“It is a fundamental law of nature that to evolve one has to push one’s limits, which is painful, in order to gain strength—whether it’s in the form of lifting weights, facing problems head-on, or in any other way. Nature gave us pain as a messaging device to tell us that we are approaching, or that we have exceeded, our limits in some way. At the same time, nature made the process of getting stronger require us to push our limits. Gaining strength is the adaptation process of the body and the mind to encountering one’s limits, which is painful. In other words, both pain and strength typically result from encountering one’s barriers. When we encounter pain, we are at an important juncture in our decision-making process.” — Ray Dalio
I think I'm reading a lot of books that run on similar themes of late. About two weeks back I finished reading Steven Pressfield’s Put your ass where your heart wants to be — a book about the importance of sitting down and doing the work and being willing to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of your work (read my review here). Last week I finished reading Endure: How to Work Hard, Outlast, and Keep Hammering by Cameron Hanes. The books are of different genres but themes run close.
Endure is a memoir by Cameron Hanes about his bowhunting to success journey. It can equally be called a motivational manifesto on the importance of training hard, embracing pain, and friendship, finding your tribe, the importance of family, going the extra mile for your passion, pushing boundaries, and giving a little more each day in pursuit of passion and dreams. Cameron’s book is more on the practical side of doing the hard work.
The book comes with a foreword by Joe Rogan and an afterword by David Goggins and has a ton of excellent messages, follows a hero’s journey arc, and is beautifully written. However, it also suffers from repetitions and linearity. That said, overall it is a good read.
The book has a hero’s journey arc. Cameron starts as a young man without passion and thus any drive. At one point one of his friends invites him to bowhunting. It didn’t take long for Cameron to see and know his calling. The love was immediate. The rest of the book is about how Cameron’s passion for bowhunting eventually ends up shaping his entire life. The tale is real and relatable. When we find something that we love to do, it can change our life if we allow it a chance.
Cameron brings a kind of extreme intensity to bowhunting. He wanted to be the best bowhunters in the world. He trains hard. Bowhunting by nature is difficult. Going to the mountains and hunting animals is no easy feat. It requires physical and mental strength. Cameron not only makes sure that he hunts regularly, but he also makes sure he trains every day so that he can be the best at what he does. The book portrays him as a savage man who works very hard, is extremely disciplined, and never misses a day of training. He runs. He lifts weights. He keeps hammering. The hard work pays off. Cameron becomes not only one of the best bowhunters, but he also elevates bowhunting to a stature of a new athleticism. Apart from bowhunting, Cameron takes on running. He runs marathons and ultra-marathons. He runs 100 miles on endurance trails. All these extreme athletic feats turn him into a celebrity.
The intensity he brings to bowhunting sips into other areas of his life. He becomes one of the best performers at his work and tries to be a good husband and father. He becomes a fiercely loyal friend.
The story of Cameron provides some important insights into achieving success. The first takeaway is that we need challenges in our life. A challenge that we love. You can call it passion, calling, or whatever. We need a passion that challenges us. One of the problems of our time is that life is too easy. Most people live comfortably. Comfort does not suit humans. It makes us weak and mellow. For comfort, we give up challenging pursuits. Pursuits that can bring purpose and meaning to our life. But one can’t live without purpose. A purposeless life then brings about disaster for us. We get depressed. We get addicted.
Steven Pressfield has a fascinating observation. He says when we don’t do the work we need to do, when we stop pursuing our passion for various reasons, be it fear, lack of commitment, or dedication, it manifests in other ways. In the form of addiction, depression, and many other not-so-good ways. In the forward for Cameron’s book Joe Rogan says something similar. Rogan writes:
“Weakness haunts all men. All of them. I’m not talking about physical weakness, like being too weak to lift heavy things. No, I’m talking about the real weakness: weakness of spirit. Weakness of will. The inability to take action. That’s what eats at a man. [...]
Weakness haunts us all. The times we could have done more eat at your self-esteem. They rob you of your self-respect and diminish your belief in your potential. We’ve all had moments where we could have done more but didn’t. The true art of a full life is to minimize those moments when your inner bitch wins the battle and maximize your ability to rise and grind.”
