"Do you know how to tell if you're doing the job?
If you're up at 3am every night talking into a tape recorder and writing notes on scraps of paper, have a knot in your stomach and a rash on your skin, are losing sleep and losing touch with your wife and kids, have no appetite or sense of humor and feel that everything might turn out wrong, then you're probably doing the job."
This is an actual quote from a slide used by Keith Rabois, entrepreneur/investor mastermind, during his talk at Stanford.
This quote sums up so much of the culture in Silicon Valley and throughout so much of corporate America: if you want to do excellent, transcendent work, you have to suffer for this endeavor, and suffer immeasurably and consistently.
I'm all for hard work, but the problem with this absolutist mentality is that it puts limitations on human ability and human inspiration.
Some of the world's greatest masterpieces of art, business, and ideas were imagined in a matter of days, hours, or minutes. Not years.
Sure, many of these professionals were masters of their craft and had dedicated themselves to their fields, but the notion that a tremendous idea or product has to be the result of suffering and struggle is very misleading.
Here are five change effecting things born from peace, passion, and a desire to have great impact.
1. Larry Page dreamed of being able to download and deposit parts of the Internet on separate computers. Upon waking, Page saw that while this wasn't possible, one could gather and collate links to webpages around the world and search through them. Sound familiar? This idea eventually developed into Google.
2. JK Rowling came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King Cross.
3. Bob Dylan famously claimed that he wrote his timeless protest song, "Blowin' in the Wind," in ten minutes, as he sat in a café across from the Gaslight in New York.
4. Sarah Kauss, the founder of S'well, came up with the idea of an upscale, eco-friendly, fashionable water bottle while on a hike with her mother.
5. Christopher Nolan was inspired to write Inception based on a series of lucid dreams he had where he was manipulating his dreamscape and differentiating it from reality.
Accepting the notion that great work, real innovation, world-changing ideas have to occur as the result of pain, suffering and sleepless nights, just isn't true.
Often the most inspiring ideas occur when we are calm and open to receiving inspiration.
The fact that two of the items on the list came to the innovator when they were unconscious and dreaming, should be significant enough to derail the notion of sleepless nights as a recipe for brilliance.
For brilliant people working in today's climate, there can be toxic expectations that great undertakings have to be difficult.
Just because a foray doesn't make you feel like Sisyphus rolling a boulder up the mountain, doesn't mean that it's not a world-class idea or project.