You are dying, and your world is a lie.

This post contains a lesson about life, about your job, and about being human. Hang in there with me with through the intro, because whether or not you’re an athlete, this applies to you.

This summer, over a two-month span of time, I did an Olympic triathlon, a bike century, a half Ironman, and a marathon.

That’s not bragging. Bragging carries the assumption that I did it with a purpose, to prove something to others. I did neither. Only after completing the second event did I ask myself what the hell I was doing it for. I’m not fast. I’m not going to finish in the top third of any event I enter. I’m not trying to impress anyone. Yet it took a huge amount of effort, required me to repeatedly get up around 3am, and had me going for up to seven hours at a time. So why was I doing it?

At first I thought it was to see if I could do it, but then I realized that the intent was subtly different. “Seeing if you can do it” comes with a positive expectation. It’s a carrot. You train, and hopefully you accomplish.

What I was doing was a bit more masochistic. I was trying to see how much I could take.

My empire of dirt

There’s a song by Nine Inch Nails, called “Hurt.” The lyrics go like this:

I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.
I focus on the pain… the only thing that’s real.

It’d be really easy to dismiss this as the ramblings of a morose kid who grew up to become an idol for depressed teenagers, and that’s what most adults do. Kids do dumb shit, and as adults, it’s our job to explain away said dumb shit so that we don’t have to try to understand it. Dumb shit doesn’t require an explanation. It can simply be dismissed, because it’s dumb.

Why would pain have any value? Pain is real, sure, but so is the budget deficit, and we don’t want either of them in our lives. Pain isn’t “the only thing that’s real.” You know what’s real? This deadline. These bills. The fact that we haven’t done our Christmas shopping yet. Oh, and the Patriots game.

This is what we tell those whiny teenagers. But interestingly, it’s what we tell ourselves, too.

So what if you hate your job? It gives you genuine security. You can keep a roof over your head. You can even buy that new plasma TV you’ve been wanting. So turn in your work on time. Listen. Advance. These things are real, and important.

But if you think your deadline is real, go out in the woods and get a grizzly bear to chase you. Which of your pressing concerns seems more real now?

If you think your job is real, get cancer and be given six months to live. Then see if you give a fuck about your job.

The fears that come with your job, your finances, or your social standing are fears of things that aren’t real. If you lose your job, life will go on. This isn’t the way it used to be with the objects of our fears. Used to be, we were afraid of being eaten by tigers. That was a legit fear. You get eaten by a tiger just one time, and things change dramatically for you.

In first world societies, we’re not really in danger anymore. Sure, you can still get hit by a car. You can get a disease. You can get shot. You can get home-invaded or robbed or raped. But comparatively, today, true threats are almost nonexistent. Cave people got a cut and it got infected and they died. They twisted their ankle and lost some of their speed and died. They drank bad water and died. Food became scarce, so they slowly starved and died.

Those things don’t really happen much nowadays, but we’re wired to fear pain. So to compensate, we promoted the things we found moderately unpleasant to “pain” status and began fearing those things instead.

Stress. Discomfort. Awkwardness.

We used to make the choice not to cross a plain based on fear of the pain of being eviscerated. Today we make the choice to not start a new venture based on fear of the pain of failing.

We started saying things like, “This stress is killing me” and “Those people are exercising themselves to death!” and “I was so embarrassed, I could have died.”

That’s not pain. That’s not true discomfort. That’s not the peril to life and limb we evolved to avoid.

We’re not the fragile beings we’ve been trained to think we are. We’re not as weak (of body, of mind, of will) as we’ve hypnotized ourselves into thinking. But the only way to truly learn that — and to open the entire spectrum of human experience we’ve buried beneath the shiny veneer of modern existence — is to meet our own personal limitations and boundaries head-on.

It’s ironic. Letting yourself experience what you most don’t want to experience is the only way to truly be human.

What’s real?

Think about how we live today.

We live in television and on the internet. (I’m scorning neither and I love both, so there’s no finger-pointing here.) Sometimes our friends are people we only see once or twice a year, who we might have physical contact with only half a dozen times.

We go from place to place very quickly without having to wear down our shoes or the soles of our feet, thanks to fast cars and fast trains and fast planes.

We spend a lot of time accomplishing very little. The work of a human life might be the movement of one set of papers or one group of numbers from one location to another.

We have kids, but then we go to work and they go to school (so that they can later go to work, thus closing the circle). Often, our lives cross only briefly, like ships in the night.

We’re shaped by fashion and consumerism. Instead of desiring and chasing food, we desire and chase iPads and iPhones… present company included.

We check email and social networks compulsively. Are we lonely? Or are we just looking for some urgency that we can pretend matters — a surrogate for the survival requirements we used to spend our lives pursuing, but which are now handed to us?

We have fast food. We have video games so real you could step into them. We have reality TV that isn’t very realistic, so that we can vicariously live the lives of Jersey kids and celebrities. And even though we may never visit Australia if we live in New York, we can video chat with Australia, live, for free, whenever we want.

