“What are you prepared to do?” was the rhetorical question posed to Eliot Ness by the Sean Connery cop character named Malone in the 1987 film The Untouchables. I recently had occasion to wonder about this same question myself. Let me explain.
A few weeks ago I met a friend of mine at a boteco in the Leme district of Rio. He’s an expatriate who operates a motorcycle touring business and knows a few interesting characters, the types of Joseph Conrad-esque people who always seem to wash up on the shores of foreign lands, for one reason or another. My conversations with people that night stayed with me for some time.
I first spoke to a couple of Syrian civil war refugees from Aleppo, both only 19 years old and working as waiters in local restaurants, who had been forced to leave their country and had experienced untold hardships along the way. These guys carried themselves with such dignity and composure that I could not help but admire them. They had guts aplenty. They were living proof of the adage that, although courage may not be the only virtue, it is the one virtue without which all the other ones become meaningless.
The most memorable conversation that night was with an intense Swede. He talked about some of local adventures. I have to admit that my previous contacts with Scandinavian men had not exactly inspired confidence in their abilities as risk-taking swashbucklers. But this guy was different. He had that weird glint in his eye, the type of look that only comes with having seen or experienced something beyond. What do I mean by beyond? Well, just beyond. It turned out that this dude was a hard-core snake-eater, the type of guy of whom old Charles XII of Sweden would have been proud. He related to me the following story.
One night, he had gotten the phone number of one hot Brazilian girl (who was definitely into him) at a club and had entered it into his cell phone. In the early hours of the next morning, making his way along Rua Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, he was confronted by a street thug who approached him quickly and pressed a metallic object against his ribs. The Portuguese dialogue went something like this:
“Give me the phone and your money, you son of a bitch”.
“No. I’m not going to give you my phone. I’ve got some money and you can have that, but I need my phone because I’ve got a girl’s number in it.”
“Listen you stupid bitch, I’m going to kill you. I don’t fucking care about your phone numbers. I’m hungry. Give me the phone and the money”.
The thug hesitated, realizing the interaction had entered uncharted territory.
“I’m going to kill you”.
“Well, I have 60 rials. That’s all I’m willing to do. Here it is. Take it and go.”
The thug, flustered and not knowing quite how to handle the situation, took the money and scuttled away. The Swede ended up calling the girl and turning it into a successful short term relationship. He had persevered and won. On the subway ride back home that night, I could not get this little drama out of my mind and what, if any, lesson might be learned from it. Now, I am not advising that anyone should be a reckless fool, or plunge stupidly into dangerous situations. Truth be told, I would almost certainly have chosen discretion as the better part of valor in that situation.
But I do think there is a lesson here. In life, there are times when we must face serious danger, and take serious risk, if we want to push “beyond” and acquire that special glint in our eyes. That special glint that others will sense, but never fully experience for themselves. This guy was willing to face serious injury (or worse) for the sake of his goal, which was closing the deal with this girl. Regardless whether you agree with his priorities, the lesson still remains: if you are not constantly looking for ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone, you will not triumph.
Whether in business, life, or love, physical courage is paramount. Condition your body to become accustomed to physical discomfort and pain. Learn how to take physical hits. Know what your blood tastes like. Slash and hack away at your fears, as Hercules sliced the heads off the multi-headed Hydra, and cauterize that Hydra’s bloody stumps, as he did, so that new fears do not grow anew. Do not listen to the little voice in your head which tells you to retreat into your cushy comfort zone. I say that sometimes in life, we must throw out our grappling hooks, board that enemy vessel, draw our cutlasses from their scabbards, and fight with grim fury. And if you are not prepared to do this, you will not be successful. How far are you prepared to go?
Read More: The Shortness Of Life