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The Trick is Not Minding That It Hurts

October 21, 2020

By: Lee LeFever

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.

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.

Here’s the scene from the movie:

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