John Keats was born October 31st, 1795 and when he was eight years old in 1804, his father, a livery-stable manager died in a riding accident and his mother remarried almost immediately.
To make John’s life even worse, his mother died 7 years after he lost his father, essentially leaving him and his siblings, George, Fanny, and Tom homeless in London.
To make a living, John dropped out of school and enrolled as an apprentice to a surgeon but at this time John had developed a passion for literature and reading.
He would read as many books as he could find and from there, he had a desire to write poetry.
But there was a problem; John couldn’t find an instructor to teach him how to write poetry.
To solve this problem, John Keats decided to put a heavy burden on himself; he would read ALL the works of ALL the greatest poets of the 17th and 18th centuries.
After reading tons of poems, John started writing his own by imitating the works of those poets he had loved.
On May 5th, 1816 at the age of 20, John Keats’ first poem appeared in a leading intellectual journal, The Examiner.
But John wasn’t satisfied with his poems yet.
He wanted to be a master poet and to do that, he turned to pains again.
In the year 1817 at the age of 23, John Keats decided to put more burden upon himself; he would write an unbelievably long poem, 4,000 lines and he would do it within 7 months.
The result of that sacrifice is The Endymion
The 7 difficult months John Keats sacrificed to write Endymion is what finally changed his life.
During his difficult endeavor of writing 50 lines every day, John didn’t only learn how to write fast, he learned how to criticize himself, how to discover poetry ideas, and most importantly, he discovered his unique writing style and voice.
This is the lesson from John Keats’ story;
Every meaningful accomplishment comes from pains.
Look around you.
Every progress you see.
Everything that has meaning comes from pains, so if you desire to live a life of purpose or meaning, you have to voluntarily embrace pains.
To do this, you have to change how and where you’re getting your daily pleasure from
You have to change where you’re getting your dopamine from.
Dopamine is a chemical that’s released by our brain in other to motivate us to do things.
It’s like a reward system of your brain which is released whenever you’re expecting something you’ve associated pleasure with.
For example, when you walk past a restaurant and you can smell your favorite food, your brain releases Dopamine, as if to say, “Go-get-it” and if you actually walk in to eat, while eating, your brain registers the pleasure you derive from that meal and uses it next time to motivate you to come and get more.
Every one of us gets dopamine in our brain every day or else we’ll be as good as DEAD
The problem however is that there is a cheap source of Dopamine and an expensive source even though both are pleasant to your brain.
I’ll like to use two men to explain what I’m talking about here.
James and Mathew.
James wakes up at 6 am every day, sits down at his table to write music.
James usually struggles the first 30 minutes, writes something that doesn’t make sense, writes again, and even beats himself sometimes.
But then, 45 minutes into writing, James often experiences a WOW! Moment.
He writes a lyric that makes him feel good about himself. He smiles. It’s 7 am and James has to prepare for work.
Now let’s talk about Mathew.
Mathew also wakes up at 6 in the morning.
But the first thing he does is to grasp his phone, log in to Facebook and see the numbers of likes he has gotten for the picture he posted last night.
Mathew sees 13 likes and 5 comments. He smiles.
He then scrolls through the Facebook timeline.
He sees pictures of some beautiful ladies, posts from some people who share similar ideology with him, and some cat videos.
It’s 7 am and Mathew has to prepare for work.
In the above analogy, both James and Mathew ended up getting pleasure out of what they did between 6 and 7 am.
Both of them get dopamine in their brain but from different sources.
While Mathew gets his dopamine from a cheap source (social media), James goes through pains every day before he could get some pleasure from writing his lyrics.
Both Mathew and James could end up being addicted to how they get pleasure but they won’t have the same future.
While in the Future James could end up being the Bob Marley, Asha, or J-Z of our world, Mathew can’t achieve anything with his addiction.
In his 2007 book, The Dip, Seth Godin says that anything worth pursuing will have a messy middle.
If you desire to have a meaningful life, you must first have a messy life.
You have to get to pleasure through pain.
Don’t skip that messy stage.
In the year 1926, the English social psychologist Graham Wallas published a book called The Art of Thought
In The Art of Thought, Wallas wrote about the 4 stages of the creative process which can be adapted to mean the stages of a meaningful life.
Stage 1 is what Wallas called Preparation stage
Stage 2 is Incubation stage
Stage 3 is Illumination stage
And stage 4 is Verification stage
The preparation stage of your life is when you push your brain to seek knowledge.