Old-fashioned, unfiltered reality worked for a while, but it was untidy. It was really time-consuming. It had some great positives, but it also came with some shitty negatives.

Move over, reality. Now there’s Reality 2.0.

The good old days

Used to be, things were different.

Used to be, you had to be strong, fast, and smart to survive. That was how evolution proceeded. Those with an advantage leading up to reproductive age passed on their genes, so humans got stronger and faster and smarter.

Then we started getting so smart that our bodies didn’t have to evolve quite as quickly to keep up.

We stopped needing to be strong when machines were invented.

We stopped needing to be fast when chariots, buggies, bicycles, and cars were built.

We no longer had to hunt for food. Others created food in such surplus that certain populations would never want for it. We even manufactured cheap superfoods that were so calorically dense, the poorest among us ended up being the fattest.

Even battling your enemies can now be done largely with the push of a button.

We found a cure for pain. A cure for sleeplessness. A cure for emotional upset. Some cures were medical, and some were behavioral. A cigarette could cure nervousness. A trip to the mall could cure sadness. Eating could cure fear. Drinking could cure shyness.

And that’s all fine and dandy until you realize that we’re hard-wired to experience all of those so-called “negative” things.

A lot of people today, they like to ride roller coasters. As time goes on, roller coasters get bigger and faster. The logical explanation for this is that progress must march on, and a bigger and faster roller coaster is the next logical step, but I think it’s because as our lives become less and less genuine, we require bigger and bigger thrills to scare us, for just a moment, into feeling human again.

Horror films get more and more frightening for the same reason. Those stop-motion sequences of Japanese kids in movies like The Ring? Holy fuck. I don’t need an iPad anymore; all that matters is that you keep those things away from me. Or the breed of intensely grotesque movies that started with the likes of Hostel and Saw — nothing supernatural about those at all, just stuff that could actually happen via ordinary everyday evil. Those movies were huge hits because the more you can feel yourself as being there, being in it, the more you realize, for just a little while, that what your neighbor thinks of your car is irrelevant.

This is the society that embraced Fight Club.

This is a society that spawned real-life fight clubs.

We all go about it in different ways and succeed to different degrees, but every one of us has a part inside us that wants to feel discomfort, because it’s visceral. It’s human.

Remember what Agent Smith said in The Matrix?

Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program; entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. That perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrums kept trying to wake up from.

We’ll never create a utopia, because it’s impossible to define good without having bad to compare it to. There is no pleasure without pain. There is no Heaven without Hell.

The more we try to eliminate the negatives in life, the more we consequently eliminate the positives.

Modern society has tried very hard to be safe and secure, to keep us in the soft and protected center of our experience spectrum, and away from the perilous edges.

The problem is that the edges are where all of the really good stuff is.


The way to expand your joy is by expanding your capacity for discomfort and failure.

We spend all our time trying to insulate ourselves from negative sensations and emotions, and we end up stunted on both ends. If the experience of modern life feels dim and muted to you, you’re not alone. We’re seeing the world through a protective wrapping. The reason people seek out extremes is so that they can, for once, truly experience something that they know is unblunted and real.

This is a legit sociological concept. It’s called “edgework.” (And thanks again to Julien Smith for introducing me to the concept.)

There are two sides to every coin. If you want to experience real emotion, you get the gamut. If you experience a level 8 emotion in one area, you get access to all emotions at level 8. And if you seek out a negative experience at level 8, you master it. Fear doesn’t blindside you because you went after it. Pain doesn’t overwhelm you because you went into it willingly, step by step. If you wanted to back off, you could have.

Whatever level of discomfort you reach, you reach deliberately. You’ve met the negative head-on, on your own terms. You own it, and you’ll own it forever.

And your world gets bigger. Your spectrum of experiences broadens in all directions — positive and negative. We don’t grow in a line. We grow in a sphere. If you master X, you get access to Y. That’s how it works.

We seek out edges so that we can reconnect with who we really are.

We are not averages and statistics.

We are not the upper, middle, or lower class.

We are not citizens, or constituents, or the governed.

We are not megaplex Christmas shoppers.

We are human.

Tick… tick… tick…

A few months ago, I wrote a post that part of me wishes I hadn’t written.

It was called “The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You,” and it was exceedingly popular. It went viral and got me a lot of attention, and it might just be the best thing I’ve ever written. But it came with a price.

The price is that I didn’t just write it. I read every word of it, over and over and over and over. I lived it. And so now, every day, almost without exception, I’m hideously aware that the clock is ticking. We all get older. We never get younger. And we all know this, but think about it. If you’re 30, do you look back longingly on your 20s? Good. Because they’re over. They’re fucking OVER. You’ll never be there again. Never. This is also true of the age you are now. You have exactly one chance to enjoy it… and then it’s gone.

I guess my new intense awareness of time is a gift. I guess it means that I know not to sweat petty details or to waste time. A lot of people haven’t figured that out yet and continue to squander what few days, weeks, months, and years we’ve been given.

