These are the 5 most important lessons I wished I knew 5 years ago.
1. Decide what you want
Too many people fail at step 1. They wait for permission from others to be brilliant. They wait for a sign on what they should pursue, what should be their “passion”. I’ll share a little secret with you that I hope will save you many years of pain, especially if you are young. There is no such thing as passion. All this advice from famous and successful people about following your passion just makes me crumble up inside. Passion is not a goal. Passion is a consequence from waking up and grinding daily at that one thing. Now choosing a life theme is another thing. It’s not attached to ephemeral things such as goals or passion.
The life theme is the purpose of your existence. It represents the ride.
Goals are the checkpoints.
Passion is the consequence.
The last two don’t really matter and can be changed and replaced as long as your life theme is pushed forward. I know too many people who are smart, very talented and creative who are just idly waiting for a framework to be bestowed upon their lap so they can understand how to connect the dots and start doing that one thing.
Deep down inside you know what you should be doing. But instead, you are here scrolling through this answer. Waiting for someone to mention that one thing too so you finally get confirmation to do what you know you should be doing.
Purpose lets you focus on the present moment. Nothing else matters.
So, my friend, are you taking steps that are aligned with your life theme or are you distancing yourself from it?
2. F*ck motivation. Build a system
Imagine you are playing your favorite video game.
Do you really care if your game character is tired, hungry or has not yet developed perfect skills? Of course not! You make him go through the quests and mission because you know that all these challenges will evolve the character, it will grow in experience. It will become a stronger and more impactful entity inside the game world.
The same format should apply to us, humans. We take ourselves to serious and put too much drama in accomplishing anything. Put in place a system. Once you’ve decided what you need to do, set a schedule for yourself and stick to it, every single day, at the exact same hour within a restricted timeline.
Warning! Don’t set a schedule based on your results. Checkpoints can be more of an anchor than a step forward. Track the action, not the result.
Saying “I want to lose 5 kg until the end of summer” will trigger our brains to render this concept in an abstract way. If you instead track running 10Ks 3 times per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) from 8 to 9 pm, that’s a system that you can control and stick to.
Stop focusing on how unpleasant this will be to do for the next 3 months. Focus on achieving this in the following week. Then reset again your expectations for the next week and so on. Don’t let life get it in the way, don’t rely on motivation. People damage themselves when they try to control the external things and let the internal conflicts run wild. This schedule is something internal. Take control.
You need to take motivation out of the equation. Set a schedule for your work. Genius arrives when you show up enough times to get the average ideas out of the way.
Professionals stick to the schedule, amateurs let life get in the way of their aspirations.
Professionals know what is important to them and work towards it with strong purpose, amateurs always react and get distracted by the urgencies of life.
3. Don’t look for the easy way out. Thrive under constraints
Related to the running example earlier.
“Oh, but it’s raining outside”
Great, put a hoodie on and go at it despite the weather. In fact, get a backpack and put a 5 kg weight in it, that will sure make your workout harder.
Most people complain. They want excellence, but they also want to sneak in. To find the easy way in. Media advertises it as witty and awesome to cheat the system. A sense of pride is promoted whenever we find that one cheat code. We point at the hard workers and then say: “Hey! Look at those people working their asses off. We skipped ahead, we are better”.
Becoming great is about having the proper discipline to commit to what is important to you instead of merely saying something is important to you. It is a form of self-induced freedom. It’s about starting when you feel like stopping, not because you want to work more, but because your goal is important enough to you that you don’t simply work on it when it’s easy. Becoming a pro is about making your priorities a reality.
“I don’t count my sit-ups, I only start counting when it starts hurting, when I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, cause that’s when it really counts.”
Dr. Seuss wrote a children’s book called Green Eggs and Ham by using a constraint of maximum 50 different words. He took the challenge as a bet and the prize was 50$. Since publication, the book has sold more than 200 million copies, making it the most popular of Seuss’s work and one of the best-selling children’s books in history.
Look for opportunity in every constraint and then conquer it.
Use that creative muscle.
4. Realize that time does not exist
In the Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle mentions that people are always caught in between different realities. You are not who you were, and you are not who you project to be. Time does not actually exist.
You cannot properly cope with something that is a projection of the mind, you cannot cope with an uncertain future and wait for things to figure themselves out on their own and you cannot cope being chained to the memories of the past because in truth they don’t define who you could be in this very instant.
It’s not too late. Just start.
It’s not too early. Don’t wait for that perfect moment. It will never come.
You are not too old. You are not too young.
You are everything you need now.
The future is created by every single step you take today.
“One year from now you would have wished you started today.”
Learn to be mindful in everything you do. I used to reject and protect myself from anything that caused me discomfort hoping that time will figure it out for me. I heard this quote a while ago that really changed my view about my anxieties and fears:
“When a wave comes, go deep”
There are three things you can do when life sends a wave at you:
- You can run from it, but eventually, it will catch up with you and knock you down
- You can also fall back on your ego, hold your ground thinking nothing can ever touch you, and then you will just end up smashed against the beach
- You can use the wave as an opportunity to go deep into the water, to explore the uncertainty under that pressure and the great unknown. You transform yourself to match your circumstances.
And that’s how you get through that wave.
Immerse yourself in what you have now. It’s all you got, you cannot rely on time because nothing lasts forever. Master the process.
5. Stop taking
Everyone wants to take.
“I want to do this because this is what I’m meant to do”
“I want to do this because I will learn this rare skill”
“I want to get that job because that will validate my intelligence”
“I want a great husband/wife because I deserve the best”
“I wish I had a mentor so I could become the greatest”
What if instead of always being in a taking mindset you shift yourself to a giving mindset?
You are procrastinating because, in reality, you feel like you are taking, and maybe you are taking something that you don’t even care about in true honesty.
Make it bigger than yourself. Make it a life quest where in a timeline of billions of years of existence since the universe was born, you had the opportunity to influence the life of others for a micro fraction of it.
Nobody is actually that important. We are all just wandering around trying to figure out our own shit:
- What am I meant to do?
- Why am I procrastinating?
- Why I am not good at this?
- Why am I not like the others?
- Why is life so hard?
So why not make our life bigger than ourselves? We will never achieve anything if we do it just for us for the sake of feeling good and reaching a certain state.
- How can I help my mentor?
- What can I bring to the table?
- How can I squeeze 10% more to create better quality in my work?
- How can I make other people laugh?
Most people are roaming around stuck inside their heads, in their own world with their own worries, focusing on petty problems thinking they will live forever. They usually break this pattern when someone brings external benefits to their lives. Everyone expects to be on the receiving end of the gift, but when you are the giver, then you have the power. You can control how you feel without being dependent on external events.
Seek to give. And maybe when you see that you’ve changed someone’s life for the better and you see them smile, you would have experienced what immortality feels like.
Give with all your heart!