The Why of Hard

I was a lazy kid. I want that out front lest my parents read this and think I’m trying to pass myself off as some paragon of mental fortitude. I shirked with world-class aplomb. I had the best excuses, excuses that could have won Oscars had anyone been so misguided as to positively reinforce sloth.

Truly, unless something constituted fun, you could only keep my attention by having a one-on-one conversation with me. That’s ADD in a sentence. I wasn’t deliberate in my laziness. No, I was more like a circuit. Electricity didn’t flow unless I was interested and interested and fun were pretty much the same thing. I couldn’t differentiate them and I had too little introspection to even wonder why someone might contemplate a work ethic.

My lack of grit infected my early musicianship and my early writing. It wasn’t until I started doing group rides and discovered how much I hated getting dropped that I began to adopt suffering as a deliberate strategy. Watching a group of friends roll away from me on a flat road contained enough motivation to transform my personality. Drumming changed. Poetry changed. I lost weight for the first time in my life without having my mother monitory my diet and make all my choices for me.

Here, I should add that I didn’t develop a taste for hard, not right away. What I developed a taste for was the way my abilities improved following the hard. I didn’t yet like suffering. But playing a difficult passage, writing a better sentence, not getting dropped, those things were fun and fun will always be a powerful elixir.

I needed a few years of experiencing gains in ability before I developed a Pavlovian response to the actual hard work. I remember being on a climb in Palos Verdes and thinking, “If I can stay with these guys this time, they will never drop me again.”

I was wrong, but that didn’t matter. That grit was the thing that had been missing from my life. That was the beginning of my real work ethic and I’m proud to acknowledge that cycling was the thing that taught me the nature of the effort. How many times did I tell myself, Dig in? Enough that I no longer recall the first time I issued the order or the first time that I was able to execute without fail.

As with so many things in my life, from diet to the social contract, cycling was the venue in which the feedback loop was tight enough to illustrate the why in a single event. To others my epiphanies may have seemed simple, but those most direct lessons were the ones that stayed with me, the black-and-white images that didn’t need color to convey the picture.

Much like the muscle memory that comes from learning to turn into a slide, a part of my brain that still thinks I have a tail knows how hard pays off, knows that hard makes me better and better me has more fun. Somehow, a part of me that isn’t smart enough to do math knows that hard equals fun.

Image: Jorge “Koky” Flores, JustPedal

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  1. johnrom719 says

    Hey Patrick, thanks for the essay, and the topic on the Paceline! Great work. I recently heard David Brooks say, “Suffering only hurts you if you can’t connect it to a redemptive narrative.” I think I may have an essay in me putting your thoughts and Brooks’ together.

    1. Padraig says

      Brooks’ change of heart in the last few years has been a thing of wonder. I’ve gained so much respect for him. Once you get that essay written send it our way; I suspect we’d like to run it.

    2. Padraig says

      Oh, and you’re most welcome. I really appreciate the prompt. Those are always fun.

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