Wednesday, October 09, 2019

"Total Maximum Effort"

In the movie 12 O'Clock High Gregory Peck takes over an underperforming bomber group during WWII to get them up to snuff.  It not only entails the standard horrors the 8th Air Force endured during WWII, but focuses on what they call "Maximum Effort" as all war is economics and one can only win by putting forth the maximum effort.  But what is "maximum effort?"  How much can an already embattled bomber group take?  And not so much in terms of physical causalities and injuries, but psychological limits as well.

Well they find out.

The bomber group is whipped up into shaped.  They have improved success.  With better tactics their casualties go down.  There's even the dividend of improved morale, increasing the "maximum effort" the group can put forth.  But General Savage (Gregory Peck) himself finds out what the limits are as he succumbs to his own limitations.  On the eve of the final bombing run he finally breaks down mentally, trying to recall the bombers that have already raced down the runway, forcing his adjutants to restrain him on a jeep.  Thus learning the lesson that the only way to find out what a maximum effort is, is to push your point to failure and collapse, rendering you useless thereafter.

But whereas this fictional WWII piece focuses on what is a (relatively) short period of time, "Maximum Effort" is something any young man of any worth is going to face over the course of his lifetime.  And the way you're most likely going to face "Maximum Effort" is the prospect that if you hustle now, you burn your engines at 125%, 150%, even 200%, you'll be able to achieve a lot more, earlier on, making the remainder of your life all that much easier.

You can see this in many instances of younger people.  War for example is essentially younger men putting in 200% "Maximum Effort" for months, tours, even years at a time all in an effort to bring about the earliest end to the war as possible.  Accountants who work for the Big Four in public accounting regularly put in 80-100 hour work weeks, not only to get experience, but to also put "Big Four" on their resumes.  Junior analysts at investment banks sacrifice their 20 something selves as well for Wall Street, jockeying to inevitably become an investment banker.  And med school is the epitomal example of "Maximum Effort."  Even simply attending college while also working to support yourself can be considered "Maximum Effort" as you are simply working two fulltime jobs at the same time.

But, like General Savage found out, there is one problem with "maximum effort."  You cannot push the throttles all the way forward...and then some... for too long a time.  Because if you do, you will crack.  And that's precisely what will happen to you young men if you run at "maximum effort" for too long.

The problem with being young is that you get old.  And not only do you get old, you'll get older faster if you're constantly at "maximum effort."  This will accelerate the time at which you will "crack,"  "break down," or in some extreme cases, suffer a heart attack and drop dead.  The Ole Captain is unfortunately finding this out as his body is starting to poop out after decades-long "maximum effort," but he's seen buddies his age under extreme stress suffer heart attacks and strokes when their hair just began turning grey.  And for whatever long term benefits there might be to running your engines at 150%, you won't get to enjoy them if you're disabled, crippled, or dead.

This puts young men in a paradox, especially if they want to be successful in life, and even DOUBLY so if you come from a disadvantaged background.  If you're poor, from a broken home, have no support, and can really only rely on yourself, "total maximum effort" is your only way out of that hole.  Even if you're not disadvantaged, but merely want to be successful in life, out-hustling others is again your path to said success.  And who said anything about putting for the "maximum effort" for only a fixed amount of time in your life?  Can't you in theory continue putting forth the maximum effort over the course of your entire career and become very wealthy in the process?  And all of this is true.  If you put forth your total maximum effort, it's very, very likely you will succeed in life.  If you ALWAYS put forth your maximum effort you will certainly outperform your peers, even become rich.  But only for a time.  Because the time is coming where your mind (but more likely your body) will no longer be able to sustain the engines being ran at 200% and you will crack.

Therefore, it's important to have some rules to make sure you don't work so hard only to blow your engines out and suffer a stroke, cancer, a heart attack, or a simple mental break down.  This is not "work-life-balance" because only inferior people use such a thing, but to know when to "retire" from total maximum effort and simply put forth a normal effort that you can sustain for a longer life expectancy.

First, realize maximum effort is a young man's game.  I would also say maximum effort is mandatory for any 20 something who wants to get ahead in this world.  Go to college, work in the oil fields, join the military, run a side hustle, whatever it is you have to do, do it while you have the energy and you're young.  I would even go so far as to say that you can continue to hustle into your mid 30's to further capitalize on the trajectory and infrastructure you laid down in your 20's.  But once you're in your mid 30's, you need to start scaling it back.  Not only to preempt any medical issues you might have, but you need to have some fun in life while you physically still can.  And your 30's are that time where you *should* have the money and the youth to enjoy it.

Second, "working hard and playing hard."

