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The Whole Human

13 painful life lessons I’ve learned as a full-time writer

200,000+ written words, 1,000+ hours of blood, sweat and tears (many of these hours spent staring at a blank screen … the curse of writer’s block) and the painful birth of a self-published book.

Too many sleepless nights to count, and waking up in the mornings, thinking, “Why the hell am I still doing this?!!”

I’d like to think I’m a pretty tough guy. I’ve overcome my fair share of life’s difficult, painful adversities.

But, nothing compares to this thing I’m doing right now.

This thing involves nothing more than putting together a string of words, yet it can bring so much joy and pain all at the same time.

This thing brings the best and worst out of any human being in the most grueling way possible.

It teaches painful life lessons that can’t be learned elsewhere.

This thing is called writing, and here are the top 13 painful life lessons I’ve learned since becoming a full-time writer.

1. Nobody cares about your goals and dreams

Let’s get real here for a second.

Do you care about my goals and dreams?

Do you care about my daily grind and hustle? (fun fact: putting together this article took more than 15 hours of my time).

Once you’re done reading this article, you’ll probably visit another website and continue with your plans for the day.

You’re not going to spend time today thinking about my personal struggles and aspirations.

Don’t worry I won’t take it personally. I understand that you have your own problems to solve and battles to fight on a daily basis.

The truth is that nobody, not even your own family and close friends, care as much about your goals and dreams, as much as you do.

With or without you, the world will carry on as normal.

But, nowadays, most people live in the illusion — usually on social media — that their goals and dreams are special.

And when they announce their new life goals — on fitness, health, writing, business and so on — they expect the world to press pause, take note and offer a helping hand.

I used to be one of these people.

I expected the world to support and applaud my efforts, but it didn’t. And I was pissed.

That is, until I finally realized that my goals weren’t special, that I wasn’t entitled to anything and that I was truly on this journey alone.

You were born alone. And you will also die alone, with all of your goals and dreams.

2. There is no success without failure

Failure and Success are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.

So why are we taught the opposite? — that failure and success are separate entities.

That failure should be avoided at all costs and success is the ultimate goal.

We’re quick to praise people once they achieve success, but quick to forget the trails of catastrophic failures they left behind.

Don’t believe me?

Just google the background stories of successful people you admire and you’ll quickly notice that most of them were fantastic failures before achieving their major breakthroughs. (If you’re stuck for ideas, try Author of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling and Alibaba founder, Jack Ma).

If you dare to pursue anything worthwhile, expect to fail …

Again and again.

And again.

But that’s okay, because you’ll learn from these failures, improve and become better at what you do.

Prior to creating mayooshin.com, I launched several online blogs, businesses, podcasts and video channels, all of which pretty much bombed.

But, it’s the painful lessons learned from previous failures that have helped me to become a better writer and entrepreneur.

3. The perfect time to start is NOW

The best time to start was yesterday. The second best time to start is today.

Perfectionism is a breeding ground for procrastination.

The longer you wait for the perfect time to start exercising, write a book, launch a business, spend time with loved ones and so on, the higher the likelihood that you won’t ever get started.

You don’t need the perfect conditions to get started. Plus, as I’ve mentioned earlier, if you take consistent action, you will fail at some point, so there’s no point delaying this.

When I sat down to write my first book, perfectionism cost me several months of staring at a blank computer screen and never actually writing anything.

That is, until I discovered the 2-minute rule from the book Getting Thing’s Done (audiobook), which helped me to write and publish the book a month later.

Moral of the story is this: each day that passes by is another perfect opportunity to get started on your goals.

So what are you waiting for?

4. Experts don’t know what works best for you

The funny thing about ‘experts’ — many of whom I respect — is that they credit their level of success to beliefs and ideas that have worked for them.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that these beliefs or ideas will work for you!

I learned this the hard way, during my first year writing.

I read, listened to and took action on advice given by popular expert writers, marketers and entrepreneurs online. Each one of these experts insisted on his or her way of thinking, as the ‘best’ way to achieve a particular goal.

After several months of confusion and mediocre results, I decided to focus on doing what worked best for me, and not necessarily what was the ‘hottest’ trend out there.

For example, I am most productive with my writing, whilst listening to music and in a fasted state.

I also write for a wide audience with a common worldview of becoming better people, but not to a specific niche based on demographics.

