Every once in a while, I have to sit back and reflect on the past few years to put things into the proper perspective. 10 years ago, I was being handcuffed and taken to jail.
6 years ago, I was working as a manager at a video store making $10/hr. I remember how big of a deal it was for me to ask for a one-dollar raise. That meant something to me. It would also finally make my wage higher than the manager at the taco-store next door to me.
I had a dream of becoming a writer. I remember how excited I was at the prospect of making a single dime with my writing. I held onto that dream through the ups and downs — when I spent years making little to no money, where I still wasn’t free when I had to deal with customers and clients that annoyed me, when I was stressed out living paycheck to paycheck every single day wondering whether the cycle would ever end, when I could barely afford to buy my kid a goldfish, when I hadn’t yet published three books, when I had few fans, when I used to think all my problems would be solved with success.
I compare it to now. Safe to say I’ve become a writer. I’ve made more money doing it in the past two years than the previous decade combined. I’m no Rockafeller, but I could make it a few years without making a penny if I needed to and the security feels nice. I have the pride of having put in a half-decade of work to build my dream. I did it. I get to choose what I want to do pretty much all the time.
Life is pretty damn good. It’s not perfect. I still struggle with the desire to chase more. But I take time to reflect and to understand what the overall goal was in the first place — not to have a fairy-tale life, but to have a pretty damn good life.
Ditch the Dream the Gurus Preach to You
A lot of self-help content plays on your emotions and insecurities. Often, it’s no better than the mass media or the advertisement industry. It tells you that self-improvement and financial success are going to fill the void. Not only that, it makes ridiculous and ludicrous standards and goals that few people can live up to, especially the writers of self-help themselves.
I’m not perfect, I’ve done my fair share of hyperbolic writing in the past, but some of these writers are ridiculous. I get it. They’ll write an article like 7 Habits to Make You a Millionaire when they’re not…millionaires. Others paint a picture of a perfect life, where you’ll feel everlastingly content if you check off all these boxes.
According to the laws of hyperbolic self-help, you’re not successful unless:
- You own a six-figure business (ideally, though, you should be a millionaire)
- You have a perfect body
- You wake up at 5 a.m. every single day and have a 4 hour morning routine that includes a cold shower meditating, wim-hof breathing, journaling, yoga, a 10-mile run, daily donations to charity, 3 perfectly steeped cups of green tea,
- You have at least one super-car.
- You make passive income while only working 1-hour per week
- You live in Bali, Indonesia
- You have such a level of grit that you never feel bad about yourself ever
Even someone who writes about self-improvement doesn’t think Tony Robbins is that happy one hundred percent of the time. Impossible.
In general, the over-exaggerated version of self-improvement aims at perfection, a perfect “A+” grade in life that’s unattainable for most of us.
Don’t Do This Either Though
While I’m not a fan of over-hyped promises, I’m also not a fan of this “C+” culture we live in either. I’m not a fan of the celebration of mediocrity.
Just like success isn’t something to overly brag about, neither is stagnation. I’ve noticed this trend in the culture. I call it ‘mediocrity memeing.’ It’s where someone will post something like “LOL adulting is so hard where’s my wine?”
It has become cool to have zero goals, cool to coast through life with an air of nonchalance, and take little to no responsibility.
While you don’t need to achieve extreme outcomes to live a good life, you won’t understand certain lessons life has to teach you until you push yourself to reach a level that’s above average for you. If nothing else but to experience the positive benefits of personal growth.
You can never fully escape the grips of societal influences, but there are goals you want to pursue in life because they are fun, they would make you feel more alive, they would make you feel a stronger sense of purpose.
You don’t have to become some lifestyle entrepreneur. Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a dolphin trainer who makes $20 an hr but lives on the beach. How the heck do I know? I do know that you probably do have something like that. Something that has value not because of materials, but because it’s your idea of a pretty damn good life.
There are a lot of ways to get there, but let’s take a look at some of my personal favorite recommendations.
- Read books — But then actually do something with the information. Reading for the sake of bragging about how many books you’ve read is worthless. But if you apply the knowledge you learn from books and let your curiosity fuel creativity, you can use those insights to create a tailor-made career and life.
- Become a learning machine, period — Upward mobility exists. And you create it by learning. There are so many educational resources to live a better life that cost little to no money, like YouTube. Use them, e.g., this guide on becoming a dolphin trainer.
- Start a side business — Do I think everyone in the world needs to start a side business? No. And it doesn’t matter because most people won’t do it anyway. But if you do it, you’ll realize that the path to extra income and a bridge to your freedom is available to you if you do the work.
I could go on, but these steps are simple to make. They’re not difficult. They are time-consuming.
And they can be a lot to ask of you on top of already having to take care of the responsibilities you already have.
It’s your life. I always come back to this. If you think everything I’m telling you is BS. Just don’t listen to me. Let time be the judge.
Most people don’t hate their lives. But the “C+” lifestyle creates slow-burning anxiety that mutates into other problems. Your life will never be perfect, but scratching a few itches and reaching a few goals can go a long way.
Find Your Sweet Spot For Success
Get to a B+ lifestyle.
What does B+ mean? It means that, while you might not be a millionaire with a Lamborghini, Yacht, and mansion, you’re not struggling to pay the bills ad super stressed out constantly.
Starting a business that simply replaces your 9 to 5, not being rich, is B+. Creating the level of freedom where you don’t have to stress about every purchase, live paycheck to paycheck, and run on a hamster wheel in survival mode is B+. Waking up and generally, for the most part, doing whatever it is you want to do, B+.
When it comes to the skills you want to build to create the life you want, don’t necessarily try to be the best in the world, but get pretty damn good.
I have big dreams. I do want to become a New York Times Best Selling author. I’d love to one day reach the level of some of my writing heroes. Selfishly, I do want the big numbers, the status, the accolades. But deep down, I know those goals are all illusory. They won’t fulfill me.
I put my vanity goals in the background and just focus on becoming a pretty damn good writer. I’ll spend the rest of my life practicing my craft and try to squeeze every last ounce of natural talent I have and let it bleed onto the page. I’m a universe better than when I started and I’ll keep getting better over time.
B+ is finding something to aim for and going all-in on it for as long as you can. It’s not about the outcomes. Success doesn’t make you happy. Vanity goals make you happy for a very short time and you get used to them. But you can play the ‘pretty damn good’ game until you die.
Imagine this type of life.
You’re not a millionaire, but you do something you really enjoy. Not even passionately in love with, just enjoy. Every day, you get a little bit better.
Some days, you have breakthrough epiphanies that make you feel euphoric and during those epiphanies, you think back to when you first got started, how hard it was back then, and how it all seems so easy now. Kind of the way I did to start this post.
Then, as time moves on, you tackle new challenges knowing that they won’t make you perfectly fulfilled, but you do them anyway because they’re simply a fun way to spend your time.
You level up your life, but you stop moving the goalposts of desire. You’re free. Ambitious, but content.
Imagine that type of life. It’s there for the taking.
Ayodeji is the author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement