It’s Not That I Don’t Suffer

At mile 15 on my run today, I heard one of my three favorite quotes in Atlas Shrugged.  Galt says to Dagny, “… it’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering.  I know that pain is to be fought and thrown aside, not to be accepted as part of one’s soul and as a permanent scar across one’s view of existence.”

As you can see from the elevation graph of my run, the timing of this was perfect. 


During my run from Anchor Point to Homer today (17.5 miles, 2000 vertical feet up, 1800 vertical feet down, 7 miles of highway with way too many 18 wheelers and mobile homes, and a steady rain), I had a lot of moments of suffering.  This was a hard run – but a glorious one.  Atlas Shrugged was playing on my iPod Shuffle – I’m almost to Galt’s radio speech.  I had just finished the major descent from the top of Homer Hill and was feeling great to have the really difficult run almost behind me.

I carry this mantra around with me every day in all things that I do – “it’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering.”  I’ve suffered plenty, especially when things don’t go as planned, products don’t work, customers defect, competitors stomp on your head, employees quit at critical times, people don’t live up to expectations, and – the ultimate – companies fail.  I’ve suffered everytime I had to downsize a company, lay people off, fire a CEO, drag my ass across the country on a redeye to try to deal with an emergency, or deal with someone that is irrational.  Failure – at any level – is a perfect opportunity to spend some time suffering.

However, the suffering is truly unimportant.  If you make a minor shift in Galt’s statement, substituting failure for pain, you end with “I know that failure is to be fought and thrown aside, not to be accepted as part of one’s soul and as a permanent scar across one’s view of existence.”  Every entrepreneur should memorize this, remember it, and live it.  Failure (and suffering) is part of the experience, but it shouldn’t be part of your soul or a permanent scar across your view of existence.

  • The fear of suffering (pain) is why there are so few high achievers in anything.

    I believe, as Anthony Robbins teaches, that humans do things for one of only two reasons: to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. The average human does most of what he does to avoid pain because he or she is fearful of suffering (pain).

    But, what the average human does not know (or refuses to accept) is that anything worth having requires that you experience a bit of pain. Whether that pain is failing, learning, or being resistant to criticism from others.

    Entrepreneurs, competitive athletes, and other high achievers accept this fully and the strength of their drive to gain pleasure, to win, is stronger than their desire to avoid pain.

  • I havent commented on your post for a while, but i couldn’t live without saying that this post is awesome.

    During my tiny span as an entrepreneur, there have been lot of downtimes but we have to keep pushing forward in the hope of the best.

    Great writing, keep writing.

  • I personally LOVE the line from Rudyard Kipings IF; If you can meet with triumph and disaster
    And treat those two imposters just the same….

  • Blake

    Can one’s man suffering be another man’s gleeful existance? It must be excruciatingly painful to be a millionaire VC living outside Boulder (and Homer).

  • Vada

    Great post. It gives a visceral touch to Stockdale’s quote:

  • Great post Brad – especially relevant since I’m JUST about to step out the door for a 15-miler I’ve been dreading all day…

  • You wrote, “Failure (and suffering) is part of the experience, but it shouldn

  • Zach

    Awesome post Brad. Reminds me of the question, “Are you becoming ordinary?”

    Even though we (Generation Y) have been raised and told to “get good grades, go to college and get a good JOB” I find that working to become your own boss and having a business is far superior.

    Keep up the good work!

  • After gritting my teeth for 6 hours this morning at the Boulder Rez during a 1/2 ironman race, I stumbled on this post this evening and found it quite relevant. If you think certain people in your office are motivated workers, etc..imagine them out on the race couse and think about how they would do when things go *really* tought. I was doing this today and it provided some interesting perspective.

  • FrankinDenver

    I have to go with Blake (see above) on this one. You have a job that is clearly rewarding from both a psychic and financial perspective. You’re in such good physical shape that you can run 17.5 miles for recreation. While like most of mankind, I can imagine you may have had some real suffering in your life, all I see in this post is a little discomfort. That discomfort is something that you choose to encounter as part of the enjoyment of your runs or as part of an otherwise rewarding career.

    The point that you and some of the comments make about putting adversity into proper perspective is a good one. I just don’t agree with the examples you choose to illustrate that, “It’s not that I don’t suffer.” Lot’s of folks would love to have these problems.

  • ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp’

    but in order to figure out where the line is between grasp & non-grasp, you need to keep reaching… which means occasional, if not regular, failure.

    thus, failure isn’t to be avoided… rather, it’s to be sought out as the defining limit of your ultimate potential.

    great post brad.

  • Blake, FrankinDenver, you both have a good point (Thanks FrankinDenver for the more gracious approach to criticism) but remember that Brad subsituted the word “failure” for “pain”. The post is not about the kind of suffering you are referring to–physical pain, extreme financial hardship, “real suffering”, as you call it. It’s about failure, specifically in entrepreneurship. Perhaps “suffering” is too strong a word in this context, but try to understand what he is really saying: failure hurts, but don’t let it get you down. Great post, Brad.

  • Alex Jones

    Reminds me of the Scott Molina quote “Suffering is inevitable – misery is optional.”

    …and now for an 8 miler along the South Shore of Bermuda to Tucker’s Town and back…

  • Dave Jilk

    Where this gets deeper is when combined with the concept of never faking reality, which can include your own psychological states. Because the *easiest* way to deal with suffering is denial, and this is most certainly NOT what Rand was saying here. If you’re suffering – that’s a reality – you have to acknowledge it, experience it, and deal with it, not pretend that you’re above it because you “know the unimportance of suffering.” The unimportance is a long-run philosophical unimportance.

  • mickslam

    In 1927, at the age of 32, bankrupt and jobless, living in inferior housing in Chicago, Illnois, he saw his beloved young daughter Alexandra die of pneumonia in winter. He felt responsible, and this drove him to drink and the verge of suicide. At the last moment he decided instead to embark on “an experiment, to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.”

    This is about Bucky Fuller (from a website I can’t recall, so credit to the unknown person who is responsible), I have this taped to my monitor at work. It drove me to join an alternative energy startup. We are in the process of signing a substantial 5 year PPA with an extremely large industrial consumer of electricity.

    Lets just say, I had a bad year last year. Ok, it was horrible. I could have went into a shell, or do what I did. Pick myself up, dust off the shoulder, and begin.

  • Tom

    You say this was one of your three favorite quotes from Atlas Shrugged… have you previously shared the other three?

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