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All successful project come in phases, and since human beings follow patterns, these phases are pretty universal. Everyone, at some phase, goes through obstacles, finds mentors, etc., so knowing the phases ahead of time can be extremely helpful.
A lot of this can be learned, so here is an impression of how they work. I hope this helps you get through a block of your own– it definitely has helped me.
It occurs to you in a brief moment and you probably dismiss it– but somehow, it’s interesting and it sticks with you. It’s crazy but it doesn’t matter. You feel like it could be real. You could be utterly stupid but you can’t help yourself.
Seek out this stage if: You have no quest and/or little meaning.
How to do it: Get new stimulus. Meet new people. Travel and experience the world. Read furiously.
Yes, ok, you have this idea and it seems interesting, but who cares? You already have a good life. You’re already fed and clothed. You have friends and perhaps a spouse who loves you. You don’t really need anything big in your life. Who really changes the world, anyway? No one. And hey, nobody ever talks about the failures, but they happen, don’t they? Don’t mess with a good thing.
Seek out this stage if: If you haven’t passed this, you must. You need to progress through it deliberately.
How to do it: Rediscover things you have abandoned. Go back to your childhood. Find your archetype.
After perhaps days, weeks, or even months, the idea is sticking. You can’t help it and you’re thinking about it all the time– in the shower, during meetings, everywhere, damn it. So you make the call, and you get a meeting with an old friend who knows a thing or two.
During this time, this mentor hits you in the face with how crazy some of what you say is. But if you’re lucky, he also says something else: “This has promise.” You’ll probably screw it up, of course, but the truth is that this is all you really wanted to hear.
Seek out this stage if: You have accepted some craziness but aren’t sure if it’s even possible.
How to do it: Informational interviewing. Asking people who might have even a tiny chance of knowing.
Maybe you’re at a party or with some friends, but really, this could happen anywhere. Someone asks you what you do, maybe, or you are just casually talking.
This is when it happens. You throw it out, and you’ve been practicing. “Oh, I’m working on this new thing. Here’s why it’s going to rock etc.”
The truth is, you’ve done no work and you have no idea if it’ll even fly. But you’ve just made it public. You’ve identified with it.
Congratulations. You’ve just chosen a side.
Seek out this stage if: You need the courage to move forward.
How to do it: Practice a short pitch. Don’t try to get everything in like an idiot. Make it conversational. “You know when X? Well right now I’m Y.” Do this with a quasi-friend, not a total friend, but not a stranger either. Maybe someone you haven’t seen in a while. Then, tell them to keep it quiet.
As time goes on, you begin to identify with your crazy side more and more. Your identity becomes one with it. You adopt new ideas, meet new people, and find out just how much you didn’t know. You look stupid a few times, recover, and then look smart after googling for a while and meeting the right people.
You’ll notice after a time that you are changing. You’re no longer seen as what you once were. People are talking about it, maybe. You’re showing progress. It’s starting to seem real, and this is the point of no return. Beyond this, real failure is possible and very real.
Seek out this stage if: Usually this just happens. It’s slow and you suddenly realize you’re there. But seek it out if you see yourself deliberately stalling.
How to do it: Take a leap of faith. Make a big meeting where you talk ambitiously. Make a promise you can’t take back.
Success is like a road. You are constantly reaching new thresholds you need to learn to pass. This phase always happens and can often happen in sets of threes. You may need to hire an employee and you have no idea how to do it.
As you do this you are encountering constant challenge to your work, and because it isn’t real yet, so there is very little faith. That, by itself, is also a trial. This phase continues as long as it needs to.
Seek out this stage if: You need to grow and you are avoiding it.
How to do it: Seek out small decisions and make them, as often as you can. Notice bottlenecks and get through them. Ask yourself what would help you cross each threshold and act deliberately, even if an imperfect decision is made.
Part 2 incoming. :) Subscribe below to get it into your inbox!
The two major reasons for doing absolutely anything in the world: happiness and duty.
If something gives you happiness, even if slight, then it’s probably worth doing. You’re with someone (hopefully) because they make you happy. You have a job because doing it (or at least its results) make you happier. You take trips because you get to experience happy moments, either by yourself or with other people.
Duty is the second only in name. You take on a mission because it’s the right thing to do.
If something gives you happiness, in general, you do it. If something is your duty, you also do it. If it does neither, it’s safe to say that you can probably avoid it.
There are two major conflicts here, though. The first is making the distinction between short term happiness and long term. Sometimes something makes you miserable in the moment but feels great later. My books are generally like this. I work through them but they’re rarely enjoyable in the moment – in comparison to, say, blog posts, which are generally really fun to write as I do them. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice short-term happiness for a potential in long-term happiness through either achievement, or satisfaction, or whatever else. Here the trick is to know when to make that decision.
