Ambitious people are a dime a dozen. Most people doubt themselves. All of us — in some shape or form — are stuck in la-la land.
One of the most difficult yet useful skills is the ability to balance your aspirations with reality. A pessimist and an idealist both miss the point. The point is to have optimism about your future but look at the state of society, your environment, and your circumstances without rose-colored glasses.
Many of these truths sit right under your nose. Intuitively you know they’re true, but facing them head-on means discomfort. Success or failure in life comes from which type of discomfort you choose. You can choose the discomfort of facing reality, making decisions to change, and having the difficult dialogue needed to do both. You can also choose the discomfort of rationalizing your situation, lying to yourself, and making excuses.
The choice is yours. In my experience, and from what I’ve observed, taking the discomfort upfront can feel horrible in the short run but rewarding in the long run. Pushing it away with the avoidance of truth alleviates discomfort in the short term, but it always comes back and persists until you do something about it.
Take a look at the truths I’m about to share with you. Technically, they are my opinions. You’re free to disagree with them. Before you do, though, try to take a look at yourself and your situation honestly to determine whether you really disagree with me, or you’re just hiding.
The World Will Never Quit Poking You
Have you ever felt like your circumstances were trying to break you?
Just when you’ve improved your finances, your car breaks down. You wake up on the wrong side of the bed, come to work to a nagging boss and go home to an indifferent spouse. Every time you take a step forward, you take three back. Inevitably, just as you’re on the rise, something or someone tries to knock you down. If only life would give you a little bit of a break, you tell yourself, you’d have enough energy to make an effort to become successful.
Deep down, you believe success provides an escape from life’s problems. You figure if you had enough income, freedom, and positive experiences in your life…the bullshit would stop. It doesn’t and it never will.
In fact, when you push to do something outside of the box — start a business, write a book, become an artist, carve your own route — not only will things get worse before they get better, you’ll still have to work to maintain what you’ve achieved.
People from all walks of life have problems. Billionaires have problems, Hollywood actors, the Dalai Lama all have problems. Around every corner, just when you think you’ve won, life will find a way to see what you’re made of.
But there’s beauty in the struggle of life when you look at the right way. When life tests you, you get the chance to prove you’re resilient. One of the deepest levels of satisfaction comes from knowing how strong you are. Few memories are better than those of overcoming struggles, persisting, and absorbing pressure and turning it into fuel instead of letting it break you.
Realizing the world will constantly test you removes the element of surprise. When you find yourself in a bad spot, it feels doubly worse because you didn’t see it coming.
Know that life is preparing its next right hook, but as Jim Rohn said, “Don’t wish it was easier. I wish you were better. Don’t wish for fewer problems. Wish for more skills.”
Our first reaction to pain and hardship — mine included — is to dwell on how much it sucks. A few of us, however, realize there’s an opportunity to be had.
It’s easy to say and difficult to do, but if you can learn how to transform pain into the purpose you’ll feel a type of happiness that is ten times better than the feeling of having a life devoid of difficulties.
Maybe our purpose on this planet isn’t to feel good. Maybe we’ve been placed here to see what we’re made of.
Almost every time life tests you, you won’t want to find the opportunity in it. I never look positively at a challenge or hardship instantly, but after I’m done sulking, I look to take a step in a positive direction.
Try it. Over time, it works wonders.
Things will never be the way they “should” be
A perfect world doesn’t exist — the one without inequality, injustice, unfairness, superficial people, hate, greed, envy, lust, the list goes on.
Are you using the world should to avoid living in reality?
Maybe you think you should be making more money. But you’re not, and believing you should make more isn’t going to change that. Finding a new job could change that. Improving your performance and negotiating a raise could change that. Complaining definitely won’t.
Maybe you think you shouldn’t have to work twice as hard to achieve the same level of success as someone else. But what if you do have to work twice as hard? Are you going to wait for the scales of justice to even out? They won’t.
Again, you can complain if you want, but complaining isn’t a strategy. It doesn’t do anything.
