"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."
1. First, most people who follow the "only follow your passion" advice WILL fail, so not only will they have lost their "girlfriends, wives, relatives", etc., but they'll feel the dejection of it not being successful.
2. More importantly, and this is really my main point, but I think most people who follow this advice and succeed will find it is a pyrrhic victory. When you've reached what you thought was they pinnacle of your success, but you look around and you see you've burned most of your bridges to get there, it turns out to be a very lonely place.
I think the vast majority of people will find that if they give appropriate attention to their self care and their relationships, it will make achieving their goals easier, not the other way around.
This is beautiful. This is my experience as a 30 year serial start-up man.
When I say to myself - "I will do whatever it takes to make this work" vs. "We'll see what happens" these have always been two distinct universes in terms of the journey.
"Whatever it takes" is always a nightmare filled with anxiety and stress, but the second attitude - I've rarely experienced any kind of real success with.
Both journeys are pain. The first is racked with anxiety and obsession the second is mostly fear and indecision.
The end state of both is relief. But "We'll see what happens" most always ends with some form of regret - perhaps I didn't do something I could have. Woulda coulda shoulda. And then it's over.
"I'll do whatever it takes" is always a crazy ride towards an unknown destination, has cost me far more than I anticipated, and the rewards are never what I predicted to begin with. But it's this universe I rarely regret (and reportedly those that were along for the ride with me).
So yeah, "If you're going to try, go all the way" resonates strongly with me.
It's also a perfect summary of why I'm struggling mightily with working a predictable job (that anyone should love) vs working on my next business or other volatile pursuit.
I need to get Go All The Way tattooed on my forehead. I hope it's a mindset I have the courage to maintain for the rest of my life.
However, I think if you linked the actual interview, it would be inappropriate according to HN's content standards: Bukowski uses some very colorful language.
 I was slightly incorrect in my previous post, she wasn't his wife yet at the time of the interview.
Bukowski spent most of his life being Bukowski. Better results than the post-office position. Beats the great, grey middle all to hell.
For us it's great, we get Bukowski. For Bukowski, it seems less enjoyable.
When you depart for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Don't fear the Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon.
> You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.
Giving up doesn't sound sexy. It's definitely something everyone should learn, but hey, maybe we aren't "selling" the concept well enough.
In my experience, in most cases where you have to give up, what you really have to do is to stop trying to achieve a certain abstract goal through a certain specific method. Not renounce to the goal, the drive, the passion itself, but renounce to the methods, the rigid views you might hold.
Maybe you want to write great songs, but you are failing because you are just trying to repeat something similar to what your favourite artist already did. Maybe you want to get better grades, but are just re-reading the lessons, expecting something to stick, when you are not even focusing on it or trying to understand the previous lessons that lead to the current one. Maybe you want to jump a 2 meter fence, but you are just running against it, without ever having tried with smaller ones first.
It's never so simple, but this is the main point.
Sometimes we have to face reality. In many cases, the only thing we need to give up is our naive views and past mistakes. Some people will repeat the same mistake over and over and call that "trying really hard". Sorry, but no. Trying really hard is not that. Trying really hard is being able to let go your naivety, to keep exploring alternatives, to keep learning, and learning, and failing, and going back and retry in a different way.
[and this is still not what you were talking about]
Go all the way with it, don't trade yourself for whatever "benefits" offered to you, well, by your own mind, first of all.
Once you're out of _that_ slavery, then you're truly free wherever you are and whatever you do.
What was their life expectancy?
I worked remotely for a whole year and it was 100x better than working in an office. I can only imagine what only working 8 hours a week is like.
You won't have much free time if you and your family can only aspire to reach the ripe old age of 30, if you manage to be the lucky ones who are lucky on the infant mortality lotto.
That was never the case though; ancient societies had much lower life expectancy at birth because they were very likely to die in early childhood. People who made it to adulthood, sure, didn't live as long as today on average, but the difference is much smaller than life expectancy at birth numbers would suggest. You seem to recognize the high infant mortality, but not understand how it affects the other stats like life expectancy at birth.
You're desperately trying to avoid the question. Their free time doesn't mean anything if they die in their 30s while living a life where they are forced to endure famines and the deaths of loved ones for avoidable problems such as lack of medical care.
Yes, there is - their age.
What is your criticism? Working for someone else? Not everyone can own a business.
A person who makes a good wage and carves out a life for themselves is successful by any metric. As far as erections, I hope when you reach the twilight years you will have more on your mind than getting hard.