The second problem occurs when happiness conflicts with duty. Then you have a decision to make, and in my opinion, these are among the most difficult and straining situations you can experience.
The best situation, of course, is when duty and happiness come together into purpose. Then, you know you’ve really got something.
Today my new book, The Flinch, is launched on Seth Godin’s Domino Project.
It’s about how to push your own barriers and how to do things that scare you.
Writing the book was hardest thing I’ve ever done, and as an experiment, it’s available for free.
With the help of Seth, Chris Brogan, and many others, I made something so far beyond my usual capacities that it actually shocks me.
Godin called it: “a surprise, a confrontation, a book that will push you, scare you and possibly stick with you for years to come.”
If it’s even that good, the question then becomes, how can you, the reader, make something so great that even you are unsure of how it was made?
1. Burn your bridges. I was conscious of the fact that I would never get a chance to publish under Godin’s Domino Project again. I knew that if I screwed it up, I was done. You do your best work with your back against the wall, when you are uncomfortable and you put yourself in freefall, on purpose.
2. Grow an eye in the back of your head. Your blind spots, whether they are laziness or settling for anything sub-par, will kill you. I had people the entire way telling me to make it better, over and over again, until I practically cried and didn’t know how.
3. Be willing to suffer. Forget about the “starving artist” myth. Starving is easy– deprogramming is hard. Because you are a human being, you are programmed to settle in one way or another, and breaking that programming will hurt. Get used to it– it’s the only way to make something exceptional.
4. Be comfortable making something that people will hate. No one will love your work unless it has an opinion– and with an opinion come those that disagree. The first person outside of our little circle that saw the work did not like it at all, perhaps even hated it. This is also how I knew that I had something that some people would fight for.
5. Consider the future. In the future, books either cost $50 or $0. They are frictionless and those that travel the fastest and spread the widest, win. Make your work as close to the future as possible– but only 6 months, not 18 months. If you’re too far in the future, it’s possible no one will get it.
6. Sharpen your idea. This part is damn hard. Only when the idea became “the flinch” did I know that I had an idea that was sharp enough to travel. Every other idea had too much friction, too much difficulty to be expressed. When the idea marketplace is saturated (and it is now, more than ever), your idea needs to be more graspable than ever before, because you only get one chance.
7. All content must be spreadable. Quotes in 140 characters. Links in the text. New phrases that stick in people’s minds. Everything must be a part of your “marketing campaign”– even in a book that’s basically unsellable. The best quote from Godin on this was, “make it a poem that doesn’t rhyme.” There is so much information out there now that your work can no longer simply be commerce– it must also be art.
As of today, you can download the Flinch for free. I hope it you like it– if you liked this post, you will definitely enjoy it.
You are not born to live a long life. You are not born to succeed.
You are born to go through puberty, reproduce, and die.
Exerting effort for any other purpose than producing more children is a deviation from the natural order. It’s against your programming.
Every push to improve yourself is an act of will against the universe.
So without effort, without willpower, you are just a shell for your genes.
How you behave, how you react to this, is up to you. Making safe decisions for yourself and your children is telling yourself (and them) that what’s important is to survive and reproduce for the next generation.
If you create unique experiences for yourself and your children, if you strongly deviate from the path, you are also creating someone unique, someone who can give back to the world in a singular and powerful way.
We need both kinds of people, of course. We can’t have all iconoclasts, all rebels, or all deviants.
If this isn’t the slogan for your life, it should be.
You were born extremely dumb. There is no question about it. So the first side of the equation is set; it’s the second you have to worry about. Will you die very smart?
Smart is relative. Yes, humans read more than they ever have. They have more schooling than ever. Yet most of it leads to nowhere. If this is all you do, you will not die very smart.
Let’s try and figure out how to die smart, right here and right now. Not a little smart– how to die being the smartest person you know. I’ll start, and you can add to it by leaving a comment below.
Start by reading a book every week. Most people read a book a year. If you do this, you get more in a year than most will read in their lifetime.
Consider avoiding school entirely– you’re looking to learn at your pace, not be slowed down by others or be sucked dry by fees.
Meet smart people constantly. You end up learning a lot from conversations if you’re good at listening. Set up meetings with them to learn what they know.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Remember the process of learning to ride a bike. You can’t pick it up from a book. You have to try and fail. It’s integral to the process.
Now you. Show me what to do.
(Or, check the comments if you want to see what others wrote.)
Ok, just kidding about Squarepants. The rest is real though.
Not any more. I have evolved. I now get my advice exclusively from imaginary criminal psychopaths.
