Today I want to talk about why the articles you read, the people you hang out with, and the media you consume directly shapes your life, for better or worse (and how you organize your environment to create your best life possible).
It was Fall of 1997, and my oldest brother was finishing up applications to a couple colleges.
I didn’t know much about them, except that they were military schools. I knew even less what that meant, but I was curious like a cat. So when my brother was invited to spend a couple days at West Point, NY, I tagged along.
So my dad, my oldest brother and I took a plane (my first plane ride ever!) to New York.
I spent a couple days walking around the most bizarre place I’d ever been to in my life: everyone dressed up like they were in a perpetual state of groundhogs day from 1850; students were always in a hurry, running from barracks room to classroom to everywhere in between (and they’d get yelled at if they weren’t doing it fast enough); and after classes, they’d have to walk in formations with their rifles for hours, or play some kind of sport (intramural or core/club squad sports were mandatory for all cadets).
It looked demanding. It looked uncompromising. It looked hard as hell.
I was hooked. I wanted in.
And so it happened that a rotund 11 year old set his sights on gaining acceptance into the United States Military Academy at West Point.
7 years later, I got accepted.
All freshmen had to – it was mandatory.
While most people looked at it like a haze (and it certainly was that), I loved it.
There was something about the adrenaline I got from entering the ring, the surge of excitement I got from standing toe to toe with a competitor with nothing but my fists to protect me, and the raw intensity of dishing out (or the threat of receiving receiving) a beating…I couldn’t shake it. I had to get better; I had to keep fighting; I had to make the team.
So a scrawny 18 year old set his sights on competing for a spot on a nationally ranked boxing team.
A year later, I made the team.
As a logistics guy, I figured I’d do some “Fobbit” job (forward operating base + hobbit…get it?).
Maybe I’d coordinate some transportation movements. I’d probably do a lot of paperwork. I’m sure there would be some danger, but mostly I’d be safe.
At the end of the day, I figured it would be a really long, hot, boring experience.
When I got on ground, our Battalion was responsible for not only the logistics of the Brigade, but making sure those supplies got where they needed to go safely. This meant securing the convoys that went out every night.
I immediately volunteered to stand up and lead the convoy security platoon.
Over a hundred missions later, and after getting called a “cowboy” more than once, my gun truck platoon of cooks, drivers and warehouse workers returned home without a single combat related casualty (for the record, I think this had more to do with luck / Divine Providence / the Soldiers I worked with than my own skills).
I share these stories to point out that it's easy to make any story into a story of "success."
But the reality is, these events weren't successes. They were just moments in time where I took responsibility, and then I did the work.
I spent thousands of hours hustling academics, sports and extracurricular leadership activities to get into the Academy (not to mention another 4 years hustling to survive and graduate the Academy on time). I got battered and bruised competing for a spot on the boxing team (and took my fare share of blows trying to keep my position on the team). In Iraq, I rode outside the wire almost every night of the week. My brain was in a perpetual state of alert, practicing in my mind what would happen if one (or many) of my vehicles got hit by IEDs, and how I and the rest of my crew would respond. It was exhausting.
This is the reality of victory. It’s also the reality of failure. And it’s most certainly the reality of life.
Life is hard.
We all experience our fair share of bruises, setbacks and failures.
The question isn’t: how do we avoid these trials and tribulations – how do we avoid the pain? That’s foolish and naïve (not to mention impossible).
The question is: how do you overcome the struggles you will inevitably face? How do you push through fear, pain and uncertainty? How do you conquer your wolf?
But most importantly, how do we do all of these things in order to create and live the life we want to live.
There are 2 techniques I personally used (and continue to use) that helped me get through the darkest, most painful parts of my life.
They may or may not apply to you, but for what it’s worth, here they are:
When I set a goal, I etch it into my brain (a lot like Edmond Dantes etched words of encouragement into his cell wall). There is no other option than achieving what I set out to achieve (or die trying).
No, this is not always pleasant. Yes, sometimes I commit to the wrong things and regret the decision.
Inevitably, however, I make it to the end (bruised and battered, maybe, but still standing).
It’s not a technique for everyone, but if you must achieve something, I highly recommend it…
This is essentially an extension of the first technique, but it’s so important it deserves individual attention.
The person who sets a goal but doesn’t change his behavior is done before he starts.
Setting a goal, by its nature, REQUIRES change. And it requires the right sort of change if we hope to find success. But to create the right kind of change, we need to immerse ourselves into the subject/topic/activity we hope to achieve success in.