The same energy you use to rail against the way life should or shouldn’t be could be used to improve your situation.
It should also become dangerous when you talk about the things you aspire to do. “I should start working out,” you tell yourself. “I should start working harder and being motivated.” The minute you use the word in your head or out loud, you’ve already lost. It gives you an out. You almost get a perverse satisfaction from thinking about doing something. It gives you the credit you don’t deserve yet.
Instead of talking about what you should do and the way the world should be, you’re better of doing.
Doers make change happen for themselves and for others. Doers don’t have time to think about what they should or shouldn’t. They know what to do. If they don’t, they gather enough information to have an idea of what to do and act on it.
Ask yourself where the word should is causing harm in your life. Now, what are you going to do about it?
No One is Coming to Save You
“Sure, raise the minimum wage if you plan to stay there your entire life.” — Jim Rohn
When was the last time the government came to your rescue?
The answer is likely never. Yet we treat it like a savior or a demon when it’s neither. It’s a machine. An uncaring machine that’s completely self-interested. Regardless, we make our way to the voting booths to ensure our guy or girl wins.
Look at your own life. Has it changed dramatically between presidencies? Not in terms of news coverage, but your actual life from day to day.
Are you waiting for an employer to save you with a raise or magically improving your work environment? If so, you might be waiting for a long time.
It’s easy to blame the government, your employer, or someone other than yourself for your woes. It’s easier to say wages should be higher than to try to become more valuable.
I’m not saying the institutions of society are fair. They’re definitely not. With the fleeting life you live, however, you don’t have time to wait for institutions to save you.
Odds are, you’ll have to lift yourself out of your circumstances. Will it be easy? Hell no. But you really don’t have a choice — not if you want to change your life.
No Matter What You Do, Someone Will Dislike You
“You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves?” — Marcus Aurelius
Google “negative opinions of Mother Theresa,” and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of results. Remember, the now revered Martin Luther King Jr. was under FBI investigation and murdered.
Jesus Christ was crucified.
It doesn’t matter what you do, how good of a person you are, or how much care you put into the work you do for the world, someone isn’t going to like it. If you’re an author, someone will write a negative review of your book or leave a nasty comment on your blog post. If you’re trying to do something others want to pursue but won’t, they will subtly try to undermine you, sometimes under the guise of being “concerned.” Anything involving making yourself known to the public is a hotbed for criticism. If you want to make an impact in the world, you have to toughen up a little bit. In fact, you don’t want everyone to like you. Universally liked people are often boring.
Don’t be afraid to tell the truth because it might hurt someone’s feelings. Don’t hide your gifts to make other people feel comfortable around you. Their doubt belongs to them, not you. Every minute you spend worrying about the opinions of others is a minute you could’ve spent improving your life or someone else’s.
It’s human nature to want acceptance. Your lizard brain doesn’t want to be “banished from the tribe.” But think about how preoccupied you are with yourself. How much you worry, doubt, and fear invisible emotional monsters.
If you apply your experience to other people, you’ll realize they’re not paying any attention to you. If they are paying attention to you, then it means their opinion isn’t worth caring about, because successful people don’t have the time or urge to focus on other people’s actions.
You’re Never Going to be Satisfied
“Being the best means engineering your life so you never stop until you get what you want, and then you keep going until you get what’s next. And then you go for even more.” — Tim Grover
Complete contentment doesn’t exist. At least for those of us who aren’t monks. Even they may not be able to claim complete detachment from their egos.
Author Mark Manson noted that “trying to be detached is, in a way, a form of attachment.” If you’re a minimalist and you’re obsessed with a number of things you don’t have, you’re still living a life centered around objects — even if it’s the absence of them. It seems there is no cure for want. No matter how pure our aims and contentment seem, they’re still rooted in desire, even if it’s the desire for not desiring anything. Contentment can easily become a hiding place too.