It’s time you did the same. Here’s why.
Let’s say a guy wants to rob a bank. He’s a normal guy like you or me. He doesn’t want to do a horrible job for 40 years, but he’s not qualified for anything either. He doesn’t think he has any choices in life, and society isn’t giving him of the upside he sees on television or anywhere else. He’s like “screw it, I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Now, let’s just say that this guy is like most people. He has reservations about killing people. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Thankfully, a bank isn’t people. If the bank gets robbed, nobody feels bad for it. After all, banks rob us every day; they just gradually introduce it so that they slowly get your consent. Besides, all the money is insured.
So our guy figures he’ll end up in a tropical country somewhere with a beautiful half-Latina half-Asian girlfriend or something. Who loses? Nobody. Exactly. Why would a bank losing a million dollars be a bad thing? Seriously, everybody would be happy. I’m not even kidding. Banks fuck over everyone.
So here’s the thing: if nobody feels bad for a bank, and all the money is insured and nobody gets hurt (in theory), why does nobody do it?
Well, simple. Too many things could go wrong, and the consequences for anything going wrong are massive and dangerous. In other words, it’s too high risk.
They deal in social deviance, doing things that most people aren’t willing to do in order to get ahead. This, by itself, is actually fine. There are lots of methods of social deviance that aren’t illegal.
So the problem isn’t social deviance at all. It’s that criminals do it in an old-school way, for which there are laws, and because of that, there’s collateral damage, death, destruction of private or public property, etc. In other words, the problem isn’t that they break the law, or that they’re criminals. It’s that, in doing so, they might harm you or your loved ones.
Criminals do what they do because they see it as a high-risk, quick, low-effort way of making a bunch of money. They go to the edge of what’s acceptable (and over) in order to get what they want. Some of them are horrible people, and others are doing the equivalent of cheating on their taxes– in other words, not much.
So not all criminals do things that are damaging to society. Some do things that average people consider totally fine, but that just happen to be illegal for larger, sometimes antiquated reasons.
So here’s our first distinction. Violent criminals go to the edges of acceptability. They do high-risk things in order to obtain large rewards quickly. They do this because they are impatient and fail the marshmallow test. This is why they end up in jail.
But hold on, there’s more.
I was watching a movie the other week about Jacques Mesrine, the public enemy number one in France and Quebec in the 60’s and 70’s. He’s a sociopath if I’ve ever heard of one, but also an epic success in his own way. They literally had to ambush this guy in the middle of the Paris and blast him with automatic weapons in order to kill him. He was like a modern-day Rasputin. Epic.
It was while watching this movie that it really started to click for me.
Here’s a guy that flaunts the rules in a way that nobody else can. Seriously, this dude escaped from jail and then proceeded to return to jail with automatic weapons in order to help his friends escape.
As homicidal as this dude was, I have no words to describe how much guts he had.
So, in that sense, this is a guy we can learn a lot from. Not murder, not mayhem, rape, or anything else of that sort, but definitely what a few friends of mine and myself have now dubbed “skipping the line.”
Ok, imagine you’re going to a bar and the line is long. You stand at the back of the line like a good customer, and the hostess says your wait is going to be like 15 minutes. That time goes by but you still don’t get a table. You’re still waiting. You’re starting to get impatient.
Then, some guy walks in, goes right up to the hostess, whispers something in her ear and she nods and shows him to a table. How do you feel? Pretty annoyed, I’m guessing. WTF, right?
Now, another scenario. Imagine you’re at the airport. There’s a long line for security, as there was for my flight today, but this guy goes to another line, one that you hadn’t noticed, and just whizzes through everything. You watch him show people his iPhone, and he speeds past a giant line. Everything’s the same, except in this case, the system for skipping the line isn’t covert or hidden. He used a 3D barcode or something to get into a special category.
Now, here’s a trick question. Out of all the preceding examples, which one do you consider the most wrong? The bar, the airport, or the bank robbery?
All of these, done right, are victimless social deviance. They’re just deviance with different levels of risk, correct?
Let’s ask another question: If no one got hurt in either of those circumstances, from a one to a ten, how wrong are each of them?
What you need to do is not “play it safe”– which is downright idiotic– but to find is something as high-risk and high-reward as a bank robbery, but without the massive downside.
Let me give you another example. I end up in France fairly often, and since I mostly deal with Americans for work, one of my easiest conversation points revolves around a guy called Loic Le Meur.
Some of you may know Loic, but you’re probably not French, so you don’t know his reputation in France– a country where the majority view government work as being amongst the highest forms of service and status. Where Loic comes from, he’s considered socially deviant as well. So is my French friend Erwan Le Corre (Movnat is doing a workshop in Montreal, btw, which you should check out).
