Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Can You Stand?

Over the past month I've watched the Sharpe series starring Sean Bean portraying Richard Sharpe, a soldier that rises from the ranks to eventually receive his Lieutenant Colonelcy during the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe's rise begins by his saving the life of the Duke of Wellington in the first episode. Sharpe is somewhat atypical - he achieves his status in the army by merit, rather than wealth or blood. In an age where most officers were gentry who bought their commissions, this is unusual, and Sharpe needs to deal with the snobbery of the aristocrats throughout his entire career in the series.

Sharpe also deals with questions regarding the choices he makes with women (many of which are poor), and the strong comradeship he has with his friends, particularly Patrick Harper, who becomes the regimental Sergeant Major and saves Sharpe's life more times than can be counted. The bond between Sharpe and Harper is probably closest to Aristotle's idea of a true friendship.

Overall there are very powerful masculine lessons to be gleaned from this series, and I recommend watching it (I haven't read the books yet). However, the most powerful lesson of all came to me from the second episode: Sharpe's Eagle. Let's let Richard Sharpe do the talking from this point (skip to 5:25):

"This place is called Talavera. There's gonna be a battle here tomorrow. You'll fight in it, maybe even die in it. But you won't see it. There's a lot of smoke in a battle. Our cannon, their cannon. Our shot, their shell. Our volleys, their volleys. You don't see a battle, you hear it! Black powder blasting by the ton on all sides. Black smoke blinding you and choking you and making you vomit! And the French come out of the smoke - not in a line, but in a column. And they march towards our thin line. Kettle drums hammering like hell and a golden eagle blazing overhead. They march slowly, it takes them a long time to reach you, and you can't see them in smoke, but you can hear the drums, and they march out of the smoke and you fire a volley, and the front rank of the column falls, and the next rank steps over them with drums hammering, and the column smashes your line like a hammer breaking glass, and Napoleon has won another battle. But if you don't run, if you stand until you can smell the garlic, and fire volley after volley, three rounds a minute, then they slow down. They stop. And then they run away. All you've got to do is stand and fire three rounds a minute! Now you and I know you can fire three rounds a minute, but can you stand?"

Sharpe later tests his men again:

After the incompetent commander Simmerson falls back, Sharpe rallies the troops with this short, decisive speech:

"Now, I know you can fire three rounds a minute, but what I want to know now is - can you stand?"

I think that this quip, and this analogy, works rather well towards life in general. When it comes to overcoming any challenge, it's often not whether you have the skill to do it, but whether you can stand in the grit.

Here's a personal example. A couple of weeks ago, I was coming back home from a stint outside. I did two approaches earlier in the day and got rejected twice. On the way back home I saw a very beautiful girl - one of the best looking girls I'd seen in a while. She's just my kind of girl too. Blonde, beautiful blue eyes, great body. This was on the street, and not doing street approaches often, I was about to pussy out from approaching.

I walk away.

Miraculously, she changes direction to walk down where I'm walking down.

My mind spins. I see her looking around, almost as if she was exploring. I know that when a girl does this she's usually open to a chat. I second-guess myself and tell myself I should approach.

Still, it's the street, and I walk away again.

As she turns once again, I turn back toward her. My mind spins. I third-guess myself.

My mind and I knew that I could approach girls and start conversations with nearly any of them (including on the street). But could I stand?

I turn back and move toward her. I open her and go on an instant date. Although she had to leave the city the next day (I tend to have this sort of luck), I'm still in contact with her, and she's planning to move here in December.

I had the skills, but what was more important here was that I "stood."

Such is often the case. As Sharpe said: "I know you can fire three rounds a minute, but can you stand?"

I know that you can lift this weight. I know that you can pull yourself up this many times. But then you feel the burn and the pain and your body is screaming at you to stop. You and I know that you can push yourself up again, you have the capability - but can you stand?

You can write more than you do now. I know you have the capability to write 2,000 words a day. But can you stand?

And so on.

"Standing" is probably even more important than ability when it comes to success. You can have all the ability in the world and still lack success because you wouldn't stand. You wouldn't bust your ass in the face of adversity and conflict. You'd run away. That was me in a nutshell until last year, and I still have a ways to go with regards to this.

Take somebody that has half the skills though, and can stand every time, and he'll likely be at least moderately successful in any endeavor he wishes to choose.

Whatever it is you fear, or are hesitant to do, stand for one minute. If you can do this, your fear will vanish, and your skills will be brought to bear. If you can just stand for one minute, you've likely gotten it done.

So, I know that you and I can fire three rounds a minute. What I want to know now is - can we stand?

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