Find your torture: how to succeed in startups.

by | Sep 2023 | Start a Company

Originally published here by Billy Oppenheimer.

Thirty-eight years into being a stand-up comedian, Jerry Seinfeld was asked how his daily work routine has evolved over the years.

“It’s the exact same,” he said. “I do the exact same now as I did when I was 21 in 1975.”

He sits down with a yellow legal pad, he said, and…

“my writing technique is just: You can’t do anything else. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else.”

That’s your day? the interviewer asks. That’s what you’ve done every day for thirty-eight years? That, to me, sounds torturous.

“It is,” Seinfeld admits. “But you know what? Your blessing in life is when you find the torture you’re comfortable with…Find the torture you’re comfortable with, and you’ll do well.”

Takeaway 1:

To most, what Jerry Seinfeld does every day sounds like torture. But Seinfeld loves what he does. “I love my big, yellow legal pad,” he said. “Once I get that pad open, I can’t stop…the next thing I know, the day is gone.”

Paul Graham has a great essay on this imbalance.

“My father is a mathematician,” Graham writes. “To me the exercises at the end of each chapter in a math textbook represent work… To him the problems [are] the reward.”

“It seemed curious that the same task could be painful to one person and pleasant to another.”

If what is torturous to other people is rewarding to you, Graham writes, “that’s something you’re well suited for.”

Takeaway 2:

In the early 1980s, the sociologist Daniel Chambliss spent 5 years studying swimmers at every level of ability.

In 1989, he published his research in a paper, “The Mundanity of Excellence.” Essentially, Chambliss found that Olympic champions don’t train more than the average swimmer. Instead, they train differently. In particular, they do “what others see as boring.”

Chambliss tells the story of a group of coaches from around the world visiting a U.S. Olympic Team practice. “The visiting coaches were excited at first…then soon they grew bored, walking back and forth, glancing down at their watches, wondering, after the long flight out to California, when something dramatic was going to happen.”

“They all have to come to see what we do,” the U.S. Olympic Team coach said. “They think we have some big secret.”

There is no secret. There is only the doing of the mundane, boring, torturous work, day after day.

Find the mundane, boring, torturous work you like, as Seinfeld said, “and you’ll do well.”


Billy Oppenheimer.

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