Just like the fastest way to learn a new language is through immersion into the environment and culture of the language you want to learn, the fastest way to achieve a goal is through immersing yourself into the goal itself.
I immersed myself in the application process for West Point by reading books, strategically creating my resume, and learning from cadets who had recently been accepted. I immersed myself in the boxing world by jump-roping every morning, hitting the heavy-bag every night, and by watching “Gladiator” way too many times. When I became the Battalion’s Convoy Security Platoon Leader, I immersed myself in small unit tactics, mobilized and dismounted infantry strategies, and enemy techniques.
At the end of the day, immersion, more than anything else, helped me achieve my goals by forcing me to live and act as the person I hoped to become.
“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” - James Allen
If you’re hoping to find success in any endeavor, the right mindset will be your greatest ally.
Conversely, the wrong mindset will be your greatest enemy.
Changing your mindset takes unreasonable commitment and immersion into the philosophy you want to live.
Which is why it’s essential you:
For the former: this isn’t something I can help you with directly. You decide the people you let into (and keep out of) your life. If you’re not sure who to keep in your life and who to avoid, my best advice: examine their character.
As for the latter, well, that’s the point of this blog, my books and my podcast: to immerse you in a mindset that could change your life for the better.
A few weeks ago someone expressed interest in having other ways to consume the material I create, in particular, by recording audio versions of my articles. I
figured I’d give it a shot, so here it is.
Below (or by clicking the image to the left) you’ll find my first ever Resistance Broadcast Audio Session’s CD. I took 8 of my favorite articles and recorded them into high quality MP3’s you can listen to on your phone, MP3 player, computer, or burn to disk and listen to them in your car or on your boombox at the beach.
What's the point of it all?
Simple: to provide you an additional resource to immerse yourself into the right mindset to fight and win your inner creative battles and create your life's work.
Will this single CD change your life?
I doubt it - doing something once rarely changes everything...
But could listening to this CD (and others like it) more than once, reading this blog (and others like it) consistently, and earnestly putting into practice the philosophy you learn in this material change your life?
Without a doubt.
So I hope you enjoy today's article and I sincerely hope The Resistance Broadcast Audio Session CD 1 inspires you to keep going, even when things get difficult.
And things will get difficult...
Good luck and keep fighting.
p.s. the CD is free, so you can't lose 🙂
In the Army, soldiers have to zero and qualify with their weapon every six months.
This is a requirement for everyone, regardless of rank or position.
From cooks to pilots, Privates to Captains – everyone qualifies.
Qualifying with a weapon means hitting a certain number of targets from set distances with a certain number of rounds.
The point of qualifying is to validate that you know how to use your weapon and you can use it effectively.
To qualify with the M4, the Army’s standard issue rifle, soldiers are required to hit a minimum of 23 targets (with only 40 rounds of ammo), from 50 to 300 meters out.
To be honest, this isn’t a very difficult number to hit; even the weakest marksman can usually hit in the high 20’s…
If their weapon is zeroed…
Zeroing is the process of confirming your weapon will hit what you aim at.
The general practice for zeroing an M4 involves a process of shooting 3 rounds at a time to judge accuracy (rounds hit where you aim) and “shot group” (i.e. all the rounds hit close to the same area consistently).
A good zero means you’ve got an accurate site picture and a tight shot group.
Sometimes, zeroing a new rifle with a new shooter can take upwards of 50 or 60 rounds. But once the weapon is zeroed to the shooter, it’s possible to zero in six rounds (two tight shot groups of three to confirm your site picture).
You’d think a weapon would come zeroed – that it would automatically hit what you aim at - but that’s not the case. Every weapon is a bit different and you almost always have to adjust the sites if you want to hit your target (when you’re aiming at a target from 300 meters away, the room for error decreases significantly).
There are a multitude of reasons for this, but it ultimately comes down to your build, how you line up the shot, and how you’ve set your sites.
Since every person is slightly different, every person needs to zero their weapon before they qualify.
I’m guessing you can see where I’m going with this analogy…
Zeroing and qualifying applies to more than just rifles.
In the business world, if we hope to qualify an idea, we’d better have our sites adjusted and zeroed. Just as it would be impossible to believe someone could qualify if they’ve never zeroed, it’s impossible to think someone could hit the bull’s-eye with their business plan in one attempt.
Yet people try to make this happen, over, and over, and over again.
Instead of taking the time to zero, people go for bull’s-eye on their first attempt.
Inevitably, they fail.
More often than not, they quit.
These aren’t talentless people. They aren’t passionless or ignorant or unqualified. On the contrary, many of them have years of experience in their sector, some have advanced degrees, and others have even started successful companies before.
