The Chosen Sacrifice

No written word, no spoken plea
Can teach our youth what they should be
Nor all the books on all the shelves
Its what the teachers are themselves

Anonymous, quoted by John Wooden (at 4:12 in the video below)

What is True Success?

John Wooden’s simple answer:  to know you did your best.  It is not to win, it is not to accumulate material possessions, it is not to be famous, it is not to be better than another…  it is to know you did what you could do.  If his team won, but had not given their best he was disappointed   If his team lost, but they each knew that they had given of their best – he was a happy coach.

John Wooden, affectionately known as Coach, led UCLA to record wins that are still unmatched in the world of basketball. Throughout his long life, he shared the values and life lessons he passed to his players, emphasizing a concept of success that’s about much more than winning.

In my interviews of people that have achieved, it seems that they all share this concept of success.  Killian Jornet is a winner in ultra-running because he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it to test himself.  Miquel Suñer is a winner in open-water swimming because he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it to test himself.

In life we start where we are.  I often wish I was somewhere else, was a year or two ahead in my career, was a little bit younger/stronger/taller, had a bit more hair these days…  but I am not.  It does not serve me.  I can start where I am and take the best step that I can.  Nothing more is asked.

I have read massive quantities of ancient myth in 2012.  I have debated purpose with many people of many persuasions.  I am moving towards clarity around an idea that a meaningful life is based up a chosen sacrifice.

Success and The Chosen Sacrifice

Kilian pays the price that ultra-running charges.  He makes his chosen sacrifice.  He is committed, there is no half-measures.

A 50 Euro Note

photo credit: Images of Money

There is a little irish story about going “all-in”, committing 100%.

A man has had a pint or two of Guinness and needs the toilet.  He makes his way to the back of the pub.  He enters.  Approaches a urinal.  Begins his relief…  and a €5 note falls from his pocket into the urinal.

Just at this moment another guy enters the toilet.  He sees the €5 in the urinal, he sees the moment of indecision and he asks “You’ve got a problem.  What are you going to do?”

The man quickly takes out a €50 note and throws it in on top of the €5 that is soaked in the urinal.  He turns and says “there was no way I was getting piss on my hands for a €5, but for €55 I will do what it takes.”

What is your €50

The €50 is the chosen sacrifice.  The €5 was life’s contribution.  The €50 was his chosen sacrifice.  The meaning in a life comes from choosing this sacrifice.  Choosing to pay the full price willingly.  Not by waiting to see if life charges the price.

8 comments

  1. […] Chosen Sacrifice (the only truly meaningful action in life) […]

  2. Rosa Maria Cuadros · · Reply

    Does it work commiting 100%, when it can take you to frustration?… Many people here in south america had told me… you are just giving to much, just accomplish what you are commited to and no more.
    What i’m doing is giving my 150% (LOL) in researching, and reading, and doing what I love, studing, learning, getting experiences, points of view… Is that ethic?

    1. Doing more or less than someone else is not a relevant comparison. If I know that I am being lazy, I find it hard to be around people who are being highly productive – it makes me feel even worse. So often, my (childish) response to being around someone who is highly productive is to distract them. These days I try to live my own life without comparing to others. They are on their own journey to their own destination.
      I ran a half-marathon last Sunday. There is something clarifying to the clear fact that I know that nobody can run the kilometers for me – I have to do them myself. However, I prefer marathon routes where you don’t have to pass the people who are ahead of you – where you see people who are close to finish when you are only half way… makes my mind do all sorts of comparing ;-)

  3. […] Double up on Priorities (throw in the €50) – Life gives you little nudges, but you must choose the sacrifice.  More on chosen sacrifice. […]

  4. Roman Martin · · Reply

    Ummmm Conor. Really good post. Has make me think. And with the comments of Richard, even more.

    You are introducing success, choosen sacrifice and meaning…. A good cocktail.

    The idea of sacrifice, though, united to meaning, success or happines can bring to wrong conclusions. When we think of sacrifice, we think of suffering, strugling, going thru pain; when actually may be to discard other options. Options that others may see as sacrifice, but actually you value less, or you would not opt for them.

    You can can succeed, have meaning and so on by choosing to do some thing that just gets you in the flow; like when I do scultpture. My sacrifice, understanding suffering is none (only when I don’t achieve the form I want I get mad with myself). My sacrifice as choosing is not to put more hours into my business which would probably yield me better economic results, ie more comfort.

    I guess that the “big” sacrifice would be to leave my business and dedicate only to sculpture, which I have struggle many times with this thougt. But lately I’m coming to the conclusion that according to my morfopsichology I cannot do only one thing…. Thus better I follow my unconcious and do a little of several things.

    The idea of trying your best, fits perfectly and I love it :)

  5. Richard Atkinson · · Reply

    Hmm, deliberated whether to put my 2-cents in here, responding to this idea “I am moving towards clarity around an idea that a meaningful life is based up a chosen sacrifice”. It caused me to work on my thinking a bit.

    Like you I see that these two often, but not always, rock up together. But the relationship is unclear to me. It looks partial or indirect.

    Sacrifice seems to me to have a utilitarian and a, well, let’s call it transcendental side. The utilitarian side is basically commitment, which simply multiplies outcomes. The thing committed to is not obliged to yield meaning and, the universe being a cranky old thing, sometimes doesn’t.

    The transcendental side, I think, is that sacrifice does seem to throw you into a journey that is transformative. A sense of meaning may lead to sacrifice. Sacrifice may lead to deeper being. Whence cometh meaning I know not. It may be means not end.

    1. Great to hear from you Richard.
      I guess “meaning” is essentially something transcendental ie it does not exist in the world, it exists only in our experiencing of the world.
      For example, the meaningfulness of you kayaking around UK comes more from what you had to choose to give up, to not do, than from the act in itself. Or more, if I swim for 2 hours because my boat sinks, it is not meaningful… If I get out of my boat out of choice and then swim for 2 hours, then this can be more deeply meaningful.
      I am not quite clear on how to articulate what I mean… ;-) but step by step will get there ;-)

      1. Richard Atkinson · ·

        Hi Conor,

        Interesting. I hadn’t seen the angle of meaning not existing objectively, only experientially, and therefore being transcendental. Nice.

        Two thoughts on the other bits:

        Reflecting back on the kayak voyage, the meaning/ sacrifice causality seems to me to run the other way – i.e. it had meaning to me from its conception, and the sacrifice (which mostly consisted of determining to put on cold wet underpants each morning, to be honest) came after. Flipping it, would it have lost meaning without sacrifice? It would have changed the experience, but I’m hazy on whether it would have taken the meaning out of it. The meaning feels to have lain somewhere in the sense of progression, in the action of journeying itself.

        On the choice angle, I get where you’re coming from, and I agree with you insofar as a directed action carries meaning, but I also think it’s possible for an unchosen thing to surprise you with meaning. People who’ve suffered major illness sometimes say that it woke them up, forcing them to live life, love their loved ones, accept their mortality. It’s possible to have such an experience and undergo no such transformation though – I’d guess that feels simply frustrating and desperately meaning-less.

        This is leading me to the thought that meaning may be created by us in our experiences according to how we respond to them (perhaps, how we let them transform us), and less by our choosing (which I occasionally suspect is a conceit the gods allow us merely for their sport).

        Take care mate – look us up if you’re over.

        Richard

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