“It won’t be much, but I could start paying you.”
Roughly four years ago, these were the words I heard from Lance, an editor I was working with at Thought Catalog.
I’d been writing for the website for a while. The company decided to give Lance a freelance budget to start paying some of the free contributors.
The thought of making any money writing, at all, seemed like a dream come true regardless of the amount. At the time, I was still pretty broke, working as a manager at a video store and writing on the side as a hobby. I felt like my life was going to be like this for at least a little while.
I started learning personal development heavily around that time and I vaguely felt my life would be better far out into the future. But for the immediate future, I didn’t see a ton beyond the $10/hr wage I was making.
Not until Lance mentioned the possibility of making money writing. I knew people did it, but the idea of making money writing didn’t seem real — tangible — to me. Not until then. The moment he mentioned it, I saw a true possibility.
And then he quit his job shortly after, I never made a dime, and the new editor wasn’t as big a fan of my writing as he was.
After spending 18 months writing at TC, I decided to give a real shot at this “blogging” thing. I bought online courses on blogging, which eventually led to finding self-publishing school — an online course that changed my life forever.
I took the course and published my first book, The Destiny Formula.
This moment marked the first paradigm shift. The first “new normal.” Someone, many people, gave me money in exchange for my words.
Something that seemed unlikely when I started writing became normal to me, quickly.
This is what you need to remember when you’re on a “path.”
In the beginning, you’re flailing around just trying to figure out the chessboard. Then, you’ll come to a point where there’s some sort of event that shifts your thinking. For the first time, you believe in your future because you have a tangible reason to. You’re not just daydreaming. You have proof.
In creative work, that’s making money for your art, content, services, etc. In business, it’s making a sale. If you’re doing something like trying to start a non-profit org it’s landing some real funding.
What happens to your mind when this moment occurs? You’re not even close to the finish line, but now you have more energy to run.
Most people quit before this paradigm shift happens, which is sad because it does get easier in many ways after this point.
The beginning is the hardest because it’s the time where success seems most alien to you. You look far off into the distance of that dream and it’s like a mirage in the desert.
Make it to that first inflection point on your path. Make it your only goal. Forget about your big-amazing-dream-lifepath-magical-existence and focus strictly on getting to the point where you have some sort of tangible foothold on your new journey.
The double-edged sword of growth?
You feel good when you make improvements, but you get used to them quickly. I remember in the beginning that 10,000 email subscribers was the big magical, impossible number. I have that and now I’m like meh (truth be told it didn’t move the needle as much as I thought it would.)
Throughout that process, I hit little milestones I got used to quickly:
So what’s the point? Why am I telling you this? Seemingly bragging?
Success won’t make you feel whole. Appreciate your current reality and be grateful, because you’ll end up chasing thrills forever if you don’t learn how to do this.
But do chase it anyway because the climb is the most important part.
1When you get to each milestone, you get a brief moment of euphoria, and then instantly get used to it. Your mind catches up quickly.
It’s like when people get a major raise, they think they’ll be content to live under their means and save more money, but they just end up spending more to match their new income. On a life path, you do the equivalent mentally.
But the goal should be to “live below your means,” mentally, which is a fancy way of saying be grateful.
As you grow, appreciate the milestones you’ve earned along the way because they will quickly become normal to you. Reflect on your victories each step of the way:
See, part of creating “new normals,” is the fact that you genuinely don’t realize how much you’ve grown. Even in as short of a time span as 6 months from your beginning, you’ll have learned a ton. Honor that every step of the way. And keep it in mind the next time you face a challenge that you think is too difficult.
On the one hand, improving your life can quickly turn into a hamster wheel of ambition and desire if you let it. This is why some billionaires are miserable. Don’t become that type of person.
On the other hand, the fact that you keep creating new realities for yourself will train you to push beyond what you think is possible. And you don’t push your limits because of the outcomes you want. You push them because of the person you’ll become in the process.
At this point in my life, I genuinely believe something like writing a New York Times Best Selling book is possible for me.
