Do the work

This is the unavoidable fact that accompanies any endeavour, new business, project or whatever it is. You are going to have to work.

A lot.

This frightens some people. So much so, that they don’t even begin, or they quit at the first sign of resistance.

So if you are not afraid of work, then you are off to a good start, because it is the essential ingredient needed to shift the odds of succeeding in your favour.

Consider the author Stephen King, who in early 1973, aged 26, was living in a trailer with his wife and two children (that’s a caravan for us aussies), earning $6,000 a year as a full-time teacher, with no phone because he couldn’t afford the monthly rental.

He had just drafted the first 3 pages of Carrie, hated what he had written, and threw it in the wastepaper basket. That same night his wife Tabitha plucked those pages out and encouraged him to keep writing. To keep doing the work.

Stephen finished the manuscript for Carrie in a few months and DoubleDay subsequently accepted it with a $2500 advance, more than he had ever received for a book before.

Just a few months later, Signet books bought the paperback rights to Carrie, for which Stephen received US$200,000.

Was he just lucky? Sure, he had a little bit of luck when his wife pulled those three pages out of the wastepaper basket, but he also put in a lot of work.

Stephen began his writing career writing career twenty years before Carrie made him into a household name. He started as a 6-year old, copying Combat Casey comic books, word for word, and later writing mostly short stories to make ends meet. It’s hard to estimate the volume of work he did over the next two decades, but his word count must have been in the millions. I’ve been writing this blog for 2 months and I’m up to about 15,000 words.

A lot of emphasis is placed on planning, setting milestones, or making business roadmaps. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a plan, but they don’t matter anywhere near as much as putting in the work.

As Arnie says, work your ass off.

If you liked this article, then check out The myth of a balanced life, and also Are you the tortoise or the hare?

The ultimate litmus test

So you’ve started on your project, new business, diet, exercise regimen, or whatever endeavour it is that has been gnawing at you for ages.

Now that you’ve begun, you are starting to get some runs on the board. Things are taking shape, your enthusiasm is building and so is your vision for how this will look in the future.

Then, all of a sudden, BAM!

You hit the wall.

Or, as Steven Pressfield put it in Do The Work:

You’ve entered the belly of the beast.

The budget you had in mind needs to be doubled, just to get to a minimum viable product.

Your significant other is getting cold feet and thinks you should drop this and focus on a more secure occupation.

You’ve just reviewed everything you’ve written in the past 3 months, it’s crap, and it needs to go in the bin.

You’ve been eating all of the right food, sticking with your exercise routine, but the scales say your weight has gone up, not down.

Or, you’ve been working on your dissertation for the best part of a year, but your supervisor thinks you are way off base, and now you have to do a complete rewrite.

This, dear reader, is our old friend resistance, and unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere.

You are not going to suddenly wake up one morning and find that it’s all smooth seas ahead. Resistance will try to derail you any chance it gets, and one of it’s favourite strategies is to throw up obstacles in your path after you are fully invested in your project, when you are the most vulnerable.

What it all boils down to is that Resistance offers us a test, the answer to which is the ultimate truth as to whether you should continue with your new business, play, movie, book, exercise regimen, or whatever.

Tony Robbins and Steven Pressfield both seem to agree that the test is this question:

How bad do you want it?

Quoting once again from the book Do The Work, Steven Pressfield proposes that you mark your answer on this scale:

  1. Dabbling
  2. Interested
  3. Intrigued but Uncertain
  4. Passionate
  5. Totally Committed

Did you pick number 5?

If you didn’t, quit now. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s with one foot in the ring and one foot out. Passion, enthusiasm, and the feeling that this is a great idea that just might work will eventually fall prey to resistance.

If you did choose number 5, then good for you. Now get back to work.

You might lose everything

The older we get, the less willing we are to take risks.

The more money, status, possessions, fame, respect or comfort we accumulate, the more we want to protect those things.

Elon Musk banked $180 million when he sold his share of PayPal to eBay in 2002, and 6 years later it was all on the line with SpaceX. If the fourth launch of the Falcon 1 rocket had failed in 2008, then SpaceX likely would have gone bankrupt.

