A hundred things are ready to stop you from living. People you respect will laugh at your dreams. People you trust will let you down. Others just won’t care as much as you think they should.
Getting what you want means accepting all the world’s cruelty, without giving up. It means running uphill, against the wind.
You can’t just muddle through life. You have to do the hell out of it. If you can adopt a certain mindset, then even your worst days will still move you forward. What mindset is that, exactly?
Figure out what you’re good at.
It’s probably something you enjoy, even if it doesn’t look that sexy. Maybe your talents won’t make you rich or famous. But they’ll get you somewhere, as long as you hone them.
You’ll probably figure out what you’re not good at, too. I’m not good at lots of things I enjoy — drawing, music, running.
You can still enjoy doing things you’re not great at. You just don’t have to be the best at them. It takes the pressure off.
Don’t mistake fantasies for dreams.
There’s a difference. Even in my 20s, I still struggled telling them apart. My fantasy used to involve buying a copy of my own best-selling novel at a grocery store. Somehow that’s how I’d know I made it.
A dream is something you can actually pursue. It’s open ended, something that can evolve, something you can direct.
You simply have no control over making a fantasy come true. It’s a dangerous mirage — a misleading image of success, usually born from a false sense of yourself and impossible expectations.
Figure out how to teach yourself.
Nobody can show you everything you need to know to live well, or succeed in your chosen profession. Formal education never works on its own; it wasn’t designed for that. Even college assumes that students will spend plenty of time learning by doing.
Anyone who gets what they really want does lots of extra work gathering up knowledge, running little experiments, and imitating others.
Go down rabbit holes.
We think of them as dangerous dead ends. But why? Alice went down a rabbit hole, and it changed her life.
You might become fascinated with an obscure topic. Or you might suddenly want to pursue a craft or hobby that looks pointless at first.
Maybe you’ll just get curious about something, and want to explore. Let yourself. Nothing ever leads nowhere.
Find your limits, and push on them.
Everyone has a max. You have to find it, and learn how to traverse the threshold. We can’t work ourselves to death everyday, or jump the grand canyon on our first try. Just remember — you’re always capable of less and more than you think on any given day.
Get outside of your head for a while.
Everyone gets stuck — creatively or otherwise. That’s when you need to remember your body. Take care of some chores. Go outside. Do something on your bucket list.
Live on your own terms.
You don’t need anyone’s approval, not really. We only need to consult a small handful of people — spouses, kids, maybe sometimes your boss. Everyone else is just along for the ride.
Do things you don’t think you’ll enjoy.
The best way to grow is to try new things. We waste a lot of time worrying about whether or not we’ll enjoy some experience. By the time we finally decide, we could’ve already done it.
Say what you’re really thinking.
Life is way too short to go around with a passive-aggressive chip on your shoulder. Sure, you have to choose your words carefully, and you have to wait for a good moment, but that doesn’t mean you have to just stay silent when you’re unhappy about something. Voicing your opinion in a constructive way isn’t selfish; it’s responsible.
Balance your needs with those of others.
You have to put yourself first sometimes, but not all the time. Putting yourself first doesn’t mean depleting the joint checking account on spa days and sports cars. It might mean taking a nap, going for a long run, or establishing boundaries so you can get stuff done.
Stop trying so hard to win.
Focus on your purpose, what you find fulfilling. Just do it. Spend your effort on learning and getting better. Don’t let outcomes distract you too much. We all want to be successful — however you define that. But you also have to put away your desire for outcomes.
Let go of your ego.
Sure, you need a reasonable amount of confidence. But it’s not about thinking you’re perfect — just good enough for now. A confident person knows their flaws and works on them. They see everyone, including themselves, as a project in progress. That’s how they’re able to take so many chances. Failure can sting, but stings also heal.
Hold yourself to a higher standard.
It doesn’t matter what that dude at work gets away with. And it doesn’t matter how much or how little work someone else seems to be doing. If someone screws up, you might have to fix it. Why? Because you spotted the mistake, and getting things right matters to you. It’s entirely possible that some people in your life just won’t measure up; that’s fine. Everyone’s responsible for managing their own potential.
Allow yourself the freedom to do nothing.
Not every single day. But sometimes you just need to sleep late if you can, then drink some coffee while staring out your window. Some of the best vacations happen when you don’t plan much. Let your brain air out. Empty it. You might be surprised at what you free yourself up for.
Get into your zone as much as possible.
Everyone from artists to athletes have something they call “the zone,” or a peak state. They’ve stopped caring about everything except what’s right in front of them. They’re just training, or making. Anyone who’s “successful” at anything gets into this state every day, regardless of whether they’re actively competing or publishing anything.
Don’t shortchange your recovery.
Anyone who writes about self-improvement talks about the importance of recovery. If you spend all your time “working,” your actual output will suffer. Writers need to spend plenty of time reading, thinking, and living — not just banging away at their keyboards. Athletes engage in lots of routines and behaviors off the field that contribute to their performance. Whatever you do, figure out a growth and recovery routine.
Get over your “should.”
This word will just suffocate you. Don’t live the kind of life where you wonder what you “should” do, or what you “should’ve done.” Every day is full of options and choices. You can’t make them all.
Choosing one thing often involves giving up something else. You really can’t have everything life, just the important things.
Just the things you want most.
You have to find the balance between planning and doing. Nobody can eliminate risk, just ignorance. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s something you find important, necessary, or rewarding. (Or just fun.)
Even if things don’t turn out the way you thought, I’ve found that we’re always happier for the experience — even if it sucks, even if we screw up. Regret is about living inside a hamster ball, never getting messy, never finding out what would happen if you tried X.
You should always try X.