The #1 Lie About Hustle And Grind (Or, Why Po Is The Dragon Warrior)

Yesterday I watched Kung Fu Panda 2 for the second time with my boys.

(If you haven’t seen it, it’s the ongoing story of Po, a fat, lovable panda who must fight the greatest villains in China, despite his glaring lack of training and talent)

As the credits rolled, my oldest son pointed out that Tigress was a better Kung Fu fighter than Po.

And he’s right: Tigress, Crane, Viper, Mantis, Monkey… they’re ALL better at Kung Fu than Po is. In fact, throughout the movie, they’re constantly saving Po’s ass… using their superior skills to fix his mistakes, clear a path, and save him from his own endearing idiocy.

But in the end, it’s clearly Po, not his more technically-proficient companions, who is the Dragon Warrior.

It’s precisely because Po is an outsider to Kung Fu that he’s able to practice the art with imagination and unorthodoxy… to use his odd assets (formidable belly, rubbery body) in conjunction with his imagination to defeat the enemies when all the traditional, skill-based approaches have failed.

Hoping for some inspiration, you tear into the latest success article or podcast or video:

Invariably, it’s a story of some ramen-eating twenty-six year-old and how he took the grind and hustle path from college dropout to billionaire, one eighty-hour work-week at a time…

Or you listen to the spittle-flecked podcaster telling you to out-hustle, out-grind, out-work the competition, or suffer the consequences (obscurity)…

…that you’re fighting 6 billion people for the ring, that you must “up your game,” work harder, and be the cream that rises to the top.

You came looking for INSPIRATION, but what you feel instead is a sinking sense of doom.

You take off the headphones and take a hard look around:

The floor is strewn with toys and bits of dried out bread and cheese from your family’s last meal. The un-mowed lawn taunts you through the window. Half the bulbs are out on the chandelier above the kitchen table, and your nose tells you the dog shit in the garage again.

The idea that YOU, living THIS LIFE, with all your commitments and constraints could somehow create a brand, or product, or company, or body of work that can stand out and succeed… that can drive lasting income, or impact, or both… what a joke.

And in one sense, you’re right: if your success path is predicated on mastery and skill acquisition… in becoming the master of “best practices”… then yes, you will likely fall short. You DON’T have the hours in the day. That ship HAS sailed.

So it’s a good thing the world doesn’t work that way anymore. Lucky for you, there is another way (there’s ALWAYS another way).

This way is the way of imagination.

Choose an obsession… a ONE THING where your imagination can run wild and reinvent at will.

Then, put all your free hours behind it.

While all the ramen-eating keeners are grinding on skill-acquisition, eighty hours a week… flip the script: double-down on imagination.

While all the other pianists are working their fingers to the bone, scrambling for that moment of glory in Carnegie Hall, re-imagine the instrument. Play the strings by hand. Play through a distortion pedal. Play one handed.

While all the other software programmers are honing their skills, gunning for the top of the “most employable” pile, create a new programming language altogether.

Instead of trying to write the kind of story the big publishing company says they want (which is what everyone ELSE is now trying to write as well), write the quirky, offbeat story YOU want to write, and publish it yourself.

If you’re in a long line of slaves, marching to the master’s whip, the route of escape is not to “push on.” It’s to have the thought, and the courage, to STEP OFF THE SLAVER’S PATH.

It doesn’t mean shirking the work. It means seeing the wilder, woolier path, and having the stones to blaze it.

You’ll still work hard: it’s just that the hours YOU work will take you further, and will put more joy in your mouth.

Old familiar trails are for slaves. Slaves to time, slaves to convention, slaves to skill-acquisition and “best practices.”

So take all guru exhortations to sweat and suffer and out-hustle with a grain of salt.

They’re talking to the skill acquirers.

They’re talking to those who mean to sweat their way to freedom.


You’re the one who dreams your way free.


Bryan Ward is the founder of Third Way Man and author of the LIT Black Paper

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