Sometimes, I get the urge to expand my carbon footprint, so I go to Copenhagen airport and take an Easyjet flight. Strolling around Kastrup, I love going to the book shops and checking out what new airport literature is hot. Airport literature is a genre in itself, it is either a self-help book disguised as being intellectual or a popular science one with a quirky twist. You can spot them by their minimalist cover, they always have a white background with some metaphorical image on top, for example, a bleeding lemon or an ovary in the shape of an elephant head. Furtherly, they always display quotes from the most respected newspapers, or what I like to call, fancy adjectives written in cursive. “Absolutely Thrilling”- New York Thyme. “Brilliant” – The Washington Post Malones. You can walk around with a book like that in an airport, guaranteed to be regarded as someone who sees things “from a different angle”. You’re a little disruptive, but conservative enough to land a job with the top four.
Their messages are usually against our current Western obsessions with something, commonly with our craze of becoming increasingly productive and perfect. Even though the book’s message may be against our obsession with increased productivity, their antidote will inevitably become as obsessive to us. An example would be a book that speaks positively about squeezing in meditation into your busy life, to give you a moment of peace and clarity. However, the result will be that people will begin seeing meditation like benching in the gym, they will want to constantly beat their previous record. When they do, instead of whispering a soft namaste, they will give out a testosterone-infused roar of satisfaction. Their Instagram captions will be something like; “I track my meditation and always try to squeeze in 3 hours a day. I meditate while changing diapers, even though the poop might dry into my baby’s skin and give her rashes. Nevertheless, it will help me to base my strategic decisions at work on something more poetic, like a strong gut feeling.”
However, a book that kind of stood out from the airport literature crowd was “Can’t Hurt Me”, by David Goggins. To give you some background, David Goggins is an ex-Navy seal who went through horrible hardships in life but still managed to become a kind of superhuman through discipline. He grew up in an abusive home, he was obese, had immense difficulties in school, and all of this while facing racism. Basically, Mr. Goggins had every excuse to justify his current unhappiness on the previous events of his life. However, through becoming a Navy Seal (google hell week and you’ll realize that it’s not your average boot camp) he developed a mentality of never showing weakness, always putting himself through the uncomfortable and constantly challenging himself.
What appealed to me with this book was that it seemed a bit rawer than your average airport literature. Also, there’s something appealing to me with this “Life is not going to cuddle you, kid. Toughen up.” attitude, said in a pre-botox Sylvester Stallone voice. Which is hilarious because if you look up “sheltered” in a book, you’ll find a picture of me, calling my mother saying how my feelings today were not as good as yesterday’s feelings. Me arguing that life is not going to cuddle you is about as credible a message as a new presidential Bush candidate saying he really had to fight to get where he is now. Yet, a softy like me can still sometimes tap into my testosterone bucket and buy a book about thickening your skin. I’ll read it whilst I am sipping my oatmeal coffee, leaning against my state-guaranteed health care and free university education.
David Goggins’ writing was compelling to me because it was describing a real rags to riches story rather than just a book giving advice based on made up theories with no substance to back it up. Nearly every story he told was about how he constantly resurrected from the dead like Nintendo’s Mario when he finds a 1-up mushroom.
Mr. Goggins had several philosophies in his book, one being the “accountability mirror”. The idea behind it is that you’re supposed to look yourself in the mirror and be completely raw and honest with yourself. It is supposed to push you towards change through recognition. For me it would look something like this “Dora, your dopamine kicks of validation from social media are not healthy and your boobs are not symmetrical.”
Another philosophy he had was to never be satisfied, but always strive to be better. David Goggins’ meant that on another level, he could have run 160 km in the desert and when he was done, he immediately thought about what his next defeat would be. He could not even sit back and support his wife running a marathon without suddenly deciding to enter it. He’d run past her screaming, “Honey, look at me! I am challenging myself again!”.
Finally, he also had a 40% theory, meaning that when you think you’ve given your all, in reality, you have only given 40% of your total capacity. I believe this advice was solely for physical defeats, but it can be applied to other parts of your life as well.
What I liked about the book was that it reminded me that confidence is a dynamic state that is reinforced when you expand your own limits. It described that what is stopping us becoming our ultimate selves is fear disguised as procrastination. So, after reading the book, I applied Mr. Goggins’ philosophies to my life for about one week. Spoiler alert, I got a mental breakdown at the end of it. For example, on Saturday, I woke up, did all my school work, swam 3 km, cleaned my apartment and did all my laundry. However, I didn’t manage to read two supplemental chapters that I had planned to read which left me feeling really frustrated. The whole week had been so productive, and so testosterone-infused that it felt that my heart rate was beating at a rate of 200. I remember feeling like I was a failure, so naturally, I called my sister crying. “I’m putting so much pressure on myself, buhuuu, relieve me of my pain buuhuu.” She answered, “Stop doing that then, you psycho.” Inevitably, that was what I needed to hear.
David Goggins’ books is about becoming your best self and going against the soft talk of the 21st-century airport literature books. However, my macho week reminded me that a constant desire to improve and reach perfection is not only exhausting for you, but also for the world around you. The facts are that your constant self-development is inherently narcissistic and is not the answer for eternal bliss. You are not doing the world any favour by doing 1 million burpees, it’s purely for your own self-satisfaction. Discipline is a vital ingredient of happiness but applying it to every aspect of your life might make you intolerable. People are always going to want to become better, quit eating sugar, work out every day or read 1 million books per week. That is all fine, but it’s not something demanded of you and you’re only doing it for yourself. Our constant desire to become a perfect person in all aspects of our lives only lead to burnouts, so be careful to not get stuck in a toxic loophole of productivity and discipline.
That being said, I think a smarter person than me would understand David Goggins’ message in a bit more nuanced way, for example to stop victimizing yourself and start acting for your own happiness. I realised during my hell week that there is a fine line between where discipline brings happiness or obsessiveness. David Goggins is an amazing individual, but the way he chooses to live his life is not for me and it does not need to be for you either.
So, here is a pathetic metaphor to end this essay, people are made out of wood, not steel. We can build stable foundations, but our youth will not last forever. Our imperfections can be beautiful and most of us have this nice rustic looking vibe going for us. Even if we sometimes make terrifying noises in the middle of the night, I would not want to have it any other way.
“Dora’s conclusions are disappointing. Just like her meditation attempts ”
– Financial Rhymes.