Elon could not let go of the idea that the future of the human race involves becoming a multi-planetary species, and for him quitting was not an option, even if he lost all of his money in the process of trying.

Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, was once quoted as saying:

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.

What he meant was that losing any of the things we work so hard to accumulate isn’t nearly as important as allowing our ideas and dreams to die with us when we get to the end of our lives.

I also think we can become so comfortable with our group of friends, that we are afraid that reaching for the stars will mean leaving them behind.

That might also be true. But you will find new and better friends, and some of your old friends will be inspired by your example.

At the very least, there will be you, and the work you find the most fulfilling. Isn’t that work taking risks for?

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Settling for

Playing it safe in life is an idea often perpetuated by our parents, teachers or friends.

Our parents want to protect us, our teachers want us not to turn out as deadbeats, and our friends want us to be like them.

If you subscribe to the idea of playing it safe though, you are most certainly going to be settling for in life.

Helen Keller, who became permanently deaf and blind at just 19 months old, wrote:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

If your life feels somehow unfulfilled, consider that you are probably just playing it safe. That thing that you want to do is probably not going to work out, or so you think. That’s resistance doing what it does best, which is to stop you from advancing yourself or any act of creation you can conceive.

So be bold, advance, and move forward. Time will not wait for you.

You know enough to get started

Whatever you want to do with your life, whether it’s starting a business, or helping those in need, or writing a book, or losing weight, don’t wait until you learn more.

The feeling that you will fail because you don’t know enough is just resistance doing it’s very best to stop you in your tracks. It’s a form of procrastination.

There are plenty of examples throughout history of people who many thought were just plain dumb for taking on the tasks they set themselves, or for the decisions they made.

I doubt that Winston Churchill knew the enormity of the task before him when he made his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech in 1940, effectively committing Britain to fight against the German army until the death of their last citizen. Some thought him incredibly stupid and naive.

The founders of PayPal often attribute their success to the fact that collectively, they knew very little about finance and the banking industry.

Also consider Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 at the tender age of 25, made a 33.5 hour, 5800 km non-stop flight from New York to Paris, across the Atlantic ocean. Did he have all of the facts he needed to be 100% confident he would make the flight? Probably not.

What they all had was a willingness to act. To take a course of action often based on sheer blind faith that they were going to make it.

Once you take action, you can always change course, revisit what you’ve done, and use the new data to take further action, perhaps in a slightly different direction. Until you start though, you will accomplish nothing.

So whatever is, no matter how little or how much you know, begin it now.

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Resistance shows us the way

Previously I wrote about the idea that we all have a calling in life, and I’ve also written about how resistance is the enemy. Steven Pressfield wrote about resistance in The War of Art, and he also described how it can help point our lives in the right direction in another book, Do The Work:

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we feel towards pursuing it.

So if what feels like resistance does come up in whatever endeavour we are pursuing, how do we know if we should push on, or that it’s a loser that we should quit? This is a question I’ve pondered previously.

This is where instinct comes in to play. It’s like a compass that helps point the way, while resistance tries to shove us in the opposite direction.

Learning to follow your instincts doesn’t have to be a laborious process, but it is going to involve trial and error. If you have this nagging feeling that you should do something, that’s your instincts talking.

Sometimes what you thought was the right path to go on is going to prove to be a dead end. I like to think that the work that you had to do to get to that dead end made you evolve in some necessary way, so it’s not all wasted effort.

Work, zig, zag, adjust, and sometimes, start over.

You can do anything, or can you?

I have often said to my kids (and to myself) that they can do anything they want to do with their lives, but now I’m not so sure that’s the best advice.

After doing a lot of reading, talking and pondering, the idea that resonates the most with me as that our life is not full of unlimited choices. I believe we all have a very specific calling, or personal destiny. Rather than shape ourselves into some personal ideal, our job is simply to find out who we are and become it.

Whether you believe that or not, consider the evidence for this in your own personality, or in that of your children.

For example, I have two sons aged only 2 years apart, and I feel like they have been raised more or less in the same way. And yet, their personalities are vastly different. One is stoic, the other more sensitive. One has endless topics he likes to talk about, the other only speaks when he feels it is necessary. Their uniqueness becomes more evident the older they get.

