What are you so afraid of?
What is it that you think is going to happen if you go off the deep end and follow the sirens that pull on your heart strings? What do you talk about that makes your heart move and your soul sing?
What is it that keeps you stuck in rut, complaining to anybody who asks about you, rather than stepping up and stepping out and being on your own? Why aren’t you proving that your heart will carry you further than you’ve ever been?
What do you need? A college degree that says that you’ve earned it? A piece of paper from somebody outside yourself that validates your skill level? A couple of likes that show you there’s an audience for what you’re doing? A letter from a friend about how much you changed his life once he read something you wrote? What’s it going to take?
Answer it honestly. Ask yourself where the fear comes from, and then ask yourself why you’re so afraid of it. There’s a long line of dark monsters behind that fear that you put in place to keep you from doing whatever you’ve got to do. You likely did it because of somebody else’s fear that you wouldn’t be good enough at it, you wouldn’t take it seriously enough, you didn’t have the Stuff to get the job done. The scarcity mindset tells you that there’s only a certain number of jobs out there for people who do that, and they’re all taken. Sorry, no more jobs.
Guess what? Good.
Don’t do something because it’s a good occupation. Don’t do something because it’s safe. Don’t do something because you think you’ll have a long career from it. Those things are fine, sure, but they can’t be the sole reason that you move forward with something. They aren’t reasons for commitment. Imagine if you married your partner because it was the safe thing to do. You’d live a safe life. Have fun with that. You’re going to die in the end, just like me.
Your life is the flame of a candle, burning lower and lower every day. So is everybody’s life around you. For Christ’s sake, if you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it for Them: the people in your life who are dying just as fast as you are and want to see you happy. At first they will surely resist, not knowing what you’re doing, not sure that what you’re doing is going to fit into the little box that they keep you in, and not sure that your path will ultimately lead to what they define as success or happiness. Good. Let them resist. Work harder because of it.
Fear is a healthy emotion. Dig to understand exactly where that fear is coming from and what it’s doing to your body. Fear puts you into a hyper-focused mode: you don’t feel gripping fear and then slack off because of it. You feel fear and then laser-focus on the situation around you to make sure that you don’t die. When somebody comes flying in front you on the freeway, and your eyes pick up the danger, you immediately scan the area around you for a possible escape route, your foot taps the break to take the edge off your speed, and your mind is completely engaged and ready to made evasive measures like your Tom Cruise out there on the 405. You don’t start fiddling with the radio station, you smack the dial the to turn the music off and drive in silence.
Why do you think that you’d do anything different in your career choice?
Fear gets you to work harder, but don’t work harder to make somebody else’s nut. Don’t bust your ass every day out there so that somebody at the top can skim a little more cream from the business. Work harder because you’ve got to get that cream for yourself. Work harder because it’s something that fuels you. The work, purposeful work, itself defines who you really are, not what you do outside of work. Don’t work to live… live to work.
Is this realistic? Stop it with that line of questioning. That very question has judgmental roots, scarcity minded roots. Asking that question has deep seated assumptions that need to be addressed before you even consider answering it, which I do not recommend that you ever do. Nobody has the right to ask you that question. Not your parents. Not your spouse. Not your kids. Nobody.
What does “realistic” mean, anyway? It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot by people who want you to believe something: They want you to believe that your dreams cannot be achieved because they 1) cost too much, 2) are impossible, or 3) disagree with their belief system. Take a look at the people who ask that question and the underlying assumptions that precede it.
“Is universal US healthcare realistic?” The people who ask this question base their disbelief on the associated costs that they know come with healthcare. These are the people who say things like, “There’s no free lunch”, and “Everything has a cost”. Both things are true. But the underlying assumption here is that we have to pay for universal healthcare out of the current available budget, which is not enough to cover that cost. They assume that the budget we’ve allocated already is the correct budget, and that there simply is not enough left over to put towards healthcare to cover the costs. Because of this, taxes will need to be increased to pay for it. While this is a method that would work, we could simply reallocate funds in the current budget to pay for the differing expenditures. My opinion: take it out of defense spending. The trillions spent fighting wars overseas, decommissioning nuclear warheads and replacing them with new ones that won’t ever get used, and investing in the latest bleeding edge technological research to make more efficient killing machines seems like a waste of money in 2019. I don’t support it. Take a couple billion from defense and help people live healthier lives. Invest in wellness, not in killing. But hey, isn’t that unrealistic?