But when they get a new idea, they skip the time consuming process of zeroing their idea – who is this product for, what will they pay for it, how do I know they want this, where has this worked before, what are my sales channels, can I do this without going bankrupt, etc. – and they jump right into qualifying – building the product, leasing the space, creating scalable channels, etc.
Their desire is the same desire we all have - we want the win, we want the bull’s-eye, and we want it now.
And therein lies the problem – without taking the time to get a good zero, you’ll never qualify – you’ll never hit the mark.
Even the best marksmen in the world zero their weapons before they qualify or compete.
And they do this each and every time.
If you want to be a great entrepreneur (or author, or anything else for that matter), you need to get used to zeroing before you qualify.
This means progressively getting a better site picture and tighter shot group – understanding who you’re writing to, understanding what they want to hear and how they want to hear it, knowing the best way to deliver the most powerful message, etc.
But of course – and here’s the catch - zeroing means failing.
Every round that doesn’t hit its mark is a small failure. But it’s all for a purpose: with enough failures you can correct your shot group and qualify.
No one brings a single round to zero – that’s foolish. Even if you hit your mark, you can’t validate your site picture or shot group with one round – it could have been pure luck. And just because you miss the mark with one round doesn’t mean you’re completely lost or ruined – you could be a small adjustment away from hitting bulls-eye.
The point is this: you don’t know unless you shoot multiple rounds; you don’t know unless you’re willing to fail more than once.
Business and art are the same way.
You can’t expect to zero in one try. Your ideas need to be progressively validated. You need to take your time and adjust your sites. And if something is off, you need to meticulously correct and adjust until it’s on target again.
Sometimes, this requires many, many rounds.
In the conventional business world, your job is to take and execute orders. Eventually, you’ll be responsible for disseminating orders from above, but at the end of the day, you’ll never have to do too much creative thinking, nor flex your creative brain too much.
Your job is to not fail at taking and executing orders.
On the other hand, if you want to live a life dictated by you and you alone, you need to get used to failing.
Entrepreneurship, art, writing…these things require the creator to fail before he succeeds. It takes time to adjust a site picture and tighten a shot group. It takes a lot of failure to finally find success.
Connecting the dots is never easy. Putting something together from scratch is difficult. Succeeding is, well, rare.
But if you’re the kind of person who gets restless building someone else’s empire, or living on someone else’s terms, then you’ve got to get comfortable missing the mark.
Remember, trying to hit bull’s-eye on your first try is insane without a good zero.
Focus on your shot group and site picture. Focus on consistent, small improvement. Focus on failing closer and closer to your mark.
Failure is inevitable during this process, but stick with it long enough and you’ll discover something incredible:
Winning is also inevitable.
Because at the end of the day, you'll get your good zero.
And if you can get your good zero, you will hit your target.
Have you ever tried writing a book, a blog, or business copy?
If so, you’ve probably experience writers block: the inability to form your ideas into the perfect words, sentences, and paragraphs.
But this type of block isn’t exclusive to writers.
All creative entrepreneurs - from writers, designers, and inventors, to artists, marketers, and entrepreneurs, experience creative block.
Creative block is the inability to satisfactorily form into something tangible the ephemeral ideas in your mind.
Creative block can hit anyone trying to tell the perfect story, build the perfect product, or produce the perfect piece of art.
And if you’ve experienced creative block, you know what an infuriating pain it is and how quickly it can cripple your project.
You also understand one thing only the few brave enough to create understand: Creative block is real.
Creative block is one of the Enemy’s most effective creativity-destroying weapons.
If you’re not careful, the Enemy will use creative block to get you to quit your project prematurely, give up before you even start, or abandon your life’s work althogether.
Don’t give up – there is a way to fight back and overcome creative block, once and for all.
But you must be ready to go to war with yourself and your art.
If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. [Dale Carnegie]
There are ideas in your head - ideas that may be vivid, logical and clear before you sit down to write - but the moment you put pen to paper (fingers on keyboard) they vanish.
You sit down to bring these ideas to life but the ideas fade into nothing.
You stare at the screen desperately, hoping through sheer willpower you’ll be able to form your perfect idea into the perfect sentence…but it’s gone.
The worst part – throughout the day you had no problem at all coming up with great ideas.
But they all came at the most inopportune times.
These brilliant ideas come to you in their lucid entirety while driving, showering, or eating; while mindlessly folding clothes, lifting weights, or going on a long run; while in a conversation, reading a book, or listening to a presentation.