I just watched the movie In Time which, in spite of being a ripoff of Logan’s Run, was still pretty entertaining. In it, the currency is time. The more time you have, the longer you live. When you go broke, you don’t move into a box in an alley. You just die. And that’s a great premise for a sci-fi movie, where you could live each day in a terrifying struggle to earn a few more minutes or hours, but that’s how we live too. You could punch out tomorrow. Nobody knows.

Every day now, I wonder if I’m spending enough time with my family. If I’m having enough fun. If I’m enjoying my work, and if I’m making a difference. I feel like a man who’s been given a death sentence. I’m not kidding. Someone asks me to spend an hour doing something stupid and I resent it. That’s an hour I won’t get back.

What are you doing with the time you have?

Are you watching life through a protective bubble? Are you afraid to leave that bubble, to feel the true pain of effort, of exertion, of something that you’ve never dared to try before? And as you succumb to your fear of the unreal, do you have to settle for experiencing fake joy, fake excitement, fake victory?

Life isn’t meant to be lived through a filter. When you walk into pain and discomfort willingly, and you feel it, unblunted, you know you’re beyond the filter. You know you’re finally experiencing the real.

I don’t know about you, but if I only have so many years here (we’re all born with a terminal disease, after all), then I want to experience the real.

Don’t be stupid, but test your boundaries. Do what bothers you. Do some things that hurt. Let yourself be afraid, and uncomfortable, and at your limit. If you’re scared of something, dive in the next time you experience that fear and revel in it, sampling it like a rare delicacy. Look at everything you’ve been trying not to feel and say, “Let’s try this on for size.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to see what’s out there in the world. And within limits, within reason, I don’t mind if it hurts.


  1. Mars Dorian says:

    wow wow wow, your writing just got so much better – “edgework” – I luv it.
    The idea is ass-kicking, and although we all share that terminal disease, it’s still like abstract and far away principle especially if you’re fairly young and healthy.

    I must lean more into what’s uncomfortable but good in the longterm sense. This beast of uncertainty – I must SEEK it out and slay it, every day, bit by bit.

    • Johnny says:

      All I know is that I’m not sure how I got to be 35 already, and my dad is almost 70. That just freaks me out.

    • Maria says:

      Hi Mars (+Johnny!),

      I recently became familiar to Dr. Brene Brown’s work on shame. She talks about how our ability of connection lies in our vulnerability and that by muting our “bad feelings” we also mute their equivalent feelings on the happiness side! Google her if interested.

      Johnny that was an amazing article. Loved the Matrix excerpt too. I think I have to watch the movie once again.

    • ME says:


  2. the muskrat says:
  3. Johnny,

    I often find myself, at the end of your articles, at a complete loss for what to say in response (which is rare for me).

    You consistently floor me with your adept grasp of reality and how to view the world and I lament the fact that I haven’t been following your blog for some time.

    With recent devastating upheavals in my life and an immediate future that has found me on a “painful” path through uncertainty (a divorce, among other things), your words have provided me a different viewpoint on the way forward. I shouldn’t worry about fearing the future that is barreling down on me, but embrace the discomfort and everything that comes with it so I can definite grow and move on in life.

    Thanks again mate, for a lot. Your posts always inspire me.

  4. Caylie says:

    Great post Johnny! Love the Matrix quote and the many examples of how we’ve become soft. Our “pains” are not really pain at all.

    Interestingly I was actually asked in an interview yesterday whether I like getting out of my comfort zone. The interviewers were surprised when I answered no. Explaining myself I pointed out that I don’t think anyone likes getting out of their comfort zone but I do believe in and value lifelong learning. In order to achieve this I have to push myself out of the comfort zone. Yes it causes my “pain” so to speak but if it was meant to be easy to leave it wouldn’t be called the comfort zone.

    Keep the awesome posts coming!

    • Johnny says:

      Good point. It’s not fun, but that’s half of the point. You’re uncomfortable, you grow, and then maybe you can enjoy that thing. But if you enjoy it fully, it’s not out of your comfort zone.

  5. Am intimidated to write back, since it shall be pithy in comparison with the fabulous heft and challenge you’ve laid out, but I shall love my edgework.

    Johnny, you are a fuckin’ gem. Your call to action to “wake the fuck up and LIVE” inspires me daily, and shows up in so many ways in how you live and in your work.

    Smiles on my face that you have become the thought leader that you have always been.

    • Johnny says:

      It is a call to wake up, too. I can’t say I’m loving this ticking clock sensation, but it does make me enjoy everything else a bit more. I hope more people come to realize it now, rather than at the end of their lives.

  6. Steve Roy says:

    This is an incredible post. One of the best I’ve read in a long time! I could write a whole post about this post, but I will leave it at this: life is SO fucking short and until we fully understand this concept and embrace it, how can we truly appreciate it?

    • Johnny says:

      I don’t know… the last step for me is to figure out how I can embrace even the sensation of time slipping away, or at least come to grips with it. I’m still looking for the big answer, the secret to life. Anyone have it ready for me?

      • Brian Doe says:

        There is some useful information on that topic here:

      • Brad says:

        My idea of the “afterlife” isn’t about where you go, but what you leave behind. Just looking at these comments tells me how much you’re helping to shape the thoughts and lives of your readers. Many of them will outlive you. Those people talk to other people. Many of them have or will have kids. Your time is growing, not shrinking.

