Haruki Murakami, the excellent Japanese novelist, wrote about the sign inside his Japanese gym. It was something like,
"Fat is easy to get and hard to lose. Muscle is hard to get and easy to lose. Such is life."
It's similar to another Japanese expression about money --
"Getting money is like digging in sand with a needle, spending it is like water soaking into sand."
I remember where I read the first quote -- it was reading "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" in 2008, when I was in Barcelona and living near Placa Espania. At the time, I happened to be on a fantastic routine of waking up at 4:30AM, reading and eating in a little Spanish shop that served a fantastic Spanish egg/potato/vegetable omlette until my gym opened, spending a couple hours in the gym, and then working until dinner before sleeping early.
At the time, the quote seemed correct, but obvious and not particularly insightful.
I came across the 'digging in sand with a needle' quote sometime around that time too, and I just shrugged it off. Even if it was true, it seemed counterproductive to focus on. Making money is hard? Well, jeez, it's not going to get any easier if you think of it that way. It's like being afraid of the dentist -- maybe it's scary to you naturally, but focusing on the fear certainly ain't helping you get in there to get your teeth cleaned.
Thus, I shrugged off both of these quotes as somewhat clever, but not containing much use for a person who wants to be driven.
It's now five years later.
I just heard the 'digging in sand with a needle' quote again, and thought about Murakami.
And I'm struck that perhaps there was some wisdom that I overlooked.
Due to the nature of the Japanese language (which can always be ambiguous and work on multiple levels), and due to Japanese culture, you rarely get quotes said the same way a Benjamin Franklin or P.T. Barnum would say them -- you don't get that blunt, straightforward, hit-in-the-face sort of advice and evangelism that Americans are famous for.
I'd put the essence of what those proverbs are saying as this --
There's more ways into ill health and poverty than there are into good health and wealth.
Or, more generally,
There's potentially infinite ways to fail, get distracted, and get off your game. There's rarely more than a few correct ways to train and master any discipline.
While building an excellent fitness regime and eating regime lately, I was walking through 7-11. I was struck that, of the hundreds of items in the store, perhaps 20 would be suitable to eat as part of a healthy plan.
Likewise, every time you walk down the street, you're given dozens and hundreds of ways to spend money. Of all the possible ways to invest, the majority of them don't come anywhere near maximizing a suitable mix of risk and return. Many common investments are sucker's bets that have no chance of doing well for you.
There's hundreds, perhaps thousands of decisions you could make that are adverse to being healthy, being wealthy, enjoying success in your business or profession. If you chose any one random action, there's a good chance it'd be a counterproductive one.
The biggest implication? If you're not slowing down and analyzing periodically, in whatever matters to you, you're probably dramatically off course.
Such is life.
I've spend stupid amounts of money on books in my life. When I wanted to learn about a topic, I'd go to Amazon and order the top 5 to 10 books in its category. If I saw a book referenced in a few papers on science I read, I'd add it to the cart, and buy it the next time I ordered a stack of 10-20 books.
I figured it was better to have books lying around unread than to miss the opportunity to read on a topic when I was inspired. Books piled up on history, governance, economics, investing, finance, marketing, business, psychology, biographies, time management, habits, willpower, discipline, creativity, writing, selling, publishing, technology, innovation, philosophy, and, umm, lots more. Fiction too, though I didn't read fiction for a while because I thought it was a waste of time. (I was mistaken on that point.)
At least half of those books never got opened up. But it didn't matter. Books were so ridiculously underpriced compared to what they're potentially worth, that I thought it was worth it to have a copies on hand that I could break open to look something up, or check a controversial study's results. I had books on health and nutrition and biochemistry, and man, those were a nightmare contradicting each other.
I was never good at predicting what I'd want to read, so I'd keep a mix of things onhand in case I got inspired, or hit a roadblock and needed to learn more.
There were auxilliary benefits too. I must have bought Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth Revisited" at least a dozen times, because I kept giving a copy away to people who hadn't read it. Everyone who runs a small business should read that book.
I'd driven by dozens of times and never noticed it. Tucked away from the main parking lot, vines had begun to cover the corners of the building. Pieces of sheet metal were hanging from what once might have been a modern looking building.
A Wheel of Fortune aficionado may have been able to make sense of the remaining letters on the marquee. It probably said "Home Alone", "Kindergarten Cop", and "House Party" or some other movies from 1990.
That's when the movie theater was shut down. It was built on the edge of a hill, and half of it was now a few inches down that hill. The building had cracked apart and been condemned.