But the moment you need them – sitting in front of the blank screen - they vanish.
It seems like when you don’t need the ideas, the ideas come in waves, but when you need the ideas – when you sit down to write; when getting words on paper is the only thing that counts – the ideas disappear.
There are ways to overcome creative block.
It starts with identifying the reality of the situation: yes, creative block exists…
But only when we care deeply about what we create and how people will perceive it.
If you don’t care about what you write, or you’re not concerned with how it's perceived, you can write freely and unencumbered (think personal journal or email to a close friend).
For those who care about their work and about how it's perceived, overcoming creative block can be a bit trickier.
Fighting back against creative block is hard if we do it through force.
The two most common techniques are:
Both of these techniques are equally ineffective and will wreck you in different ways.
Both are tools of the Enemy.
Both will bury you.
The only way to overcome creative block is through the circumvention of disempowering thoughts, and focused discipline of good habits.
Forcing the right words never works.
When we sit in front of a computer all day, stressing and straining to get the “right” words onto the screen, we begin our descent into the self-perpetuating abyss of wasted time.
If the words don’t come out right the first hour at your computer, they sure won’t come out right by hour five.
They won’t come out right because they can’t: the words you write are never right. They’re also never wrong.
When we focus on creating the perfect sentence, the perfect flow, the perfect tone, style, or theme, we forget what’s ACTUALLY important: the message.
We forget our purpose; we forget our why; we forget the entire concept of art, which is this: art is never right or wrong.
The first and often most effective way to overcome creative block is to forget forcing the right words and begin allowing the wrong words...
People have writer's block not because they can't write, but because they despair of writing eloquently. [Anna Quindlen]
Eventually, once you allow enough of the wrong words, you’ll forget right and wrong altogether and simply create.
Waiting for inspiration is pointless and futile.
Often, when we’re burned out, tired, or simply unmotivated, we rationalize taking off days, weeks, or months so we can reset and recharge.
The thought process: if I’m well rested, if I take some days of to reset my mind, I’ll come back better and stronger. Plus, the best writing is inspired writing, so I must wait until I’m inspired before I write.
This is the Enemy at work.
The Enemy will justify why you should rest and save strength, why taking a break for an indefinite period is essential for creativity, and why avoiding writing is the surest way to clear your mind for more writing.
The Enemy uses creative block to dismantle and destroy your project because it needs you sedated, compromised and passive.
The Enemy’s survival depends on keeping you safely hidden inside the group so as not to expose yourself through your art.
The Enemy fears you as an outlier and uses thoughts of ‘waiting for inspiration’ to cripple your dreams.
Don’t accept this for one second.
Here’s the reality: inspiration comes to those who grind, work, and create.
Inspiration comes to those who allow it to happen through movement, through action, through consistent, repeated behavior.
Inspiration comes to those who are disciplined.
I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning. [William Faulkner]
Sit down and create every day and you will find your inspiration.
When we put our words, ideas, and art out there; when we produce publicly; when we tell everyone who we are and what we’re about, we expose ourselves to the tribe.
And the tribe isn’t always on our side.
This fear of the tribe, of judgment and criticism, keeps many people from starting, finishing, and shipping their great work.
Overcoming creative block really isn’t a secret. It just means doing the work every day.
But you already knew that.
The real question is: do you have the courage to create in spite of these fears?
And that, like everything important in life, is your choice.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. [Mark Twain]
"The owner or manager of a business enterprise who, by risk and initiative, attempts to make profits"
The entrepreneur seeks to make a profit – at least, conventionally speaking.
The conventional entrepreneur believes he can do something better (cheaper, faster, closer etc.) than what exists in the market place.
He builds something to fill a need in exchange for profit, and, we might imagine, does so because profit is the goal.
"One, such as a painter, sculptor, or writer, who is able by virtue of imagination and talent or skill to create works of aesthetic value, especially in the fine arts"
The artist creates things of aesthetic value – again, at least conventionally speaking.
The artist does what he is compelled to do – which is to create art. The artist creates what doesn’t exist, and, we might imagine, does so because he loves his craft intrinsically.
I propose a third option.
Someone who loves the process as much as the potential impact; who wouldn’t create if it didn’t affect others powerfully and positively; who takes himself seriously enough to do the terrifying, creative things others would gladly avoid.
I propose the idea of an entrepreneur who doesn’t create solely for return on investment, and an artist who doesn’t create solely for internal self-satisfaction.
I propose a hybrid: the Creative Entrepreneur.