One of the douchiest quotes business majors will say is "we work hard, but we play hard."  That's great, Skippy.  Good for you.  But "playing hard" is still taxing your body and mind, and I should know.  The Ole Captain's "vacations" include motorcycling to Alaska, hiking mountains, weekend binges, month's long motorcycle trips, leaving home for months at a time, all to make up for lost time I was putting forth "maximum effort" in my youth.  These epic adventures and vacations are perfectly fine, and I would even say mandatory for a real life.  But people who put forth "maximum effort" tend to do it in all aspects of their lives, NEVER giving their bodies or minds the time they need to rest.  I just recently came back from a 5 day TRUE vacation where I did nothing but sleep, eat, and sleep some more with the Masculine Geeks at an Atlantic beach house.  The last time I had a vacation like that was 7 years ago at a wedding in Jamaica where there was no cell phone reception or internet.  The body needs to sit and rest for at least a week a year.  And by "rest" I mean "do absolutely nothing."

Third, screen your health.

You may think you're young, and you might actually be young, but if your family or genetics has a predisposition to a particular illness you'll merely accelerate its metastasization if you overextend your maximum effort.  The technology exists today that you have have genetic screenings, but have a chat with your parents as well as a doctor to find out what diseases or disorders might flow through your veins.  And then do what you can health wise to prevent it, INCLUDING REGULAR CHECK UPS (which is how Cappy found out he has high cholesterol).

Fourth, cut the bad people out of your life.

I could go on about this one, but dating that bi-polar girl for 18 months did nothing to extend my life.  Working for genuinely mentally ill and abusive bosses also did nothing to extend my life.  I said it on the latest podcast and I'll say it again, "go on welfare if you have to.  Sadistic bosses are not worth it."

Kick any non-supporting, toxic asshole out of your life whether it's your girlfriend, your wife, your spouse, your boss, even your family.  Life is already set on difficult mode for people who wish to do more than vote democrat and collect a government check.  You needn't be further burdened by the many mental-and-financial parasites you a GUARANTEED to run into in life.

Fifth, eliminate/lessen your commute.

I'd like to say "work from home" but that comes with it's own disadvantages, but there is no reason for you to be mentally tortured and stressed 90 minutes a day sitting in traffic, dealing with the weapon's grade dipshits that now clog American roads.  Be they soccer moms, teenagers on their phones, immigrants who don't know what 55 MPH means, or dude bros racing their leased vehicle, commutes are the slow-moving cesspool of idiots who are only going to slow down your maximum effort, thus causing you incredible amounts of anger, rage, and stress.  For every minute you cut from your commute, you add a minute to your life.

Sixth, know when to quit.

I can give you age estimates at when you should scale it back and revert to a normal life.  I can say at "33 you should be normal" and "at 43 you should be looking at part time work."  But the problem is everybody is different, as well as the track and speed of each individual's career.  But the objective way to know when you should turn off the afterburners is when you can't.

What I mean by this is if you take some actual time off, to actually sit down and do nothing, is all you think about work?  Is work and what needs to be done constantly at the back of your mind when you're supposed to be hiking Zion, laying on a beach, or simply chilling out and watching the game?  This is the tell tale sign that you've been running at maximum effort too long because it's like winning WWII but still wanting to get up into the B17 and go on a bombing run.  It's become such an engrained and integral part of your psychology, you don't know anything else to do.  Worse, you've likely lost your taste for fun, relaxation, and simply enjoying life.  Matter of fact, you likely CAN'T enjoy life because you've forgotten what it was like.  It's going to take you a significant amount of time, even years, to unplug and relearn what it's like to be normal, and even then you will never fully revert back to your youthful ability to enjoy leisure time.  The "maximum effort" will always haunt you.

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Anonymous said...

This is truly excellent guidance. Thanks again Captain.

Your advice rarely makes life easier, but it offers sanity and that makes life bearable.


NED1955 said...

Hi Cappy,

Sorry to hear of your medical problems (High Cholesterol) but don't let them put you on Statins, they can totally fuck you up. If you haven't seen it, find the video "Statin Nation" it'll open your eyes.

On the subject of "maximum effort" it was your book "Enjoy the Decline" which put me on the path to going part time in 2013 and I've never looked back. As a mid sixties year old bloke now retired, I can assure you health is the most important thing in your life, without it you have nothing.

Have you met Ted... said...

Spot on, Captain.
Now in my 40s, I've been on this path for some time and can say that you nailed it.

In my 20s, it was multiple jobs and full time schooling (STEM). In my 30s it was building my talent stack outside of STEM while accelerating my investments. By the time I hit 40, life was on "easy mode". The investments grew or generated contributions above what I could put in and it was time to shift into a shorter work week. Now I only work 4 days a week or less at a gig that I literally wrote for myself.

The past set the pathway and now that I'm in the upper atmosphere, the friction is lower and my mind/body/spirit are free.

Kraemer said...

