Willpower

Alex Gamcsik (’17)
Kay Spiritual Life Center
Thursday, January 29, 2015

Image courtesy of wordle.net

Joshua 1: 7-9 • Only be strong and very bold in taking care to follow all the Torah which Moses my servant ordered you to follow; do not turn from it either to the right or to the left; then you will succeed wherever you go. Yes, keep this book of the Torah on your lips and meditate on it day and night, so that you will take care to act according to everything written in it. Then your undertakings will prosper, and you will succeed. Haven’t I ordered you, “Be strong, be bold”? So don’t be afraid or downhearted, because Adonai your God is with you wherever you go.

I’m very nervous around you guys. I have no idea what any of you are talking about half the time, telling Bible stories and talking about Christian denominations I had never even heard of.

In an attempt to better understand your conversations, I started reading the Bible on my own. Later, I learned this was near pointless considering all the context and complexities I would not get from the text itself.

Anyway, as I was reading one quote caught my attention. At this point in the text, God was speaking to Joshua, who would take over for Moses as leader of the Israelites. He said, “I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you always.” It’s a motivating thing to say. Be strong and brave. I’ve got your back no matter what. This motivation gave Joshua the willpower to go out and conquer the land Moses himself was not allowed to touch. He used the willpower God had given him to fight in many wars. Although we don’t have an army to lead like Joshua did, we operate under the same willpower.

If you don’t believe me, look around you. Everyone here made a choice. They decided, “Today at 11 pm, on a weeknight, when I could be playing video games, hanging out with friends, or doing schoolwork, I will instead go to church.” Think about that for a moment. It takes a certain kind of decision process, the weighing of pros and cons, the effort associated with it that, which as you can see, not everyone on this campus possesses.

Whether it’s fighting a war, fighting for your GPA, or fighting to stay awake right now, we all need willpower. I want to show the extremes of how far this motivation can take you. To show that no one goes to church on Sunday because it is the easy thing to do. Neither is it easy to take the extra effort in class, to work through family troubles, or to confess your love to another.

Regardless of the difficulties, we do these things. It takes strength and determination. One of the fundamental questions of human nature, which I find most fascinating, is; where do we get our perseverance? I have come to conclude that for each person this answer is different. I feel like I don’t really know a person until I discover what motivates them. This is very difficult, especially since many people don’t even know where they get their own motivation. For me, finding that answer has taken a lot of consideration and deliberation.

The answer I’ve decided upon is that I draw my strength to persevere from Naruto, the anime and manga that I have been a fan of since 2005. For ten years I have been obsessed with ninja battles, character struggles, and themes of the show. Naruto has always been there for me. No matter how torn apart my life was, there was a new manga chapter every Wednesday. I tell people this stuff runs through my veins, because it’s who I am. I don’t think anyone understands why a Japanese cartoon would help drive a person to become more social, work hard in school, and exercise. But for me it did. Maybe it was the theme of perseverance in the show itself. The main character would never give up on his dreams, no matter how many times he was beaten down. Characters often “unlocked” their hidden potential through extreme physical endurance and enormous effort. Sometimes during cross country races I told myself I was unlocking my inner chakra gates, which gave me the strength to run even faster. Naruto gave me a source of constant and unrelenting power.

But let’s be honest. It’s not just Naruto. To say that one source of power is enough is an oversimplification of the human mind. Naruto inspires innumerable moments of temporary motivation. These moments include waking up in the morning or powering through a workout session. My disciplined willpower, which is persistent and long lasting, comes from the memory of one night three years ago. It was the single most important event of my life, it made me the person I am today.

First, you need to understand that I was in a rut back in high school. I had no real friends and very little confidence. I would get physically sick on the rare occasions that I was forced to socialize outside of school. But at the time when prom was approaching, I was desperate to find a date. Luckily, I had just finished my AP exams, SATs and SAT IIs within a two week period. Finally being done with those extremely difficult exams boosted my confidence. So I made a promise that I would ask this one girl out after math class. And as often as I break promises to other people, I always honor covenants with myself. So when class was over, I asked this girl “Um, can I talk to you for a minute?” When she asked what’s up, and I had a sudden feeling of foreboding. I should just lie right now, I thought. What the heck would I do if she said yes? I’d never been in a relationship before. I had no idea how to act, what to say, or what to expect in return. My body was totally out of shape, I wasn’t attractive, and I was quiet. What fun would I be in a relationship?