When people say “I don’t care about money,” they might really mean “I don’t know how to earn more.” When someone says “I don’t need to be successful,” they might mean “I’m afraid to try.”
Be honest with yourself. You want more for your life. I know you do. You’re scared — of failing, of people thinking you’re a snob, of actually succeeding because then you’ll really have something to lose. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more. Embrace it.
Accept you’re going to always want more, but do your best to celebrate each victory along the way. Happiness comes from the progression of achieving your highest aims in life. You can pretend you’re “content” or be honest with yourself and take a baby step in the direction of your dreams.
Happiness comes from the progression of achieving your highest aims in life. You can pretend you’re “content” or be honest with yourself and take a baby step in the direction of your dreams.
Everything is Your Fault
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”- Theodore Roosevelt
I know what you’re thinking.
You were born poor, your parents didn’t treat you well, you have a disability, you have a funny accent, you live in the wrong city, you’re sick, your boss hates you, you have no money, you’re a disabled veteran, you’re black, you’re a woman, you’re gay, you’re trans. You’re special. And because your circumstances are so unique, you couldn’t possibly be to blame for your failures.Deep down we know we’re the common denominator of all our problems, but it’s hard to face. Why?
Because it means we’re the ones who have to change our situations. And if we don’t change our situations, we can only blame ourselves. Nobody wants to think they’re the only real barrier to their own success, happiness, and well-being. It’s easier to blame someone or something else.
And no, I don’t think you’re lazy, mediocre, or “don’t want it bad enough.” It’s genuinely difficult to take full ownership of your life. It can be uncomfortable or downright painful. The natural reaction is blaming someone other than yourself because your brain wants to protect you from harm and danger. But you can overcome these excuses.
You’re in control of your life. Are you in control of what happens to you? No, but you’re in control of how you react to what happens to you. You choose how to react to situations, maybe not fully and consciously, but choose nonetheless.
If you don’t take responsibility for your life, who will? I know how hard it is. Denial feels bad, but it hurts a little less than accepting the truth of your role in your own life. If you go through the painful period of acceptance and get up from the floor, I promise greater things are ahead.
You’ll Never Find the Perfect Time Start
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Proverb
I remember the first time I told my wife I wanted to start writing. “I think it would be really fun to have a blog and start writing,” I said. “Well…why don’t you start writing then?” She replied.
I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 17 years old. I didn’t start until I was 25. Maybe I was too immature to write anything of value until I’d lived a little, but I still wonder how much further along I could be now if I started earlier.
Did I make a declaration to become a writer, buy a typewriter, and lock myself in a room to write for hours? No. I started with one blog post…and I’ve been writing nearly every day for years since. There’s power in starting. You don’t have to make a big deal out of starting a new project, just do it.
Seriously, what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for the kids to grow older or move out so you can write that book? Leo Tolstoy had 13 kids when he wrote War and Peace.
Are you waiting to have enough money to start your business? If you have a good idea, there are various ways to start businesses at a low cost or find seed money. Oh, it’s hard to find seed money? Well, starting a business is hard. Deal with it.
All salesmen know the phrase “now isn’t the right time,” is a lie. There’s always a hidden objection behind the polite ones given such as lack of time, money, or ideal circumstances. The objection could be that the buyer doesn’t trust the seller, they don’t believe the product will deliver on its benefits, or they do believe in the product but not in themselves to get the most from it.
The way you self-talk is much like the relationship between a salesperson and a customer. You give yourself the polite out, but the truth is there’s a deeper objection. What is it? You may not have even consciously thought of it yet. You really might believe in your own polite excuses. Until you dig deep to find the hidden reasons behind your behavior, you’ll never change. I talk about this process at length in my book.
We all have deeply embedded beliefs about ourselves and about the world we live in — business is “risky,” intelligence and talent are fixed traits, finding a secure job will make us happy, others are luckier than you are, rich people steal, you’re left or right-brained and can’t cross over, being healthy means depriving yourself, you must own a home and have kids, men are evil, women are evil, the list goes on and on and on.
