Habits, trade-offs and luck — it’s a living

“Your ambition is going to leave you all alone.” — A college friend in 2011 who seemed interested in me and frustrated that I wasn’t equally into her.

In my last post about the value of saying “no,” I briefly touched on the notion that the path to a goal was largely composed of habits and trade-offs. And I’m here again to confess: The struggle is real. And it’s for life.

I have several goals, some larger in scope than others. I often find myself frustrated with the day-to-day minutiae of life because almost all of it — the office job, dating, grocery shopping — keeps me from thinking and creating, whether it’s for literature or some other medium. For a long time in my 20s, I found sleep to be irritating to the point that I convinced myself I didn’t need much of it to function at my maximum potential (spoiler alert: I was wrong).

Like many of you who are at least in your late 20s, I was primarily raised on a formula for life that was intended to give me guidance for leading a good life. It was the same formula my parents had been given in their early and teenage years, and that their parents were likely also given.

Let’s call this formula 20(CT), or “20th century think”:

  • Decide on a career path for which you believe you would have a great, long-lasting interest.
  • Go to college or seek out other training that will lead you to that profession, then graduate or complete said training.
  • Start your career as quickly as possible.
  • Meet someone with whom you can have a long-term relationship.
  • Get married.
  • Buy a home.
  • Have kids.
  • Continue working in your chosen profession for the next 30 years or so in order to pay for a comfortable, “American dream” standard of living that includes your kids’ upbringing and college savings, retirement and general life expenses.
  • Retire.
  • Live off pension, savings and/or social security until you die.

(Tell me I’m the only who was ever presented with 20(CT). I dare you.)

Much like the Second Amendment, this formula worked to a T in a time when it made sense. It’s not my parents’ fault, nor is it the fault of my grandparents. In America, it’s just what they expected out of life for much of the 20th century.

Has a friend ever told you after a discouraging incident that you shouldn’t worry, or that “everything will work out?” How the fuck do they know that? It reminds me of people who subscribe to the teachings of The Secret … you just have to will it to happen for you. More precisely, think happy thoughts. And that’s total fucking crap.

In 21st-century America, with our digital economy and culture of urgency, 20(CT) is simply outdated. I won’t go so far as to say it’s obsolete because there are goals within the formula that people still want to achieve. More specifically, people want to love and to be loved, and to have things in life they can call their own (home, family, business, etc.).

20(CT) insists that we can have it all. But we can’t have it all. Seriously. You can’t. I can’t. It’s just impossible. This is why we have priorities and goals. If we could have everything we want, then how could we ever have ambition?

To give this a more personal scope, here are the six primary goals I had hoped to accomplish this year when I initially planned to leave my job at the end of 2015:

  • A. Get out of debt.
  • B. Improve upon my Web coding and programming skill set
  • C. Start my own Web-based consulting business.
  • D. Finish writing my cancer survival book.
  • E. Start writing fiction.
  • F. Read more.

Goal A is a $20,000 goal likely won’t be completed this year because my mind and body require sleep. I drive for Uber about 40 to 50 hours a week and earn around $700 on average in Atlanta, and only in-between 40-hour-a-week freelance gigs (mostly with my previous employer).

Goal B is basically trying to make up for lost time since I earned a certificate in Web design from a continuing education program at Emory University almost two years ago this week. Learning code and programming requires constant study and practice, two tasks that become incredibly challenging when you spend a large amount of your waking hours driving strangers around town in your car for income.

Goal C doesn’t really happen without overwhelming confidence in my accomplishment of Goal B.

Goal D was a project that began about 18 months ago and, like Goal B, requires more time devoted to it.

Goal E is basically a daydream about how I wish I steered my career in its beginnings more than a dozen years earlier. And if I made an annual goals list throughout my life, Goal F would have appeared on it every year since the sixth grade.

I’ve realized in the last year, as I became more entrenched with Essentialism and the pursuit of focused and meaningful achievements, that I was foolishly working on all of the goals at once … just stuck in a rotation like you’d find on your music player by tapping the “randomize” option. By doing this, I was making almost insignificant steps toward completing projects and reaching my goals, and I was only becoming more frustrated and disappointed with myself in the process.

What really drove me nuts for a short time was trying to figure out how people often described as Type A do it. Or those who market themselves on the Web in order to sell you some kind of shortcut that’s really just everything you knew but written with better marketing language (i.e., Dave Ramsey). It’s a dangerous train of thought to be on because you don’t realize that your destination is going to be Followersville, where everyone just waits to be led somewhere by someone else.

One of the tenets of Essentialism is “choose what to do with your life, or someone else will do it for you.” In order to avoid the latter, you have to make hard choices. You have to consider what you’re willing to give up now — whether it’s temporary or forever — in order to focus your time and energy on goals that will make the biggest impact on your personal happiness, or contributes to something greater that can be appreciated by others.

I think finishing my memoir about my cancer experience will bring me both personal satisfaction and create something useful that can help others. And with a little luck, it will be a smashing success for me financially (because luck is far more powerful than any marketing plan).

So this is my focus for the summer — finish my book and prepare to start shopping it around to publishers. All other goals will have to be put on hold, and I have to be comfortable with that choice or forever be trapped in a 20(CT) mindset.

If tackling my goals one at a time rather than all at once means a faster road to success, then I’m willing to sacrifice the social traditions of 20(CT). Like my presence in the global dating pool. It’s a very small sacrifice… one that keeps me from being distracted by trivial choices when I am shooting for critical success. It’s not like I will become the last single man on earth while I aim work toward my goals. There’s Carrot Top, after all.

What are you prepared to give up to achieve your goals? Are the things (or people) that matter to you most right now really deserving of your time and energy? Isn’t the reward of achieving your goal greater than the value of those factors that are preventing you from devoting yourself entirely to that mission?

I’ve got a fight left in me to become something great, and any great fighter can tell you the formula behind any breed of champion: Habits, trade-offs and luck.

Choose to be your own champion for this incredible time that is your life. Stop letting 20th century think get in your way.

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