The will is everything

There is a popular idea in Japanese Anime – the spunky protagonist, through sheer will power, will overcome all odds and win against much better opponents. You see this over and over again – Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, etc.

Closer to home, there is another source where this trope plays out – Indian cinema. There are countless films where Rajni, through sheer will power, goes from a milkman/mechanic whose house was just struck down to an extremely successful industrialist in the space of one song. There are countless films where the hero lies bloody and broken in a climax fight with the villain, and the lover/mom shouts his name, and he stands up through sheer willpower and beats the villain against all odds.

I have always thought this was an extremely silly idea – you can’t achieve everything through just will power. There are countless other factors that determine your success – when you are born, where you are born, who you know, who you don’t know, and so on. Yes, hard work is important; but as people who are in the right place at the right time show, it is neither necessary nor sufficient.

But in recent times, I have been warming up to this idea more and more. But everything I have seen, and heard about, and read about suggests that there is something to the old idea – that in our world, the people who succeed are the people who care about success more.

There is a passage in the excellent book, The Life, The Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams that lays it out:

“We’re not obsessed by anything, you see,” insisted Ford.


“And that’s the deciding factor. We can’t win against obsession. They care, we don’t. They win.”

“I care about lots of things,” said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.

“Such as?”

“Well,” said the old man, “life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords.”

“Would you die for them?”

“Fjords?” blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. “No.”

“Well then.”

While the passage dramatizes it overly (you don’t need to die for something to care about it), you get the gist. The more time I spend in professional and academic life (which I agree is not a lot, but perhaps enough to warrant this observation), the more I feel that the people who win are the people who simply want it the most.

As time goes on, people stop caring so much about succeeding. They realize that their happiness lies in time with their family, their friends, their hobbies. They stop caring so much about work. I think this is entirely normal, and to some extent, very healthy.

Think about that for a moment – this is the normal. Success, in almost any field, is not normal – if you are doing the same thing as everyone else, you can expect the same outcome as anyone else. Thus, it is what you do apart from the normal, that gets you the extra-ordinary results.

For the people who care about their work, about success, in a very emotional way – this affects their life balance. They certainly don’t spend as much time with their family as others. They don’t hang out with their friends as much as others. But to some extent, they can’t help it – we tend to spend time on the things we care deeply about, even if leads to problems in other parts of life.

And so it is, that promotions go to the person who wants it the most. That projects go to the people most hungry for them. For people who are willing to do extra-ordinary things, insane things, uncalled-for things, to feed their hunger. At this point, talent becomes irrelevant. It is indeed all about the will. The will is everything.

P.S Here’s a slightly related video talking about how Messi cannot seem to help the way he plays football. That it is almost a sickness in him. It is a beautiful video, even if you are a football noob like me.



5 thoughts on “The will is everything

  1. Very nice article. The will to power is an attractive concept. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche dwelled on it a lot as an answer to fight the meaningless of everyday existence. Unfortunately, the amount of will you have is a function of your brain state. You can’t summon large amounts of will power without having the proper brain chemistry. If you don’t have the hunger nor the necessity, it is very unlikely that your brain will produce appropriate response. There’s a reason that when you start a family you no longer have large amounts of will power to advance your career.

    1. Interesting point. However, its not like everyone who starts a family loses will power – politicians like Obama, Clinton, etc are one example; industry heads like Marissa or Indra are another. So its not purely biological.

        1. Oh ok, I think I get it now. You are saying willpower is a finite resource, and since you expend some of it on your kids, you dont have as much left for your work. Am I correct?

          I think willpower can also be thought of as a muscle – the more you exercise, the more it grows. So over time, the total amount of the finite resource can increase.

          1. Yeah you’re right and willpower is the ability to do and endure ‘unfun’ things e.g. put in the training, do the deadwork, endure hardship, etc.

            It’s certainly possible to build your willpower muscle by building positive reinforcement experiences wherein you apply your will power, suffer and came out successful in the end. These positive stories are what you describe as muscle. Conversely, negative stories might make you cynical. So it’s not just practice ; but practice such that you can alter your brain wiring positively.

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