Guys like this, and they differ by country, have labels that their homelands consider fringe or weird. They aren’t easily accepted. They trot the edge in their own way, and are willing to take risks that others aren’t. They’re skipping the line as well– defining themselves differently and placing themselves at the top of their categories.
Normal people are not willing to do this. We don’t have models if we want to be out on the edge. For most people, they have no one that can relate to their need to be that far out.
Entrepreneurs won’t do. They are too acceptable. Politicians won’t do. They are too criminal and unethical (no, seriously, they are). We need someone else– a group we can look to and emulate, the same way people think “What would Jesus do?”
Society is far too boring. There is no one we can look to, so we have no choice. Magneto, Moriarty, and Mr Freeze– that is who it has to be.
Let me ask you a question: according to Rotten Tomatoes, 94 out of every 100 critics thumbed up the Dark Knight. Why do you think that is?
Is it because of Batman? Guess again.
It’s the Joker.
The Joker is the personification of risk, something the average person finds thrilling. He does things that others would never dare to do, but everyone sees inside themselves. Why is that?
Modern society is stifling. The options for how to behave are limited and unfulfilling. Max Weber called it the Iron Cage because it eventually stifles and crushes anything polarizing. We have no choice but to submit in the majority of our lives.
What we start realizing if we spend enough time in cities is that this society breeds sheep. This isn’t even necessarily bad– it’s largely responsible for the stability of the age we live in. And these people can’t even be held responsible for it– the pressure of our society is so crushing that you have no choice but to submit, even at the cost of your long-term happiness.
The thing is, society also seems to have taken a wrong turn. When you combine it with the technological advancements we’ve had in the past several years, what we have turned ourselves into is a giant garbage production factory that is throwing itself off a cliff. There’s a fucking giant continent of plastic in the Pacific ocean for Christ’s sake, all made possible by the modern division between our actions and their consequences (Marx would have had a field day with this).
Clearly, social deviance is necessary at this point.
So who’s here to save us? Who’s here to make us feel alive once again, like a normal human being whose soul longs to be free and able to live without the crushing consequences of a drone-filled modern environment, where you can’t seem to make a difference and often don’t even know how to muster up the energy to care?
The only people who are capable of doing this are those who have lived outside society, those who have no place inside of it, and who ignore society’s rules.
The Joker is the personification of anarchy and freedom, and those feelings, when expressed to us in theatre or film, are deeply moving. It awakens a part of us that yearns to be free, but doesn’t quite know how.
But no modern hero exists for those that want to figure this out.
Now, here’s the thing: We don’t have to deface property, kill people, or rob banks in order to find edges. There are lots of modern edges to explore. They are valuable because they’re risky, and only through learning from criminals can we truly know what the edge is.
Imagine a map of the world, but flat like it was thought to be a long time ago. At the edges, you fall off and die. But what about right before that, the places before these giant imaginary waterfalls? What’s there?
These are places nobody knows about because no one returns from them, or because no one even goes. If you go there, it changes you. You come back different.
But there’s a problem. The map doesn’t exist for these places. You don’t know how to get there. You need a guide.
Here is my suggestion. If you are looking for an edge and you can’t find one, ask yourself what you would do if you were a criminal, or a sociopath, or had delusions of grandeur, didn’t think you could fail, or that there would be no negative consequences. Ask yourself how you would act if you thought no one had the balls or brains to stop you.
The trick is to take on a personality. Play a character– one with no fear whatsoever, no conscience and no understanding of society’s rules.
Play a total sociopath. Find things with high reward, and act towards them as if there were no negative consequences.
Hard decisions will suddenly seem easy.
Fears that have no consequences will reveal themselves for the mirages that they are. Barriers will vanish.
My guess for what happens next? Your hurdles will have to be set a whole lot higher.
I am working on a small book right now. It’s easily the best thing I’ve ever done.
The editor is better than I could have ever hoped for. The idea is amazing, and something I care deeply about. It should get good visibility. Everything seems like it’s in line.
This kind of thing never happens to me. It probably rarely happens to you.
So, naturally, I’m paralyzed with fear.
This is how the whole world works. When you’re on auto-pilot, no problem. You’ve done it before, so you recognize every pattern you’re in and there’s no need to worry.
But this also means you’re going the wrong way. You’re getting no new input, so you’re not recognizing any new patterns. If this is the way your life is going, you are actually actually becoming more useless. In an increasingly chaotic world, the best pattern recognizers win.
So the way to have an amazing life is to be constantly fearing failure, but driving forward anyway. It’s difficult to be doing this all the time. You need to pick your battles. Most things need to be stable and allow for safety, so you can focus on these one or two very difficult things.