        • Johnny says:

          Wow, this really made my day. Thanks, man.

          • elaine says:

            When you get to your oh, late 40’s you’ll start to, well, maybe not come to grips with the fact that you are terminal, one way or another, but more that there is a realization, and with it a serenity will encompass you, and you won’t get the anxiety like attacks concerning time running out.

            This serenity has nothing to do with what you have or haven’t accomplished. Absolutely nothing to do with organized religion in any form. This has even littler to do with success or the lack there-of, it has everything to do with knowing, that no matter what you do or don’t do, nothing can change the ticking – clock.

            You come to appreciate the small things, (warm fuzzy socks in winter, hot coffee made when you wake up.. ) , and you find out that you’re content with a roof over your head, and food at meal times, and that this is living. That there really is no profound “reason” that you were born, that life is just life, with all the good and all the bad. Pushing those boundaries is an adrenalin rush, and as quickly as it comes and defines those profound moments of your life it is gone again.

            We come into this life kicking and screaming, and we go out of it in much the same manner, gasping for every breath we take. What makes a person think everything in between should be any different?

            there that’s speaking my mind eh 🙂

          • elaine says:

            btw, I loved your article, truly one of the most “honest” works of our time.

          • Johnny says:

            Thank you!

  7. Wow JBT, awesome post as usual! Man, I just had a coronary because of a plugin redirect that I installed on my blog screwed up my posts. I thought that I was in “real trouble”, in which I wasn’t.

    Was I subconsciously trying to create pain because life was going too good for me? Probably.

    Back to reality and time to unplug from the Matrix for a while because my head is spinning. Thanks for the wake up call.

    • Johnny says:

      That probably falls under “you’ll look back on this and laugh,” when it’s not fun at all at the time. I don’t know if you created some pain, but I do think it’ll help you look at it in perspective. Spend most of your attention on what matters, and all that.

  8. Marc says:

    Dude. You just wrote the article that I’ve been thinking about writing for the last 5 years. The problem is … I can’t write … no … it’s not that I can’t write … it’s that I don’t have the patience … or something.


    I’m blown away. So many times I’ve thought about why all these “yuppies” do marathons or triathlons or whatever. It’s all about getting back to what’s “real”. We’re meant as a species to struggle to survive. These are the ways to feel the pain that our ancestors felt … just to survive. The problem is, they don’t realize it. It’s just a bragging right. It’s instinctual. (That’s the sad part … but that’s another post.)

    Anyway, great post. I know I’ve given you shit before, but this one “resonated” with me … as much as I hate that term.

    • Johnny says:

      Yeah, and I do have the finisher’s medal for my marathon on my shelf. So I’m proud of finishing, and I’m proud of the rest, but I really don’t think that’s why I did it.

      A lot of this is self-examination, not speaking from the perspective of having figured it all out. After all, like I said, I watch dumb TV sometimes. I badly want an iPad… and not even an iPad2, but am jonesing for the 3 when it comes out. And that modern medicine thing? I’d be dead without it, seeing as I’m diabetic. The things that have softened us help me every day. So I guess it’s about finding the balance… or at least understanding why we do some of the things we do.

  9. Jean Gogolin says:

    They’re right. That was an awesome post.

    At 72, I understand that we’re all under a death sentence in ways that wouldn’t have been possible at 30 or 40. In a way, it’s one gift of age. It makes the preciousness of life that much more acute.

    Your triathlon made me think of my husband, who was an athlete all his life. He came out of a cotton mill town in Alabama to be the first in his family to go past 8th grade. He was a Little All American in college and went on to get his doctorate. He ran 14 marathons after he was 50, including 4 Bostons, with a personal best time of a little over 3 hours. He was never not in shape.

    But at 73 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He — we — lived with it for 9 years. He was enraged that his body had let him down; that there was no way to beat this final adversary. He died last February and it was sweet relief.

    You’re right to see how far you can push yourself. None of us knows how long we’ll have the chance.

    • Johnny says:

      As much as a story like that sucks and I feel for both of you, I think it’s also an excellent illustration of how little we can take for granted. And while it’s a total cliche, the end message really is that we need to “live for today” and sieze the day” and all of that. The trick is turning those empty platitudes into things you actually do each day.

  10. Sjoerd says:

    Awesome, awesome article! Your writing really is just getting better and better.

  11. John says:

    Wow. I think this is your best work yet. It makes me really resent the over 17.5 hours of meetings I’ve already been to this week. I feel like I should re-read this post every month or so for a reality check.

  12. Linda says:

    This is some real powerful shit…

    Pain. It’s unavoidable for sure. The problem (as you so eloquently mentioned) is in the quest to avoid discomfort, which only prolongs the pain and deepens the anxiety.

    That line about compulsively checking the electronic device–yeah, that’s me, as pathetic a habit it is.

    True that re: resenting those tasks, requests to do the petty stuff. Unfortunately, to quote a famous quote (HDT), “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I accept some of the ticky-tacky stuff I have to do, and cherish the quality time I get to spend with others.

