Chasing Success, And Other Things I’ve Wasted My Time On
Reflections on the things that won’t help you in life.
At 30 years old, I felt this was a good time to reflect on the things that have helped get me to where I am today. Perhaps more importantly though, are the things that haven’t helped me.
These three things wasted far more of my time than I’d like to admit. If you’re doing these hopefully this article can help change your trajectory.
1. Blindly Chasing Success
In my early twenties, I wasted countless hours (and sleepless nights) looking for the magic missile that was going to catapult me to success. It wasn’t just some side hobby of mine — I was obsessed with it.
I read books about success. I watched Ted talks about success. I followed blogs about it. I even briefly started my own blog about success (even though I clearly knew nothing about it).
So desperate was I to break out of my cubicle and gain financial freedom that I completely overlooked one of the key ingredients required for success:
I actually needed to be really freakin’ good at something.
I was too focused on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that I failed to develop my own path to get there. This went on for a solid 2 to 3 years.
That’s 2 to 3 years of time that I essentially wasted being focused on the wrong part of the game. Time that I could have spent developing a new skill or honing an existing craft.
Eventually, I wised up. I realized what I was doing had gotten me nowhere, and so I took a different approach — I started writing.
Then I committed to writing and sharing something at least once per week.
Some of the time it was an article on The Monk Life. Other times it was an email to my few subscribers, an answer on Quora, or a story on Medium. Sometimes it was just as small as a 140 character tweet.
I gave up the fantasy and started working on “the grind”.
Two things happened after I began doing this:
1. I became a better writer
When I first started writing I surprised myself by not totally sucking. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time. Looking back, my writing was pretty raw — it didn’t flow well, had no voice, and so it didn’t really speak to anyone.
Now, I like to think I’m at least a good bit better, but perhaps I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
2. I developed a plan
One of the main reasons I never found “success” was that I had no plan. However, some pretty cool stuff happens after you just start doing something each week:
- You find out what interests you
- You find out the key things that help define you and your brand
- You find out what others are interested in you
All these things have helped shape my current business plan (how I grow and make money through my writing and website), as well as what products and revenue streams I’d like to create and establish in the future.
I’m no longer blindly chasing success. I have a real plan to get there.
3. I learned to appreciate the journey
I used to think the worst part about my work was the daily grind. I feel like most people starting out tend to feel this way. After all, “Ughh, it’s so much work.”
It’s SO much work to get to all the fame and glory at the end of the rainbow.
But somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the process. It became a part of who I am, and I began to look forward to the daily struggle of piecing articles together (you really should’ve seen how this one started out).
For me, writing sucks and it always will. But I freakin’ love it, and I’m more dedicated to the journey than ever.
Most importantly though, I’m not wasting my life anymore chasing fantasies. I’m forging my own path.
Now for the second biggest waste of time in my life…
2. Ruminating About the Past
By now it’s no secret that I used to have some really bad anxiety. Part of what came along with that anxiety was a terrible habit of overthinking everything.
The worst of it was constantly ruminating about things I did or things that happened in the past.
My three biggest ruminations were usually centered around:
- When I fucked up at work
- When I got super drunk and did some really dumb things (some that I remember and some that I don’t)
- Bad experiences in relationships (i.e. rejection, me doing something stupid, or her doing something stupid)
I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time replaying the same memories over and over in my head. Can you guess how much doing so has benefitted my life?
In fact, I’d argue that it’s only made me miserable and less productive.
Ruminating is like a record that’s stuck and keeps repeating the same lyrics. It’s replaying an argument with a friend in your mind. It’s retracing past mistakes.
Rumination is all about obsessively over-thinking negative events in your life. Events you remember poorly and wish they had gone differently. If you’re already depressed or anxious, ruminating about these bad experiences only exacerbates those feelings.
You get stuck in the infamous cycle of negativity and can’t get out.
