For as long as you’ve been alive, people have been trying to tell you how to live.
It started when you were a baby. Don’t touch that! Sit still. Behave.
As you moved on through adolescence you learned more rules. Play nice. Raise your hand. Study hard. Get good grades.
Then, during the most impressionable period of your life, you’re told “the rules.”
You were told as long as you worked hard and followed directions, everything would be fine.
You’d get a nice job, have a nice home, and have a nice life. It’d be steady, even, and certain.
As I discuss at length in my book, often people follow the rules, do the right thing, and wind up miserable. It’s only after they realize their life is in their hands they decide to make a change.
Then, like I myself have done, they go searching for answers.
You Don’t Need a Guru
I love personal development. I believe in it. It works.
But the self-help world does have its downfalls. Anytime you’re dealing with vulnerable people — people desperate for change — some people smell blood in the water and want to make a pretty penny off people’s hopes and dreams.
You don’t need to take a happiness course for $1,000 to be happy. You can’t find contentment in easy payments of $99.99.
What you can do, however, is learn from a wide variety of people, take what works, discard what doesn’t, and create a tailor made education that suits you.
Never look to a teacher or a person of influence as a replacement for your own judgment. Trust yourself.
I’m not a guru. I’m a person who has learned many things through trial and error. My only goal is to share what I know with the hope it nudges you in the right direction.
I don’t want you to become a millionaire if you don’t want that.
I value freedom most but you might value something else more like relationships.
I don’t even know you. How could I possibly tell you how to live your life?
I can tell you things I’ve tried and had success with. There are some universal failure prone actions I can tell you to avoid. I can give you my vision of the world, but only you can act.
I went on a long journey of learning to get where I am now. I’ve read hundreds of books, interviewed people, taken classes, you name it.
At a certain point, I found myself learning from people who disagreed with each other.
There’d be two people I highly respect and admire taking exact opposite positions. It was at that point I learned I had to trust myself in the end.
When you go hunting for advice, you’ll always find disagreement.
No carb, high fat vs low-fat, high carb. Selling premium products vs cheap products. Being patient and methodical vs failing forward quickly.
As cliche as it sounds, listen to your gut. Your gut will sift through the mountains of information you receive and tell you the truth.
I think my only goal in my writing is to give people the confidence to not need me anymore.
It reminds me of the quote “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready… The teacher will disappear.”
I still continue my self-education, but I rely on my own judgment more than I used to.
When you begin your journey of self-education, you’ll find the same will happen over time.
But how do you start? If you’re lost, where do you go?
Environment Means Everything
You don’t need ultra-specific advice and directions. You don’t need someone to tell you how to live your life. No, you only need to find an environment conducive to your learning to improve your life.
I listened to a talk where the speaker told a story of a young girl who couldn’t sit still. She was tirelessly fidgety and the teacher felt something must be done. An appointment was scheduled with a therapist.
After some time with the girl and her mother, the therapists asked the girl to leave the room. There was music playing out in the hall, and the little girl started dancing.
The therapist informed the mother that her daughter didn’t have behavioral issues; she was a dancer.
Her mother put her in ballet classes and the rest was history.
That little girl went on to become a world famous choreographer.
That’s the power of being placed in the right environment. If you find yourself having to force yourself into pursuing something, perhaps it isn’t for you.
You could be being lazy, but usually, when you find yourself in a suitable environment, your curiosity will drive you to keep learning and growing.
But you can’t excel and grow until you find the right environment, so how do you do it?
“I do not teach anyone I only provide the environment in which they can learn” — Albert Einstein
This is the problem with our current education system. We tell. We instruct. We command. Children love to learn. Allow them to explore and you’ll find they end up learning better on their own. They’ll find something that fascinates them and ask a million questions about it. Leaving their environment open ended and allowing them to come to you makes for learning without friction.
Somewhere along the line, we lose that thirst for exploration. Some of us keep it intact or rediscover it, but most of us have it beaten out of us by the time we reach adulthood.
As adults, we look for signs and guidelines. If it’s not in the rubric, we don’t study it. If it’s not in the job description, we don’t do it. If our dreams aren’t immediately apparent, we give up and stick with what we know.
The writer Brian Koppelman said, “Don’t write about what you know. Write about what fascinates you.” For me, that advice rings true for life. Don’t let your knowledge guide your life, let your curiosity do it.
I think you’ll find quite a few things that fascinate you if you’d just let go a little bit and explore.
If you sit back for a minute and start to notice, you’ll have new avenues to follow.
Look into your past. Did you like to write? Were you fascinated by marine animals? Did you endlessly play with your easy-bake oven?
All of these faint memories of what used to fascinate you can become the inspiration for what you pursue now. Once you tap into that, wander and experiment without judgment.
I didn’t make a proclamation to become a writer. I wrote one article. Then I wrote another, and another, and another. A few posts turned into dozens of posts. Dozens of posts turned to hundreds of posts. Hundreds of posts turned into a book, then a second book, and the exploration continues.
Once I got serious about my writing, I started looking for specific resources to help me improve — books, courses, mentors, etc. — but the curiosity led to the pursuit of the dream. I wasn’t sold the dream.
Now, along with writing personal development books, I run a website to help aspiring writers. The ones who have the itch to write always do better than the ones who weren’t curious about writing until they saw an ad for “getting rich writing books.”
When someone hands you a dream you weren’t meant for it’ll never work, even if it’s attractive.
Some people aren’t meant to start businesses.
Some people are meant to be artists.
We’re all meant for a number of different things.
It’s our job to wander and find them.
Will you remain in your mental and societal box today or will you explore?
The decision is yours.
Learn, Do, Repeat
After you allow yourself room to explore, you’ll discover your interests. Once you discover your interests, it’s your job to not only devour as much information as possible but act on that information.
James Altucher said, “find a section in the library where you want to read every book,” then read every book. While you read, take the information given to you and test it in the real world.
This is what I do with my personal path and career.
If I see a new blogging technique, I try it. I don’t half try it.
Most people half try. They don’t follow directions explicitly. They follow directions minus the hard parts, so they can say they tried.
The right way to experiment involves giving it your all then analyzing the results. There will be times where you find the advice was bad and that you should go in a different direction. But you’ll never truly know that if you half-assed it.
First, you learn, then you do, then you repeat. You take what works for you and leave what doesn’t behind.
You do this…forever. There is no end. You have no ceiling on your growth.
But, these are all just suggestions. You don’t have to do anything.
I hope you do, though.