Just not by the metrics discussed in TFA, which is the whole point. It's not like everybody agrees that "a good wage" is success.
wagecuck -> working stiff
when you can no longer maintain an erection -> when you are past the prime of your life
With these simple substitutions you can once again sound like a reasonable human being who is not overly fixated on unnecessary crude sexual imagery.
Considering that we're discussing a Bukowski letter (who was "overly fixated on unnecessary crude sexual imagery" and proud of it), this is not necessarily advisable.
It sounds like a suggestion for the parent to "empty out" and adopt the officially tolerated sensitivity/language, lest some office drones be outraged.
You’re saying that only seems true because people who succeed repeat it?
I feel like survivorship bias is more about obscure tricks that happen to work well for a random group of people who happened to succeed. No?
The text reads like a lottery winner praising the virtues of spending all their savings on lottery tickets just because he got lucky. Will and determination alone are not relevant if the main factor -- opportunity -- is out of our control and might never materialize.
I’m not claiming that magic exists, that’s a straw man.
Because he got lucky. No, sacrificing everything for the goal does not always get you the goal. There's 1,000 Bukowskis out there, many better, and we'll never hear of them.
Sometimes you waste it all, and then you're supposed to look back and say, "Well, at least I gave it my all, and I just had bad luck." Yeah, that's really fucking comforting.
It's about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards. For him, writing poetry was a reward in itself, and he didn't see himself joining the standard nine-to-five society anyway. So, even if he had failed after 40 years of writing during evenings and weekends, he wouldn't have any regrets. Of course, if someone does say startups just to get rich, and hates every minute of it, then it, if the spoils never materialize in the end, it will lead to bitterness.
But I've never seen a great musician in a crappy venue. And when I see a world class musician it is undeniable that they are great.
In my experience there are 1000s of writers not quite as good as Bukowski and some of them will make it but very few. When a truly great writer comes along I believe the hard part is actually writing the great literature and not finding a publisher.
What does being better have to do with it? Are you arguing against the idea that the best people always succeed? I don’t think I said that.
Because he is evidently a survivor. I guess we need more info on other who tried the same and succeeded or failed to really decide, but nonetheless it's one person reporting on their experience. It has all the hallmarks of it.
> if you are willing to sacrifice everything for a goal, you’ll beat out everyone else purely due to attrition.
Big assumption that persistence assures success. It likely is a significant factor but that does not seem to be what you are saying.
I'll put it another way - I don't accept it is a tautology.
My SO achieved so much, had it all, got through grad school great, was going to teach at a University I know you have heard of, do amazing research all over the world, help out humanity in a very real way, all that jazz. Then, bam, the pain started up and has never left. The chonic pain disorder my SO has is a real sumbitch. I love my SO, terribly so. But all that my SO had just evaporated into the pain. Just one bad infection, like about 2% of the US gets, and there it all went.
No amount of drive is going to fix it. No amount of work. My SO can't work through the pain as it exacerbates the condition. Lord knows my SO spent months and years just trying to ignore it, making it worse the whole while. That pain just winds you, for days at a time. Takes it all.
And the shame that my SO feels just kills me. All the desires, all that motivation and drive that my SO had, it's all still there, clawing at my SO's mind, telling itself that my SO is 'just not good enough'. That person is still there, just enveloped with pain, trying to break out and work again. What gave my SO everything, all that honor and accomplishment, is not tearing into my SO and making it all worse.
Bukowski isn't wrong, per se, but he is not right either. That fire is dangerous in the wrong circumstances and it's very difficult to tell when you are in the wrong place.
One quote that has really changed as it has aged is that Bourdain quote:
> “I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.”
Yet Anthony died by his own hand. That drive, that spark and thumos, it was his undoing as much as it was his making. Would he have been as a sucess if not for that drive? The only person that could tell you is dead.
So, sure, sleep on the benches for it, go to jail for it, but remember, there are worse things than just temporary discomforts, mockery, and dishonor waiting in the weeds along that path.
If you're constantly striving and chasing some personal goal, ie. "once I achieve this, THEN I'll be happy" then there are two major risks. The first is that you'll fail - the fallout from this is obvious since your happiness was a self-imposed condition of achieving said goal. The second risk is that you do not live to see your goal, or, unfortunately as you've described in your personal story, the goal will become worthless for one reason or another - such as a major personal crisis or illness.
That's not to say you shouldn't strive for great things or have lofty goals and plans. I personally don't have the answers on the "key to happiness and success", but I do know that always chasing and never stopping to reflect or enjoy what you actually have can't be healthy either. I suppose that's where a lot of the power of things like meditation and mindfulness come from; because they're about being in the moment.