    Thanks for the reminder: when I’ve worked with older adults (psychotherapist) not spending enough time with their children is #1 on the regrets list.

    Time to get edgy!

    • Johnny says:

      The thing is, I don’t know that you can micromanage either. Sometimes, I suspect you just have to do something idiotic or watch some stupid TV show for the hell of it. But since the scale is so commonly tipped toward doing things mindlessly, I’m happy if we can tip it back the other way…

  13. Mike Drips says:

    I’ve been in France.
    Spent too much time in bed with The Other Voice.
    I’m back.
    You know the drill.

  14. Keith Moyer says:

    Awesome Post/Article. At 39 I have recently just began thinking more about my own mortality. It seems to have just hit me out of the blue. We all know that we have limited time here, but at some point the mathematical reality hits you…at best you may only have X years left. And it never seems long enough. It leaves more questions than answers…but, I have decided to do my best to live every moment. To leave my children with an indelible image of who I am. And maybe, just maybe, I might get to live long eenough to know my great grandchildren.

    • Johnny says:

      What sucks is that if our time wasn’t limited, it’d be kind of meaningless to live a full life. The truth of scarcity can be a bitch.

      • Keith Moyer says:

        Exactly. If our tiime wasn’t limited, then it woulld not be important. I recently saw a news report that a scientist had isolated a gene string in worms that when masked allowed them to live around six times their normal life span. This sounds pretty freakin cool, but does open up a lot of questions. What if we lived to be 450 years old? How would that change our daily lives and our long term plans?

        • Johnny says:

          Yeah, there’s a whole field of research on this. I’m rusty on the science but I seem to remember it having to do with telomere shortening… i.e., if you interrupt the process, you extend life.

          Little-known fact: in the body, death is as important as life. It’s actually important FOR life. Programmed cell death (apoptosis) is a hard-wired mechanism that removes cells that are no longer contributing, but are getting in the way or otherwise are due to move on. In order for the greater organism to live on, cells must continually die. (One of the things that happen when this fails is the development of tumors — unrestrained “life” of cells that don’t want to die… and so end up killing the whole system.)

          What if we consider a single human life as a part of a larger organism? If you do, death starts to make more sense.

  15. The Universe is amazing. From chaos it creates order and from order back to chaos.
    Our lives are amazing journeys and we couldn’t appreciate their greatness id we didn’t surpass our limits and circumstances.

  16. Hey, Johnny,

    WOW WOW WOW! Thanks for an incredible post that couldn’t have reached me at a better time.

    At 42 I am learning to surf – and I’m terrified of the waves. I quit my job and am moving to Bali to start a blog/ travel biz, and I’m SCARED SHITLESS (even blogged about being scared shitless).

    I love the idea of “edgework” – pushing that envelope of comfort in order to experience discomfort of some sort. I’m living there right now. I know it will have a payout.

    You’re the bomb. Keep writing kick-ass posts that inspire us to live our dreams!

    • Johnny says:

      I decided to take up gymnastics when I was 32. I’m 6 feet tall and was over 200 lbs at the time.

      Sensible? Not at all. But I still think it’d be awesome to learn to skateboard.

      • Yeah, I took up skateboarding at 32. It was an ugly scene punctuated by several concussions (helmet on). Bad-ass, yes. Advisable, no.

        • Sonya says:

          Way to go trying out something at an older age! I am doing it too. This year I turned 40 and pierced my nose. I am also going to try out for Roller Derby (note I said TRY OUT)…it just keeps getting better every year! Fantastic post, thank you!

  17. Heather says:

    Johnny, loved this entire thing….but especially your comment, “Someone asks me to spend an hour doing something stupid and I resent it. That’s an hour I won’t get back.” I pretty much refuse to spend time doing anything stupid or going to dinners/parties/drinking nights where I think the majority of people are douchey or moving through life like lemmings. What’s the point? And since I started conscientiously spending my time only doing things that are awesome (with the odd hour of Walking Dead on TV snuck in) my life has become exponentially more awesome. I’m so much more able to live in the now because I’m rarely thinking “Oh jesus, I wish I were somewhere else”. Thanks for this excellent post.

  18. Kate says:

    Brilliant, as usual. I’m not sure how I’m going to use it yet. I think I need to live with the concept for a little while first.

    For an interesting alternate perspective on the Nine Inch Nails song, try Johnny Cash’s version-especially the video. It is amazing.

    • Johnny says:

      I actually included mention of Cash’s version in several earlier drafts of this post. You hear this old legend, near his death, talking about “What have I become?” and it’s like a kick in the gut.