This isn’t mainstream ‘expert’ writing or business advice, but it works well for me.

Listen to expert advice, but always experiment to find what works best for you.

5. Amateurs starve. Professionals thrive

There are many differences between amateurs and professionals.

Here are some of the key differences:

  • Amateurs wait to feel inspired. Professionals stick to a schedule.
  • Amateurs strive to achieve. Professionals strive to improve.
  • Amateurs stall after failure. Professionals grow after failure.

The common theme amongst these differences is consistency.

Amateurs only show up when they feel like it and as a result, they lack consistency and starve.

On the other hand, Professionals or ‘Pros’ show up on a consistent basis, come rain or come shine and thrive.

When I was an amateur writer, I only wrote when I was motivated. My results were sporadic, with no real progress in my writing abilities or readership.

It was only when I made a decision to turn ‘pro’ — to write and publish a new article every single week — that my readership took off.

(Diagram shows readership growth over time. Note the points of steeper upward trend)

There is no such thing as a starving artist, only starving amateurs and thriving professionals.

6. Hard work doesn’t pay off ( … at least not in the way we think it should)

Motivational speakers are a funny bunch ( … I’m including myself as one of them in this conversation).

We’re quick to tell people, “you can do it, just like I did, if you just believe in yourself and work hard!”

I hate to be the killjoy here, but this isn’t completely true. I mean, just look around.

Some of the hardest working people on earth—the construction workers, miners, bus drivers, cleaners, waiters and waitresses and so on—are not the richest, most influential people in the world.

Hard work by itself isn’t enough to achieve success.

There are several important factors that also come into play. These include the right relationships, the right timing, a solid strategy and a bit of luck.

I struggled to grow my readership for several months, despite putting in 20+ hours into each article published.

Then I started to strategically plan my written content, build the right relationships and spread my work across various outlets. That’s when I experienced the rapid growth of my readership.

Now, this isn’t an excuse to avoid hard work and be a lazy couch potato.

It’s just a reminder that if you’re working hard, but not getting the results you want, it’s probably because you’re missing one or more of the other important factors mentioned.

7. Rest is the only productivity hack you need

“I’m grinding when you’re sleeping.”

These are some motivational words from the popular internet personality and entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk.

It’s a fair reflection of the go!go!go! world we live in today that puts busyness or ‘hustling’ on a pedestal, but rest as an activity for the lazy losers.

And whilst I appreciate Gary Vee’s or any other successful entrepreneur’s motivational speeches, I don’t agree with any message that undermines the importance of rest or sleep.

Countless research studies have shown the importance of quality sleep and rest for our well-being.

Plus, according to insights into the daily routines of famous writers and artists from Daily Rituals (audiobook), creative geniuses — including the likes of Einstein, Beethoven, Tolstoy, Darwin and Dickens — credit rest and time away from their work to their creative breakthroughs.

Not everyone is built to function well with little sleep or rest.

Personally, after a few nights of getting less than 5 hours of sleep, I can barely think, talk or move properly.

And so, I’ve made peace with being one of the ‘lazy losers’ who sleeps before midnight, whilst the ‘hustlers and winners’ are burning the midnight oil.

8. Straw houses are built on motivation. Castles are built on habits

Motivation is fleeting.

Some days it’s there, some days it’s not.

If you wait to feel ‘motivated’ before taking action, your results will be sporadic because you won’t be consistent enough.

Just like a straw house that loses its roof and structure on a hurricane like windy day, everything you’ve built can easily fall apart when your life’s problems come knocking.

Now, imagine a castle (think game of thrones type of castle).

A castle doesn’t easily fall apart under bad weather, or a repeated siege from humans and machines.

Castles endure some of the most extreme conditions.

This is the power of habits.

Once you build good habits, you’ll consistently take action and achieve consistent results, even when your life gets chaotic.

After I built the habit of writing at least one article every week, it didn’t matter whether I lacked motivation or experienced personal tragedy in my life, I published a new piece weekly because the habit had been built.

If you’re struggling with lack of motivation, focus on building habits first. The motivation will naturally follow.

9. Work-life balance is a myth

There’s an uncomfortable trade-off that exists, even though we often like to pretend that it’s not there.

The more time you spend working, the less time you can spend on ‘life’ stuff. And vice versa.