One whose business is an extension of one’s personality and art; whose purpose is creating something bigger than oneself, something that can grow and expand, but never at the expense of creating art as a gift; who seeks true freedom, even if it means uncertainty or failure; who desires self-determination, even if it means challenging the tribe; who does the hard, creative work, day in and day out, because it matters.
The Creative Entrepreneur tells a story through film and story (and teaches others how to do the same), like Benjamin Jenks from Adventure Sauce (twitter: @benjaminojenks), or writes to inspire writers, like Jeff Goins from Goinswriter.com (twitter: @JeffGoins ).
This concept is nothing new – the Creative Entrepreneur has always existed (from Archemides to Da Vinci to Ford).
But now, becoming a Creative Entrepreneur isn’t just more attainable than it’s ever been, it’s more imperative.
The ordinary fades away, the average is ignored, and the usual is just that (and lost in the noise).
But the Creative Entrepreneur stands out, sticks around, and leaves an impact.
The life of the Creative Entrepreneur isn’t easy, nor is it comfortable.
But it’s not supposed to be.
We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable. [G. K. Chesterton]
When I was a sophomore in college, I tried to do something I wasn’t sure I could do.
I decided to compete in the Brigade Open Boxing Tournament.
The Brigade Open is an annual event at West Point. It’s a chance for anyone to enter the ring and compete for a title belt. It’s open to all students, but the winners are almost always those on the boxing team.
So entering with very little experience and going up against legitimate national champions probably wasn’t the smartest idea.
I did it anyway.
It had nothing to do with winning - I didn't think I could - but everything to do with at least trying.
I made my commitment several months out from the first scheduled fight of the tournament and got to training.
Every night, after hours of class, drill, intramural sports and homework, I went up to the boxing room, by myself, to hit the heavy bag (like a Nike commercial, but less dramatic).
Every morning, I woke up at 5am to jump rope in sweats. It was exhausting, but the only way I stood a chance was to cut weight.
When the first fight came, I was trembling. I didn't feel ready. Even though I cut weight to be more competitive, my oponent was bigger than me. It seemed, at that moment, I had committed to nothing more than getting my face knocked in.
The bell rang and the fight started.
In the middle of the second round, the referee blew the whistle. A stoppage. The referee was concerned one of the boxers would end up seriously injured.
I won my first fight.
I was pumped.
And then I realized what winning actually entailed.
If I had lost, I could go back to my regular routine. I could have given myself a pat on the back and still walked away proud for trying. I didn't think I could win anyway.
But now, by winning my first match, I had to fight another. And by trying to do something I wasn't sure I could do - and then doing better than I expected - I raised the bar for myself.
Now "who cares if I win or lose," turned into "I might actually be able to do this."
I trained harder.
The next fight came. Once again, I went up against someone who seemed my superior. I felt weak from cutting weight and training - maybe I overtrained. Once again, my chances didn't look good.
I entered the ring, the bell rang, the fight started, and the whistle blew two minutes later. Stoppage.
I won my second fight.
Somehow, against all odds, I would be competing for the championship belt at the finals.
For the first time, I knew there was a chance I could win.
The next fight was filmed by ESPNU with Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore commentating (a big deal in the boxing world).
The ring stood in the middle of a giant auditorium, professional spotlights hung from the ceilings, and spectators crowded the bleachers; the bar had been raised.
My fight was moments away.
Unlike my last two opponents, this guy was the real deal; he boxed on the West Point boxing team and was a serious contender for regional and national champion.
The only advice a friend could give me: knock him out in the first round.
He knew what I didn’t want to admit to myself: I wouldn’t last three rounds with this guy.
The fight started.
First round came and went – I landed some heavy hits. No knockout.
The only strategy I had was out the window.
The fallback plan: survive.
The second round tested my resolve and the sturdiness of my face. On more than one occasion the blows should have knocked me out. Somehow, I made it to the end of the round. Bloody, but not broken.
The third round delivered even more devastation. The referee came close to calling it but I wouldn’t stop pressing. I could have hung to the outside of the ring, but I knew that would give a reason to end the fight. Even though I took a beating, I kept pressing. The bell sounded and the fight ended.
I made it to the end of the third round. I finished the fight.
The next day, one of my teachers who watched the fight live sent me this quote in an email:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”Theodore Roosevelt
After the quote he wrote two words:
Anytime I’m nervous, or scared, or uncertain, or worried that something I do might not work, or what I write won’t resonate, or after months and years of passionate commitment my project won’t make it and I’ll be left with nothing…
Anytime I start thinking this way, I remember to keep fighting.
Because it’s better to be in the arena and fail, than a spectator who knows neither victory nor defeat.
