Greatness at all costs

Posted on December 29, 2018. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Last night we went to see Free Solo. For those who don’t know, it’s an incredible documentary that follows Alex Honnold as he prepares to and eventually does “free solo” the 3000 foot vertical rock formation El Capitan. Free soloing is when a climber, unassisted, scales the rock face without any ropes or protective measures in place. Ipso facto: one slip or missed hold and your dead. As the film makes clear, free solo repeatedly over successive attempts, and you will eventually die. Alex’s attempt represents by far the highest and most significant free solo climb in the history of the world.

Overall the film is inspiring. It chronicles the life, habits, and mind of someone practicing his craft at the very highest level. Many of the themes will be familiar to entrepreneurs and founders, especially around sacrifice and dedication and pursuit of greatness at literally all costs. In our world, mistakes cost money and time and reputation, but in Alex’s world a single mistake costs his life. It’s hard not to admire his dedication and ability, but there is also something pretty imbalanced about the way he prioritizes his pursuit relative to love and family and his life itself. I spent the better part of my 20’s skewing toward the balance that Alex strikes between these realms. Granted, the stakes were much, much, lower and I was not nearly as good at business/investing/founding as he is at rock climbing, but something about a guy living in a van for 7 years methodically training and studying to achieve his destiny reminded me of my mindset as I was searching to realize my potential.

You walk out of the film and think “well, that was incredible…and impossible without exactly that level of imbalanced obsession toward a singular craft and goal.” It’s a bittersweet feeling, knowing that it’s possible to achieve the impossible, but only if you’re wiling to give everything else up…you’re inspired, and refocussed, and connected to a very pure energy of ambition…and then you turn to your wife, look her in the eye, and realize you aren’t wiling to give everything up to do the same. Alex talks openly about being ok leaving his partner behind if he dies…but as you leave the theater and drop into whatever balance you’ve struck between all of your various pursuits and priorities, you realize you’re not ok sacrificing EVERYTHING…so what does it mean? Does it mean you won’t achieve greatness? Does it mean you won’t be the absolute best, but you can still be quite great while having some semblance of balance? I want to believe that it doesn’t mean either of those things. That sacrifice is a spectrum and not binary…that this film is a simple reminder that if you want to achieve your goals you better be comfortable sliding further towards imbalance than wherever you are on such a spectrum…I want to view this film as more of a kick in the ass than a mandate to sell all your shit, live in solitude, and do nothing but work and practice your craft all day every day. But I don’t know…maybe that’s delusional.

Personally, I didn’t walk into this film thinking I need a kick in the ass. I’m very motivated and dedicated and industrious in the pursuit of my goals…but I did leave longing for a bit of that almost manic imbalance that fueled an earlier version of myself.

Regardless of whether your a founder or an investor or anything else, if you have goals and want to understand the most extreme form of goal oriented behavior and mentality, I strongly recommend you see the film. It’s still in a few theaters, which I suggest you try to get to vs. on demand, as the film is a visually stunning look at Yosemite National Park as well.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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