In other words, your relationship can’t be in shambles while you’re building a business. This is natural, and it’s how the whole world works. You need to have the energy to spend where it matters.
So your whole world should be a cycle of balancing and unbalancing, contraction and growth. Imagine weight lifting. The more stable you are, the heavier you can lift.
I suspect that those who can do many things at once aren’t actually doing anything properly. They commit to numerous ideas and try to deliver on all of them, but none end up exceptional. They’re blogging every day but few ideas are truly interesting or have much of a wide spread.
This is how someone like me can end up not blogging for a month. I focus on one thing and make it happen in the best way possible. Afterwards, I’m drained. I have to do something else– anything else– but worry about delivering new ideas.
So today, for the first time in a long time, I feel kind of free. The project feels 90% done. A great weight is lifted off my shoulders and I have energy to deliver in other places.
If you are not doing your life’s work, you will feel perfectly comfortable. There will be an occasional malaise as you wonder if there’s “more” out there, but you won’t know exactly what to do.
What you need to do is become paralyzed with fear.
If you aren’t paralyzed, you aren’t going far enough. If you don’t feel yourself being avoidant, you’re probably settling. This is normal. Your brain wants you to be safe. Your body is built to procreate and die, not thrive. Naturally, facing pain will feel horrible and unnatural. It can’t be any other way. It feels like a threat, and threats must be stopped.
In order to get anywhere in life, you need to be uncomfortable constantly. You need to have new input and absorb new information or you’re not growing. If you don’t want to grow, it’s because things are fine as they are. You should be conscious and ok with the fact that they won’t change.
So do you want to be bigger? If yes, then you know what you have to do. If no, keep moving along.
Postscript: As I wrote this post, an email came in, and once again I’m paralyzed with fear. I must be on the right track. Back to work.
There are some lessons you can learn from the comfort of your couch– maybe watching a great video on Youtube or chatting with friends.
But there are other lessons that come hard. Here is one of them. But first, some background.
My girlfriend and I just walked 800 kilometers (500 miles) along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a 1000-year-old pilgrimage route. We did it in Vibram Fivefinger shoes– basically barefoot– on gravel, dirt road, and pavement. 35 days is what it took to complete.
In case you’re wondering, walking 6-8 hours a day across gravel, pavement, and dirt roads for a month hurts– sometimes, it hurts a fucking lot.
Some people were on beaches for their vacations, but we started Day 1 with a 4,500 foot climb up the Pyrenees. Other days involved walking 20 miles in the cold, rain and mud. Yet others were on blistering plateaus with no shade for up to 6 hours at a time. A casual stroll, this was not.
Why would someone choose to do this? Maybe, like John F. Kennedy famously said, we want to do them “because they are hard.” Maybe we are trying to prove to ourselves that we can do it, or to have an amazing experience. We all have our reasons. Some are more insane than others.
There are also some paths that you can get off of. Others, you can’t. You’re midway through and you want to finish, at all cost. You’re hurt and cynical and part of you wants to quit, but the other part of you wants it more than ever.
Why are we doing these things, anyway? Is it for approval? Do you want to be famous? Do you think that if you just get a little bigger or do something cooler, everything will be great and everyone will love you? Then you’re going to get extremely disappointed by life.
Consider the simple finish line.
Chris and I were talking the other day about marathons. Finishing means excited fans throwing Gatorade on your head or whatever. They’re excited and they cheer you on and hand you protein bars. They give you a little medal. Maybe you stand on a pedestal or something. You feel briefly invincible.
Most finish lines are not like this at all. Not a single person is waiting there to cheer you to the end. No one will change their vision of who you are. No one will love you more– in fact, if they do, run away, because that’s probably not a great person.
Midway through our 800km trip, we had this realization. Doing hard things for the approval or love of others is stupid. No one can understand, much less relate, to these kinds of things.
Only those that do it have a way of understanding. We heard this from our fellow walkers who had done it before. You would get back, people would listen, but no one could truly get it. The more marginal the experience, the more normal this is.
To fight this, they say, you get together with those that have done the same. Only then can you relate. Other people just nod their heads and say “cool,” then move on to talking about the Royal Couple or something.
It’s like being in a time warp. You get back home and, for them, nothing happened.
At first, this is depressing. “I did this epic thing and no one really cares.” But it isn’t that they don’t care at all– it’s that there’s no way for them to understand the epicness of the experience. The experience is unique and spans a week, a month, a year, or whatever, and it can’t be distilled into one sentence. It’s like a joke. You had to be there.
You should be grateful for this.
We are in a mass media culture where everything is broadcast for everyone to see. Often, we actually advocate doing so– but there are other things we can’t relate to at all, that can never be presented in a mass media fashion.