I kept fighting.
My tenacity earned me a spot on the boxing team.
I won my first tournament later that year.
One thing Teddy Roosevelt forgot to add: victory tastes better when you’ve known defeat.
And so I urge you, those of you starting something new, doing something important, or chasing your vision quest:
It's not always easy. But it's worth it in the end.
As soon as you make the choice to create something worthwhile, you take the first step in a long and very real journey.
Like most journeys, it's not always pretty.
Life will try to beat you down and break you if it can.
There will come a time (many times, actually) when things are confusing, uncertain and perilous.
You will face setbacks, breaking points, and failure.
Your peers might scorn you, your "tribe" ignore you, and your effort will seem in vain.
The path will be rarely straightforward, the road rarely clear, and the struggle lonely and sometimes desperate.
At times like these, it will make sense to quit.
There's nothing pretty about doing something ambitious or unorthodox.
The journey of creating something worthwhile is messy - it can't be any other way.
The journey itself must be scary, dangerous, and unreasonable - otherwise there would be no need for the courage of the adventurer.
The adventurer recognizes the only paths left to explore are those that are scary, dangerous and unreasonable.
The adventurer understands that the guaranteed and safe path is traveled daily by those of little courage.
But the unknown path - the one that sits beyond the threshold of certainty - is ripe for exploration and for what befalls those brave enough to travel along it.
Your journey is unique.
At times it will be painful; you will doubt yourself and your project, question your ability, and challenge every virtue you thought you possessed.
But while your journey is unique (and the struggle will, at times, seem unbearably lonely), the pain you experience is universal.
Every adventurer sets his own course and travels his own path, but the pain he experiences - the loneliness, confusion, fear and desperation - those are experienced by every adventurer who chooses the unknown path.
But the path is painful for a reason.
The spoils go to the victor, and the victor is always the one who sticks it out to the end.
Like everything worth doing, it won't be easy.
But like every difficult thing worth doing, the spoils go to the adventurer and the adventurer alone.
Have you started on your journey?
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Join The Resistance and defeat your inner creative Enemy so you can finally create your life's work.
Starting down the path to success is simple.
To be successful at anything, you must commit.
But committing to anything means you make a transition.
When you commit, you transition from someone who dabbles to someone who goes all in; from someone who quits when things break to someone who takes it all the way; from someone who lets the claustrophobia of determination keep them from pursuing something worthwhile, to someone willing to face the loneliness of creation without hesitation.
When you commit, you make the transition from Hobbyist to Professional.
This transition changes everything.
Transitioning from Hobbyist to Professional changes your priorities.
When you finally take yourself and your work seriously enough to sell your product, you will find that things in your life start to prioritize themselves organically.
The things you thought were important - like watching the news or knowing pop culture trivia - fade to the background and become superfluous.
The things you had initially avoided as unnecessary discomforts – waking up early, writing every day, or never ending the day without a sale – become your lifeblood.
Transitioning from Hobbyist to Professional not only alters your priorities, it forces you to identify your focus.
In order to instigate (start, finish, and ship) successfully, you will need to focus entirely on one end-state, and this end-state will require all your time, energy and creativity to bring to fruition; it requires everything you've got.
To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence. [Turning Pro]
Becoming a Professional is no joke.
Nothing great is created by half-hearted commitment, lack of follow through, or someone unwilling to take it all the way.
The Professional understands this and acts accordingly.
Success requires commitment and only the Professional, not the Hobbyist, is ready to take on the pain, heartache and seriousness of commitment.
Committing itself is simple: all you have to do is choose one end-state and make sure you get there (no matter what).
The difficult part of commitment isn’t the focusing on one end-state, nor the grit it takes to bring that end-state into existence (although that requires something special too); the difficult part is what focusing on one end-state means for everything else in your life.
Commitment means purposefully ignoring other end-states, other projects, and other courses of action.
Commitment to anything (a healthier lifestyle, a new project, your life’s work) means you discriminate; that you choose one goal over another.
Commitment means you close doors; that the only door you leave open is the one that leads to your chosen goal.
Wishing never solved the problem. If you wanna get it big time, go ahead and get it, get it big time. [Yeasayer]
When we commit, we inevitably lose out on other paths, other ambitions, and other goals.
Sometimes it even means losing out on the people closest to us.
To do that willingly is tough. It’s scary. It's madness.
There’s nothing easy about commitment, which is exactly why most people don’t commit and instead “keep their options open” into eternity…
But here’s the catch: We think keeping our options open gives us safety, or power, or certainty.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The only way to guarantee failure is to never close any doors at all.
