I see a lot of literature and a lot of history about people making desperate efforts and massively succeeding.
I started thinking, "Why does that kind of desperate effort work sometimes, while other times desperate people just remain... desperate?"
I think I figured it out.
The formula is: Desperation + Purpose
You can make a desperate, full out effort towards a clear goal or cause and you'll likely succeed.
But feeling or being desperate without a purpose just blinds a person and makes them thrash around.
Clear purpose and vision can turn desperation into powerful fuel.
Desperation without purpose = very bad
Desperation + Purpose = Potentially very powerful
To be desperate is to be without hope.
early 15c., "despairing, hopeless," from Latin desperatus "given up, despaired of," past participle of desperare (see despair (v.)).
Can one be without hope, yet have purpose?
Doesn't having purpose give one hope? For the purpose is as the light at the end of the tunnel that causes one to push through the surrounding darkness. It is the destination one never loses thought of, and which one will do anything to arrive at, even when they've lost their way.
For that reason, I call the desperate ones without purpose, the ones without a destination in mind, "the Lost"; aimlessly wandering about, no destination in mind.
We're all on a journey, but only some know where they're going.
This comment will be a little dry, but I think, necessary for clarification, and may help you improve your writing, as I found out about the study of etymology, from looking into the methods of some of the world's greatest communicators. Etymology came up again and again.
I realize, after some thought, that you may have meant ‘desperate’ in a different sense, such as “having little hope of success”, or “in an extremely bad, serious, or dangerous situation.”
Such is the problem with the ambiguity of natural languages, when one word carries many senses. In order to reduce ambiguity in my speech, I usually check the etymology of the word (using etymonline.com) to find the “essence” of the word. The etymology of etymology is:
“from Greek etymologia "analysis of a word to find its true origin," properly "study of the true sense (of a word)," with -logia "study of, a speaking of" (see -logy) + etymon "true sense," neuter ofetymos "true, real, actual," related to eteos "true,“.
I do recognize that to use etymology as definition is a fallacy. From Wikipedia:
“A variant of the etymological fallacy involves looking for the "true" meaning of words by delving into their etymologies, or claiming that a word should be used in a particular way because it has a particular etymology. Notable examples include the terms antisemitism and philosemitism, which were coined to refer to Jews specifically, rather than to Semites in general.“
However, I still find it insightful to look at what the word originally meant, to find exactly what phenomenon the word was coined to signify, because over time, the word develops more and more ambiguous meanings from loose, careless, and widespread usage.
Isidore of Seville wrote an etymological encyclopedia in the 7th century which was “arguably the most influential book, after the Bible, in the learned world of the Latin West for nearly a thousand years.” This encyclopedia had an influence on some of the world's greatest writers, like Dante, Shakespeare, and Chaucer. Isidore wrote:
“The knowledge of a word's etymology often has an indispensable usefulness for interpreting the word, for when you have seen whence a word has originated, you understand its force more quickly. Indeed, one's insight into anything is clearer when its etymology is known.”
For example, the word “king” in Latin is “rex”, which comes from recte, meaning “acting correctly.” (Compare with the English word 'erect'). Human being comes from the Latin homo, which comes fromhumus, which means “of the earth.” Interesting, isn't it? Wtih etymology, one gains insight into how words relate to each other.
Another example; what Isidore begins his encyclopedia with:
“A discipline (disciplina) takes its name from 'learning' (discere), whence it can also be called 'knowledge' (scientia). Now 'know' (scire) is named from 'learn' (discere), because none of us knows unless we have learned.”
Many will criticize one as a pedant who seeks precision in language, but I'll quote Orwell, who said:
“Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.“
and John Locke:
"He that uses his words loosely and unsteadily will either not be minded or not understood."
Language is a tool for thought, and any imperfection in the instrument is liable to lead to imprecision in thought. Words are symbols of things in reality; they are not the things themselves, they can only serve as signposts pointing to the things. Since the etymology of "communicate" is "to make common" (Latin:communis), I understand the purpose of communication to be for those engaged in it to "hold in common" ideas. This can only happen if words have precise definition, if all individuals involved know exactly what in Reality the words are meant to signify. For instance, one could have a really long discussion with another about "Truth", yet never come to a common understanding, because the word "Truth" was never defined. What if to Person A, Truth meant "whatever feels right", and to Person B, "whatever group consensus says is Truth", and so they bicker about what things are true, and can never agree, because they understand "Truth" differently?
The etymology of Truth is:
Sense of "something that is true" is first recorded mid-14c. Meaning "accuracy, correctness" is from 1560s.
So I would define Truth as "that which is Faithful to Reality."
Indeed, one definitely seems better than the other.
Just be careful to keep in mind survivorship bias when you look at these desperate people who succeeded. Those who were desperate AND had a purpose but didn't succeed probably aren't being written about or aren't writing autobiographies (at least not autobios that are selling well).
So what you say could still be correct. You just can't base that position only on literature and history, because that sample is biased.
This immediately reminds me of the SVN blog post on having big goals:
The message is slightly different here, but looking from a different angle, I believe you've also discovered the motivating factor for historical people with a big goal (purpose). In this case, desperation is really another form of necessity, which of course is the mother of all invention, ultimately helping these people reach that goal.
I posted "Excerpts From Hagakure, Chapter 1" a while back. The book is dense with interesting ideas. Here's some more excerpts -
When an official place is extremely busy and someone comes in thoughtlessly with some business or other, often there are people who will treat him coldly and become angry. This is not good at all. At such times, the etiquette of a samurai is to calm himself and deal with the person in a good manner. To treat a person harshly is the way of middle class lackeys.
Treat people calmly and with good manners, even when they're a little careless. "To treat a person harshly is the way of middle class lackeys" - that made me laugh.
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to pet wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
You get wet either way in a rainstorm, but by accepting it you stay of clear mind. What a great metaphor. Accept that you'll get wet in a rainstorm - because you will either way - and go purposefully instead of rushing.
My friend and fellow blogger Cam Chardukian writes in on The Downfall of Video Games:
For example it took almost no effort for me to quit watching television. I've also gone from eating the unhealthiest diet imaginable to literally not having eaten a single desert in 3-4 years and actually finding artificial/processed foods to be disgusting.
Why on the other hand have I been able to make progress in things like socializing or nofap, but ultimately been unable to achieve similar levels of success in them?