  19. Selena says:

    JBT, you just opened my eyes to a whole lot of stuff! Every time I do a TRI, I wonder why I’m doing it. The pain is so real, but it feels so great at the end. It’s because I’m competitive and like to push my body. But I realize that pushing my body to its limits IS living life fully (for me).
    I push myself in everything I do, which causes problems in my marriage…but I feel that the one life we have needs to be lived in the ways that bring us (and God) the most JOY.
    The real trick: finding the balance
    As for the meaning of life…it depends on what you believe. If you believe that when you die it is the true end, then really the meaning is minimal. Why bother being a great person if we all end up DEAD. If you believe there is eternal life (I’m a Christian, so I do), then you spend your life trying to spread the word of love, joy, peace, and hope so that THEY may too join you in eternity. Do I walk around preaching the Bible, no, but I think everyone can find THEIR way to share the message.
    For me, it’s in my blog and in what I do to inspire others.

    Okay, I better stop 🙂
    Have an AMAZING day!

    • Selena, I love that you find purpose in inspiring and blogging.

      You also brought up an idea of something like… after-death destination 🙂

      My 2 cents:

      “It’s the journey not the destination” basicaily means that it doesn’t matter WHERE we end up 😉

      Let the journey be fun, now. 😀

    • Johnny says:

      Totally. Unfortunately, I haven’t answered all of the big questions for myself. But it’s only a matter of time before I know it all, right? 🙂

  20. This touches on some very key concepts.

    1. The power of pleasure (pain)..

    2. Growth lives on moving towards the edges

    The reason these resonate so well, is that they are talking about to of the most primal things in the universe.

    Pleasure and expansion.

    Every human being adores both, and couldn`t stop adoring it if they tried 😛 (At least for now :D)

  21. Johnny,
    Something revealed to me after I read this post. Something deep in my own little life. This “fake” existence, this dream I’ve been trying to sleep into, is not real. You cannot escape human condition and why would you want to… You Johnny gave me a real tool for tackling my own inner demons and my occasionally bleak life. And I sincerely thank you for that. You have no idea how spot on this post was for me at this point of my life.

    But the weird thing is that I’ve already started to act. And this post came as if you read my mind.

    Now that you’ve helped me I like to share with you my own current project which requires me to endure a lot of discomfort or at least satisfaction. As it happens I’ve decided to go vegan full out. No meat of any kind, no milk products of any kind and no eggs. My reasons for doing this are though somewhat selfish. I just want to live longer and healthier.

    T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D and Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D have studied decades the impact of vegan food on human health. And the results are remarkable.

    Now Johnny if you want to live longer and want more of those days you value so much, I suggest you watch the documentary fork over knives and drop at

    I believe that this project would suit you perfect. Tell me what you think. And thank you so much for you insight.

  22. Brian Clark says:

    This is excellent companion reading to Julien’s “Stop being a fucking pussy” post:

    Nice work, JBT.

  23. Dudeman!! says:


    Content is powerful as always. I think i told you this before, but I see myself in a lot of what you do and talk about. Funny though because you’re significantly older than me.

    I disagree with the statement that the stress, social standing, and all the other petty bullshit we trouble ourselves over is NOT REAL. In my personal development I’ve come to understand that those ARE REAL…but that doesn’t mean that they MATTER.

    The scope in which you look at life through determines the relevance something has. All you have is today, and nothing really matters unless we make it matter.

    If I die then life will go on the same way it has. This is true whether I miss a deadline, piss off a few people, or die. In the “grand scheme” you and I don’t matter. It’s only when we use abstract criteria such as our legacy or “contributions to society” that we can make some sense of our purpose.

    I’m not religious or spiritual either so I can only use the measure of my deeds and legacy for others to determine how well I’ve lived.

    I know lots of people use some religious or spiritual measure of their lives, but like I said I don’t believe that is real, or relevant. Which is why alot of people would say that my goals are “material”…but I’d contest that everything in our lives are material…even abstracts like social standing, pain, deadlines, and the like.

    hope i made sense lol let’s hear some rebuttals!

    • Great response dudeman!

      When things get this ‘deep’ and metaphysical, words tend to fail, because our language has not evolved as far along as our abstract thoughts/feelings.

      For example, what is ‘real?’ To throw the word around and draw differences between something that’s real and something that ‘matters’ is interesting. Agreed upon definitions would help, no?

      Anyway, in regards to the spiritual thing:

      My whole position on life is that spirit + material are two sides of the same coin. They are the same thing. Pursue one or the other you reach the same point. 😀

      Jay-z, + Drake pursue material wealth, but their lyrics get ever closer to universal laws.

      Deepak Chopra pursues spirituality keenly, but his material empire grows.

      Food for thought. 😀

      • Dudeman!! says:

        Thanks Jason!

        Indeed, agreed upon definitions would be great but are seldom found. That’s why I have to be careful (as others should) on how i present my thoughts. Your first paragraph shows that you understand this well.

      • Johnny says:

        Yep, Jason’s thoughts largely are the same as mine. We need to define what “real” and “means” mean before we can say which is which. I suppose this is why I studied philosophy in college, and why my focus areas were epistemology (the nature of knowledge) and ontology (the nature of being and identity).