This means there’s a chance the experience may be truly different.
But if no one can relate, what does that mean? Well, to others it means that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve done it at all. It also doesn’t matter to them if you succeed or not. They won’t think of you differently.
Basically, you should stop doing stuff to impress people.
There’s no point in doing anything except for the value of the experience itself.
I’ve seen the same with regards to accolades, such as the phrase New York Times bestseller being attached to your name. People nod, there’s sometimes a brief acknowledgement, and then nothing. It might advance your career or something, but not much else. It’s not like people will like you for it if you’re an asshole. On a personal level, it changes nothing.
Yet people continue to search for professional success, or epic experiences, in order to extinguish their crushing inferiority complexes. But this is stupid and it doesn’t work.
True respect doesn’t come from accolades, so don’t try to get it there. Try being awesome to each other instead. (I swear to God that should be a blog post. Maybe I’ll do it.)
Look, we don’t need any more drones. There is no need for yet another person with a useless degree or another miserable doctor or lawyer who’s in it for the money or the prestige. We don’t need any more people hedging their bets or being safe.
We don’t need followers. We need leaders who will bring us where we need to go. In other words…
I was hanging out with a couple from France yesterday who just moved to Montreal. They were seriously bewildered at how easy it is to change careers in Canada/America. In France, you don’t have that. when you choose what you’re going to study, that’s what you do for the rest of your life.
Imagine an 18 year old deciding for you, at your age, what you’re going to do. It’s insane. I’m about to turn 32, so let me tell you, I’d like to change my mind from time to time. But these French people can’t do that– their education defines their career path.
Some things cannot be reversed. If you’re lost in the woods, as I was one day last month (long story), there really is no choice. The only way out is to go through, and that’s a very bad thing. No exit strategy, no way to quit. You have to continue forward until you’re done. This is very depressing.
All of us are on quests in one form or another. Some can be quit, while others cannot.
If you’re on the path to something you’re pretty sure you don’t want to be doing, may I suggest you fucking stop immediately? Because you are wasting your life.
You will die, no one will care, or even know, about all the suffering you went through. The money you’ve accumulated will go to ungrateful descendants who never suffered and it’ll all have been for nothing.
So you have two options. Double down or get the fuck out.
Welcome to the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure section of the post!
Option 1. Due to my infinite wisdom, you have now gratefully decided you need to get the hell out of your current situation. You’ve decided it’s pointless and that you’re going to die anyway, so you might as well make a difference in this world or at least be happy on your current path.
Congratulations. It’s time to double down.
A personal anecdote here might help. I recently realized (more like “accepted”) that it is possible that I have “a voice.” People have been telling me this for a long time, but I never really took it seriously before. Now I accept it, and I’m happy about it. Naturally, it also means I have to work way the hell harder than I did before since I’ve decided it’s something I actually want to do. I’ve decided to double down. How?
Well, in order to practice painting, many artists copy Old Masters drawings to help them understand what these great painters did. (It’s actually quite common practice.) So, my first act of insanity is inspired by Hunter S. Thompson. As he once did once a long time ago, I will open up Moby Dick for the first time, go to the first page, and procede to copy the entire book word for word.
This, of course, is totally ridiculous, perhaps pointless or insane. I agree. But like a month of walking 800km, there is no way to understand the experience but to walk it. And I am willing to waste a month doing this, if that’s what it takes. Even if it’s pointless.
You will need a personal act of insanity. If you’re going to continue and become the best in the world, you must have one. You must prove yourself to the mountain with a sacrifice. And this is the time.
Choose now. Make the sacrifice. See what happens.
Option 2. Congratulations on quitting the useless shit in your life. As Seth Godin once said in The Dip, if you’re not going to be the best in the world, get the hell out. Glad we agree. It’s time to admit you are wrong and quit.
Most of the problem with cutting your ties lies in loss aversion, and nothing more. We have so much trouble because we think that if we break up our long-term relationship, or quit our shit job, we’ll never find anyone again. This is totally nuts, but we believe it anyway.
We’re afraid of never getting anywhere again.
We think we’re lucky, not smart.
We have a feeling that this is as good as it gets.
You know, one day I’m going to tell the story about this trek and I’m going to say it’s for fucking pussies. I’m going to say it’s the easiest thing in the world. I will be that strong, and I know this.
I think that’s the difference. That’s something you need to believe in order to quit and still have your self-esteem with you. You need to realize that it’s a quest, and that quitting the things that don’t matter will give you vision and a better sense of context.
But for now, it was hard. Really hard. There’s absolutely no way for me to explain that to people– and I’m fine with that.
