Everyone is trying to sell you a dream. Society tries to sell you the dream of following its rules to live life the ‘right’ way — good to school, get good grades, find a nice job, buy a house in the suburbs, and drive a car that looks like every other car but has a better logo. Self-improvement writers and business gurus are trying to sell you a dream, too. They tell you to strike out on your own, achieve every goal imaginable, be relentlessly productive, and turn your life into a grand adventure.
I’m trying to sell you a dream, too. I have an agenda. You should take everything I say with a grain of salt. I believe in what I have to sell, but you should only buy it if it makes sense to you. Seriously.
I noticed that there’s a good mixture of baby and bathwater when it comes to life advice. And I try to make sure you know what to keep and what to throw out. Here’s some further guidance today. I’m going to tell you some statements you may not have heard before.
Most people only talk about the upside of being an entrepreneur. You get to have more control over your time. You can achieve a level of wealth that provides true financial freedom. Instead of being told what to do, you get to take the reigns over and become the master of your fate. And then there’s the classic mantra of “never trade time for money.”
They also always seem to mention only the most glamourous forms of entrepreneurship, ignoring many of the viable and easier to run businesses like owning a laundromat. You’re always encouraged to become a content creator, influencer, or start some billion-dollar venture-backed company.
Being an entrepreneur has many downsides. You can sacrifice time, money, and energy on a venture that not only doesn’t work but can put you in financial ruin. The focus required to get a business off the ground can and will strain your personal relationships. With freedom comes added responsibility.
It makes sense for many people to get a nice paying job they enjoy and invest their extra money. You can become a millionaire this way, too, but it will take some extra time. You can start a side hustle for extra cash without quitting your job. And you have the option to try many routes and see what works for you. No shame in starting a business that fails then going back to your job. There’s also no shame in never trying at all.
I’m in the middle of reading a book called How to Get Rich, by a very rich man named Felix Denis. I loved the way he talked about what’s required to get a business off the ground. He said that instead of mere desire, you need the compulsion to follow through with your business idea.
Look at the word compulsion in the dictionary:
An irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one’s conscious wishes.
Compulsion drove me to spend six years working on my writing. After failing to start many different projects in my lifetime, I found something I felt compelled to do. It pulled me in. I’ve noticed that trait in most of the other full-time writers I met. They took to it quickly and genuinely felt the need to get the words onto the page.
This doesn’t mean you can’t change your life and become more motivated. Prior to finding writing, I was one of the laziest people you’d ever met. But it does mean that you’ll have to have an honest conversation with yourself about whether or not you’ve found a path so compelling that you’re willing to pay the price to see it through. Sometimes that answer is ‘no’ and it’s okay. It does you no good to beat yourself up for not having ambitions of world domination.
Desires are fleeting. Sure, we all want to be successful. But we also want many other things — certainty, safety, ease, and convenience, to name a few. Your best bet? Let your inclinations and aptitudes lead the way. There’s an amazing lane for you if you’re willing to level with yourself and follow it.
If the consumption of self-help advice lead to results, then we’d all be millionaires with six-packs riding down the Almafi coast in our Yachts now, wouldn’t we? The truth is, most people use self-help as a slightly better form of entertainment than Netflix. They’re junkies who get high off self-help content.
When you watch that YouTube video with the inspiring words and the uplifting background music, you do feel like you’re ready to take over the world. Then, you have to go back to the real world and take the necessary steps to get what you want. I’m not knocking this type of content, quite the opposite. But I know it’s only part of the equation.
I’ve read every self-help book known to man, watched all the videos, and listened to all the podcasts. I needed to because it essentially took self-induced brainwashing to stay focused. I used this process to counteract the trance that other forms of media tend to put you in — negative news, consumerist media, and entertaining but distracting shows and movies. But after consuming the content, I had to do something.