Personally, I think it's important to take each day as it comes and aim to be the best version of yourself you can be that day. You win some, you lose some, but hopefully, the cumulative effect of more good days outweigh the bad, and you can one day reflect on that without too much regret and with some sense of happiness.
On another note, Bukowski's requested that "Don't Try" is engraved on his tombstone. Some feel it is a comment about being authentic, not pursuing or pushing for something that isn't you, and about letting the work you naturally enjoy flow from you, as opposed to forcing it - or trying too hard.
Sometimes people achieve their goal only to realize that happiness didn't follow.
Of all the people I know who have made a similar statement and then found success, this was the most common outcome.
Being happy can be a surprising amount of work, and there aren't any instructions. It's better to figure out how you can be happy while also spending time on the goals you think are worthwhile. If you need them, there are other tricks you can use to motivate yourself that don't involve deliberately sabotaging your own well-being.
It is the human condition told by the laws of large numbers. Devilish people prosper and divine people suffer. The only option is to do your best with what you got, and help your community do the same.
You gotta keep on keepin' on. Life's a garden, ya dig?
It does, however, make it a lot more likely.
Conversely: Not working hard makes failure a near certainty.
Success requires luck and doing, action. The odds are strongly against you in most all cases, even with some luck. In the equation of success, those two things cannot be separated, they are bound together in all cases.
Not doing, not taking action, guarantees you will not succeed, you will simply never start at all. Luck will have no role in that for you have already reduced the possibilities to none other than no success / no attempt.
The more cynical view can be summed up as saying that because luck is a requirement, effort is mostly futile because you can't control everything. It's a personal mindset projection (someone is telling you their bias, giving you insight into their experience, their fears, etc), rather than any kind of useful insight into how you can or can't create something successfully.
Specifically, I read it as a warning against voluntarily putting your destiny and satisfaction in the hands of other humans or organizations; it is a call to independence of thought and action.
Your SO’s situation is an unfortunate roll of the dice. Any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow. But these seem orthogonal to Bukowski’s point.
It sounds like you have a very special bond.
Thank you for sharing this.
No disrespect, I don’t want to diminish the utter torture that is chronic pain, but nothing you mentioned sounds like it’s preventing your SO from maintaining a posture of relentlessness every day until she dies.
It might not be what she wants, it would probably destroy her relationships and her mind, it would probably require her to do things that she abhors, but the door is still there.
What then is left of a person?
But some sort of other drive may help put it out. Look into Ayurveda and the source of inflammation (infection), i.e. pitta energy, and the sorts of anti inflammatory diets she could pursue, or reply for some links and pointers. Alexander the Great was going to create the most cultured empire out of a seat in ancient Babylon but then died of the fire, a fever after too many military campaigns and Indus conquest. Incredibly ironic too, since Aristotle was his personal tutor and Ayurveda (from India or the ancient Indus valley vedas) was the basis for Aristotle and other Greek natural philosophy, but they lost contact with the sources.
If geniuses like Alexander and Mozart had known about these philosophies out of India they might not have died on the prime of their third decade of life. But as you put it, the human condition is not so simple as only having drive.
Also avoid prolonged screen time, look for kindle or paper books and conducting work or research out of plain (or fancy) old notebooks as much as possible.
If there is no way to successfully retreat until you've won, then you win or die. Great way to focus the mind on winning (success) once casual retreat is no longer an option.
- Achilles, the Iliad IX, 500-506
You don't really get to A/B test your own life. You don't really get to know for absolute certainty where the road not taken would have taken you had you turned left instead of right at that moment on that day in that place with those people.
What you can do is develop mental models and compare against first-hand experience. Most actual choices in life don't literally involve life and death, at least not in an immediate sense.
Some can be life-or-death decisions -- casually sleep with the wrong person without protection, die of AIDS some years down the road -- but if you run around telling other people that every little thing you do in your life is life or death, they will soon decide you are a lunatic. So taking a reference to "burn the boats" too literally and acting like I'm the drama queen is really you being dramatic.
In practical terms, "burn the boats" is shorthand for "Make an actual decision and then commit to it. The longer you spend trying to leave your options open, the more time you waste."
If you stand at the cross roads forever trying to make it possible to choose to go either left or right, you stand there going nowhere at all. Just pick one, start walking and don't spend a lot of time looking back, walking back to the crossroads over and over, wondering if you should go the other way instead.
But I'll remember to shout "burn the boats" before my next choice of soup or salad.
On a tangent Yoda in Star Wars is also bullshit. You should always try.