  24. Karen Putz says:

    I was lucky. I got a wake up call two years ago. Mine came from a 66-year-old gal on the Today show who was living the life I wanted. So I set out to pursue that life and woke up. For the last year and half, I’ve been playing and sweating on the water. My sport happens to be one filled with a heck of a lot of pain (barefooting and crashing at 40+ mph) but I have never felt so freaking alive. At 46, I’m doing stuff that I couldn’t have imagined as a teen. Two weeks ago I learned to barefoot backwards on one foot with no hands. The problem with most of us, we accept the status quo and we don’t challenge ourselves. We don’t stop to think about the time we drivel away mindlessly. I’ve ditched the friends who are downers and I went back to doing meaningful work (with families w/ deaf and hard of hearing kids).
    About the marathons and the triathlons that you did– you can look back with pride and say, holy crap, I did that. Life is about moments like that.

    • Johnny says:

      Yes, from what I know of you, you’re definitely living this philosophy!

      But I should clarify, too, in my opinion, that it’s not about being EXTREME so much as deliberately choosing what you want to do with your time and doing it regardless of how hard or unpleasant it can sometimes be. So for you it might be barefooting and for me it might be endurance activities, but for some it might be… I don’t know… doing really hard knitting in front of pro knitters who laugh at you and your piddling talents until you improve.

      That’s a fun mental image.

  25. Sean says:

    Yet another sobering pants kick.

  26. John says:

    There is so much GOLD in this post.

    This idea has been morphing into my philosophy over the last few months. Go and do cool shit, and if it all goes wrong, that’s fine, just go and do something else. It’s the philosophy where failure is an error in definition. There is only feedback. There is only experience.

    It’s probably one of the biggest reasons I like to travel. In the Western world, especially in cities, unless you really push yourself, it’s very easy to fall into a routine and avoid all these “feedback” experiences. It’s too easy to get comfortable. While in a foreign country, there are new and sometimes scary experiences on a daily basis. It’s flipped. You have to try harder to avoid growth and doing wild shit travelling.

  27. Ed says:

    Hey, Johnny. It’s really hard not to be a fan of you. You are doing a great work. Inspiring.
    Thanks a lot.

  28. Jairo Ortiz says:

    Hi Johnny, What your wrote is thought-provoking. You do have a way with words and a legitimate approach to life. You may also want to check out Coffeeman’s blog. You two have something in common,i feel you write for the same cause.


  29. Erica says:

    I was in Alaska a few years ago, and it was really interesting to be in a place that could nonchalantly kill you if you weren’t careful. I’ve had the same realization a couple of times in the depths of a Wisconsin winter, but it’s a rare thing in modern life to feel that the price of stupidity (or simply lack of adequate preparation) could really be death. I too migrate toward the edges, though I’m not sure that I’d want to live there all the time. (I like the luxury of my modern life, that lets me go without wondering if I’ll make it through the day.) I think it is useful to visit the edge once in a while, though. Self-reliance and responsibility are useful muscles to keep in shape.

    • Johnny says:

      Of all things, I remember watching “The Perfect Storm” when I was in a pretty shitty set of circumstances and feeling better. It was something about viscerally experiencing some of that “nature danger” you’re talking about. And I thought, “This that I’m going through? It’s nothing. There is some real peril out there in the world.”

  30. Christy says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s such a great blog because it’s so true. We often go through life trying to numb out from anything real. We’re scared of being cold or hungry when there’s a million ways to avoid that. In the process we become disconnected and lonely and hoping there’s something more.
    Life is short. Go live it. Have some fun. The worse thing that can happen is a feeling. Feelings are temporary. You can move through them.
    Say no to the cigarette, to the mall to the ice cream and feel the emotion. Live your life.

    Thank you!

  31. Hi Johnny, thanks for this. The one thing I don’t like about your writing is there is so much good stuff in it that I have to pause for a minute to figure out what to respond to.

    And here it is: A few years ago I jumped out of an airplane at 15,000 feet. Was it to impress the friend I went with? Yes. Was it because I was curious? Yes. But the real reason that I have hesitated to put in print? To prove to myself that I wanted to live.

    I did. I do.

    After my husband died, I kept putting one foot in front of the other, “marking it” as they say in the dance world. That was part of the healing process. But I found at some point that I had to make a choice about being here. And the joy that I have found since then is…worth it. So worth it.

    “The way to expand your joy is by expanding your capacity for discomfort and failure.”


    • Johnny says:

      You’re ahead of me. Skydiving is the experience everyone points to as “one of those things,” but I have yet to master my fear of that one. 🙂

  32. Your words are spot on. Thank you. Here’s to living a fulfilled life full of goodness, purpose and passion.

  33. Laura Gates says:


    Great post, I have been blogging lately on my edges, the latest one on Do What Scares You (like spending 3 hours with 22 convicted murderers or 3 days in the woods on a vision quest). And I just re-watched Brene Brown’s TED video on vulnerability which resonated with some of your thoughts here. I also just popped over to the Universe post and shared that with a bunch of folks. LOVE it. Thanks for your audacity. The world (and all of us, myself included) need a giant wakeup call.

  34. Burton Kent says:


    Any good books/reading about Edgework specifically?

    I’ve always thought extremes put things in perspective. I read folks who climb Everest or do extreme racing (like Eco Challenge) tend to get their divorce, quit the job they hate, etc. Any difficulty in life can make you a victim… or a victor.