All you have to do to make sure you never build your empire, or develop that healthy lifestyle, or create your life’s work, is to keep all your options open, to never close yourself off to anything, and to stay available ad infinitum; to seek and scan for success, but never focus to bring it into existence.
Closing doors is scary; you might choose the wrong one, miss a great opportunity, or regret the choice you make.
Close a door and something bad might happen.
You might fail.
Keeping all your doors open is comforting; you never have to live with the pain of second-guessing your choice, the regret of choosing wrong, or the responsibility of creating your life's work.
Keep all your doors open and nothing will happen.
You're guaranteed to fail.
There is no scarcity of opportunity…only scarcity of resolve to make it happen. [Wayne W. Dyer]
The choice is yours.
Creating anything takes guts; I explained that in depth in my book The Art of Instigating.
It takes guts because you're going to take a hit (no question about it), and taking a hit isn't pleasant.
Nobody WANTS to take a hit.
But the person unwilling to take a hit might as well stay out of the arena.
The boxer not willing to get knocked down shouldn't enter the ring, just like the creator/producer/writer/inventor not willing to fail should avoid creating art.
When you step into the ring - when you enter the arena - you will take a hit.
If you’re not ready to deal with it – to take a hit and to hit back – you’ve lost before you even started.
Most people don’t commit.
Most people don’t go all in.
Most people don’t burn the boat.
As soon as you make up your mind to do all three, you’ve just eliminated 90% of the competition.
Why? Because most people don’t commit, when things get difficult (and they always do), they throw in the towel.
After all, what’s the point of going through the pain of taking another hit when you had no intention of making it to the last round in the first place?
Most people dabble – most people are hobbyists – and when the real pain of creating, building and inventing sets in, they throw in the towel and walk away.
Eventually you’ll get hit.
No matter how good a boxer, no matter how great a writer, designer, builder, entrepreneur or inventor, you will experience rejection, setback and failure.
You can’t avoid taking a hit, but you can train yourself to take a hit (and hit back).
The hobbyist spends his energy trying to avoid taking a hit. When the hit comes (and it always does), he's done.
The hobbyist never commits.
The professional – the person serious about what he's doing – is willing to take a hit and knows how to hit back.
The professional commits.
And because the professional commits, he has very little competition from the hobbyists.
The professional will inevitably find success - he’s in it to the end.
The hobbyist is done before he starts.
Which are you?
This is part 2 of a 3 part series explaining the Enemy (the thing stopping us from creating our epic work). You can read part one here. If you are new, read my new book: The Art of Instigating; this article will make more sense, I promise.
In the first part of this series, I explained the conventional forces of the Enemy: the Army of Bad Habits (the accumulation of years of individual actions, repeated daily and consistently).
Fighting the Army of Bad Habits isn’t easy, but it’s also the simplest to understand and identify.
The unconventional force of the Enemy is much harder to understand and identify.
The Enemy’s unconventional force is one that uses subterfuge to confuse us into giving up on a project right at the start, or bailing on our project near the end.
It gets us when and where we’re weakest.
The Enemy’s unconventional force is negative self-talk propaganda.
“Negative self-talk propaganda is all the terrible, unproductive, fruitless, worthless, silly things we say to ourselves when we’re building something worthwhile.” [Tom’s Blog]
The self-talk originates in the rational part of our brain (the left side of the brain; although exactly where our rational thoughts come from is still being debated and a topic for another post).
These thoughts are negative because they don’t help you create anything.
Negative self-talk propaganda will rationalize why you shouldn't do anything inventive, productive, or creative for as long as you live.
And, in fact, negative self-talk propaganda will try its hardest to out-rationalize your positive, ambitious side by explaining why anything you decide to create will fail; why anything you long to build will just enter the abyss of unsuccessful; why no matter how hard you try, it will all be in vain.
If you’re hoping for a rational reason why you should instigate, you might as well stop looking, stop instigating, and start following orders, instructions, and rules.
There is nothing rational about building your empire or creating something from scratch and without permission (or at least nothing to out-rationalize why you SHOULDN’T do these things).
The negative self-talk propaganda in your head is very, very good at rationalization; its entire existence is based on subterfuge and undermining your productive thoughts.
It’s propaganda because we've learned, over time, what society (school, family, work, etc.) thinks we should do, and those memories affect and change our internal monologue.
This propaganda is the negative things we say to ourselves as we try to build something epic, something we've seen others do but we know we can do better, or something unique but we’re not sure how others might take it.
It’s propaganda because it’s not true.
