On Living When You Don’t Want To
Anyone can exert himself on the good days. One who does only that will become a middling being, at most. For greatness lies largely in the ability to exert oneself on the bad days. To get out of bed when hiding under the sheets and wishing it all away is the only attractive option. To look them in the eye when you would rather hide in the corner. To turn some screws and hammer some nails when your stomach is in knots and your head throbbing. To go over it one more time when you never want to see it again. To pick up the objects you just threw on the floor in a rage and set about reorganizing them. To sit alone and stare at the cold fact through gritted teeth as though isolated doubt were your deepest desire, when all you crave is the comforting escape of human contact. To choose the severest sobriety when forgetful intoxication is presenting itself as the entire meaning of pleasure. To forcibly lean your soul into something on that day when the whole cosmos seems to be enticing it toward the nothingness. This capacity, which in ordinary speech is often trivialized, by those who know little of it, as “willpower,” is at least a necessary condition, and perhaps the definitive virtue, of the best life. For the best life, understanding that phrase seriously, is the life lived amid a thousand temptations away from, and threats against, living it.