Christianity used to take care of this. Sundays were off work by law, and there were a bunch of mandatory long weekends scattered throughout the year. The place where I grew up outside of the US, most Christian festivities were still federal, or at least State holidays. Depression and burnout in this country are far lower than in the US. No matter how you feel about Jesus Christ, there are very real benefits to Easter and Pentecost being long weekends.

Mike said...

So much truth here.
I'm 40, and in the Army. Looking at retirement in about 5 years, and I'm hitting my limits. I had to do all of this stuff over the last couple of years:
1) Accept that skipping the gym to make sure work gets done is no longer an option for me. I go to the gym first thing in the morning, and then whatever I get done at work is what I get done at work.
2) Stop caring about the next promotion. More stripes never really motivated me before, but now I accept that my family is getting by on my pay, and another promotion means more responsibility; I've hit the point where the extra responsibility isn't worth the money any more. So I'm done worrying about it.
3) No more full-time school. I want to spend time with my family, and I have enough time to get a degree in an IT related field before I retire if I only take one or two classes of online school per semester. No more of this full-time work and full-time school for me, even if it means that my GI Bill won't pay for it and I'll be paying for it out of my own pocket. Plus, I just can't keep up with the workload any more. It's too much and I just get behind on too many things.

Tucanae Services said...

Been there, done that, 80hr week routine. I don't care what your age is -- Don't do it!! I say that in reference if you work a corporate job. The Corp will suck whatever it can out of you then spit you out come the next RIF; or at best just ignore your 'contribution'/sacrifice.

If you are going to go 'Maximum Effort' you make sure that other 50% is going to one of YOUR lifetime goals, not theirs.

The Corps are perpetual sucking machines, don't fall into their maw.

Anonymous said...

Cappy, cholestelor is not your enemy. Your health deterioration is probably more related to your body malnutrition and inflammation. Just do not fully trust the Rockefeller medicine. It is mainly based on making profit rather than the Hippocratic Oath. Below there is a list of youtube channels which should help you to acquire enough knowledge to get your health back. Then there is another big thing that is going to change our views on health. A role of glycans in chemical processes that happening in human body.

Anonymous said...

"The "maximum effort" will always haunt you."

But for some of us, it is how we clawed our way out of the pit with the fear of falling back into it keeping us moving forward. Scaling back comes when we hit the first big health issue.

I joined the army at 17 before even finishing high school. Spent all my time abroad in 3 foreign theaters before getting out at 23. Saw some crazy shit, but no regrets. The military is a young man's game, so hats off to those guys who did the full +20 years for the pension (which is no longer available)-- but they paid a steep price for it (eg. Terrence Popp).

I worked through college in order to pay the rent and eat. GI Bill paid the tuition only. The college experience is completely over rated, but then again mine was a blur between studying and working. Money was always tight, but some fun was to be had. I started working and have built a career, but it is always long hours... and the years have flown by.

A man's golden decade is his 40s. You have enough money, wisdom and are physically capable of doing anything you want. At 50 (my age) you are the summit of your life and know that it is all down hill from here. There might be another "step-up" in the job, but that extra bonus or promotion is not going to remotely compensate you for your time. Spend your remaining time wisely and don't waste it stupid subjects or people. How rapidly you descend is up to you in some degree, but even some variables are out of your control.

Wish you all the best Aaron. Stay well.

Anonymous said...

Cappy, you gave some really good advice there. I know you said you had gone to the doctor recently to get some testing done and I sincerely hope high cholesterol is all that you are dealing with. Take care of yourself.
I remember reading about three years ago the story of a young man at Bank of America in London who literally worked himself to death. Imagine: dying in your twenties for a damn job. BoA did nothing to change the culture, of course.

Post Alley Crackpot said...

NED1955 and Anon@0640: The only bigger liars in the medical profession than the quacks who put young people on statins are oncologists, and that's because they're trying to make cancer profitable.

Given that the untruths of one Ancel Keys are pretty much obvious by now, if Cap's on statins just for "high cholesterol", it's his head that needs checking out, not the stuff in his blood stream. :-)

But there's this bit that Cap wrote that needs more to go with it ...

"... you've likely lost your taste for fun, relaxation, and simply enjoying life. Matter of fact, you likely CAN'T enjoy life because you've forgotten what it was like."

All that stuff about all work and no play making Jack a dull boy?

This observation is absolutely spot on ... but wait, there's more!

Krauser recently used the term "escape loops" to describe certain things that people do that can be a response to over-working. Essentially they're a reaction to feeling miserable by dosing that feeling with a cortisol-relieving hit of dopamine, and many of these things are low-effort, low-meaning things.

Everyone knows these guys who workWORKworkWORKwork their arses off at things ... and then what?

There's the interesting yet relaxing stuff they could do that slows down time and lets them think, such as reading, following a hobby, making a well-cooked meal, and so on, but what do these people typically do?

