This post was originally published on Cordelia Calls It Quits.
I was really excited by the message of a now-defunct forum called “Impossible League.” Kicking the ass of the so-called impossible? Right on! Finally, a group of people who will really celebrate the hard stuff and what it means to overcome. That was until I realized that they had an unbelievably narrow view of what it meant to tackle the impossible.
To me, impossible isn’t just when you intentionally push your limits. However difficult that situation is, it’s fully in your control.
To me, the real impossible stuff comes when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, or when you can’t succeed in the typical manner, whether that’s because of a disability, a disease, being neurodiverse, or just having a really complicated personal situation — that’s what I see as “impossible.”
This collective embracing of feats of physical fitness and stoic challenges represents an actual cultural bias in favor of the fit and healthy. As understandable as that bias is, it shouldn’t make people who don’t reach that standard feel like failures. If anything, it should be the opposite.
That’s why I’m such a fan of making your own job. You can mitigate your issues far better that way.
You see, the way the world is now, it expects certain things from people. A commute. Set hours (or perhaps shift work, which is worse). It requires ridiculous “workdays” that no human being could possibly be productive across the whole span of. It prevents and really kind of pooh-poohs the idea that you should be able to have good hot food, naps or breaks when you need them (not only when they are legally required).
It insists that you should have to save anything and everything personal until after hours, even things that would be more efficient to prod along with throughout the day, like laundry or exercise or walking the dog.
Basically, the modern job requires an automaton, and some of us can’t even fake it. Rather than do all that and fail, we choose to put ourselves into circumstances where it is possible to succeed. Whether it’s a chronic illness, lack of childcare, or some other reason, there’s no reason to play with a stacked deck if you can invent a new game that plays to your strengths.
Not “Hacking It” Is a GOOD Thing
I’ve always said that coping mechanisms hurt as often as they help, and this is why: Not being able to hold down a “real” job helps us.
It makes us find another way to keep a roof over our heads, even if we’re suffering from debilitating pain 6 days a week, even when our elderly mother needs full-time care.
Oh, it sucks shitballs, because you have to make things up as you go, but at least it forces you to take your life by the reins. The people who can squeeze themselves into the role their workplace and the economy demands of them are afraid to move for fear of losing the “security” they have. Those who have nothing to lose can afford to be bold.
Test Whether the Default Settings Work for You
There are loads of articles about how beneficial it is to be your own boss or to work from home. People rhapsodize about how cool it is to get paid while you’re in your pajamas. That’s fine and all, but that’s really the lowest common denominator when it comes to how being freed from the shackles of societal default settings.
Not many people talk about how you can really take unconventional actions to solve your problems. You can move to Florida to mitigate your SAD, to Ireland to reduce your allergies. You can cope with a rare sleep disorder because when you run your own business, it doesn’t matter if you gain two hours every day. You can earn a living without having to afford daycare. You can take your mother to all her doctor’s appointments — hell, you can go to your own.
I’m on the other side of that issue. One by one, I’ve adjusted the defaults until I’ve settled into a lifestyle that’s so supportive, all my various health problems are nearly asymptomatic.
Why? Because I can wake naturally without an alarm, nap whenever I feel the warning signs, take the day off if I feel ill, eat every 4 hours without fail, and exercise daily to keep my body from seizing up.
When I worked a traditional job, I would wake with a start multiple times in the middle of the night, worried I had slept through my alarm. I would rise in the middle of a sleep cycle and feel nauseated because of it. I would force myself to eat something anyway because I could never be sure when I would get a chance to eat again. I would drive 45 minutes to work, where I would stay pepped up on coffee, B vitamins and Red Bull, and I would take Advil, Robaxacet, and a glass of rum every night so I could unwind and get to sleep without my body aching too much. I coped, but barely. I was still in the stage of trying to prove I could hack it.
What woke me up was someone asking me where I saw myself in 10 years. I said, “Not working this hard.” But when I looked into the future, I couldn’t see any way how what I was doing would lead to a better life.
Just Being Brave and Strong Is Not Enough
There tends to be this concept that if things are tough, we should stick it out. We should persevere. But it’s not as simple as that. When we struggle, we should struggle for a purpose. I damn near killed myself trying to prove I was tough, and let me tell you, I now have pretty strict standards about what is worth struggling for.
I am sufficiently convinced that I am not a malingerer. I guess I’ve paid my badass dues. My husband has rheumatoid arthritis and never missed a day of work, even on his surgery days. He’s convinced of his own toughness.
When people talk about their badassity, about the impossible things they’ve done, they never talk about the fact that they get through life on 15 spoons a day. They never talk about how they manage their business by working only when their kids are sleeping (except for years after the fact when they’re being interviewed by Forbes.)
They don’t talk about the second job they work, or how they keep it together in front of clients when their spouse is undergoing cancer treatments. WTF? This is the stuff of heroism. Not cold showers and running triathlons. Those are acceptable training, but the people in my examples are already in the pros.
Fitness and training goals are easy. Not in the sense that you can just snap your fingers and they’re accomplished, but in the sense that there’s a concrete measurability to them; there are simple templates to follow, and there’s a warm camaraderie with all the rest of the crazy people out risking an ankle with you. I have loads more respect for the way that Joel Runyon built a movement around the Impossible League than I am that he ran a marathon and takes cold showers every day.
I don’t have any grand lesson to share with you. If you’re in this situation, you’re already doing everything you can. You might not be doing everything right (because who can tell what that is?), but you’re the man on the ground, and no one can gainsay that. This sparse little poem sums up my feelings on the matter precisely:
I used to admire
Men who sailed the unknown seas or climbed dangerous mountains,
Who flew planes in the Yukon or parachuted for fun,
Men who built their own house and planted with their own hands,
Giants who built shopping centers and skyscrapers 100 stories high.
I used to admire
Priests who missionaried in China and scientists who discovered cures,
Industrialists who built empires, celebrities who made a mark.
Now I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to do some of the things
I used to admire.
Lately I only admire people
Who do what they have to do.
~James Kavanaugh (1928-2009)
Professional Badass: 24/7
If you’re already in the pros, own that shit. Don’t treat it like you’re secretly failing because you can’t “live up” to the default. You’re not failing; you’re winning against the odds. You’re taking your own destiny in your hands, and you are fucking crushing it.