“Is being an actor/writer/musician realistic?” This question stems from the scarcity mindset, the belief that there are very few of these types of “jobs”, and that they’ve already been filled. Or you just aren’t good enough to get one of them. Bless this questioner’s heart; they want what’s best for you. They want you to get a “job” where you can be successful, make lots of money, and have a cushy life of luxury in West Hampton. They want you to live our their own dream, which was probably their parents’ dream anyway. Unfortunately, they forget a principle Cal Newport describes in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: there is an economy that is dying for superstars and highly skilled workers. You are needed if you are good enough. You will be paid if you are good enough because very few people are. Mediocre artists are plentiful. People who just barely make the grade and pick up an artistic pursuit as a side-hobby, always dreaming of one day being good enough to get paid for it. Because there is a surplus of dime store novelists, there is no market for them. There is, however, a vast market for the skill levels above them, the jobs or positions that you require you to have superstar level skill, the kind of skill that only comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. If you are the best in the world at something, you cannot be ignored. You will find a path to the life of the ultra-successful. So why don’t our parents and teachers and mentors encourage us to follow that path? Why don’t they preach the path of being the best in the world? Why don’t they push us to be so good that we can’t be ignored? Simply put: it’s hard as hell. It requires a level of commitment and practice that they may not even have themselves, and so they believe that the people who are at the top possess some inordinate amount of talent that put them there. Skill and the building of skills are ignored. They tell us it’s unrealistic to think that we could get there because we simply aren’t talented enough, and the fact that we’re not good enough right now means that we’ll never be good enough. Luckily for us, it’s false reasoning. Being an artist is “realistic” if you are willing to dedicate the time to being the best in the world at it. If you are committed to the craft, day in and day out, and you work to become so good that the world can’t ignore you, you will find your place at the top. Unfortunately, there is no blueprint for this path aside from the simple mantra of work harder. What’s great is that the work is fulfilling to the artist’s soul, and so he finds himself loving his life more and more the harder he works. The downside is that the work never ends, he is never finished, and he never knows when he truly reached success. I believe the trade offs are worth it.
Jocko Willink, former Navy seal and best-selling author, has a story he tells himself to stay motivated. He trains because he knows that somewhere in the world, there is an enemy training to hurt people and cause harm. If the enemy is training, Jocko better train twice as hard. Apply this to art. Somewhere out there, somebody is working harder than you at the very same craft. Instead of taking that day off, work twice as hard. You can’t control somebody else’s skill level, but you can always improve your own. And when the day comes that your work is compared, you’ll be ready.
So how do we step out of our scarcity minds, change the way we think about our purpose in life, and stop living somebody else’s definition of success?
Well, that’s certainly the million dollar question now isn’t it. I wish I could sit here and say I had a bulleted list for you to run through, checking each box off as you shed light on your fears and address them one by one.
What I can say is that we all need to start looking at our lives through the lens of death. If you were looking back on your life right now, lying on your death bed with just a few hours to consider everything that occurred in your life, what would stand out to you as the memorable moments in your story as the hero? Very few times in our lives are we presented with choices that really define who we are. We live every day with a humdrumness of keeping our heads down, never reaching too high to grab something we might want, never outshining the master, and just trying exist for one more day. Every day like that can be completely thrown out the window as not one to be remembered at the end of it all. But what if we could turn each day into a hero’s battle? What if we could make each day memorable?
To me, this means following whatever fuels that fire of fear. Living with fear at our sides all day means that we are going to make something of ourselves that day — we are going to remember that day as a day that we conquered fear, even if it was only for 24 hours. Keep fear with you all day long and you give yourself the opportunity to overcome it. Remove fear from your life completely and you’ll forget that you’re even alive. Fear is the healthy spouse that we need to walk with if we want to live an extra ordinary life. If you are feeling fear throughout your day, maybe not the life-threatening fear that comes with free soloing Half Dome, but the healthy fear that comes with pursuing a purpose everyday instead of a pursuing a job, you’re on the right track.
Risk something and reap the reward. Risk embarrassment and conquer it. Risk failure and improve your skills. Risk getting laughed at and become a better version of yourself.
Invite risk into your life and you’ll be married to fear forever, but you’ll also be married to growth. Risk something every day and you’ll have a mission every day. If there’s nothing to lose, nothing that you’re a little bit afraid of, you’re on the wrong path. Risk nothing, gain nothing. Risk everything that you were told you needed to pursue, that so-called safe life, and gain everything that your heart really desires.
A purposeful life is always going to come with the perceived risk of loss. In the end, you’ll find out that the only thing you had to lose was everybody else’s expectations. Shed those and grow into you confident self.