When we fail to be the person we deeply want to be, our desires manifest in ways that are negative for us. For Cameron, there was a period of purposelessness when he was merely living. Then came the call. In the prologue of the book aptly titled Answering the Call, Cameron writes:
“Every epic adventure beings with a call. Rocky Balboa gets the invitation to box Apollo Creed for the title. King Leonidas from 300 refuses tosubmit to the messenger from King Xerxes and kills him instead, guranteeing a war. Will from Good Will Hunting gets to stay out of jail only if he answers the call to work with Professor Lambeau on math problems and attends therapy. My call came from Roy Roth.”
Roy and Cameron went to the same school. They were not close when in school but they knew each other well enough. Roy was a passionate bowhunter and Cameron used to respect him for that. When Roy invited Cameron to bow hunt with him, Cameron did not have a purpose and didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Cameron writes:
“At the time I was nineteen years old and going nowhere. I worked part-time at a warehouse earning $4.72 an hour and I attended a community college the other half of the time. I spent weekend mornings outside, trying to take photos of deer and elk, and the afternoons and evenings driking beer and doing nothing but listening to Hank Williams Jr. I was basically a small-town loser.”
The following year Cameron buys his first bow and joins bowhunting on the opening day of archery season in 1989. During this period he met some of the best people in the game and was truly inspired by their skills. In the following days and weeks, Cameron continued his pursuit of the hunt and finally succeeds after multiple failures. That’s the beginning of his love story with bowhunting that would eventually change his life. After realizing how bowhunting brings him alive and pushes himself to do his best, Cameron writes a few paragraphs down:
“I didn’t get another opportunity that day, but something was ignited inside of me. I had never had any real ambitions or goals for myself. But something changed. Now all I knew was that I wanted to kill a bull. So right after that first-day hunting debacle, I became obsessed and hunted for the next eighteen days straight, determined to succeed.”
Then he writes about the importance of finding your calling:
“Some people live their whole lives never finding their true passion. I was twenty years old when I first tasted bowhunting success and that marked the time I discovered my purpose. Suddenly I had something in my life to focus my energy on. I quit college and quit about everything else just to be able to bowhunt more. I’ll never forget where this journey began and how long it’s taken to hammer away at a dream. We all have to start somewhere.”
This is what Joseph Campbell defines as Hero’s journey where the hero heeds a calling and embarks on an unknown path. Per Campbell, our singular job on earth is to find our calling and follow it. When we can find our calling and master the courage to follow it, we live a full life, contribute to the world greatly, and live a content life.
But finding your calling is one thing and pursuing it is an entirely different matter. Because pursuing your calling means you have to suffer, sacrifice, endure, work hard, find your tribe and go through endless trials and tribulations. For the rest of the book, Cameron goes on to describe his journey. He talks about hard work, commitment, determination, spending time with the best, training hard, the importance of friendship, and almost all the popular success troves. Towards the end of the prologue, Cameron writes:
“We are all hunters in a sense, searching for a more meaningful life. Too many times the weight of this world becomes too heavy to carry through the mountains, so we turn back towards safer, more comfortable conditions. Too often we find ourselves waiting and wondering when success will find us. These pages provide the motivation to keep moving, to stay steadfast, and to be ready for that moment. [...]
For those of us not born with it, greatness is easy to give up on. There are countless excuses that keep people from going after an extraordinary life. But when we take on the challenge of pushing our limitations, we no longer see our limitations as barriers but as chances to work hard and buck the odds. In order to live a life marked by passion, tenacity, focus, and resilience, you have to simply keep hammering. [...]
A life well lived is not a print down a smooth track but a steady jog up a rocky trail. Even if you’re born a natural runner, the race of life involves preparation, perseverance, and a resistance to passivity.”
Cameron had a difficult early life that plagues children from many western families. The high divorce rate and single-parent families may be good for consumerism, but it is terrible for children and adults. His parents divorced when he was just a few years old. The separation of his parents deeply affected the young Cameron and continues to do so throughout his life. Cameron keeps talking about the separation of his parents throughout the book and how it affected him. In many ways, bowhunting and pursuit of extreme athleticism gave young Cameron an outlet to express the inner instability that he could not express otherwise.
This is a common theme in the lives of many great people. Their childhood experience fundamentally shapes their life. People coming from disadvantaged and poor backgrounds run after eternal security throughout life. The positive side of Cameron’s story is that Cameron not only suffered but also understood the cost of a broken family on the children. It appeared to me that he made an active effort to not make the same mistakes in his own life. The trace of his efforts to have a functioning family can be found throughout the book.
