A father is supposed to tell his son how talented he is. He’s supposed to tell him that he’s proud of him—that he did a good job.
No father should tell their son: “You’re not as skilled as the others.” No father should tell their son: “You won’t be as good as everyone else on the team.”
But mine did.
My father said what no father “should say,” at least not what 7-year old me thought a father should say. Every time I put words on the page, those words slither in from whatever hole(s) they hide in within my mind.
And like an anaconda, these thoughts (can) suffocate my heart and cut off the oxygen to my mind—killing any creativity or my ability to write.
Venom and Vinegar
Kids—or in this case, me—have the tendency only to hear what they want to hear. And in this case, I only heard the first thing my father said: “you’re not as naturally good as the other boys on the team.”
But that’s not what I heard. What I heard was, “you’re not as good.” And for a boy who only wanted to make his father proud—to feel like he could live up to his father’s expectations—I had, yet again, failed.
As I hung my head in defeat, I heard his next words. But I didn’t really “hear” them. My selective hearing was still stuck on the “not being good enough” part. Still, somehow, his words trickled into my ear canal.
They registered in my brain, but I was crestfallen; nothing was going to sink in at this point.
“Robbie, you’re not as naturally talented as the other boys on the team. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be good. You’re gonna have to work harder than everyone else.”
For more almost twenty years, the last part of my father’s speech sat in the soil of my mind, waiting to sprout.
All I had ever heard—all I had ever focused on—was the part about not being good enough. It became my dragon, the same one I still fight every day of my life.
If I think back to that day, I didn’t fail my father because I wasn’t “good enough” at basketball. I hadn’t failed him because I wasn’t a starter. I failed him because I didn’t listen to what he was trying to tell me:
Robbie, there will be others more talented than you—no matter what you do. But you can be just as good as them. But you’re going to have to work your fucking face off.
And that’s what this mug and my dad have in common.
Thoughts of a Hustler
Two years ago, I started Side Quest Fitness. And for two years I’ve been writing and creating content damn near every week, if not every day.
During that time, what no one knows, is that I’ve damn near given up a handful of times.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a post from another fitness pro or a writer I admire and thought:
“that’s it, I’m done. I’m not good enough. I’ll never be that good. I quit.”
And every time that happens, the words I ignored from my father twenty years ago, for some reason, come roaring back.
“You’re not as good as others, Robbie. But you can be. You’re gonna have to work harder than everyone else.”
And now those words that I ignored as a kid are the driving force behind “writing my face off.”
I may never be as good as some of the writers I admire. I may forever read their work and think I should just pack it up and go home.
But if I do that, then I really will have failed my dad—I will have proven the dragon I’ve fought my entire life right: I was never good enough; because I didn’t want to do the work.
The mug in the picture is a gift from a client. I had no idea when I opened it that there was a story behind the inscription.
Here’s the TL;DR version of the story:
A young, aspiring writer writes a letter to Dear Sugar about why she feels that she’s failed because she hasn’t written a book by the time she’s 26. She’s embarrassed about what she writes about—herself, her body, and her life—and she doesn’t know what to do when she can’t bring herself to write. How can she, “become the writer she wishes she’d be?”
Dear Sugar replies with plenty of sage wisdom, but it’s the end that drives home her greatest point, and what’s inscribed on my coffee mug:
Write like a mother fucker.
I understand the frustrations of the aspiring writer from this story. There hasn’t been a day in two years where I’ve wished the switch would turn on and I’d have 20,000 email subscribers, a full client roster (with people waiting to get in), and hundreds of people would share my writing every day.
Write. And Wrong. But Write.
The truth is, most people think it will happen overnight, or in a few months. And when it doesn’t, they give up. They blame others for “not getting with it,” or they blame some third party as the reason for why they never broke through.
For me, I can’t escape those words my father said to me twenty years ago; both the feeling of not being enough and—more important—the words about working my face off.
My wife tells me all the time that I need to take a break, that I should “put the pencil down.”
But I can’t. I can’t let my Dad’s words become my failure.
I may not be as good as some of my friends. I may NEVER be as good as my idols. But the only person stopping me from getting better is me.
I’m not gonna let someone beat me because they have more talent. I’m not gonna let their natural abilities keep me from progressing; I’m not going to let myself be the one who admits defeat.
So I will write like a mother fucker. I’ll write until my knuckles bleed. I’ll write until my hands cramp. I’ll write until my forearms seize up from the constant monotonous motion of typing.
I will write like a mother fucker.
Other mother fuckers may be better than me. They may paint pictures with their words so vivid Picasso’s jaw would drop.
There will be writers I’ll only ever dream of emulating. There will be those I’ll never be able to imitate. But, they are them. And I, am me. And to improve, to become the best I can, I’ll write like a mother fucker.
Fame and fortune may never be mine. I may never get a Pulitzer or claim the title of NYT Best Seller. But I’ll write. Every day. Not because I’m trying to play catch up to the greats, chasing their coattails for eternity. No. I’ll write because I have to. Because it’s the only thing I’ve ever found that I’m determined to bust my ass at improving upon.
I’ll do it because deep inside, it’s been the thing I’ve always come back to. The thing that always made me feel like I had “some” sense of talent.
Leave This On My Tombstone
So I’ll write. Every day. Until I get better. Until I feel that I’ve gained something. And then, like I should have done with basketball, I’ll keep working. Harder. And harder.
My dad was right. I’m not the best. I may never be the best. But the only person who has ever stopped me from getting better—from improving—is me. And I’m not going to let some lazy mother fucker ruin my chance. Especially, when that lazy MF is me.
All I can do now is write. All I can do is work, hustle, and put in every single ounce of energy I have to improving. And if that means I write like a mother fucker, then so be it.
Because when it’s all over—when my life is about to end—I’d rather die with a smile on my face knowing that I didn’t give half of what I could. I gave it all, and I wrote like a mother fucker.