They rapidly consume television and engage in activities that provide an easy out via "escape loops".

When these people do this for a long time, the only thing that they can talk about is the television they consume as well as all of their other vices in the form of easy outs.

In so doing, they become profoundly boring people with hugely uninteresting lives.

"Kick any non-supporting, toxic asshole out of your life whether it's your girlfriend, your wife, your spouse, your boss, even your family ..."

That's good, but actually you should put the people who want to drag you into their "escape loops" at the head of that list. Those people may do more to waste your time with the bland ephemera of their "escape loop" quests than most of the other people on your list.

What's actually worse than your worst case is when these people with their boring lives invent strange play-routines that involve you in much the same way as young children invent little games for toy soldiers, action figures, and so on.

When children do this, they invent fictional situations so they can try to understand the narratives of life. Generally children don't do it to you, and eventually they'll grow out of the need for sounding out life situations in this way.

But when adults do this to you, it's creepy as fuck, and these are the time-wasting, life-killing arseholes you've been looking for.

Bipolar girlfriends, dead bedroom wives, shit-stirring spouses, demented bosses, psychopathic relatives, all of the damage these people can do and will do eventually becomes so obvious that you have to do something about it.

You won't notice these creepy-as-fuck people until things slow down enough for you to notice their behaviour.

So there's your test: do you know people who want to play strange "toy soldiers" games with the particulars of your life?

Those are the arseholes you need to be cutting loose first.

They're the flip side of the Go Hard Or Go Home Bros, in other words: these are the people who are massively insecure about someone they know having more fun or making a better life.

Open up to the revealed wisdom behind 1 Corinthians 13:11.

Begin by doing yourself kindness, and let the arseholes fall out as they may ...

Anonymous said...

Are you serious? One time you rant abut young people being chronically "underemployed" and they "shouldn#t even try until they are 35" and once you tell us that every man will face "maximum effort"?

And when did you exactly go through "maximum effort"? When you were zoned out as an analyst or when you listened to audiobooks as a security guard?


Anonymous said...

I keep thinking I need to dial it back and relax a little bit. I'm an MD and I take tons of extra shifts. While it makes sense for the bank account, it makes absolutely no sense for my life...Thanks for the words of wisdom.

A.C. said...

With time I've learned the wisdom of one day off every seven. I used to work job or personal right through weekends but I found I'd start running out of steam and get sick or injured if I worked two consecutive weekends and three full give day weeks. 19 days would nuke me every time. Like clockwork.

I don't observe the Sabbath but see the point now. I can imagine advising young people to strictly take one day off per week (assuming the other six are hard charging). If you've got a situation where you need to go nuts then shuffle the schedule but don't break The ratio. The max is one day off, 12 on, and the next MUST be off.

The folks who set up Sunday as a day of no work knew their shit.

Post Alley Crackpot said...

One last bit about that last bit I wrote: when these creepy people play "toy soldiers" games with your life's particulars, they never do it in a way where they'll imagine you as someone powerful or well-respected, and they'll never parallel your life to anything that has come before you that was worthy or even noticeable.

These losers won't think of you as a Bill Belichick in the making and try to help you achieve that.

They don't even want to hear about your efforts trying to become a Bill Belichick.

Instead, they make up weird fantasies where you're some assistant coach who got kicked out because of some "deplorable controversy" or something, and then they'll try to "gaslight" you with this kind of made-up bullshit so they can wear you down mentally. That's when they're not revealing themselves more overtly by invoking banal life script "toy soldiers" stories meant to hurt you.

They're boring people with banal inner lives, and these "toy soldiers" stories they make up with banal particulars are a way in which they act out their innermost fears.

And so they're arseholes not because they're overtly trying to be arseholes, but because their character is so weak that they become arseholes out of weakness.

Claude Steiner's "Scripts People Live" includes a few types of relevant life scripts, and it's a good complement to Eric Berne's "Games People Play", another book that's revelatory about some of these kinds of people.

These people deserve to be first priority in your "life cleanup" efforts because their weakness is going to pull you into absolutely crappy situations that you'll never see coming.

Now that you have the general gist of how it works, you should be able to see it a lot more readily and in places where you hadn't been expecting it ...

But most importantly, the general gist gives you a way of seeing the covert critics around you, the people who have been pretending to be on your side but have actually been hating your guts for a very long time on the sole basis that you even want to try for something better.

The bottom line: "Maximum effort" becomes even worse with covert attacks on you and your efforts to get to where you want to be, and character absolutely matters in everything.

Take a few moments to relax and gather some breaths, and then start shovelling some of the shit out of your life.

Anonymous said...

Yeah not to bag on Aaron but I definitely notice that his pendulum can swing to both extremes pretty regularly.