Being Special

I’m fascinated by the attitudes of high-level professional fighters. It’s such a strange job. Two people spend months preparing for a fifteen minute event, and one of them must lose. This weekend I’ll be watching Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano fight, both of whom are undefeated. One of them, probably Cat, will lose that designation.

Usually when you’re doing your work, it’s just a matter of being good enough to succeed. Half the office doesn’t fail; most do good work and continue. But fighters have to have this very strange mentality where they accept that they may lose, but have to simultaneously delude themselves into believing it’s impossible.

In interviews, you hear them talk about how everything they’ve been doing has been leading up to this single fight. You hear them talk about their training and their gameplans. For a lot of them, you get the impression that they believe that they are special. Maybe not in a cosmic sense, but that they are destined to win due to their preparation, their training, and the arc of their life story.

I’m not sure that you can be a successful professional fighter without some level of this attitude. I think you have to see your path paved with capital W’s, and disregard the fact that each one of them produces a big L on someone else’s record. And I wonder if this attitude is one that us non-fighters should adopt as well.

When I look back on my stint in pickup, I really thought that I could be one of the best. There was absolutely zero evidence to support this, but I thought that I was special. And I became special, but only in retrospect.

Doing hard things is hard because there are obstacles in between us and success. With pickup I had to overcome mountains of insecurity, learn a ton about women, study psychology, conquer fear, and completely change my lifestyle. If I didn’t believe that I was special, I would have also had to battle through self-doubt. I’ve seen the toll that’s taken on people, and I’m not sure I could have made it through.

Believing that you’re special artificially erases that massive obstacle. My friend Roxanne was a 2:1 underdog for her last two fights. She didn’t know the odds the first time, and only knew the odds for the second fight right before it began. Would she have won both if she knew during her training that she was a statistical underdog? Would I have gotten good at pickup if I knew how few really succeeded and how similar I was to all of them?

There’s a lot of narcissism at the top, and I don’t think it’s coincidence, or entirely unuseful. Like in so many things, the trick is to separate the bad from the good. You convince yourself that you’re special and that you can do anything, but you don’t think it makes you better than others. And you take responsibility, acknowledging that even though you may have some unique claim to the goal you’re chasing, it’s still going to take a ton of work and humility to get there.


Photo is surf in Maui. Really enjoyed visiting with friends.

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