The Threshold between Despair and Delight

The Threshold between Despair and Delight

A mini-insight arose in the Wave regarding the difference a positive attitude makes when you’re chipping away at the endless mountain of goal-related tasks. When the mountain seems frickin’ huge, we often feel despair followed by loss of motivation. However, if one is able to somehow push through that and make things happen, there is a point where enough hard-won pieces chain together to create a trickle of results. At first, the trickle may start in a burst and sputters out. So we tinker, trying to puzzle the thing out to make it flow again, energized by the possibility but not quite sure what it means.

One reason I’ve been feeling positive is because the years of work, which have not been particularly focused, have started to create that affirming trickle of results. I can now imagine it growing into a life-sustaining river. Specifically, I’m talking about the sales on of my various stationery products. The sales are small but steady, and seem to grow as I add more products to the line. It took several years of learning stuff I didn’t want to learn (namely, e-commerce) and getting over my own issues (as in wondering if people would hate what I did). I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing, but it’s incredibly satisfying to watch. The trickle is able to sustain itself, more or less, without my daily input. It’s alive!

There were times in the past three years where I dragged my feet and procrastinated, not liking the way that e-commerce (and in many ways business itself) is a confusing maze governed by the made-up rules of a thousand lords of a thousand toll-sucking fiefdoms. I was irritated with the low quality of the affordable solutions and the bureaucracy that impeded implementation of the better ones. The tricky part is finding the combination of affordable services, quality-minded guides, and reliable sources of raw material that make possible the creation of a trickle-generating machine. In a more general sense, this process is true of ANY endeavor, be it learning how to program video games, learning how to run a team, or mastering any art form. The best guides, I think, help you see the totality of that chain while clearly demonstrating the application of the skills you must possess. That helps stave off the despair during those long years of training.

The threshold between energy-sapping despair and life-giving delight, I think, happens when you can start to see the trickle and gain confidence that it’s strong enough to sustain itself. You then have something you can observe and interact with, which helps clarify your focus much in the way having children does: NUTURE, LIVE, AND GROW! Growth can be in terms of size, or it can be in terms of excellence. In any case, you have crossed a threshold that you may not have recognized existed. I certainly didn’t, until now.


  1. Amanda Pingel Ramsay 12 years ago

    I wonder if that’s one of the reasons religious orders and programs do so well. Any worthwhile endeavor involves a certain amount of up-front grinding to get the skills and knowledge and endurance needed to do the cool stuff. And if you grew up in the instant gratification culture that most of us did, a la The Karate Kid (PG 13, Language), then it’s easy to get discouraged after about 10%.

    At that point, priests or monks or mystical wise inscrutable Chinese guys, or whatever, will say to you “Have Faith. This is necessary. The good parts will come.” But if you’re Catholic, and a Catholic priest says that, it’s easier to actually have faith and keep going.

    • Author
      Dave Seah 12 years ago

      That’s an interesting thought! My first inclination would be to say that religious programs and orders work by externalizing motivation. The faith mechanism is internal to the believer, but it is directed outward to the program, which is seen as a trusted authority. I suppose other directions that one can direct faith is toward one’s self, or directly to God, which require a great deal more mental energy if one is trying to be conscientious about it. Maybe the general observation to make is that it’s easier when you’re not alone, and groups that can provide resources and support tend to do well. The good parts come FROM the group.

      Incidentally, I never saw The Karate Kid as having an instant gratification message (the montages seemed to imply that he did a lot of training). However, the presentation of the movie (any movie, really) compresses this time so much that the result is that we THINK things don’t take a long time. We have no real-world experience with the time it takes until we’ve gone through it. A variation, perhaps, of the “if it doesn’t take a long time, it must be easy, and therefore should be cheap” mentality that people have these days.

  2. Michael O'Boyle 12 years ago

    “Made-up rules” indeed.

    Great to hear about your success. I’m probably not the only one now wondering about the technology/services stack your trickle generator relies on. I’d pay for Dave’s Guide to Monster Making.

    • Author
      Dave Seah 12 years ago

      Thanks Mike! I wouldn’t call it “success” yet, but I see the beginnings of sustainable growth, like the flicker of flame in the kindling of a newly-built campfire. There’s plenty of things that could snuff it out…but at least there’s something I can look at! That’s a pretty big win.

      That’s an interesting thought, how to describe the technology/services stack I’m using. I’ll see if I can write that up soon.

