On Work Ethic
Last time I wrote you, it was 2:30 AM. This time, it’s 4AM. I still have my daily sun salutations left to do–that’s 7 of them. It has been a day of movement so things got pushed back. There is a large part of me that would rather not be doing this right now but I continue. It’s not about what I want and don’t want. It’s about my commitments. They are bigger than me.
I have realized that you have to have a job. The thing that most people don’t realize is that you get to pick it. Entirely. You can make up something that is in all ways outlandish and it will be valid, as long as you actually do it. As long as you actually make it your job. All of this that I’m doing, this is what I have picked. This is my job.
My street performing. My weekly writing. My daily routines. 30 minutes of juggling, 30 minutes of rehearsal, 20 minutes of miscellaneousness, and the one that started it all, my daily sun salutations.
The Epiphany That Started It All
In the winter of 2006, I found myself in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula. I had just spent a month in Israel and now had a lot of time to think. I was completely in the middle of nowhere, outside of Ras Abu Gallum. I realized I was getting fat. All the challah and shabbat dinners were catching up with me.
I began doing the thing I had always done. I started setting up “what I was going to do from now on.” I would, starting that very day, do 30 minutes of yoga, 20 minutes of pilates, and an hour of meditation everyday. This time, somehow, miraculously, it would stick. I would become a new person, overnight.
Thank the good lord that I stopped myself and thought, you know what, I’ve made this kind of stupid commitment over and over, with 0 success. “Today will be different.” “Next week my whole life is going to change.” And it would, for like 3 weeks tops. I would get into this new routine, start exercising, meditating, and eating healthier, and I would feel great. Then something would come along and I would miss a day. I would then quickly be smoking, drinking, and getting fat again, until the next push of maybe next time came along.
So I thought to myself, what if my problem is actually not exercise or meditation but is rather my inability to stick to anything at all for more than a few weeks.
I knew immediately that I was on to something.
I continued with this line of reasoning. If that was the case, how could I test it? What would be the simplest thing that would show whether my problem was exercise-specific or was instead a larger, more far-reaching problem around commitment of any kind? I decided that I should find the smallest thing to commit to. If I couldn’t stick to that, then I had to admit my problem was far larger than I had dared imagine.
I settled upon the sun salutation. I would do a single sun salutation every single day. This would take potentially as little as 1 minute to complete. If I could not stick to something that took 1 minute per day, I had problems beyond my wildest dreams.
One Sun Salutation A Day
So I began. I did my one sun salutation per day. Everyday. It was obviously nothing to write home about. My abs did not become toned. My hips did not magically open. It was just like it sounds. A tiny little thing. But I did do it everyday. And it was harder than I imagined. Sometimes it would be late and I wouldn’t want to do it. Sometimes I would be out partying and come back intoxicated and almost forget to do it. Sometimes it would just slip my mind until I was already in bed. (Note: I didn’t set a “daily time” for my sun salutation because that’s a bigger commitment than just doing it everyday. I wanted to test the smallest amount of commitment possible.)
Somehow, some way, I stuck to this for a couple months and then it dawned on me. This had the potential to become the foundation of my entire life. I could build off of this and grow with it. Very slowly, very surely. I devised a scheme by which I would increase the number of sun salutations I did by 1, every single year. So, beginning in 2007, I would do 2. In 2008, 3. And on and on until by 2050 I would be doing 44 sun salutations per day. I liked the sound of it.
I had noticed that as most people I saw got older, they started exercising less. Even people who were in pretty good shape seem to start falling off in their fifties at the latest. I had seen a few exceptions, people like Joseph Pilates. To put it mildly, they were few and far between. I figured, if there is a somewhat natural decline in fitness as we age, then exercising should ramp up as the years go by, rather than declining as is commonly the case. I figured adding a sun salutation a year would be just the ticket. I figured once you’re doing 15 sun salutations a day, as I would be by my calculations in 2021, that’s some pretty impressive shit by almost anyone’s standards.
And so, here I am, 7 years later, still doing my daily sun salutations. I keep track each day of whether I do them or not and I have about a 90% completion rate, which amounts to about 325 days per year. Could be better but I’m not gonna sweat it too much.
As time has gone on, my daily sun salutations have without question become the entire cornerstone of my life, in ways as profound as they are unexpected.
For instance, I find that I no longer slide back in the way that I used to. Since starting my sun salutations, I have pretty much entirely removed sugar, wheat, and dairy from my diet (which I would encourage everyone to do). Each of these things has lasted the test of time and has only added to my health. I know for sure that were I not concurrently doing my sun salutations, these things would have fallen by the wayside at some point.