Young Cameron apparently needed an outlet to express his frustration and sadness. Bowhunting, running, and pursuing extreme exercises provided him with that. Here is a recount from his first year of school:
“When I attended Dunn Elementary, they had a jogging contest where we had a month to run as far as we could on our own time and keep track of how many miles we accumulated. I arrived on the school property early every day to run back and forth, from fence to fence, which marked the school perimeter. Doing this thirty-one times represented one mile. My first year of doing this, first-grade school year, I ran twenty miles in the jogging contest, and in second grade when I was six years old, I ran twenty-seven miles.”
The school awarded Cameron for his accomplishment. But at the same time, in my reading, it was also Cameron’s way of expressing his helplessness in a more healthy way.
A lot of the time we struggle with expressing our frustration, anxiety, sadness, and agitation in a healthy manner. We fail to find a healthy outlet. As a result, we give into depression, addiction, and self-sabotage. Cameron went through his share of that period of his life. To his credit, he discovered bowhunting at a critical juncture of his life which allowed him to channel his inner energy into something positive.
Cameron found his outlet luckily but I think we can try to find ours with intention. If we have struggles in our lives and if we have negative habits in our life, we should examine their sources and try to find more positive outlets to express them.
The second prominent trait from these early years of Cameron’s life is his respect and admiration for his parents. He was not close with his Step-Dad but he deeply admired his father who was a respected athlete in his own right. Everyone around Cameron also respected Cameron’s father Bob Hanes. It influenced Cameron positively. He wanted to impress his father. He wanted to make his father proud. And he wanted to do it using his athletic feat. While many people would complain that it pushed Cameron to pursue his extreme passion, I would say it has ended well for both of them. The chapter also talks about Cameron’s other hero Steve Prefontaine, an Olympic Gold medalist long-distance runner, who was a batchmate of his father. Growing up, Cameron saw these people as his heroes and he wanted to be like them. This has also positively affected Cameron’s life. It is always useful to have our heroes. People we admire and we want to be like. Finding your heroes can be a huge positive reinforcement in your life.
Cameron credits his early difficult life for making him tough. At one point in the book, he writes:
“I’ve become good friends with pain over the years as he’s with me on all my most memorable and rewarding challenges.”
In other places, he discourages using life challenges as an excuse for not pursuing one's dreams. Her writes:
“It is easy to use your childhood as a crutch instead of seeing it as a chisel. There are a lot of divorces out there, so that means a lot of kids come from broken homes. I always hear people say, “My family is so dysfunctional,” using it as an excuse for something. But it’s not really a valid excuse, because everybody’s family is dysfunctional in some way. There are so many crutches people want to use to justify themselves, but for me, you have to eliminate every single one of them. Get rid of all of them. Then tell yourself it’s up to you. What are you gonna do now that you’ve let go of those crutches?”
In another place, he explains why running does for him quoting Steve Prefontaine:
““Why run? is a question often asked,” Steve Prefontaine once penned in a high school essay. “Why go out there every afternoon and beat out your brains?... What is the logic of punishing yourself each day, of striving to become better, more efficient, tougher?”
“The value is in what you learn about yourself. In this sort of situation, all kinds of qualities come out —things that you may not have seen in yourself before.””
The chapter also pays attention to the challenges Cameron faces on his way to bowhunting greatness. For instance, his Bowhunting guru and partner Roy move to Alaska leaving him alone. This was a significant challenge for Cameron. He was not famous yet. He was not hugely successful yet and he lost the person who inspired him to come to the world of bowhunting. But Cameron didn’t give up. Initially, he tried to find a new partner by asking people he knew to join him in bowhunting but he failed to find a steady partner. He eventually comes to terms with going solo.
This section offers two lessons. One is about challenges you will inevitably face when you embark on your journey. Second, at times you have to learn to walk alone. He writes:
“I found a true passion and calling in bowhunting, and I found the perfect person to push me with it. But when Roy ended up moving to Alaska, I had to make a choice to either go hunt by myself or not go, because I couldn’t get anyone who wanted to do it with me. Of course, I went hunting by myself and I was comfortable doing this because I had grown up being independent and being on my own. Not by choice but just because that’s how life can work out.
