Muscle for life

Why Masters Play the Long Game and Embrace the Difficult Years

Why Masters Play the Long Game and Embrace the Difficult Years

“In this age, which believes that there is a short cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.”

—Henry Miller

We live in a culture that worships at the altar of instant gratification and that loves to romanticize the notion of overnight success.

The average American has a shorter attention span than a fucking goldfish, we wait with bated breath to see if that “one weird trick” will “melt off our belly fat,” and we glorify stories of sudden breakthroughs and miraculous discoveries.

Much of this probably comes from simply having too much: entertainment, comfort food, technological and social assistance, even readily available knowledge. History shows that nothing softens a people like abundance. More portentous, however, is that it also shows us that nothing is abandoned more thoroughly by Mother Nature than her weaker creations.

Despite how quickly modern society moves and changes, human nature remains obstinately old-fashioned. Achieving anything worthwhile requires the same thing today as it did a thousand years ago: grit, work ethic, and an almost perverse will to stay the course, come Hell or high water.

Most people don’t get this, though. They wonder why life seems so damn hard and look to others who have “made it,” earnestly praying for “their turn.”

Well, their turn is waiting for them. Just down that thousand-mile road of thankless toil, struggle, and failure. The same road the vast majority of history’s luminaries walked, alone, in the dark, with no compelling reason to believe there even was an end, let alone a payoff.

“The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it but in what one pays for it— what it costs us.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

These concepts are explored in a  fantastic two-part video essay series from British filmmaker Adam Westbrook, which pierce mythology of genius and the myth of overnight success.

In the first part, Westbrook tells the story of one of history’s most celebrated “losers”: Leonardo da Vinci…

And in the second installment, inspired in part by Robert Greene’s fantastic book Mastery, Westbrook elaborates on the concept of the “difficult years” and why nothing ensures lasting success like the “mundane” ability to keep showing up, day in day out…


What are your thoughts on the “costs” of success? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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Leave a Comment!
  • Brad

    Excellent post!

    • Michael Matthews


  • Jason

    Dude can you apply the information like rep ranges and sets in BLS to calisthenics?

  • Abhijit

    Mike, this is profound but I am confused however – how would you separate this ideology and the one that backs the saying ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’?

    • Michael Matthews


      Continuing to ply your craft and improve your skills until you finally are good enough to “break through” isn’t doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

    • Nathan Hanak

      It’s in the “expecting different results” part. If you’re doing the same thing over and over and the results are good, then you should expect those good results to continue. If you are doing the same thing over and over and the results aren’t good, then it’s insane to expect a sudden turn of results. Basically, tweak the daily routine until you have optimized the routine for success.

      • Michael Matthews

        Well said.

  • Thanks for sharing those videos. I think Westbrook misses an important point in these videos, though. At the end he simply poses the question “are we no longer patient?” Patience may be fleeting in modern times, yes, but there’s also something to be said about the importance of enjoying the struggle and process. Da Vinci would have probably still drawn day in and day out even if he never got famous, Stephen King would probably have still written for those years and years even if he never ended up making a dime, ect.

    These people are passion/process oriented. The same theme appears in fitness as well. The people who are really successful aren’t just obsessed with a result, each day and workout depressingly themed by what they “don’t have” yet. Rather, they enjoy the process and the lifestyle. It’s more like a… I’m living the life of a drawer, inventor, writer, ect., rather than a I want to be the best and most famous x, y, z, ect.

    What Nietzsche talks about as far as the “cost” of success in his quote isn’t really a cost at all. There’s legitimate fulfillment and pleasure to be found in the cost, sacrifice, pain, or whatever else you want to call it that’s “traded” for success. This completely goes against modern western thought of happiness coming from pleasurable results, eg, I want to be ripped/rich/famous, whatever. Does the materialist corporate advertizing machine perpetuate this mentality? Who knows…

    • Michael Matthews

      I completely agree Pete and have written about these concepts in other articles.

      That said, the sacrifices made aren’t always enjoyable. One of the most common complaints I hear from multi-millionaires I know is they don’t spend as much time as they’d like with family and good friends.

  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Steven todman

    With all the technology that we have now, I think success can be easier to achieve than ever. It’s a shame that so many utilize technology in such non-productive ways. Thank you for writing Awakening Your Inner Genius. It’s been a great blessing to me. Success in building the physique of your dreams can be a springboard for success in building anything.

    • Very true. Addiction to pointless apps and sites and such is our younger generation’s smoking.

  • Thanks for this – will definitely pass this on.

  • What a great post! *So* glad I came upon this.

  • LP

    Holy shit this article is EXACTLY what I needed to read!!! A-ha moment. Thank you so much for writing this and including those awesome videos!

    • Thanks for the support! I’m glad you liked it 🙂

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