Anything you thought could be done can be done.
Anything you think you could do better can be done better.
Anything unique you want to bring to the world deserves to be brought into existence.
Negative self-talk propaganda can’t be destroyed; it can’t be killed and buried like we all wish it could.
It exists, and we have to deal with it every day for as long as we live – no amount of therapy will get rid of it.
The way to deal with negative self-talk propaganda is simple:
Negative self-talk propaganda HATES when we take our lives into our own hands, develop our goals, and ship them to the market.
It hates it because it can’t do anything about the persistent effort we give to a singular endeavor.
If you think you should quit, if you think it might not work, if you think it’s stupid…do it anyway.
Go to work.
You’ll find (very quickly) the negative self-talk propaganda fades….
At least for a time.
As with everything worth doing, the Enemy will always be there to try and break us down.
Don’t let it.
Instigate your life’s work.
p.s. what are you working on that the Enemy is stopping you from creating? Have you had to deal with negative self-talk propaganda? If so, how do you deal with it?
Success isn't random.
Creating a successful project is no different.
A business (whether an individual writing novels, a corporation selling insurance, or a nonprofit doing charitable work) is nothing more than a series of projects.
A successful business, therefore, is nothing more than a series of successful projects.
Look at any successful company – Coke, Nike, Apple, Kickstarter, Amazon, Chic-fil-A, Lululemon, Rogue Brewery – do you think their success is simply luck?
Or is it more likely that these companies have a system for instigating successful projects?
Creating a successful project is not about luck or coincidence (although either may help or hurt your project).
On the contrary, there are historically proven steps you can take in order to be successful.
*note: Every single one of the companies I listed above follows some form of this model for upper and lower level management when taking on any new project or product launch.
The following are 3 proven steps to guarantee your success in any project you're about to instigate:
What’s the last goal you set? Did you reach it? If not, where is that goal right now? Above your computer? In your wallet? Taped to the visor in your car?
A goal is only as good as your focus.
There are great tips out there for creating compelling, powerful goals (the SMART method is excellent: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound), but none of it matters if you don’t review your goal daily…
And then take action daily to achieve the goal.
Goals give purpose and direction to our actions, but we need to review and maintain the goal daily to make sure we don’t get sidetracked.
Tip: Set a goal, write it down, and review it every day. It seems so painfully obvious it almost hurts to write – but how often do we put this common sense to practice?
Another one that seems obvious, but how often do we actually commit AND follow through with our projects?
There are ways to measure the success and failure rate of start-ups There are ways to determine the revenue generated from a specific advertising campaign. There are ways to identify the conversion rate of your product's splash page.
There is no way to measure all the projects that failed before they started.
There’s no way to determine the success or failure of a project if we never make it through the brainstorming and thrashing stage.
If our great idea stays an idea, it fails.
If we set a goal but never follow through, we fail.
Tip: Once you've identified your goal, commit your time, energy and focus toward realizing it. Don’t stop until it’s finished. Follow through.
This is what separates successful companies from failed companies.
The pattern of all great companies (and all great instigators) is to create, ship, measure, refine, and ship again.
The beauty of this method: it plans for future failure.
When Pepsi released Crystal Pepsi in 1993, they pushed the marketing and advertising campaign hard. And, for a short (very short) period of time, it was successful.
Until it wasn’t.
Pepsi didn’t push the failing product; they pulled it from the market. They tweaked the formula and released a citrus variation called Crystal from Pepsi, which you probably never heard of, because that failed too. They pulled it from the market.
Pepsi didn’t try to release a new version; the clear-Pepsi thing simply wasn’t working. So Pepsi took the measured results and used them for future product and marketing campaigns (Sierra Mist).
Pepsi can get away with more large scale product failures than we can, but we can still mimic the fundamental pattern of how they create and introduce new products to market (a system that has more wins than losses).
Eventually, one of these products will be successful. That’s the nature of measuring, refining, and shipping; you will eventually create something successful (i.e. something people want and will pay money for).
It’s not guess work; the creation of a successful product is very much a scientific process of measuring results and modifying inputs.
Tip: As long as we learn from our mistakes and use that information to shape future projects and products, we will inevitably create a successful offering. Always measure, always refine, always ship.
The success of a project has nothing to do with luck.
Serendipity and providence can help us, sure, but if we rely on either to propel us toward success, we’re destined to fail.
Serendipity and providence only help those who don’t seek them.
And while we don’t have control over our lucky breaks, we do have control over something more powerful: our actions.
"Life is pretty simple: you do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works." - Leonardo da Vinci