The same should be true with you. Do epic shit. Quit the mundane. Do it for yourself, and let people be confused. Who cares.
Prove yourself to the world, and eventually, the rest will fall into place.
Life is a series of decisions, one after another. When put together, they make you who you are.
Each decision is a bet. Some are made consciously; others not. Each bet you win shows you what you’re capable of, and what your next bet should be. As you win more bets, you get more ambitious. This is a good thing.
Here is an ambitious bet I just made that I think will interest you: in May, for 30 days, I will be quitting the internet.
Instead, during this time, I will be walking an 800 kilometer, thousand-year-old pilgrimage route in Spain– one that many people have walked or dreamed to, from Paulo Coelho to American President John Adams.
It’s something we’ve been planning for almost six months. It’s pretty cool to be on the cusp of a big trip like this.
But this post isn’t about my personal quest. It’s about yours.
Do you have something to quit the internet for?
Our brains are not wired to be made happy by the internet. Our emotions, like fear and joy, are based in a primal understanding of the world. This is something we can’t escape.
Saying the web is important to your life is like saying that television is important. It might be social, sure, but it’s still media. It can help connect but it also divides in a very fundamental way.
Touching a screen isn’t the same as touching a person.
The best stuff happens outside the web. Outside is new and frightening, not comfortable. Encountering pain helps transform your vision of yourself and forces you to grow.
And there is very little that is new and frightening on the web. The biggest realizations happen when you are in free-fall, not when you have a safety net.
Happiness is not related to Twitter feeds, blog posts, or even books– although books do get closer. What happiness is connected with is unique human experience, often untranslatable into any other medium. Much like Jacques Derrida’s ash or Zen, the quiet and the sacred have no way of speaking for themselves other than personal experience.
So, personal experience is what we must seek out. It’s personal and rare, so unlike what’s easily accessible (the web), it’s valuable.
But your life needs one. Your existence needs a purpose. For now, I have one. It helps me think about the future and will give me time to think and consider what’s important.
You should have a quest for the same reason. You should feel like you’re a part of something bigger, and that you’re going somewhere. You should feel like you have challenges to overcome, things that might even feel insurmountable.
It may interest you to do something like what I’m doing– or you may find it boring. You may have some inkling of what your quest should be, or you might have no idea. It might be crazy and amazing to others, or it might be entirely mundane to them. No matter, because it’s your quest, not theirs.
It doesn’t need to impress anyone but you.
Paul Nicklen goes to the coldest, most miserable parts of the world to photograph and document the animals that live there.
Brett Rogers makes documentaries about rivers by traveling down them in non-motorized craft.
The examples above are just from TED conferences I’ve attended this year, they weren’t hard to find or anything.
But isn’t it interesting how the examples I mentioned all came from people going to tough natural environments? If you’ve been here a while, you probably already know this about me. I love nature, earthworks and endurance. It’s all right up my alley.
You probably have stuff that’s similar. Do you remember what it is? Often, ideas like these are so buried that you have no idea what you actually care about anymore. Or, you do remember, but don’t realize how long it’s been since you thought about it.
So how do you find something you care about so much you’re willing to take a break from your regular life? In the end, that’s what this is about– finding something that’s so great, you want to take a break from your regular life to do it. Work, the web, your neighbourhood, whatever it is, if you feel like you’d love it more (or as much), you’re on the right track.
You can do this by performing certain exercises– removing boundaries like money, dependents, or the amount of possessions you have. Some people say you should write ideas down until you cry.
But this isn’t about finding your one great idea. It’s only about taking one single step forward, which is much easier.
Quests in movies always go the same way. The hero is seeking enlightenment, or vengeance, or peace. He has to find someone to teach him. He seeks out this person on the top of a mountain or desert– that is to say, a hard place to find. This is a metaphor for how we find clarity and learn new things. It’s hard.
I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. The stories in our lives inspire us because they are foundational to who we are. And we learn from them what steps we should take in own quests, and where we should go next from where we are.
Joseph Campbell listed a these steps in the Hero’s Journey. Have you ever seen them?
Where are you in here? Do you recognize yourself? Most people get stuck around number 3. Some are later, but not many. Are you one of them? If so, why are you refusing?
Are you stuck at number 7? This is your darkest hour, when you feel that you should give up and quit. It’s another major departure point from the quest, but in order to complete it, you have to go forward. It’s also what Seth Godin calls The Dip, but it’s universal. Have you been tested? Did you succeed?
Some people are at number 1 and have never considered anything outside the corridor they have lived in. Do you know any of them? Well, here’s a secret– most people who seem this way are in fact not here at all. Almost everyone is actually on a quest; they’ve just refused it, or have forgotten it. A temporary sidetrack.
