Does great work have to be cold and lonely?

April 19, 2012 · 1 min read

In my post on what real passion looks like I wrote that

every ambitious endeavor goes through a period where things look so bad that it is, in fact, perfectly reasonable to quit. There’s lots of evidence that it will never work, there’s no proof that it will, and from the outside, no one could blame you for giving up. ... if you want to achieve something great with your life, you will someday have to pull through that cold, lonely period in the middle.

Some people objected. Keith Schacht commented: "if you are truly passionate about the product idea, the market, and the customers you're catering to then you enjoy the business even when it's struggling." Manjari Narayan said: "the middle is cold/lonely only if you are dependent on tangible rewards for enjoying your work."

I agree, and that was really the point of the post: not that you must suffer for success, but the opposite: to succeed at something great you must care about it deeply enough that your love for the work is strong enough to carry you through any challenge.

No, great work doesn't have to be cold or lonely—but your vision must keep you company, and your passion must keep you warm. Because for a long time in the beginning, that's all you will have. Once you start succeeding, you will have external motivation—tangible rewards, the respect and praise of others. But until then, your motivation must come entirely from within.

These days I do most of my writing at The Roots of Progress. If you liked this essay, check out my other work there.


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