You get hungry at this stage and sacrifice pleasure to seek knowledge and enlightenment.
During the incubation stage of your life, your brain is making connections between a lot of things you’ve learned at the preparation stage and trying to create a unique thing out of it all.
This stage is also painful, but you must not skip it.
The illumination stage is the stage when your brain comes up with some great ideas, connecting pieces that you had been looking for, causing you to leap out of your chair and scream “I GOT IT!”
This is the first time you’ll experience some pleasure.
This is when James got an idea for a lyric
This is when you got a unique idea for a scientific invention
This is when your mind clearly understands a concept that can lead to a best-selling book.
This is when you discovered a business idea you’re sure would make you a million dollars.
It was at this stage the ancient Greek scholar, Archimedes shouted “EUREKA!”, leaped out of his bathtub and ran naked through the streets of Syracuse.
This is a joyful moment for you but there’s one more painful step before you’ll celebrate.
It’s what Graham Wallas called the verification stage.
At this stage, your brain takes that beautiful, shining lump of clay, that book or business idea, and molds it into the perfect statue.
Here your brain goes through another painful stage of evaluating the idea, verifying that it is realistic or could be profitable, and starts building the framework around it to bring it to life.
The final stage is when the world gets to see your unique creation.
This is the glorious moment of your life.
It’s when you get the press asking you for an interview.
It’s when you see your book changing the way people think.
It’s when you find your picture in front of a magazine.
But… listen to this…
This glorious moment can only come to you if you embrace the pains that come with the four stages of creativity.
In the Art of Thought, Graham Wallas wrote;
“The stages leading to success are not very easily fitted into a “problem and solution scheme”.
Life’s problem doesn’t get solved by some magic.
You won’t wake up with poverty and sleep at night in massive wealth except you’ve spent some years going through some stages of Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification.
All of these stages come with pains and it’s by embracing those pains your life can have a meaning.
In this 2014 study published by Fast Company
Carol S. Dweck, a leading expert in motivation and professor at Stanford University, and her team experimented on 400 fifth graders from different parts of the United States.
The children were from varied ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
First, participants were given a series of puzzles to test their IQ.
After they finished their test, they were told their score, and the children were praised in different ways.
One group was praised for its intelligence while another group was praised for their effort
The students were then given a choice as to what kind of test they would take next.
They could either take one that’s harder than the first, or one that’s just as easy.
A majority of the children who were praised for their intelligence chose to take the easier test, whereas 90% (emphasis) of those praised for their effort chose to tackle the harder puzzles.
Afterward, the researchers gave the students even harder tasks and this is what they found;
The children who believed that they were intelligent weren’t interested in practicing while those who think they’re successful because of hard work keep on enjoying working harder.
What this study shows is that, if you see pain as what is necessary for your life to be meaningful, you’ll embrace it and that will lead you to great success.
That’s what the German composer, Sabastian Johann did in the year 1705.
Being an orphan who wanted to become a successful musical composer, Johann walk 200 miles (emphasis) with his foot, just to go and learn.
In some other instances, Sabastian Johann would walk a 50-kilometer distance, just to go and listen to how one of his mentors played instruments.
That’s embracing the pain.
That’s accepting the fact that you have to stand up and do the difficult task that your mind doesn’t want you to do.
It’s by embracing pains you get to know yourself.
It’s by embracing pains you get to know your limits
It’s by embracing pains you get to know that you’re strong.
It’s by embracing pains you get to know where your strength lies and the kinds of battles you’re capable of winning.
In his book, The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote;
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it, there are many dark places.”
The world is full of pains.
There are too many obstacles on your way to achieving anything.
Running away from those problems won’t make them vanish.
The key is to embrace and confront them.
In his 2018 book, 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson wrote;
“No tree can grow to Heaven unless its roots reach down to Hell.”
Nobody can have the true pleasure of life, except they first embrace the pains that come with preparing for such pleasure.
In his 1983 book, Tough Time Never Last, But Tough People Do, Robert Schuller wrote;
“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.”
Allow me to round off this article with the words of John F. Kennedy.
On April 22, 1960, when speaking at Eugene, Oregon, John F. Kennedy said,
It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.
If you desire to have a meaningful life, you must first embrace a messy life.