The reason for this is the sun salutations very viscerally show me that commitment, work ethic, and progress are daily commitments. You never get to put your feet up, go on vacation, and rest on your laurels. Things fall apart. The greatest empires crumble. The strongest men become fat and weak. The only choice is to do it again today. Everyday.
This is a nice theory and all but is the kind of thing you just read and think, wow, that’s smart, and then move on with your life. The practice of actually DOING the sun salutations everyday is a reminder of this, day after day. It allows me to start things, to give myself time to move into them slowly, and to stick to them.
Another benefit is the understanding that small successes add up. As I write this to you in 2012, I am now doing 7 sun salutations per day. Most people are fairly impressed when they hear this. Not a single person was impressed when I said I did one sun salutation per day. Only Jenny Funkmeyer was impressed when I was doing 2. It’s about as slow a progression as I’ve ever heard. Adding one per year. We live in a world of 4-minute abs and 2 week transformations. It’s just too slow for most people.
But like Albert Einstein said, compound interest is the most powerful force in the entire universe. What he means by this is that small things do add up. In very small ways at first–but they compound, as the phrase implies. Little things get bigger. Small snowballs turn into avalanches. It’s just the way it goes. If you can bare the excruciatinly trivial beginnings and just trust the process, you eventually can move mountains. I am reminded of this each day. I will be reminded of this each day for the rest of my life. I think that’s pretty profound.
The Best Idea I’ve Ever Had
I believe that this one sun salutation per day is the best idea that I’ve ever had. I think it’s the best idea I will ever have this go around. Surprsingly, no one is particularly interested in it and no one has actually started doing it other than me–or at least kept up with it. They give a lot of reasons but I think they are missing what I was missing. They don’t realize their actual problem. The inability to commit to anything at all. They are missing the forest for the trees.
That’s OK though. I am patient.
Back to that Work Ethic Thing
Another thing that the sun salutations have taught me is what a work ethic actually looks like. I never had a particuarly strong one growing up. I look at this as a blessing in disguise because I breezed through school but didn’t have the stick-to-it-iveness to get caught up in the moronicality that passes as normal society. I gave up. This allowed me to actually go find what I actually cared about. Unfortunately, having no work ethic, I didn’t exactly excel. School had come easily. Dancing did not.
I spent many years meandering, trying this and that, wondering what path I would ultimately choose, until earlier this year I committed, once and for all, for the rest of my life, to the path of the performer. I quickly realized that my lack of work ethic was now the biggest limiting factor in my success. Being a good, strong performer requires a significant amount of hard work, drilling, rehearsal, repetition, and drudgery.
And here I am, doing it. Writing my blogs, doing my daily routines, street performing 3 times per week, and all the rest. Doing the things I committed to, the things I feel good about.
The Connection Between Sun Salutations and Work Ethic
The fable of the tortoise and the hare is very illustrative for me. For a long time, I was the hare. Darting around, trying this, trying that. Smarter than everyone. So very clever. Except that I wasn’t actually getting anywhere.
As I said, the sun salutation practice showed me how small things add up. I figured if I had started with one sun salutation and was now at seven, perhaps if I now committed in the same way with performing that I could have a similar, slow, steady progression of success. Maybe in seven years people would be fairly impressed with how well I was doing.
That involved giving up overnight success and dreams of instant fame. Those dreams died hard on the rocks of reality but gone they is.
I don’t care how long it takes anymore. I have found what I love, I have used ego negotiation to find out what’s important for my daily routine and how hard and far I can push myself, and now it’s up to me to do it, whether that means staying up until 5AM or not. That’s not important. What’s important is not breaking the chain. Keeping the eyes on the prize. Slow and steady wins the race. All the cliches are true. It’s not the easiest thing to remember in the age of instant, but good things come to those who wait.
I encourage you to find something you’re interested in, something you know you “should” do, and find the very smallest kernel you can think of, and commit to it. If you don’t have a passion, find one before you do this. Don’t go committing to things willy nilly. It sets bad habits. But if you know what you’re here to do, then get about the business of doing it.
Develop your work ethic. Be patient. Rome was not built overnight. Get your ducks in a row. Let the cliches flow. Let the trumpets blow.
And like our great guru Hov said, you don’t have enough stamps in your passport to fuck with young H-O. So stay humble and collect those stamps. Smell ya later.