There's a stereotype of a person that I feel like you don't see much these days. A lonely kid, intelligent but unengaged. Disconnected. They shirk responsiblity, sigh their way through school, and while they do care for things it's just quite enough to make up for the lack of everything else. Except, they have one hobby or interest keeping them going. Maybe even with a likeminded group of peers. They apply themselves to it with the burning passion of a thousand suns. Lacking a social life or academics to distract them, they push themselves and their passions to the limit, letting it take them where nobody has gone before.
I don't know if this is an entirely real archetype, but I find that the pieces fit. There are all sorts of different kinds of people who, from what little I know about them, basically fit this mold. Weirdos who become adventurers or explorers; world renowned for their abilities and, likely, for their strangeness as well. I find this to be a quite a romantic view of things, even if this isn't exactly how this always goes in practice.
On the other hand, some people devote themselves to something to fully - so intensely wholeheartedly - that's it's hard to think of any other
tragic backstory childhood experience that fits their sequence of events. I think skateboarders are a great example of this. They pick nearly impossible moves and devote themselves to learning until either their mind or their body is literally unable to go on. And, from what I've seen, it's almost never their mind. It's part of their culture, to give something their absolute all even when there's nothing left to give.
I think it's seriously one of the most physically impressive disciplines I've ever seen. And that goes double because there's no rules, little organization. They don't do it for money or fame, most of them couldn't. It's for the love of the game. It's just them, their board, and their own physical limitations to be conquered. Watching them grapple with new skills is seriously impressive; there's any number of videos covering this excrutiating process. I watch these with intense fascination, but also a resignation that I don't know if I could ever be as focused and dedicated as they are.
Climbing is another sport that's gotten a lot of acclaim lately. I think I mentioned how much I enjoyed Free Solo lately; Alex Honnold climbing 3000 feet of rock with no rope is certainly a spectacle, and he deserves the fame he's gotten. However a common theme among these kinds of people is they couldn't care less about fame or money. In another documentary, The Alpinist, a climber doesn't even tell his film crew where he's going because it wouldn't truly be a solo if anyone witnessed it. Isn't that such an intense statement? I'm sometimes afraid that watching such profoundly intense people will give me sunburn; such is the energy radiating from their souls.
There are so many people like this, and exactly because they have a singleminded focus on what they do they garner very little fame. If you don't seek out their stories, well, it certainly won't work the other way around. Some people have hiked the entire United States, south to north, over the better part of a year. It doesn't have to be physical either. A favorite of mine is Asma Jahangir, who was a Pakistani human rights lawyer, who worked with tireless intensity in a country intent on stifling her. There are countless examples of this, and looking back I suppose there is a quite a number of people who've picked it up later in life. So much for that romantic childhood I imagined, but I like to think it still sometimes holds.
There's another interesting thing I've noticed about people who pursue these endeavours. It's possible it's just my lack of experience or that I'm missing something, but something about having such an intense and serious pursuit gives a sense of stability. I'd hesitate to say happiness, but peace or maybe even wisdom. Or the opposite, that among these kinds of people it's rare to see depression (though they have plenty of their own sorts of weirdness).
Maybe it has to do with the fact that they trust themselves. If you keep on pursuing incredibly difficult goals, and you keep on persevering, then a deep sense of personal trust naturally develops. Or maybe it's that they're not floundering looking for things like meaning, or purpose. They already have them. They know who they are and what they do, and I think getting to that point grants a great deal of comfort in life.
I don't want to go so far as to say doing hard things cures depression. It could easily be the other way around, that only those without depression are willing to attempt such. And maybe having such a passion but being unable to fulfill it is the worst thing in the world. Still, it speaks to the nature of indulging your passions, following your instincts, setting your own challenges and relishing in those accomplishments. Even if those challenges are tiny niche things which nobody in the world would care about except for you, they might give you sense of place and accomplishment. And eventually, if you are pure and sincere in your dreams, others surely will notice.
From my experience, I feel really really good after coming back from a difficult hike or a big creative accomplishment. I can't imagine how euphoric it would feel to come back from an intense month long journey, or an even longer one. Undertaking these kinds of challenges is the only way to know that you can trust yourself; that you are capable of big things. When children end up pursuing their hobbies naturally I think that's one of the most valuable things that societies can encourage. If we make room for greatness, then I'm sure that greatness will fill it.