The Queen’s Gambit is a remarkable limited series on Netflix. It follows the fictional story of Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy with a complicated personal life. At the beginning of many episodes, we see intimate scenes of Beth’s mom consoling her and giving her advice. Presumably, these lessons help form Beth’s personality and perspective as she matures.
Episode 5, “Fork”, begins with a dark scene of Beth’s mom giving her young daughter advice. She says:
Dark’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, I’d go as far as saying there’s nothing to be afraid of, anywhere. The strongest person is the person who isn’t scared to be alone. It’s other people you’ve got to worry about. Other people. They’ll tell you what to do, how to feel…before you know it, you’re pouring your life out in search of something other people told you to look for.
It’s a rather misanthropic message, but one I think is very real. In the context of Beth, who is disrupting the male-dominated world of chess, it’s perfect. She’s doing exactly what she wants, doubters be damned.
I think many people find themselves doing what Beth’s mom warned about: “pouring your life out in search of something other people told you to look for.” There is no shortage of advice about how to build or run a business. There are too many “supposed to’s” and “right ways”. The key to building a business that’s Big Enough is recognizing what you’re looking for, despite the expectations of others.
A few years back, we watched the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and one scene has stuck with me ever since. In fact, I included a description of it in Chapter 8 of Big Enough:
Lawrence is talking with a couple of fellow soldiers, one of whom has an unlit cigarette. Lawrence pulls out a match and lights the cigarette. With the two soldiers watching, he then puts his fingers on the match and slowly snuffs out the flame without a flinch. One of the soldiers, named Potter, is mystified and tries the same trick, exclaiming as his fingers touch the flame, “Ooooh! It damn well hurts!” Lawrence’s reply is “Certainly it hurts.” Potter looks askance at Lawrence and enquires, “Well, what’s the trick then?” Lawrence says, “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”
The trick is not minding that it hurts. That simple idea has had a big influence on me and my perspective. More from that chapter:
Now, admittedly, the struggle and pain I’m referencing in the context of Sachi and me is symbolic. We are fortunate not to experience real pain or suffering. I recognize that. But I also think too many privileged people lose sight of how it feels to be challenged, to struggle, and to feel a bit of pain.
This is especially true when income rises. Suddenly, money becomes a means for banishing any kind of pain or strife. You can hire a cleaner, mover, or house painter. Checking the car tires gets your hands dirty. This version of the good life means that you don’t have to worry about the details. They are someone else’s problem and you’ve earned the right to push those problems out of your life. Besides, you’re busy.
If you spend your whole life working to avoid the things that might hurt, or that represent a challenge, you risk becoming an entitled and oblivious prick or someone so fragile that reality feels like injustice.
In my first years with Sachi, I was much more mindful of this version of pain. I pushed back against projects like painting our house ourselves or having a stringent budget. From my perspective at the time, we had earned the right to avoid going to all the trouble. But over time, I learned from her that there is real power in putting your head down and pushing through, even if it hurts, or takes time, or is inconvenient. That willingness to do the work is what has changed, and I now see it as a necessary and important part of being a productive and well-adjusted person, and one that comes with a kind of satisfaction that’s not achievable through just spending money. The trick is not minding that it hurts.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.