    But your spin on this is a little different so I’d like to read more.


    • Johnny says:

      I wish I had recommendations, but I’d just be Googling around like you would. Julien introduced me to the term, and I tried to find a wikipedia page to link it to but couldn’t even find that.

      I’m sure there’s a ton out there, a Google search away. But I don’t have specific recommendations.

  35. As someone who sold their condo, rid themselves of most worldly possessions, and travels the US in her Honda Element — I TOTALLY LOVE THIS! I often say the reason I can experience the heights of ecstasy is because I’ve known the pit of despair. I love pressing my edges and expanding. I love that you are writing about this, and I love even more that is has a name, Edgework. Keep on rockin’ the the free world!

  36. Steve says:

    What is death, really? What is truth? Ultimately, human beings will never have the answers to these questions.

    • Or we already do 😉

      Death = transition / evolution / change.
      Truth = Strong thoughts / beliefs.

      These understandings work pretty well for me, but would never satisfy someone who needed some Static, Objective, Finitely quantifiable solution 😉

      Loving this post / discussion, and your contribution Steve. Definitely thought-provoking for me. Thanks man 🙂

  37. Rod Burkert says:

    Great message. Fantastic writing/writing style.
    Think I will subscribe.

  38. Awesome Awesome post…thanks for this and keep on writing more fantastic provoking pieces like this.

  39. Grizz says:

    This was an amazing piece. You’ve codified the things I’ve had on my mind, possibly for the better part of my life.

    I never question my own nature. I live with it. It may be a disorder. It may simply be human dysfunction in extremis. See, I wake up every morning expecting that I will not wake up the next. This has its positives. This also has its negatives. Imagine not putting energy into developing relationships and sabotaging practically every close relationship you’ve ever been in. This nature has kept me at arms length from the development of human relationships. It has kept me from developing to my potential. These are things I realize, yet I can’t help but to expect today will be my last. So I live. For today. With the full knowledge that one day I will be right. That tomorrow I will cease to be and any relationships I’ve built with the world will be broken.

    This places me often in the role of observer. Other times in the place of fearless interloper. I have a gnawing need for balance. Each day, I try to balance injustices but put forth no more effort than I can finish within one day. Like living in a groundhog day where each day is different but I am exactly the same.

    I’m ashamed and proud of my fellow man. We are so great, yet so insignificant. We are so good, yet so evil. I want to change the world for the better. How can I do that with only one day?

    Thank you for this food for thought.

    • Johnny says:

      This is the balance I want to find. You do sound to be at one extreme to me… it sounds awfully difficult to me to always live at the edge. But I want that awareness, and the trick is that I’d also like to just live sometimes. I’d like to watch dumb TV every once in a while. And I don’t want to feel in a panic for time constantly. I think this journey is what makes life so very interesting…

  40. I loved this post!

    I was recently duped into going to a haunted house by my boyfriend who pitched it as a SURPRISE! When I found out what the surprise was I was Super PISSED off. I’ve never understood paying to be scared by this sort of thing or by horror movies. I would think there are so many “real” things that people are terrified of — like doing what it takes to create the life they really want — why don’t they face their real demons rather than paying others to make them have a short rush of feeling.

    Much more valuable to feel all the feelings of being human when you are pushing and going for what you want. Live through what really scares the shit out of you. You will survive and that’s where the fruit is.

    I’m doing it now having just forgiven my dad after he abandoned us over 40 years ago. Never imagined that I would do it. Now my world has expanded and his has too.

    Thanks for your wisdom.

    • Johnny says:

      I think it can work both ways… sometimes, they’re experiencing surrogate demons (“safe” ones, because they’re undeniably not real), but sometimes it can be a wake-up call. It’s kind of like using coffee to jump-start your day vs. using it as an energy crutch for the entire day… y’know?

  41. Johnny, your writing gets better and better & totally speaks to me. You have given words to my thoughts and convictions. I don’t even konw how I found you on the Internet – but your posts are Awesome!

  42. Sarah says:

    I was reading “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was” by Barbara Sher and there’s an exercise in which she says to make a chart from one to 95 and write out for each year what you were doing and the major thing you learned… once you get past the present, it’s really fun to make up the things you will do each year, and it’s actually quite challenging to get that far. Of course, no guarantees that anyone is going to live to 95 or even until tomorrow, but it’s definitely helped me feel the pressure of the clock less and realize that there’s still time – not as an excuse for inaction but as a reassurance that I don’t have to do it all and figure it all out today. Cheesy, but I think it’s helping me learn to love the journey. Anyway… it made me think of this post.

  43. Brian Doe says:

    Edgework – I love it. Great post and totally inspiring. I have been stepping right up to the line and then turn into a chicken-shit. I am going to read this post many more times when I fall into the gap.

    • Johnny says:

      I wrote this elsewhere recently, but ultimately it just takes a leap. Feel the freak-out… then force yourself to do it anyway. I suppose starting small helps. Then it’s like gradually building a muscle.


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