Oops, it’s backwards. Ha, the message actually works better that way.
Look, your life has patterns, or corridors, that you need to know in order to become better. You feel pain when you leave the corridor because it is the unknown. In fact, pain might even be a signal that you are on the right track. But in order to see, you need to know what your patterns are– both good and bad.
If you have nothing better to do than spend time on Facebook or hang out at the old bar, your life may need some serious adjustment. If you don’t care about what you’re doing from day to day, or if every day seems like the last, then your whole life will be like this. You have refused the quest. You are done.
With growth and flexibility comes life; with rigidity comes death. This is a truth that expands to all living things. Your body knows this, so you should too.
The easy is not worth doing; only the hard is. It is your exposure to the new should become the norm, and your return to the old should be comfortable, but brief.
Seth Godin recently told me by email that the most important time in any project is the point at which you decide, unequivocally, that it will ship. Before that, it’s just an idea you toy around with.
Think of a relationship. Things are beautiful and perfect when they are new or aren’t real yet– but that’s precisely because they don’t exist. Once they become real, they get messy. That’s what happens when something goes from the imagination to actual existence.
Ideas, in fact, aren’t worth much. Everyone has them, even geniuses, but only those who deliver have an impact, and only those who know themselves are able to deliver.
Act as if you are stupid. Read in order to learn something, then act as if you’re stupid again and read more to make see if you’re right. Then go out into the world. Assume you will fail, but accept it, because it will make you less stupid.
Think this paragraph is funny? Well, it is, but it’s also true. What we know is vastly dwarfed by what we do not, but we act as if the patterns we recognize are all that life is or can be. This is wrong– this is actual stupidity.
If you want to be smart, you have to begin by being stupid. The hard part is staying that way.
A few months ago, a friend pointed me to this essay from Julian Assange’s old website. I remember thinking a lot about it. He had a quest, and in a way, it doesn’t matter what it was. It only mattered that, when he really looked at himself, he was doing what he thought was best for the world.
Good for the world, but not the way that people think Reaganomics is good for the world. The way that children think it.
Because, if you have a quest, then all of the suffering makes much more sense.
If you have a goal, then a lot of the actions you need to take become much clearer.
Even if your goal isn’t perfect, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s better– even 5% better.
You feel like you are a part of something. You feel like you will come back and be transfigured, and that people will see you differently.
But in fact, you will be more yourself than you ever were.
This is my 1000th post on this blog. I’m pretty proud of it.
I remember when I started in 2003, I didn’t think I was a writer at all. I did podcasts because I considered myself a verbal person. Well, I’ve changed.
When I began, I wrote bullshit, self-interested posts that were based on people thinking that my life and myself were interesting. On my show, I played a bunch of hip-hop music. It turned out that what people wanted to hear were my opinions. So I talked more.
The result, I guess, is where I am now.
This blog is now about growth. I’ve said I’d like to be unrecognizable in five years. I’d also like the same for you.
So I’d like you to subscribe. Why? Because quests are important. Top 10 and Twitter posts are not, but they are loud, so they seem that way. Often, the stuff that’s important is quiet. It isn’t obvious.
Your quest is quiet but important. So is mine. Hopefully, we’ll learn something, chat about it, and help each other along.
Our world is complex, and it needs heuristics for us to be effective.
One heuristic that works when we’re young is “listen to your parents,” because otherwise, we might die. Another adult heuristic might be “find an expert, and do what they say,” although that’s getting more and more complex these days.
The other day I verbalized a heuristic that I’ve been living for years. It is what has helped me deal with a massive inbox, what has helped me recognize and grasp opportunity, and what I think has helped me move forward much more quickly than I anticipated I would.
As you’ve guessed by now, the rule is
Many people freeze up when they have a lot of stuff to do. They get overwhelmed and paralyzed with indecision. They worry about whether what they’re doing is right. But most of that doesn’t matter.
Your decisions are much less consequential than you think they are.
That’s why this rule is amazing. If you use it during times of stress you will find yourself whizzing by hard problems and leaving them behind. If you’re smart, it works, because it subverts your overthinking brain and lets you live with the decisions you’ve made.
Another rule that works alongside this one is
This rule is great alongside the ‘fast decision’ rule because it lets you make mistakes quickly without missing opportunity.
If you make a mistake and say yes to something you shouldn’t have, then no worries– you’ve learned from it and you won’t be unsure next time… you’ll just say no.
These rules are just a small subset of a decision tree I use for daily life. It isn’t perfect, but it’s improving, and it helps me make the most of my day, and hopefully of my life.
Maybe one day I’ll unleash it on the world or something. Until then, I hope these help.