Now at this moment, something happened that I don’t fully understand. In my mind, I could picture my negative thoughts, which had taken on the form of a dark warrior. A warrior clad in black armor with a sword and purple smoke emanating from it. In contrast, my confidence took the appearance of a golden wall, shining from an unknown source of power. The warrior charged at my confidence, trying to break through the wall and prevent me from asking her out. But the darkness hit that wall of light and shattered into a million pieces as I said “I know this is kind of late, but do you want to go to the prom with me?” She said yes. I was enthralled. My world line shifted.

Long story short, prom happened. It was amazing in many respects, but I was still shy and awkward, not saying much the entire time. The night was filled with dancing and sugar. So much sugar. Between prom and the after-party, I had taken in over 300 grams of sugar. By the time I had to leave the after party, my pulse was erratic and I was breathing like a kid who had just run a 5 mile race. I had been planning to kiss my date good-bye, but I was debating on how I should do it. In the end I gave her a hug, then looked into her eyes, and then aimed for her cheek. Fireworks went off in my head, I was more surprised at my own daring than I had thought possible. That night I stumbled away, high on sugar and unable to understand what exactly was going on.

Trying to sleep that night was torturous. I was so hopped up on sugar that I couldn’t sleep. I rolled around crying as I held my pounding head. I asked a girl to prom? I danced with her? I kissed her goodbye? Was my life up to this point worthless? All I wanted was to kiss her again. To know that she liked me back. To know if I was going to sink back into my old life of loneliness or if I was going to have relationships from now on.

The next few days occurred in much the same fashion, crying in bed and in more pain than I had ever felt. At some point I wrote an entry in my journal, a list of promises that I had sworn to keep in order break free of my lonely life.

Those promises lit a fire that burned inside of me. At all times of the day I could literally envision a fire burning here, somewhere between my heart and my chakra center. It inspired me to run, exercise, and eat healthier, which helped me lose 15 pounds that summer. I was inspired to ask my friends to hang out outside of class, to the point that I lost the head ages and stomach pains I used to get at social events. I used acne products religiously, shaved everyday, and styled my hair until I was proud of what I saw in the mirror. After months of hard work, my fire was still going strong. I was no longer a lonely boy, but a man ready to take on the world. So I asked that girl out months later, for real this time. And she said yes!!! We were going to see a movie together! It was the happiest I had ever been in my life! All my hard work paid off. I had a social life, great grades, and now a girlfriend!

That was, until she stopped texting me back. Until I discovered she skipped our date to go out drinking. Until I called her after days of excruciating apprehension, when she told me that she never meant for us to be dating.

That week was a severe blow to my motivation. I felt like a starving dog on the streets who had been taken in to a loving home. But who was then thrown back outside to die in the rain. After that devastation, I could have stopped exercising. I could have stopped dieting. I could have stopped caring. But I didn’t. Between my newfound friends, and the everlasting foundation of Naruto, I found enough willpower to keep going with even greater persistence.

So I’ll ask you all now, why do you keep going? Where do you get your strength? For me the answer is Naruto and prom night. For other people, the heroics of Captain Kirk, or Katniss Evergreen inspire them to achieve. Or you could be more pragmatic. Is the chance for wealth the motivation behind your work? Is it your family, or the person you love, or all the friends who are relying on you? For many, the power of God and Jesus Christ are huge factors in their actions.

When life hits you until your knees break, you need a foundation to stand back up. When a girl’s rejection destroys your confidence again and again, when family members die one by one, and you are left to fend for yourself in an unforgiving job market, you need strength. Naruto ended a few months ago. By main power cord had been unplugged. My everlasting constant vanished. At the time I was concerned that I would not be able to find a new source of power. A new base that would inspire me to continue improving. But as I look around tonight, at (audience members) I know where I can find a new power source, a new reason not to give up, a new reason to keep going.

I ask you now to do the same. Find your inner power by taking chances. Ask someone one out. Say yes to new experiences. Make promises to yourself. Not weak resolutions bound by a New Year, but covenants with yourself. Promise yourself tonight, tomorrow, or whenever, to get up and do something for yourself. You will succeed, because breaking a promise to yourself is infinitely more disappointing than breaking a promise to someone else. You took the effort to come here tonight. Something is motivating you. Discover what that is, and use it as a totem to light the world ahead of you and carry you to planes of reality you never thought possible. “Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you always.”