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Getting There Is Also Your Life

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series Intermediate Angst

The journey of getting used to a language is so psychologically long that it can’t merely be a means to an end. It must become an end in itself. It must become its own joy, its own reward. And this perspective, this mental state, doesn’t require too much imagination or discipline or training to reach. Anyone who’s been on a road trip with friends knows: the destination is almost incidental.

Important things deserve restatement. TV news repeats the same unimportant (but urgent and scary) crap to you all day. Well, this is much more important than the news, so:

“If you’re going to spend most of your time experiencing rather than accomplishing, then perhaps it makes sense to focus on the quality of your daily experiences and not merely on the heights of your accomplishments. ” | Steve Pavlina

“…if you’re not satisfied with the little successes, you’ll never be satisfied with the big successes.” ~ Anon. (quoted by Barbara Sher)

“Success is how you collect your minutes. You spend millions of minutes to reach one triumph, one moment, then you spend maybe a thousand minutes enjoying it. If you were unhappy through those millions of minutes, what good is the thousand minutes of triumph? It doesn’t equate… Life is made of small pleasures…Happiness is made of those tiny successes. The big ones come too infrequently. If you don’t have all those zillions of tiny successes, the big ones don’t mean anything.” ~ Norman Lear


In my opinion the biggest obstacle while doing RTK is not the amount of colors or realizing that you must do it no-matter-what. It’s the approach. If you are anxious to complete the book soon, if you are keeping count of how many kanji are left, then you will have to suffer the pains of hell to really finish them. There’s a LOT of them. It’s a four digit number. Every kanji is a mere 0.04% of the total. It’s not gonna be a quick process, IF you await the end of it. It’s like boiling water: I don’t know about the other places, but in Italy they say that the water will take longer to boil if you stare at it expectantly. I’m amazed at how well this applies to your (khatzumoto’s) metaphor.

Just enjoy the trip. Forget about finishing the kanji. Do them every day, and get used to it. Feel the flavor of the chinese characters. Every one of them is extraordinarily beautiful. If you are a philosopher, you may even seek enlightenment in their ancient shapes. Eat them like they are a fourth (fifth?) meal in your day, necessary for your good health. While you do this, one day, when you are least expecting it (more or less) you will hit kanji #2042 (or 3007 if you want to). Then you will be unable to believe how fast you were. I know it because it happened to me, even though it took me 11 months to complete the book! (don’t worry, it will take you much less, I was just using too little impetus with the first 1000 kanji. I finished the second half in about a month (after finding this site, by the way))

True story: once, a journalist on a trip to Egypt met a desert Bedouin. The Bedouin was used to traveling huge distances in the Sahara with his camel, taking weeks at a time. When the journalist told him that in the West there were airplanes that could cover the same distances in a few hours, he answered, perplexed: “And then, what do you do with the rest of the time?”.

The time you spend while aiming at something, no matter how long it is, is still part of your life. There is no reason to not savor and enjoy it in relaxation like the rest of your days.

Incidentally, nacest’s Japanese is AMAZING now. Frankly, I think it’s better than mine 1 and I get confused for a Japanese person all the time on the phone and sometimes in real life 2 (“so, you’re from Okinawa, or…?”). Getting there is also your life. The journey is your life. That’s how big it is. Think of yourself as, I dunno, a roadie, a sailor, a traveller.

Which is not to say that you’re like Oswald Spengler’s Faustian man, doomed to not “get there” 3. Not at all. You will get there. Somehow. But in order to do so, you need to almost forget that there is a “there”. As far as you’re concerned, all that exists is your current point and your current direction.

Series Navigation<< Step Into the Sunlight, But Don’t Look Into the SunStart Dirty: Why A Clean Slate Is Bad For You and What To Do About It >>


  1. his writing style is more elegant and sparse, no self-referential clutter; he is a Powerpuff Girls to my Ren & Stimpy
  2. Despite ample visual evidence to the contrary…
  3. Some of Europe was feeling super emo at the time, and social custom required Spengler write a melancholy book in order to be “taken seriously”. You can write a pessimistic book and be wrong and most Muggles will still think you’re the shiz, cf.: Nostradamus, millennialist cults, anything that Paul Ehrlich has ever written.

  10 comments for “Getting There Is Also Your Life

  1. フレヂィー
    May 31, 2013 at 01:47

    Philosophically speaking, a great post! Lots of good points. It took me 1.2yrs to finish RTK1. I did it with a full-time job, wife, son, etc. After finishing 1/2 the book, which coincidentally seems about where most people have this epiphany, I just stopped caring for the end and holy shit did the end come, and fast! Just like, oh wait… nm.

    Sometimes, now, when I TRY and read an [Japanese] article, I struggle.
    When I JUST read an article, I flow right through it.


  2. Livonor
    May 31, 2013 at 05:32

    I realize something like that some time ago, what really matters isn’t what you do (the method, the techniques..) but what you think (your philosophy / mindset)

  3. Rou
    May 31, 2013 at 07:35

    “You spend millions of minutes to reach one triumph, one moment, then you spend maybe a thousand minutes enjoying it. If you were unhappy through those millions of minutes, what good is the thousand minutes of triumph?”

    This part intrigues me. It does so because I keep hearing stories of people who achieved success through pain and tears, usually either because someone (usually their parents) forced them to or they forced themselves. And often the story would end with them saying they wouldn’t have done it any other way.

    For example, I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – she forced her daughters from very young age to play piano and to learn to play as quickly as possible. Obviously the two of them became VERY good at it eventually. And while the younger daughter ended up rebelling against the training, they both said at the end that they were grateful for what their mother put them through.

    • Conor
      June 3, 2013 at 02:16

      I think part of that could be habit, it’s what they were used to, but I think it’s mostly the fact that the human mind by design seems to make the past seem better than it really was (unearned nostalgia is a very real thing). The way I see it, there are some things for everyone that we can do to make the journey itself rewarding, like language learning for us on this site. I doubt that these girls enjoyed the millions of minutes reaching their triumph, and I have my own triumphs that when I really think about it didn’t justify the unhappy road to them.

  4. Erik
    May 31, 2013 at 12:34

    Unfortunately with these success stories doubt starts to seep in for me. I sometimes get the feeling “sure THAT guy could reach fluency but what if I never get there? What if I’m the exception? After all I was never good with school / I have ADD / blahblahblah”. And over time it starts to wear on me a little, like it’s the elephant in the room I try to keep ignoring. I gotta say though a bit of my doubts have been eased with this series of posts. I’m at the intermediate stage myself and I can relate to pretty much everything in this series.

    • June 9, 2013 at 05:47

      If you’re aiming for “perfection” you’ll never get there because nobody is perfect. I am sure you don’t speak your native language perfectly either, so don’t worry. 🙂
      Maybe you can read manga already but you aren’t able to read books with ease yet. That’s fine, just keep using the language every day and don’t forget to have fun!

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