Sometimes I hear someone give a familiar excuse when it comes to working out. “Yeah, I was lifting good, hard, in a groove, but then my partner’s work schedule changed, so he couldn’t make it.” What does that have to do with anything? Who cares? It’s not about somebody else. It’s about you.”
He then explains the upsides of relying on oneself:
“Being on my own made me tougher. It made me independent and allowed me not to rely on others, and to become a good problem solver. I had to use my imagination, because nobody else was there to use it for me and I became creative and resilient.”
Confidence, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome are some of the topics that Cameron touches upon and how he tackled them. Confidence is critical for doing important work. Unless you believe in yourself, you would not pursue a difficult ambition. You wouldn’t push yourself. You would not work hard. And often we don’t pursue our dreams because we suffer from debilitating self-doubt and imposter syndrome. It is helpful to learn that people like Cameron who have achieved so much also suffer from the same maladies.
He talks about two shades of confidence. One is our confidence in our calling — that the work we are doing matters and is worth it. Second, in our ability to do the work the best. Cameron writes in chapter two:
“Success starts with confidence. As I look back over my life, for most of it, I see an up-and-down journey, a never ending battle to earn “above average.” The passion has been there since my first bowhunting, but there have always been whispers of wondering whether it’s all worth it. There has been a target on my back, being judged by everything I say and do or maybe it’s just been my own doubt that magnifies the negative energy others put out there? Confidence is so tough to earn and so easy to lose. It almost does not seem fair, but once you have confidence, you begin to work hard, and that’s when you begin to find success.”
The chapter also discusses people he comes across during his formative years. His friend Donnie, his grandfather, his grandmother, and so on. People we come across in our life can change our life.
Cameron writes about his friend Donnie and his influence:
“Donnie and mostly his dad, Don, planted seeds inside of me for when I began to start running. His dad was a dang good runner: he broke forty minutes in the 10K, which isn’t easy. Donnie and I ran together and raced each other.”
He talks about his grandmother who offered him a safe shelter out of his turbulent home life. He writes:
“In the summer after my sophomore year, I found a safe haven at Grandma Heloise’s house. In between playing catch, haying, or swimming, on most days I would ride my ten-speed bike twenty miles to my grandma’s green house on 24th and Emerald in Eugene.”
Then he talks about his maternal grandfather:
“After my junior year of high school, I went to work at my grandfather’s ranch in eastern Oregon during the summer. Grandpa Bob, my mother’s dad, was a trainer of racehorses and he was tough. This was a guy who moved out on his own when he was fifteen years old, then joined the Army and served in Korea.”
All these characters were a good influence in Cameron’s life. Probably because of this early life experience with defining characters, he manages to find such people throughout his life who essentially pushed him and inspired him to be the best.
In a chapter titled Diving into a deep hole, Cameron draws on his lessons and tries to offer a perspective on how to deal with self-doubt and all that. He suggests turning the lens toward the future:
“As I began to get more involved with bowhunting, I began to ask myself new questions.
What if we threw out what people think about hunters?
What if we tossed away the stereotypes and semantics about them?
What if we invented the ultimate predator? What would that look like?
To me, it resembled a professional athlete, someone who focused on nutrition and who trained hard. Someone who wanted to break down their mental barrier so they could be stronger than they’ve ever been.”
The next few chapters focus mostly on training hard, aiming big, and overcoming average. Cameron does some extraordinary shit throughout. Here he writes about how he decided about pursuing a difficult challenge:
“Has a man ever done it? This was what Roy and I talked about. If a man had done it before—then we thought we could do it too. If a man had never done it, then there might be a chance we’d fail, but we’d give it our best anyway. We wanted to find the limit of what was possible.”
A few pages down, he writes about his approach to work:
“My success isn’t all about what I do. It’s also about what I don’t do. I don’t drink, fish, golf, play poker. We haven’t taken any family vacations. Nothing distracts me from being disciplined. Most people wouldn’t give up all I will. It’s as much about what I don't do as opposed to the daily work I put in. All part of being tunnel vision.”
In another place, he writes:
“The truth is that I’ve always worked really hard because I’ve never really felt like I had a ton of natural skills or talent. [....]