Even my one year old daughter is showing signs of a personality that is distinctly different from that of her big brothers. It’s not so much that her character is developing, but more that it’s revealing itself.

Some refer to this as the dichotomy of nature vs nurture. I like to think that our essential character, the person we are at our core, is something that is timeless. It is ideally suited to us and our own personal destiny.

So acknowledge and accept who you are, your interests, fears and desires. Don’t let anyone else tell you who you should be or what you should do with your life.

Don’t spend forever dreaming though. At some point you are still going to have to get to work.

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Annoying people

I sometimes wonder if annoying people are sent to us so that we can address the annoying aspects of our own personalities.

My ego says, and no doubt yours does too, that annoying people really are just that.

They talk too much about themselves, or about topics you have no interest in, or just talk too much.

They might be neighbours who are overly neighbourly or nosey.

They might be acquaintances who think the world is going to hell in a hand basket and see evidence of that point of view everywhere.

Maybe annoying people just need our compassion. Or more so, maybe they just need a friend who will listen.

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Are you selling out?

In the T.E. Lawrence translation of Homer’s Odyssey, there is a passage that contains:

..to destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted Sun.

I’ll admit this is one of the few passages I actually understand, but I also needed Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art to help me. He explained what that phrase means:

That’s the felony that calls down soul-destruction: the employment of the sacred for profane means. Prostitution. Selling out.

I believe that selling out can be a major source of unhappiness in your life, or as Homer put it, soul destroying.

In my twenties I had a job as a technical team leader for an ASX listed software company. I was learning a lot, was very good at what I did, was paid well, and respected by my peers.

I just couldn’t shake that nagging feeling of unhappiness though, no matter how much I immersed myself in work. I knew that I was selling out, but didn’t have the courage to make that first baby step on my own entrepreneurial path. The decision to make a change was also made more difficult because my boss and the company chairman were also very supportive of my work and encouraged my further development in the company.

Once I started my first venture – RamCity, then that feeling of selling out just melted away. It didn’t matter to me if I went broke trying. What mattered was that I had started down the road of being self-employed and creating my own enterprise.

If you can relate, then consider that it’s never too late to make a major change in your life or career, no matter how much you’ve invested so far.

Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter for 15 years before landing his first major acting role in American Graffiti.

Martha Stewart was a full time model until age 25, then spent 5 years working as a stockbroker before turning her love of gourmet cooking into what she is now.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, began her prolific painting career in earnest at the ripe old age of 78. In 2006, one of her paintings sold for $1.2 million. She lived a large part of her life as a housekeeper and farm labourer, but produced an astounding 1500 canvasses in her final thirty years.

We all know the story of Colonel Sanders who first franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken at the age of 62.

The point is, it’s never too late to make a change.

Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, sums it up for me:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I’ll be really happy once I…

Life can be an endless pursuit of the things that we want. A bigger house, a better car, a better body, a bigger income, a better school for our kids, a nicer holiday.

There is nothing at all wrong with wanting these things, so long as you remember that that the pursuit of them may bring you pleasure, but not necessarily lasting happiness.

Musicians, actors, and entrepreneurs who have achieved great success can provide some examples of how massive achievement is not necessarily related to happiness. It’s difficult to understand why the likes of Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives after having achieved so much.

Conversely, some might pursue happiness by lowering their expectations based on the idea that dropping the endless pursuit of the next best thing isn’t worth the effort. In so doing, there is less chance of being disappointed.

Then there is the kind of happiness that occurs when performing at your peak state. Maybe it’s winning a gold medal in the olympics, achieving the pinnacle of business success, running a marathon, making partner, or reaching that state of flow that comes with the mastery of a musical instrument.

Whether you lower the bar, or raise it ever higher, those feelings of joy and happiness can be fleeting. I don’t have the magic equation, but I think there is something in what Tony Robbins says:

Progress = Happiness

What he means is that happiness comes when we are making progress in our life in some way, whether it’s personally, professionally, spiritually, or emotionally.

It’s in the process of moving forward, of learning and growing, step by step, that true happiness is realised.