Lessons from “A Knight’s Tale”

“A Knight’s Tale” is one of those movies that’s fairly middle-of-the-road from a purely technical and objective point of view, but off the charts in terms of pure entertainment value.

I rewatched it for the upteenth time recently, and one line in particular struck me, when the protagonist William first gets the idea to compete in jousting tournaments despite being a commoner. His friends immediately discourage him because, as he isn’t of noble birth, he would be severely punished if his status as a pauper were discovered. William, however, cannot be deterred, preferring to risk being found out rather than live out his entire life in poverty, barely scraping by. He asks his companions, “How did the nobles become noble anyway? They took it, at the tip of a sword. I’ll do it with a lance… a man can change his stars, and I won’t spend the rest of my life as nothing.”

To me, this attitude epitomizes the difference between people who are born disadvantaged and stay that way, and people who rise above their own circumstances and make something of themselves. Don’t ask for permission to be great. Don’t wait until society says it’s okay for you to succeed. If you’re born into a world that doesn’t think you’re worthy of your dreams, for whatever reason, that’s not cause to give up and settle for what they think you deserve; it’s an opportunity to prove them wrong. And yes, it will be hard. You’ll have to keep your head in the game, think one step ahead of others, show up early and stay late, metaphorically speaking. You’ll have to put in the hard work in situations where others are simply allowed to coast or ride on someone else’s coat-tails. It’s important to understand that, during this long and arduous process, you will almost certainly become bitter if you don’t actively work to avoid doing so. But don’t ever doubt that (a) you can, as William asserted, change your stars and live a life far better than society thinks you’re worthy of, and (b) upon achieving your dreams, you will, in fact, be far happier than those who were simply handed everything you spent countless hours earning.

Earn your fun

For the last month, I’ve been on short-term disability because of an injury at work. For the first few days, being off work and avoiding any physical activity that could aggravate my injury was a nice bit of relaxation. Within a week, however, I was starting to go stir-crazy. Two major parts of my routine—going to work and spending time in the gym—had suddenly disappeared.

 

I typically start my shift at 5:00am, and after just a week, I’ve found myself sleeping past 9:00 every morning. I’m not getting exercise, at least not the kind of strenuous exercise to which my body has become accustomed. I’m wasting hours a day on Netflix and Youtube. I’m eating like crap. And I’m getting paid to do it.

The point is, I’ve found myself doing what most people wish they could do: sleep in every day, watch TV, eat junk food, avoid exercise, and still get a check in the mailbox every other Friday, and I’m not enjoying any of it. I feel like a lazy, unmotivated piece of shit, because deep down I know that’s exactly what I’ve let myself change back into in less than a month’s time. When I was getting up early, busting my ass at work for eight hours, and then hitting the gym until I was drenched in sweat, everything I did to relax and unwind afterward felt deserved. I didn’t feel guilty about watching a movie on Netflix while having a dish of ice cream, because I knew I had earned it. So that’s my admonition for you today: earn your fun. If you don’t, your brain will know it deep down. If you take shortcuts and put fun before your responsibilities and your long-term goals, you won’t truly be able to enjoy itself. Some people think having a “cheat day” is a diet is a good idea, others don’t. But I think we can all agree that the whole idea of a cheat day is defeated if it’s not accompanied by six “non-cheat days”.

Punching in

I used to work seven days a week between two jobs. Work was my whole life. I woke up every morning, went to work, came home afterwards, and drank heavily until I fell asleep. And even though I was making reasonably good money, this was easily the least productive period of my life in terms of personal growth. A workaholic and alcoholic, I was going nowhere in a hurry—my hobbies had fallen by the wayside, my social life had all but disappeared, and I was more stressed and depressed than ever. The reason for this was simple: I was living under the very incorrect assumption that once I punched out and headed home, my work for the day was done. With that in mind, here’s your admonition for today: Don’t ever confuse making money with making progress.

Never forget that the reason we go to work is not to achieve personal growth, but to enable us to take the necessary steps toward it. We need money to feed ourselves, pay rent, put gas in the car, etc. But all of these things are simply the foundation required to build something of our lives. Money itself is a tool, not a result. It’s true that some people earn a living doing what they love, but these people comprise a relatively small percentage of the population. Obviously, that’s a fantastic goal to strive toward, but it’s sure as hell not going to fall into your lap.

The real work is not what you do to put money in the bank. The real work begins when your shift ends and you punch out. Hit the gym on your way home. Learn a new skill. Read books on things you’re interested in; if you can’t think of any topics which you’d like to read about, that’s exactly the problem you need to address. Spend quality time with the people you care about. And if you’re gravely unhappy at your place of employment, don’t resign yourself to it. Spend your free time thinking long and hard about things you’d like to do for work instead. Eliminate the things that aren’t feasible, take what’s left, and start working toward it, however slowly, in your free time.

Song of the day