  3. Avrum 12 years ago

    I’ve been waiting to see a post like this… it was inevitable. I’ve tasted this feeling – and while fleeting (at least for me) – it’s so sweet when everything comes together. Keep on, keep on Dave.

    However I’ve often wondered if Covey, Allen, etc., still use the tools/methods that made them rich/famous. So before fame carries you away to a beachside mansion, are you using your sheets… your planning methods? Or have you come up with something new? If I recall, Starbucks and and early morning planning is what you were doing last.

    • Author
      Dave Seah 12 years ago

      Hey Avrum,

      Cool! I’ve been wondering what’s different about this and other projects…Perhaps it’s the context? Or the self-sustaining aspect? Finishing difficult programming projects or drawing a really detailed graphic give me a similar sense of satisfaction, but it’s not the same because it’s not part of a supply chain or lifeline…? Hm.

      As for the planning methods: I use them, but often independently of the sheets. For example, the 15-minute block is an interval I use everywhere, from motivating myself to do something new to time-blocking to time sheet keeping. My definition of a task is also pretty standardized by now.

      I do use Emergent Task Planner still, since it’s easy to grab a form in pre-printed form. I’ll use it when I need to be particularly focused for the day to get a lot done, but on days where the to-do list doesn’t require many context switches, I just wing it.

      These days, I’ve been thinking mostly of how the various elements can be turned into new systems that can be customized for individuals, and looking into software. I think the big piece I’m missing is how to visualize and manage the creative context.

      I’m also working at home and I’m on a late day cycle. Starbucks was getting expensive, and the crowd I hung with has moved away. I’ve set up my home office, though, in a way that makes it far more tolerable than before. Plus my new-ish workstation is a beast, assembled from components I picked myself. The Macbook Pro, which is pre-unibody, is getting less and less pleasant to work with.

  4. Amanda Pingel Ramsay 12 years ago

    I was thinking about this phenomenon this morning, using paper-and-pencil RPGs as my model (since it’s pretty much my standard model for anything). And I think here’s an important difference between life and RPGs:

    There are a lot of projects in life that require 3 or 4 or 12 skill rolls to all be successful before you get any kind of result. To get money from a small business, you need marketing skills to get leads, sales skills to convert leads, technical skill to do the work they want, and administrative skills to ensure positive cash flow once all that’s happened and until it’s happened again. Maybe more, depending on the business. You may have fantastic sales skills, do brilliant work, and never let anything fall through the cracks… but if you only get one lead a month, you’re still not going to see results.

    Which means you can spend thousands of XP on dozens of skill levels, and still not actually see a tangible result (like money in the Paypal account). Of course we give up!

    It’s a little like the Eiffel tower. The four legs support the first platform. The first platform keeps the four legs from falling inwards and collapsing on themselves. It’s elegant and stable once it’s all in place… but how do you get there in the first place?

    We know it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, but what they don’t tell you is that at least 5K of those hours… possibly up to 8K or 9K… will be spent just getting the base of the tower in place.

    • Author
      Dave Seah 12 years ago

      I like the RPG analogy! Here’s some additional thoughts:

      (1) If you’re doing it all yourself, as we solopreneurs tend to do, it’s like trying to solo a campaign that’s written for a team of adventurers. I’m sure it would be possible, but a very different approach would be required.

      (2) Games, like mainstream career paths, are designed as ladders of progression in a reward structure. For games, the reward structure is designed and baked into the rules. For careers, the reward structure is the established company culture and processes that drive it. Basic mastery, in this case, is to understand the rules and how they play out within the environment. Playing the game “successfully”, as in pursuing one’s unique set of desires, is a meta-game laid on top of the foundation. If you are working without these structures, you have to build the rules and the processes at the same time as you’re playing the meta-game. There is going to be a lot of thrashing back and forth. It’s the creative process. What we miss, I think, is that the creative process can have a very different profile when starting it up for the first time, particularly when there are no references that serve as a mastery reference point.

  5. Nollind Whachell 12 years ago

    Let me expand on the RPG metaphor as well, particularly from an MMO perspective which I believe a lot of people are familiar with.

    It’s like spending time and money on applying your skill points and training abilities only to find out that you don’t like the specialization direction you’ve been going in or, even worse, you don’t even like the class you’re playing.