Many of these beliefs keep you from starting. You’re not a “numbers person” you tell yourself. Richard Branson has dyslexia and teachers labeled him learning disabled as a child — he’s a billionaire. You think you can’t succeed because you’re ill or have a disability. Jon Morrow — a man who cannot move anything below his neck — owns a multi-million dollar blog with a viewership of millions per month.
I can find a counterexample to every excuse you have for not starting “x.” Rather than argue with me about it, why not just start?
Human Beings Aren’t Rational
To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” — Mark Twain
I bet you genuinely think you’re a very logical person. You believe you use reason to make decisions. You always do what’s best for you.
Isn’t it funny how whenever you’re in disagreement with someone else…they’re the crazy one, the wrong one, the emotional one, the one who won’t listen to reason? It’s never you, is it?
The reason why we believe we’re rational is that our brain plays a little trick on us called confirmation bias. Once we emotionally commit to a belief, our brain will logically fill in the gaps with conclusions and facts to support it. Even worse, it will discard any evidence that opposes your opinion.
Just go on Twitter and follow a few pundits from the left and the right — they’re hallucinating. Something will happen in the news — an objective event that occurred — and depending on which news channel you select, the coverage will portray an entirely different story. They can’t all be correct, yet they and their views will not only believe they’re one hundred percent right but have “facts” to back their assertions.
We all see reality in different ways. There is no constant thread of reason tying us together. You’ll often find the truth in the middle of opposing sides. Being level-headed is better than having any extreme ideology.
You can’t avoid having emotional reactions to situations and your own special version of reality, but you can create strategies to deal with your human qualities.
First, know you’re fighting a losing battle. You will never be fully rational, but you can try to be more rational.
Second, start learning to see other people through their realities. The next time you think “how could he or she possibly think x or do y,” look at their background, their environment, the bedrock of their belief system. If you look close enough, you’ll instead think, “how could he or she not think x or do y.” It will alleviate your frustration and help you deal with others more effectively.
Third, (ethically) use this to your advantage. Read the book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Luck Plays a Gigantic Role in Your Life
“Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.” Nassim Taleb
Wait. Haven’t I spent much of this post telling you to take responsibility, believe in yourself, and push toward success?
Why, then, would I say luck plays a large role in your life? Because it does. If you re-do the lives on Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates and change a few variables, they don’t become mega-billionaires.
Buffet himself admits he was lucky to be born white, live in America, and be around when the market went through a dramatic rise. Bill Gates had access to the right technology at the right time. Without the Winklevoss brothers coming up with the idea in the first place, there is no Facebook.
I’m sure all three would’ve been successful in some shape or form. They all went to Ivy League schools. Still, the type of success they all have is rare.
Why am I bringing this up? For several seasons.
One, to show that things not going your way isn’t always a sign of your own failure. You can create the right product or invention at the wrong time. You can have ambition but lack the right connections. The intentions and actions can be there without the result.
While all those statements are true, they’re still not excuses for quitting entirely. Instead, you can use that knowledge to put less pressure on yourself and keep trying until something works.
Rather than having a definitive path to success, you have odds. The best way to make the odds swing in your favor is to play as many hands as possible. Unlike areal gambling, you don’t have anything to lose, except for a piece of your ego or comfort.
You can make smart decisions to increase your odds. You can mitigate risk and plan carefully to improve your chances of success. But nothing will guarantee it. Remember that and move forward with the balance of optimism and realism we discussed in the beginning.
Learn How to See
There’s a lot of noise in the world. A lot of b.s. You can find success by seeing through it all. You can wait for the world to change into the ideal state you want it to be, or you can learn to navigate it.
The people we call successful, they can see — through the limits, society tries to place on people, through the cliches that aren’t true, through the joy-sucking prisons called institutions. Can you see now?
I hope you decide to use the lens of truth to shape your decisions moving forward. It won’t feel good right away, but it will feel amazing when you look back at all you’ve done.
This article originally appeared on Medium.