I have seen every episode of Law and Order SVU. From Stabler and Captain Cragen to Assistant District Attorney Dominick Carisi, J.R.
Now? I watch it for fun, downtime after I’m done working for the day. A few years ago, I watched it to cope with my life, keep myself distracted, and do my best to ride out a bout of depression. SVU is one of the longest-tenured television shows, currently on season 21.
When I was going through this dark period in my life, roughly six years ago, there would’ve been 15 seasons out. It wasn’t so much that I binged a show, everyone does that, but I binged the entire series the longest-tenured shows in T.V. history from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed without ever leaving the house and only taking breaks to use the bathroom or eat. This behavior is only acceptable in quarantine. I could still roll a blunt or pack a bowl of weed while watching the show so that didn’t interrupt it. I had my routine set — smoke weed, watch SVU, smoke a little bit more weed, watch more SVU, and eventually smoke enough weed so I could pass out. Repeat 15 seasons in a row. Locked in the house for weeks.
Mind you, this was while I was in college. Classes? I wasn’t going to them. Instead of at least dropping out, I paid tuition and skipped every single class receiving a 0.00 GPA. This little SVU binge was during a period in my life where I’d mostly smoke weed throughout the day and mostly got drunk at night. 7 nights a week. My friend and I used to get blackout drunk nightly. Medicate during the day and you’re set to do it all over again.
I want you to understand that I’m not preaching to you from some ivory tower.
You feel like you’re in a rut? You feel stuck? Aimless? I’ve been there several times.
Contrast your current situation with the story I just told you. Or how about the story where I sell drugs and get charged with 7 felonies. Or the story where I skipped my probation meeting to take hallucinogens, which led to me getting arrested again. Maybe the story of working 12-hour shifts at a shit factory, still a felon, with no money, living in a dorm room the size of a prison cell works for you.
So, on the one hand, giving self-improvement advice can elicit an “easy for you to say,” reaction. But on the other hand, hearing someone’s story of breaking out of their own shackles can inspire you to do the same.
I know the feeling of stuck.
Your situation could be better or worse, but the heart of feeling stuck is the same.
When you look at your circumstances, ranging anywhere from being dead broke to something like having “golden handcuffs” at a job you despise, you have two different thoughts at the same time.
“How could I possibly have put myself in this position?”
“How can I possibly get out of it?
When you’re stuck, you have bad answers to both questions. You feel guilt over feeling stuck in the first place. How could you get stuck? Don’t you care about yourself? You had one job, take care of you, and you failed. So you have the guilt and shame over your inability to self-actualize.
On top of that, inertia sets in. Whatever pivot you want to make in life, you feel like you’re starting all over, 0.00 percent progress. You’re just like, “Fuck, how?”
But, people do get unstuck and pivot. People do reinvent themselves. I’ve done it. How? I’ll show you.
After the semester from hell, things gradually got better. I got suspended from school for my grades, so I had to schlep at a sports memorabilia warehouse for $8.50 an hour instead of going to class. That put my head on straight slightly, so when I went back to class the following semester I had enough motivation to…almost finish college.
Long story short, I had a hard time finding internships to complete my degree because I was a felon, so after doing the work to get good grades I quit right before the finish line. Here you have another theme to not just my life, but yours, all of ours. Ebbs and flows. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down, but the goal is to keep things trending upward, like a stock market chart with dips but overall growth. So I had another dip.
Stuck in the college town with no degree, I dipped into that electronics factory job, which scared the shit out of me because I got to see “quiet desperation” personified in one hundred percent of my co-workers. I’ve told the story before, but I quit that job, got a job as a manager of a video store, which inspired me to learn self-improvement, which leads to me seizing the opportunity to write, which leads to life right now.
What are some of the morals of the story?
Well, for one, ‘it ain’t ova till it’s ova’ You get unlimited tries, like ‘respawns’ in a video game. I’ve cycled up and down a bunch of times, got really stuck, and got really inspired. 90 percent of those cycles ended in dramatic dips, but eventually, I reached a point where the growth was amazing and the dips were nothing more than minor “market corrections” so to speak.
