“Eureka!” Moments

“I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down.

Then ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down.”

John Lennon, Playboy, September 1980

How often does this happen?

You get some idea in your head – something you really want to do. You don’t quite know how, but you’re willing to learn along the way, and so you dive in. You try this, and you try that, and you don’t seem to be making any headway whatsoever.

You decide you weren’t trying hard enough before – the solution is to redouble your efforts. But in doing so you seem to provoke the opposite response – the harder you try, the further away the goal seems to get!

Eventually, you hit a wall. At the end of your tether, you ask “What’s the point? It’s never going to work.” You give up. Maybe you go have a shower, to wash the failure off you. Maybe you pour yourself a whiskey, in the hope of forgetting a day or a week or a month of wasted effort. Maybe you decide a career change is the only way you can save face…

And then suddenly, EUREKA! A solution pops into your head. Not only that, but it works! Hurrah! I’m the king of the world.

Now if I could only get that EUREKA! moment without the agony that went before it, I could really make something of myself…

If you’re alive today, you’ve been lied to. And if you’re under 30, then I’m afraid you’ve really had a number pulled on you. More than one number, actually, but life is short and so I just want to talk about a specific one today.

The big lie you’ve been told is that you can – and should – expect to “have it both ways”. All the gain without the struggle. All the good without the bad. All the rainbows, none of the rain.

First they told you could write ‘Nowhere Man’ and avoid the five hours of depression and struggle and feeling like you’re getting absolutely nowhere (if you’ll pardon the pun). Then they told you that if you couldn’t, it was because there was something wrong with you. AND THEN – after diagnosing you with a disease you never had in the first place – they tried to sell you the cure. A new car. A new wife. A new nose.

You don’t need any of that stuff. (And I should know – I was recently told that my nose looked like one of those fake noses you can buy that’s attached to a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and a moustache.) You just need to realise three things.

Firstly, you are not broken. If you cycle between feeling good and feeling bad and feeling like God and feeling a worm… you’re functioning correctly. You’re meant to feel shit when things go wrong for you – if you don’t, you’re a psychopath. As Napoleon Hill once said, “Most great people have achieved their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”

Secondly, if you want something out life then sooner or later you will have to pay a price for it. That price almost never has anything to do with money, and almost always has to do with perseverance in the face of discomfort.

And thirdly, if none of us makes the brave choice to pay that price and journey through discomfort and failure and out onto other side, then nobody designs beautiful buildings, nobody figures out that E=mc2, and nobody writes a tune like Nowhere Man. That song came out almost 55 years ago and it still shits all over every weak excuse for a pop track in today’s charts.

In closing, here’s something I learnt from David Brent and carry with me forever: “If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain. Do you know which ‘philosopher’ said that? Dolly Parton. And people say she’s just a pair of tits…”

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