    So before you begin rolling up your next class, you realize you don’t want to make the same mistake again. So you ask yourself, is this class meaningful to me and relate to who I am in some way? And more often then not though, the immediate response you get back from yourself is “But I really don’t know who I am.” And therein lies the problem, as well as the solution.

    You see I think one of the most addicting and liberating things about MMORPGs are that your passion, purpose, and even vision at times are clearly identified and defined for you at the start of your game “life”. Before you even install the game, you know the epic challenge within the world that you as a hero are called to assist with because it’s written on the back of the game box. Then after installing the game and picking a class that feels right to you, you undergo some quick training to familiarize yourself with your classes abilities and how best to utilize them. More than anything though, you are often spoken to as a hero, making you believe you can overcome whatever challenges and quests are thrown before you.

    Again what is being defined here is your identity. At its core is your passion which is the natural ability of your class or temperament in life (see Myers-Briggs or Keirsey). Your class specialization is how you choose to direct your passionate ability, thus it is your purpose in life. And finally your vision is your passion and purpose fully realized as one and clearly defined clearly.

    So to compare this to the start of your own work life, you weren’t told what your passion, purpose, and vision in life was at the age of 16 years old. No one identified these things to help you play the game of life. What people did often tell you is what they wanted you to be. So the only way for you to avoid being forced into playing a role that you don’t like playing is to figure out your identity on your own. When you do figure this out, everything changes. That’s because knowing who you are is what unifies and motivates us into a clear direction (think like a company’s mission statement).

    Thus if you feel like you don’t know your passion or purposeful direction in life yet then you really truly don’t know who you are yet as well. And while this may seem both depressing and frustrating at first, we all must realize that this is the hero’s journey itself. Believing in yourself and that you have an important role to play in life will help you on this journey. Just as an example, I’ve been thinking about my own passion and purpose in life since 2002 but it wasn’t until I consciously started working on it as a serious quest in 2010 that it began to reveal itself to me within the last couple of years. Particularly over the past six months, I’ve pursued it with all of my spare time rather than playing MMOs because I knew that if I wanted to truly participate within the greater MMO that is life then I had to figure out my class and role within this game.

    One insight that I can provide though. If you have a blog, a lot of the clues as to your true identity will be hidden in plain sight within it. It’s not so much understanding the minute complex details of what you’re looking at, as it is changing your perspective and awareness of what you are looking at. So don’t look at the details of your previous posts, so much as the metaphorical keywords that you are using to describe intuitive things that you’re feeling but just can’t seem to logically articulate within your mind yet. Within those keywords you’ll start to see patterns that will slowly reveal and identify the natural and passionate heartbeat of your life. Thus trust yourself and more importantly trust your feelings, as they will reveal the deeper connections and identity within you that you may just not logically comprehend and see yet.

  6. Author
    Dave Seah 12 years ago

    Nollind: What MMORPGs have you played, out of curiosity? My experience has been a little different–I find them to be interesting reflection tools at times, but largely I am playing not as me but as a character exploration–but I see your points about identity.

    Regarding your last insight: yes, I agree. I basically started the blog to discover what my personal keywords were. Over time I’ve found that revealing more about myself and my interests has led to unexpected connections, and keywords themselves weren’t as important as these new portals. Still, when it comes to creating sustainable opportunities, there is some exploratory grunt work required. To use your earlier RPG analog, I’ve got to try out a few new character classes every once in a while.

  7. Nollind Whachell 12 years ago

    WoW was the longest one I participated within. Allods Online was another one that I enjoyed in beta but its cash shop killed it. Other multiplayer games that influenced me heavily were Warbirds, Counter-Strike, And Quake CTF.

    From my small experiences with you in WoW, you’re playing yourself more than you know. I’ve seen this same pattern with regards to other people as well. Game environments are where my natural abilities were revealed to me which I then took to into my professional work environments. In effect, a lot of the innovative approaches to collaboration and teamwork that I learnt happened outside the game which we then successfully applied within the game. The game was just the social environment of organizational experimentation.

    Character exploration is another perfect example as well. Yes, like you, I loved experimenting with different classes but only with the purpose of finding ones that let me express myself inner authentic self. Some didn’t work at all while others just felt naturally right.

    The same applies with life. People jump from job to job as professions with no deep understanding at times, only their intuitive feelings guiding them. So one job might feel right while another doesn’t. Or two jobs might feel right but they are completely unrelated. For example, prior to understanding myself, I was interested in web design on one hand and massage therapy on the other hand. These seemed two conflicting directions at first but once I understood my passion, I saw how they were completely the same.

