business. It could be trying to succeed at sales. It could be trying to keep your marriage together.
What I do know is this:
- For every single thing you want in life, there is a price to pay. The more lofty and worthy the goal, the higher the price.
- The only way to conquer your challenges and overcome your temptations is to know your “why.” The deeper and purer your why, the greater your ability to conquer.
Your why is the fuel that answers the question, “How bad do you want it?”
Is your why that you want to live a more comfortable life? Good luck with that — that petty why will conquer a challenge about the size of a molehill.
A big why makes for big goals. Big goals make for big challenges. Your why must be bigger than your challenges if you are to become the hero you were born to become.
Before Providence moves and the universe conspires to assist you, you have to prove how bad you want it.
What do you want? Is your why big enough to do what it takes to get it?