The Difference Between the Remarkable and the Monotonous Life

What is the differentiator between the person living a remarkable life and the person living a monotonous life? This question has manifested itself in a thousand different ways, found in countless podcasts and written articles to Facebook Live interviews, and segments on 60 Minutes. In the world of personal development, it’s become an obsession to break down someone’s success into small parts, to analyze how a successful individual went from where they started to where they are now. It’s a never-ending quest to discover how the average person can achieve the extraordinary.

At a certain point on the road to greatness, successful individuals had to make a major decision. Brad Pitt dropped out of the University of Missouri during his final semester to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles. Ashton Kutcher dropped out of the University of Iowa to pursue a modeling career. While social media and other societal influences have portrayed many of these stories as “overnight” successes, the reality is far from it. Before becoming an actor, Brad Pitt worked delivering refrigerators, driving limousines and wearing an El Pollo Loco chicken suit. Ashton Kutcher swept cereal dust at a General Mills factory to make ends meet. There were many defining moments that preceded the success that Pitt and Kutcher achieved, ones often not talked about.

There’s a well known saying by Lao Tzu, which highlights how Pitt and Kutcher began their quest to living a remarkable life:

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Yet, I would add that the single most important factor in starting a quest for achieving the extraordinary begins before the first step: it’s the decision to take the step. It’s the how and why someone is able to take that leap of faith on the thousand-mile journey, when they often don’t have a clue where that first step will take them.

This is where our focus should be. This is where the treasure lies. Each person’s journey appears different on the outside. An actor, an artist and an entrepreneur will have different stories due to the nature of their industry. But on the inside, the vast majority of successful individuals have faced the same doubt and uncertainty concerning whether or not to take the leap in pursuit of their dreams. This common emotional thread is relevant to us all, and deserves our attention.

Many of my writings are inspired by what I’m currently reading. I recently finished The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun. It’s the story of how he created Pencils of Promise, a for-purpose organization that has built over 350 schools in developing nations around the world. At 25 years old, Braun left a lucrative job at Bain & Company to pursue his dream of making education a right for the millions of children in developing nations who have no schools to attend.

However, this was just a dream when Braun started, and his family, friends and peers thought he was crazy for leaving behind his comfortable job for such an extraordinary, unpredictable task. How he came to this decision reveals the potential breakthrough questions that we can all ask ourselves when facing a crossroad. Two quotes by Braun struck me as particularly profound in answering the question at the beginning of this article: What is the differentiator between the person living a remarkable life and the person living a monotonous life?

In moments of uncertainty, when you must chose between two paths, allowing yourself to be overcome by either the fear of failure or the dimly lit light of possibility, immerse yourself in the life you would be most proud to live.

The future is unwritten. It’s up to us to create the life we want to have. What’s so powerful about this quote is that it reveals a truth about the illusion our minds create. Hope and fear are both not physically real. They are not tangible outcomes, only constructs of our imagination about what could be. So, when at a crossroad, we have a choice. We can let the fear and potential failure of taking a big, leap of faith consume our mind, causing us to stay within the confines of our monotonous comfort zones and remain stagnant. Or, we can envision the wondrous possibility of a life we’d be proud and excited to live, and act out of that state of consciousness. The latter choice is the one of growth, and the choice that anyone who has ever achieved anything has had to make. Once this first choice is made, there is another key factor in how someone manifests his or her vision into reality.

“The biggest difference between the person who lives his or her dreams and the person who aspires is the decision to convert that first spark of motivation into immediate action.”

I love ideas, but an idea only holds power if it can be converted into action. In my own life, some of the biggest decisions I’ve made came at the peak of this first, powerful spark of motivation. Obviously, you can’t just make enormous decisions every time you get excited. But deep down, somewhere embedded within the knowingness of your heart and soul, certain ideas will speak to you in a way that’s unique. These ideas are the ones that keep you up at night, causing adrenaline to be released from just the thought. These ideas are the ones that make you excited to be alive. And these ideas are the ones you need to act on. The most difficult aspect of a life changing decision is often the decision itself, to take that first step. The decision to act is the catalyst, the deciding factor between people who just dream and people who live their dreams. This highlights the importance of acting on that spark of motivation when it arises.

The difference between the remarkable and the monotonous life is actually quite small. Whether or not you’re currently at the crossroads of a major life change, there will surely be many times in your life where you will have to make a difficult decision. You will be faced with uncertainty and doubt. But it’s up to you to choose hope over fear. It’s up to you to write your own future. Keep in mind what Braun said: reflect on the life you would be most proud to live and take action on this idea while it’s fresh. You get to create your life. What will you choose?