Your problem-solving skills become paralyzed, and you’re so preoccupied with the problem that you’re unable to push past the cycle of negative thoughts.
What to Do Instead
Rumination is the fast track to feeling depressed and helpless.
So, how to stop?
Instead of ruminating, try reflecting. Reflecting is looking back at past mistakes and thinking positively as opposed to negatively.
It’s not “wow how could I have fucked up so poorly…”
It’s “what could I have done differently in the future?”
Learn to stop focusing on the negative (ruminating) and try reflecting. Still though, you don’t want to spend TOO much time reflecting either. Sure, reflecting is good and definitely better than ruminating, but the best thing you can do is stop living in the past and start engaging more in the present and beyond. Look forward instead of behind.
Focus on the solutions that you can come up with instead of ruminating in the past.
Maybe your last relationship got messed up. Let’s say you, gasp, cheated on your boyfriend or girlfriend and it’s eating at your insides. You could ruminate on this for the rest of your life, or you could deal with the upfront negative feelings then attempt to move on.
Instead of thinking about how bad you fucked up, you should be thinking about how you can do better in your next relationship, i.e. don’t cheat on your partner.
So, next time you catch yourself ruminating, stop thinking about the past, and start thinking about how you can improve in the future.
Try coming up with a concrete and tangible problem that you can solve in the near-term to get you one step closer to being a better person.
Ruminating about the past stole far too much of my time in my early twenties, and I’m set on living the rest of my life with as little rumination as possible.
3. Getting Caught Up in the Details
I feel like I wasted most of my 20’s making little to no progress in the gym despite having a massive amount of knowledge on the matter.
This was a classic case of, “Knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”
I had all the knowledge in the world on lifting weights; however, my application of that knowledge was way off. I was getting far too caught up in the details for my own good.
Instead, I was too busy analyzing myself to death to make any real progress.
“Is this really the right program for me? What about this other one?”
“If I do intermittent fasting I can get big AND shredded. That’s what I need to focus on.”
“How many seconds do I need to rest for?”
“Men’s Health says Schwarzenegger got jacked using these exercises. Clearly I need to be doing these.”
“I think I’m eating too many carbs. Maybe I should start carb cycling.”
Having gained a fair amount of muscle in the last year and going from a 155-pound max bench to a somewhat more respectable 220-pounds, I can tell you with certainty that these were all the WRONG things to focus on. Especially as a skinny guy trying to gain muscle for the first time.
Having the wisdom of 10+ years of failure, I’ve learned that sticking to the basics usually gets you 95% of the way to wherever you want to go. Here’s what I’ve deduced based on my experience through my 20's:
0 to 95% Mastery: The basics
95 to 99% Mastery: The details
99 to 100% Mastery: Genetics and painstaking dedication (think Olympians here)
Once I started sticking to the basics and forgetting about the rest, I finally started making progress in the gym.
The basics that I stuck to were this:
1. Showing up at the gym every week
I planned 4 days each week and, come hell or high water, I got 4 workouts in each week.
2. Adding more weight on the bar
I gave myself a goal of adding 5 lbs to my main lifts each week. I didn’t always hit this goal, but if I didn’t you bet your ass I came back the following week trying even harder.
3. Putting more food in my belly
Building muscle requires fuel. Fuel comes from food. The more food you eat, the more muscle you’re able to build (up to a certain limit). I stopped worrying about gaining a little bit of fat and started eating my face off.
The results? I gained more muscle and surprisingly didn’t gain as much fat as I thought I would.
After a lifetime of being the skinny guy, I can’t tell you how good it finally feels to hear the words, “dang, you been working out?”
I’d say it’s only taken me 11 or 12 months to get to this point, but I’d be lying. I easily wasted 10+ years focusing on the wrong things when I could have been spending that time being more productive, relaxing, or simply enjoying life.
The devil really is in the details. Pick up the basics and just get moving. Don’t waste your time on the minutiae.