Next, understand the fluidity of your personality, motivation levels, skills, all of it. The person you’re reading words from right now, maybe the person you look up to, is the same person who drank 7 nights a week, dropped out of college three credits shy, and went through bouts of depression. Same guy.
My one saving grace, even when I was down and out, was that I’d always believed in the idea of reinventing yourself. I wasn’t married to the idea of being a fixed-version of myself, ever. I remember one time in college when I decided to get good grades, which I did, I renamed my Twitter account “Deji 2.0.” I was always on the hunt for a new and better version, even when I failed. Adopt this attitude.
Go through these cycles until something sticks. That’s the whole recipe.
I had my call to adventure. A friend asked me to write articles for his website, so I did. Then I wrote two, three, four, and next thing you know I was on a five year a path I’d never stop following.
People always ask me how I stayed motivated and how I found something that stuck. And I try to do my best not to romanticize what happened. Luck was involved with my friend asking me to write. You’ll have moments like that too. The universe will throw a little sign your way if you’re paying attention. I was paying attention. See, before my friend asked me to write I’d be studying self-improvement. So I was primed to spot opportunities.
But how did I get motivated to study self-improvement in the first place? Again, serendipity. I got that manager job that inspired me to want to do well. I’d failed and been fired from every other job before. The opportunity itself was a bit of chance, but I also had to perceive it as an opportunity in the first place.
Start perceiving moments in your life as opportunities.
You can flip burgers just to flip burgers or you can flip burgers to learn how to build and run a franchise. You can waste away at your office gig or you can use it to build skills that can help you start your own business. Eventually, at some point, your mind will have to snap into place where you think to yourself, “You know what? I’m going to do something with this.”
But what’s the source of that feeling? How far down the rabbit hole must you go to understand where motivation comes from, where these opportunities come from, what can be the seed to building the momentum needed to build a brand new life?
My best answer is to become a seeker. I was always a seeker. I always thought there was some answer to a better life than people around me either didn’t know or weren’t telling me.
I’ve always been an idealist, a dreamer, a curious wanderer. I do think I was born this way. But even if this doesn’t come to you naturally, I just told you to do it, so do it. If you can train yourself to grit your teeth through four years of school, eight hours of work, and years of living a life you don’t want, you can train yourself to seek.
After you seek, you seize opportunities and ride them out until it works. How did I get writing to work? For starters, I really liked doing it and it came naturally to me, which is why I always tell people to aim in that direction. Do talent and intelligence vary? Duh. But you have to live your life, don’t you? You can’t be someone else, can you? Ok then. You have your answer now, don’t you?
How to find ‘the thing?’ I give a detailed explanation in this book, but in short, you take an anecdotal survey of options, choose the closest, experiment with it, get it to stick, and keep going.
Again, how do you stick it out? Self-help is annoying that way. I can’t give you a sentence that will cure you. I can only share thoughts, experiences, little angles that get you as close as possible, but not all the way there.
You stick it out by sticking it out.
At all costs, you want to avoid falling back into inertia.
That means building momentum.
Momentum comes from positive feedback loops. Each time you do something positive, you send a signal to your brain saying “winner!” then this creates a “winner effect.” You get high on your past accomplishments, grow more confident, and create a reinforcing mechanism.
Timeline? Break the wall of 24 months and you’re there. Reverse engineer this — 90 days or relentlessness, six months, a year, two years. At a certain point, you’ll stop having to think. You don’t need motivation. You’ll have habits, routines, and a second-nature understanding of what to do.
You know this already.
I didn’t spend a bunch of time giving detailed pieces of advice in this post. I just told you my story instead.
Because there’s nothing more powerful than a story. One could argue that a story is the most powerful invention of all-time. Without stories, we have no civilization. We have nothing.
In the stories of others, you can see yourself. Then you can change yours.
If I can reinvent myself after royally screwing up my life, you can get unstuck, build momentum, and reshape your reality.
Don’t you think?