    The best way to realize this is to think of a class within an MMO and it’s relationship with its professions. Those professions in the game only supplement your core abilities of your class. So if I’m a warrior, choosing blacksmithing and mining often seem like natural choices. Leatherworking can be somewhat beneficial but not as much.

    The same applies to life. We often choose professions and stick with them because we unknowningly are drawn to aspects of that profession that relate to our passionate natural ability. And we often avoid other professions because they don’t really relate to our natural abilities at all, thus we don’t feel like we’re able to express ourselves fully within them.

    With regards to creating connections with your blog, yes you’re creating connections with others but, more importantly, with yourself. Your relating to yourself, just as you like relating to others. This creates a transfer of information that helps you reveal the identity of the person your interacting with which can be even yourself. What you’re seeing here is the core trinity of systems at work: relationships, information, and identity.

    So yes you have a need to try out new classes / work professions in life but you’re doing so to try to find something that seems like a natural fit for you that will make you happy. And that natural fit is your natural passionate ability which is a part of your core identity that is within the heart of you. So by jumping between different jobs, you’re trying to see the patterns of relationship that will reveal this. This is the same thing you can do with your blog but in a more cost effective way.

  8. Nollind Whachell 12 years ago

    BTW have you visited a website called The Great Discontent at all? Awesome site that interviews notable creative professionals. What I found interesting after reading a variety of interviews was that while many of the people were thankful and happy in finding their passion in life, many of them, particularly the ones I admired the most, seemed to still not know their purpose in life. Thus they felt like a powerful nuclear reactor with nothing meaningful to energize. One guy said something like “There has to be more to life than doing website redesigns”, even though his web design work was simply phenomenal.

    This is exactly why I believe finding your passion, purpose, and vision in life is so critical because success without fully understanding them isn’t as fulfilling and meaningful as we assume it would be.

  9. Author
    Dave Seah 12 years ago

    I appreciate all the generous advice, Nollind, though I’ve written about exactly these things over the years too, so the impact is somewhat muted. I think we’re going through similar cycles of realization.

    The identity question is one that’s always foremost on my mind. It sometimes gets mixed up with marketing needs, as I am dependent on gigs to make a living, and I’m just coming out of one of those cycles now. It isn’t a good fit for me in the way I’ve been doing it, so I try something new.

    On MMORPGS: I’ve noticed a few things about my play style that are constant:

    • Mostly solo, but helpful when called upon
    • Tendency toward classes with great freedom of movement combined with auxiliary healing
    • Preoccupied with character backstory in my mind
    • Total disinterest in end-game raids or PKing
    • Total carebear

    These are indeed a reflection of my own character…it’s based on my preferences after all, and they come from somewhere. Still, I’ll try all the classes and play styles, and sometimes find one or two things that are surprising.

    One thing: I’m a bit confused by what you mean in the last paragraph. Are you saying success is MORE fulfilling with full understanding, or is it LESS?

    Btw, I haven’t seen The Great Discontent before…awesome link! thanks!

  10. Nollind Whachell 12 years ago

    Keep experimenting, playing, and interacting Dave. That’s where you’ll find your answers. The more attempts and angles you interact with yourself and others from, the more you’ll perceive the solution that is already emerging from within you.

    With regards to business identity, just remember to be who you are and not what people want you to be. Once I got over that hump, it made a huge difference. The next hump after that, articulating who you are, is a major pain in the ass. In effect, intuitively you already know who you are and what you want to do, you just can’t find the right words to explain it yet. Most of my research was in finding the words to articulate this. This is why I said it’s mainly about just perceiving things differently.

    As for being solo, you know just as much as I do that you have this love for helping people. Actually once you fully understand introverts and extroverts, you’ll realize that your introvertness drives you to want deep meaningful connections with others. So yes, just like me, you desire your alone time to regenerate your energy but you thrive on interacting and helping others in a meaningful way (i.e. your metaphorical magic shop).

    I’m saying that this current perceived sense of “success” really isn’t success at all. Again don’t take my word for it but read The Great Discontent. Yes these people would seem like they are “successful” but why do they keep hinting at the need to do something more, as though they have not fulfilled their lives yet. Again I think this deeper sense of identity and purpose comes from knowing who you are and what you are here to do. When you figure that out, you’ll start to feel like you are a part of something much greater than yourself that is emerging around you.