Not taking a day off is my only edge. I can’t just say, “You know, today, I’m not gonna run. I’ve sacrificed enough.”
That’s what everybody does. Everybody has an excuse. Everybody has a reason. You can always come up with a reason to not go after a challenge. So I’ve learned to never care what the excuse is. It’s never valid. That’s my attitude, and that’s my edge. It’s how I’ve built endurance and fostered resiliency. There are no rest days in my calendar. And that is the reason I excel.”
He then offers useful advice on how to build a work ethic:
“I’ve always been a hard worker, but that’s just the start. You can’t just have a work ethic: you have to earn it. Discipline and excellence aren’t something you can just think about and achieve. Decide to do something every day for a year. Whether it’s running a mile, reading a chapter, writing a paragraph, eating breakfast, or drinking a gallon of water: find something that will help you improve yourself and do it every day for a year. That’s how you build a work ethic.”
Two traits Cameron continuously talks about throughout the book and proposes everyone develops are the mindset of training hard and obsession. In his world, unless you are obsessed with doing your best, you will never go far. In many ways he is right. He writes:
“Try to make training as hard as possible and you will go a long way toward succeeding on those ball-busting hunts. I shoot my bow every day of the year anyway, but I believe the reps that really count are when I shoot after running an ultra or after a tough lifting session, when I am beat down, tired, weak, and mentally exhausted, much like I get on those long mountain hunts. I know if I practice putting the arrow on its mark when I'm feeling like this, I’ll be that much more proficient come crushing time.
People typically look for the easy way out, me included at times. The human body is capable of amazing things if we get out of our own way mentally.”
The book is full of extraordinary stories of endurance, working hard, marathons, extreme training, friendship and loyalty, love and loss, and much more. It is full of inspiring and heartfelt Quotables.
There are chapters where he writes about his father and the death of his father. There are chapters where he talks about his friend Roy and his death. But a common thread throughout the book is becoming the best you can be. I just covered a few chapters in this review, it is an inspiring read in its entirety.
My key takeaways are the followings:
1. Work hard to find your passion early in your life. If your life is difficult for various reasons, find a healthy outlet to put out your frustrations, anger, and depression. Take up a sport. Run. Read. Do something productive. Otherwise, your chance of going down the wrong road is pretty high.
2. Life is difficult. It is difficult for everyone. Everyone has a family story that is difficult in their own way. Everyone suffers from the tragedies of life. If you are alive, you have a story of loss — losing a loved one, a friend, or a family. Everyone has limitations. So don’t dwell and wallow in your sadness and suffering and use it as an excuse to go down the wrong road. If you want to go down the wrong road, there is no shortage of excuses.
3. Seek out people who push you forward. Push you towards your passion. Push you to be the best version of yourself and spend more time with them. It is always about the people we spend time with.
4. Learn to be self-reliant. We need people in our life. We need co-founders and partners but it does not mean you stop living your best when your co-founder or friend moves away. At the end of the day, we are all on a solo journey. Learn to depend on yourself.
5. Everyone has self-doubt, and regrets and everyone suffers from imposter syndrome. Move ahead regardless of these maladies. Find ways to deal with them effectively. Often the action is the best remedy to many of these psychological challenges.
6. Work harder than everyone else around you. Build the best work ethic. Don’t listen to or give your own justification for working less hard. Work-life balance is a myth. There is only life and our job is to live it as best as we can.
7. People who excel in life, work the hardest.
8. Make friends with people who are on the same journey of greatness as you are, people who push themselves constantly.
9. Embrace the pain. Training hard is painful. Working hard is painful. Rejections are painful. Unless you master pain, you will never progress.
10. Train hard.
11. Stay away from bad habits. What you don’t do is as important as what you do.
12. Push your limits. Pushing your limit is painful but that’s how you will learn the most about yourself.
13. Take personal responsibility for your life.
14. Values like family, friendship, and love are essential for a good life
15. We almost always underestimate our ability to endure. Often our pain tolerance is much higher than what we actually allow ourselves to go. We almost always can push ourselves harder than we usually do.
Endure is an excellent read. Although it suffers from repetition in places and from the limitations of taking something to the extreme, everyone has their way of seeing life. The book has tons of good stories and solid lessons and it is an easy read. Highly recommended.
Originally published on Sept 14, 2022, updated on May 2, 2023.