I combined these motivational sources with activities I found compelling. Then, I figured out how to turn motivation into habits and discipline. And there’s no other way to create habits and discipline other than to create habits and discipline. Yes, there are strategies, techniques, and routines, but nothing fills the gap between intentions and actions. Only you can do that.
This one commenter always tells me I’m plagued by ambition. He says I should focus on being content with what I have, stop pushing so hard, and realize there’s more to life than the pursuit of success. And you know what? He’s right.
There’s a saying: Not wanting something is just as good as having it. The thing with desire? It’s a never-ending black hole that you’ll never be able to fill. How many people reach a high level of success and just stop? Exactly. Once you achieve a bit of success, you’ll get used to it quickly and just want more.
One of my favorite self-improvement books, Relentless by Tim Grover, talks about the never-ending pursuit of success. Tim used to be the personal trainer for insanely successful athletes like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
These athletes trained relentlessly to get a championship. Once they won, they went right back to square one and did it all over again. Look at Tom Brady. He had nothing to prove after winning six championships with the Patriots, but he went to Tampa Bay and trained relentlessly to win his seventh. Why? Compulsion. I loved that Tim never said there was anything morally superior to being relentless. It’s just a way of life some people choose.
So why choose it? Honestly, I look at it as a lesser of two evils. One can try to be content, but it can be just as much work as trying to achieve your goals. Most people are stuck in the middle. They never fully reach for their goals and they’re also not content with what they have. They just pretend to be. If you can reach contentment with what you have, I say do it.
You can be successful doing anything. It’s a word you should define for yourself. But for the purposes of this piece, I’m talking about the type of success that’s glorified by gurus — making a bunch of money, building out a project that takes years to complete, or achieving any long-term goal that requires serious amounts of effort and time.
You can’t live a ‘healthy’ or ‘balanced’ lifestyle to reach the top. It’s impossible. The path to success is often marked by chaos and imbalance. To achieve my goal of becoming a full-time writer, I woke up at 5 a.m. every morning to write before work, even if I didn’t sleep much the night before. I’d write on lunch breaks. I wrote on weekends. I missed time spent with my friends and family, my child.
Living your day-to-day life is already stressful. You have your job, bills, and errands. A family? Kids? You already know how stressful those are on their own. Your life can have circumstances that make your goals even harder to reach like being a single parent, starting off with below-average resources, mental or physical ailments you have no control over. Oftentimes, it’s a lot to ask, maybe too much to ask, of you to deal with the added stress of trying to find some life purpose or build a business.
But, if you have that compulsion, you decide to pay the price. Sometimes I look back on everything I’ve done and I genuinely don’t know how I did it. What motivated me the most? I guess the alternative didn’t seem all that healthy to me either. Instead of a period of maximum stress, I figured I would’ve ended up living a life of chronic and dull stress stuck in a situation I didn’t want to be in, filled with anxiety about what could’ve been.
Is it healthy to chug coffee, commute an hour back and forth to work, grind away building someone else’s dream, and have little to no time to do the things you enjoy? Is it healthy to feel like you’re powerless to change your circumstances? Does the normal person in society look healthy to you? Do you feel healthy? Pick your poison.
We look at life through the lens of what will make us happy. But is that even the right lens to use? Happiness is subjective. And, often, when we focus too much on our feelings, we miss out on other things that matter — duty, meaning, usefulness, confidence, the pride of a job well done.
Those are the things success usually earns you. And, looking back at it all, the journey has been worth it and then some. Am I happy? I don’t know how to answer that, really. Happiness isn’t much of a goal of mine. What is my goal? I look at life as a game. I’m just trying to see what’s possible for the sake of seeing what’s possible.
My feelings of happiness usually come as a byproduct of living a life that aligns with my values. I value freedom, achievement, excellence, creativity, and growth. I try to communicate to those that share the same values. That’s it.
This life isn’t for everyone. Let’s remove the shame and stigma around what you choose to do with your life. Why you do it matters much more. I’m just a vessel to share messages that might be useful for you. Deep down, you already know how to best navigate your life. Listen to that voice.