Not because I’m cocky, but because I’ve read many NYT best selling books and if I extrapolate the quality of my writing onto a long enough timescale, I think I can match that quality. I mean, I’m only 29 — plenty of time to practice and write more books.
When you reach this point in your career, you’ll enter what I like to call “video game mode.” After you’ve put in years of work, you start to believe that anything is possible. You realize that most of the limitations people put on themselves are imaginary.
Something like making a million dollars is simple math – roughly $83,000 a month, $2,800 a day, $115 an hour with a 24 hour day, you can make a product line that meets those numbers.
I’ll try to become a speaker and give talks around the world. I have a Youtube channel now and I want to get a million views on a video. 10. 100. Why not?
Again, not for the outcome. Just to see if I can do it.
How is this all relevant to you?
It’s relevant because you have no idea what you’re capable of.
What you think is difficult to impossible is not only achievable but with time, can become trivial. If you work hard, you can master skills you’re currently deathly afraid of even trying.
You can have a totally different life. But only if you start.
You want to know what my normal was a little over 5 years ago?
I remember once when a friend and I walked ten miles so I could apply for a job at a warehouse that makes sports paraphernalia. We both loved smoking black and mild cigars — 99 cents at the gas station. To buy enough cigars to supply our walk, we each scrounged up as much change as we had.
See, I needed to get this job because I literally had no money. That change thing wasn’t a cute metaphor. Fortunately, I did get the job. $8/hr – a mile walk to get on a bus across town every day.
I felt like a schmuck. Becoming a writer? Finding my passion? Not only weren’t those scenarios possible to me, but I also didn’t even consider them. A piece of shit like me wasn’t worthy of such dreams. What was I worthy of? Dollar drinks at Gabby’s (the local bar). $20 bucks here and there on a gram of weed to smoke, maybe even some hallucinogens every once in a while to really escape reality. Probations meetings, failed piss tests, jail stint. No hope.
Somehow, though, I escaped that reality and I now live in this one. How?
Some of my story is pure luck. I’ve told the story about how I got a job as a video store manager, which led to wanting to learn self-improvement, which led to writing. While it’s true that luck plays a role in life, I did make one decision that mattered.
At a certain point, I decided to seize the opportunities I saw, regardless of whether or not I felt I could do them. When someone offered me the opportunity to write for their website, I took it. I haven’t really looked back since. I didn’t know this was going to happen — not by a long shot. But…I had hope. Not only that, I knew whatever my new reality would be, it was going to be better than the shitty one I lived in for years.
I know you simultaneously daydream about success and deep down feel like you can’t pull it off.
But you don’t need to feel like you can pull it off to start. Just start.
There’s that saying, “If I knew all the work I had to do to get here upfront, I wouldn’t have started.”
You only learn that lesson retrospectively. Right now, you don’t know what’s possible. You don’t even know what you don’t know. So counterintuitively, the best way to create a new reality for yourself is to work hard without thinking too hard about the future.
Visualize enough to move forward, but don’t daydream constantly. Plan, but don’t try to “get your ducks in a row.” Form expectations, but don’t let them run you.
All of a sudden, what was once difficult will become second nature. What was once a pipe dream can become a reality. You’ll wonder how it was even possible to be the old you.
And then you’ll go through that cycle all over again.
I don’t try to think about the future in crystal clear terms anymore. I have plans, projects, and deadlines of course, but I’m not trying to figure out exactly how life will unfold.
I’m writing my ass off. I’m giving a shot at this writing thing until the wheels fall off. We’ll see what happens.
It’s hard to get into this frame until you achieve some success.
But changing your reality isn’t so much about the reality itself. It’s about you. About who you become in the process and the lessons you can only learn after being on the other side of hard work.
“Skies the limit,” what a cliche. But true.
You have no idea what your ceiling is. Neither do I. No one does.
I’m swinging my bat hard as hell, for no true objective reason, really.
And it’s fun as hell.
You should try it.