We only have 24 hours in a day. And on average, we spend a quarter of that sleeping.

So let’s do the math.

Assuming you spent 15 hours on your work or business today, how many hours would you have left in free time?

The correct answer is 3 hours.

3 hours isn’t a realistic amount of time to attend social events, catch up with friends and family, and play your favorite songs on the guitar.

I have had to significantly reduce time spent with my close friends and family, cut out some hobbies and turn down invites to important social gatherings, just so I could find more time to write.

The truth is, you will have to make difficult (sometimes very cold) decisions about what you’re willing to give up, to get what you want from life. Otherwise, life will make those choices for you.

You can’t eat your cake and have it. Choose one.

10. Trust that ‘nagging voice’ in your head

There’s a tiny nagging voice in your head, that pops up every now and then.

It prompts and nudges you to do something. Sometimes, to do something extremely uncomfortable. Sometimes, to avoid taking a particular action.

Listen to that voice and don’t ignore it.

We’re quick to listen to the voices and opinions of other people, but very slow to listen to our own ‘nagging voice.’

Ignoring the ‘nagging voice’ comes at the cost of making stupid decisions you may later regret, as I’ve learned the hard way.

That ‘nagging voice’, that gut feeling, is usually leading you in the right direction.

Listen to it.

11. If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one

You can lie down on the floor for people to walk on top of you and they’ll still complain that you’re not flat enough.

There’s a thin line between being a nice person and being a doormat.

The more you let others control your life without establishing healthy boundaries, the more likely you’ll be pushed into doing something you don’t want to do.

In my early writing days, I was terrified of my work being criticized and ripped apart by trolls on the web.

And so, to play it safe, I copied the writing style of other popular writers and stayed away from controversial topics.

But, as the months went by, I noticed something strange. No matter how or what I wrote about, somebody would complain, criticize or hate on my writing.

Plus, I didn’t enjoy writing as much any longer. I grew tired of trying to be someone other than myself.

Once I realized I couldn’t win either way, I stopped writing to please everyone and instead, wrote in my own true voice — my part casual, academic, motivational, sometimes contrarian voice.

I still have to deal with my fair share of haters and critics, but that’s the price you pay for authentic living. And it’s well worth it.

12. Everything is an assumption until proven otherwise

We make assumptions to make sense of the world around us — assumptions about money, health, relationships, people, business and so on.

The problem is that assumptions can often lead to misleading conclusions that reduce the number of opportunities available to us.

For example, I used to hold unto the assumption that my readers would prefer a more serious, academic tone of writing.

After a few months of writing in a serious, academic tone (and not enjoying it in the process), I stumbled across the art of first principles thinking — a mental model process of questioning assumptions, used by great thinkers including Tesla, Feynman and Edison.

It was only after questioning my assumptions, that I had the freedom to experiment with new ways of writing i.e. casual tone with cartoon images.

Some of my most popular, most shared articles have been written in this new way.

Question your assumptions, and let the information guide your conclusions.

13. The more you give. The more will be given to you

There’s a scripture in the bible that captures this point well, Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you.”

In life, work and business, the abundance or scarcity you experience is directly related to how much value you add to people’s lives.

The more you help other people to solve their problems, the more they will in turn want to help you solve yours too.

The problem is that the culture today is “all about me.”

We want more and we want it now!

Yet, few live in abundance and few people give much to others, if anything at all. This isn’t a coincidence.

For me, my sole focus is giving as much as I can to help as many people as possible. I have faith that my needs will be taken care of in the process without dwelling on them too much.

There’s a peace of mind that comes from this faith.

Takeaway

As painful as these life lessons have been, they have been invaluable towards my personal growth, and I hope the same for you too.

At least, I hope I’ve spared you the pain of learning these life lessons the hard way.

If you know someone you’d like to spare as well, share this article with them.

Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical self-improvement ideas and proven science for better health, productivity and creativity. To get practical ideas on how to stop procrastinating and build healthy habits, you can join his free weekly newsletter here.

A version of this article originally appeared at mayooshin.com as “13 Painful Life Lessons I’ve Learned as a Full-Time Writer.”

Footnotes

  1. Functional and Economic Impact of Sleep Loss and Sleep-Related Disorders
  2. Writer image by Nicolas Fructus.
  3. Doormat image creator please get in touch.

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