I recently watched the movie Rush, a movie on the 70’s rivalry between Formula 1 drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. In a voice-over early on in the movie, James Hunt talks about women, driving, and feeling alive:
I have a theory why women like racing drivers. It’s not because they respect what we do, driving round and round in circles. Mostly they think that’s pathetic, and they’re probably right. It’s our closeness to death. You see, the closer you are to death, the more alive you feel, the more alive you are. And they can see that in you, they feel that in you.
This quote immediately rang true, and stuck with me: not the part about women (I’m sure it may be true), but the part about feeling alive.
The closer you get to death, the more you feel alive.
The thing is, this is pretty extreme. I’ve never had a real brush with death, and most of the people I know haven’t either.
For us, there may be another less-extreme way to put it:
You closer you get to failure, the more alive you feel.
This feels very true to me, although I admit I have only learned it recently.
For most of my academic/working life, I wouldn’t say that I did much which made me feel particularly alive.
In school, many things didn’t matter. Sure, an ‘A’ was tough to get. But for the most part, passing (i.e., getting a D- or better) was pretty easy. Grad school was similar. Getting a specific paper published was difficult, but with time, most PhD students figured out how to graduate with a paper or more. With so many PhDs graduating, failure didn’t feel like a huge concern.
Since I quit my job, things have drastically changed. Failure is a real option. I have already worked on several projects that have not panned out. These failures have cost me time and money, both of which are valuable. I make no money at the moment. I am spending from my savings, and each month without some sort of success eats into these savings. Each month brings me closer to going broke, which would feel like a real failure.
In short, I’m trying to say that my ass is on the line. I feel it every day, and it can be pretty stressful.
But you know what?
After nearly two years of this, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I feel alive. I feel that my work matters. There is real upside, and there is real downside. I am pushing myself, and I am trying to creating something meaningful in the world. Honestly, I can’t think of a better job.