The venerable Mr. Miagi had these words of warning for Daniel before making a sacred pact to teach him karate. “Walk on road, hmm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squish just like grape. Here, karate same thing. Either you karate do yes or karate do no. You karate do guess so, squish just like grape. Understand?”
We live in a world of constant distractions, a world where being a good multitasker is a desired and celebrated trait. We think everything should be fast and easy. We get easily frustrated when something is not and then quickly lose interest, moving on to a diversion that requires less effort. We spend most of our free time sitting in front of a television set, mouths agape, mindlessly letting images stream into our consciousness.
How many of us have been squished like grapes in our personal endeavors, only to make the excuse that these hobbies or activities just weren’t a good fit, giving them up on the grounds that was no reason to waste any more time and energy? The ‘guess so’ mentality that Mr. Miagi warned Daniel about is probably the single greatest block to self-actualization. It pretty much guarantees a lifetime of mediocrity.
When we think of willpower, from an existential point of view what we mean is the whole of your being directed towards a desired end. You put all of your concentration, energy, thoughts, and emotions towards making this end come to fruition. Is it any wonder that people get bad results when they direct their energies into multiple channels at the same time and say things to themselves like ‘We’ll just see how it goes’ or ‘I’m just dipping my toes in the water’?
The guess so mentality is a pretty clever defense mechanism because while failure is inevitable, you insulate yourself from it because you know you didn’t try your hardest. You can tell yourself that if you had tried then the results would have been different. Giving everything you have to something and still failing is far more threatening.
If the various disciplines and pursuits were easy then everyone out there would achieve mastery after just a little bit of work instead of the tiny percentage of the population that achieves it after many years of hard work. If you want to count yourself as part of that tiny percentage, in whatever it is you choose to direct your willpower towards, you’ve got to put your full being into the effort and to refuse to be turned aside by the inevitable setbacks along the way. There is nothing worth doing that doesn’t take time, effort, and perseverance.
It’s better to not do it at all, saving your precious time and energy for something else, than to do it so-so. If you’re really serious about self-actualization, choose a pursuit that has always intrigued you and throw the gauntlet down, firmly deciding you will give everything you have to it, that you will do whatever it takes to reach a high level, that no matter what is thrown your way you’re going to dig in your heels and keep going. You will find that as the days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into years this pursuit will begin to define you, acting like an anchor in your life and exerting a strong positive influence on your relationship to everything and everyone else in it. We always hear that we get out of something what we put into it, but we don’t experience this truth in our bones until we put everything we have into a pursuit, discovering that what we get back is far more than we could have imagined.