One word determines your future. It determined where you are right now.
It’s not motivation, productivity, or mindset — although these three do play a role.
The word that makes a world of difference in your life — for better or worse — is decision.
I made a ton of terrible decisions in the first five or six years of my adulthood.
There was the decision to start doing drugs, the decision to not take my education seriously and flunk out of school, the decision to break the law and pay for it, the list goes on.
For a long time, I failed to look at my life and realize it was my decisions that led to this outcome. I did what most of us do — blame the world or other people for my lot in life.
Your negative choices aren’t entirely your fault. The circumstances and the environment you were brought up in have a major influence in your decision making.
At the same time, it’s important to realize you’re the common denominator in all your problems.
Regardless of what helped you get here, the responsibility lies with you now.
It’s simultaneously depressing and liberating to know you’re responsible for the type of life you want to live.
How to Think About Your Circumstances
There are things outside of your control that are real obstacles to the life you want to have.
You can’t up and quit your job if you have a family to support. You can’t drop fifty pounds overnight.
You’ve spent years living, behaving, and believing a certain way, and that’s not going to change in an instant.
So what do you do?
You can do what I did. I looked at my life and played out how it would look if I stayed the same.
I was terrified of what I saw.
My circumstances felt daunting to overcome, but decided to dive into a a deep feeling of desperation instead of inspiration.
I reached a point where staying the same hurt worse than changing.
True change doesn’t happen until you decide to change. I know it sounds cliche but it’s true.
Through the process I detail in my book, I examined my mistakes carefully, and found a way to learn from them.
Is the process easy? Hell no. Is it possible? Absolutely.
How to Learn from Your Mistakes
“Further, my characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on.”[i] — Nassim Taleb.
Life is like a maze with thousands of tiny little forks in the road.
Circumstances influence your life, of course, but decision-making makes up a good portion of what happens to you.
Like I said before, these decisions aren’t your entire fault, per se, in the way that you can’t “blame” Pavlov’s dog for salivating.
If you’ve been told thousands of times a certain way of living works and you make decisions based on what you’re told and believe, the blame can be spread around a little bit, but now it’s time to own up to what’s happened so you can start over.
There’s the decision you may have made about your career that wasn’t based on what the true you wanted, but by the influence of society, your parents, and your peers.
There’s the decision to take the route of certainty because you’ve been led to believe the world is a scary place and that security of any form exists. It doesn’t — the financial collapse of 2008 proved that.
Take the same “you” and put yourself in several different scenarios where you make different decisions in the same situations, and you have completely different lives.
The point in saying this is that although you can’t take your regretful decisions back, you can learn from them.
Let’s look at your decisions objectively and be honest about their role in your current life. Once you’ve faced them head-on, you can move out of the repetitive cycle of blame, rationalization, and avoidance.
Let’s avoid the typical vanilla answers too — the ones you’d give in an end of chapter exercise of a book called Unleash Your Bliss.
Seriously, stare your fuck-ups directly in the face for once. It’s hard. It’s painful.
You’ll feel guilty for wasting so much time and wish you could change the past.
Ruminating over the past is useless, but examining it in naked truth and moving on has value.
I’ll go first.
I burned 70,000 dollars on a college education that I didn’t even complete.
Lessons learned: be wary of loans, examine the true value of what you’re buying, and remember the cost of falling short of the finish line.
I almost ruined my life over drugs.
Lessons learned: The people you associate yourself with are extremely important, drugs don’t replace the hole inside of you, and value your time because years of it can go up in smoke — literally up in smoke.
I could go on forever. I’ve since let go of these mistakes, which we’ll talk about in the next chapter, but I’ve had enough uncomfortable dialogues with myself to the point where I feel very confident in avoiding repeating those dangerous mistakes in the future.
What are your lessons learned, the real ones?
Did you waste a decade of your life working behind a desk pushing papers?
Admit it. Now you won’t waste another decade.
Do you barely recognize the person you are today because you continually said no to new but scary opportunities?
Admit it. Now you can start saying yes.
The mask of rationalizing blinds you from a better future.
Every time you say something like “I’m doing it for the kids,” “I can’t afford to take risks,” or “I don’t have enough time,” you’re putting a nail in your own coffin.
I’m not saying that because I want something different for you. I’m saying that because you do, and you’re not doing anything about it.
After you’ve taken the time to examine your life, own up to your mistakes, and face the truth, you can truly start over. If you don’t, you’ll continue to spin your wheels and live like a record on repeat.
This post has been adapted from my new book, You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You.
The free 5 day course includes ideas on finding passions, discovering a vocation, and transforming the way you view yourself and the world.