Phrases like ‘path to success’ might make some people want to throw up in their mouths in a little bit.
Life isn’t all about success. The self-help industry has bastardized our notion of the word — making us feel like we have to be perfect in every area of our life and reach the top echelon of our field just to look in the mirror and be happy with what we see.
We’re disillusioned. We have dreams for a life we think will make us happy based on ideas planted in our heads by other people. We’re confused as to whether we even want what we think we want.
On top of that, there is that sense that there’s some sort of path to success for all of us.
Even if you don’t necessarily buy into the notions of some slick-haired salesmen with a smile full of veneers, you know that there’s some version of this life that would fulfill you.
Not because you did what other people think makes you a success, but because you did exactly what you felt like doing. Here’s my attempt at talking about some signs you’re on the path to success that doesn’t make for just another cheesy self-help post.
You just stop giving a fuck altogether.
There’s a reason why the Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck became a runaway bestseller. Aside from the catchy title, it speaks to our deep need to finally, once and for all, just let go of all the weight that comes with giving a fuck about things that don’t matter.
Taking a wrecking ball to all of your fucks makes room for the path to success to emerge. It’s not that you don’t care about stuff, it’s that you live a life with nothing left but the things you actually care about. Not the things you’re told to care about or the things you think you care about because you’re afraid.
As soon as you genuinely start living a life where you leave yourself to your own devices, you’re free. You’ll notice it happening when you stop saying things you don’t really mean just to get by, or when you’re in a moment you feel afraid but you just say to yourself “You know what, why should I be afraid? Why should I care what happens? I’m going to die someday, is all this apprehension and fear really necessary?”
Bukowski once said:
‘The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it – basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.’
Once you become that free soul, whatever that means to you, you’re successful. But how do you get there?
Most people make the mistake of thinking they have to make these massive sweeping changes to build this magical path to success but that’s almost never how it works.
You start that path when that little switch in your brain goes off to do something very very small and, for whatever reason, you just follow through with it.
Motivation has a strange way of working sometimes. That little jolt might hit you just the right way so, at that moment, you muster up whatever you have inside and you take that baby step.
I love seeing videos of someone who’s morbidly obese starting a new fitness journey. They have zero reasons to think it’s going to work and they’ve spent a lifetime in that cycle of trying to lose weight to no avail.
Maybe one day they just decide they’re going to go for a walk. 30 minutes. Done. And they’re like nowhere near close to the end goal but then they do it the next day, too. They’ve tried this a thousand times but the glimmer of hope just shines a bit differently this time. They look up one day to see they’ve been at it for years and they have no idea how they pulled it off but they did.
For most of us, all we have in our arsenal is that tiny little baby step — that shot that’s misfired a seemingly infinite amount of times but we pull the trigger again anyway. Because, why not? What other option is there? If there’s no hope, you’re done. But, a tiny fleeting moment of it can create enough momentum to change your entire life.
Who knows, it could happen to you.
My entire job is telling you everything that you already know. Sometimes you have to hear things a certain way for it to make sense, but you always kinda sorta know. You’ll know you’re on the path to success when you start letting your intuition guide you above all else.
Trusting your intuition doesn’t just mean doing anything that feels good. Often, your intuition knows which things in your life feel good but are ultimately bad for you. When push really comes to shove, you know the right answer.
If you’re struggling with a big decision, flip a coin. While it’s in the air, think of the side you want it to land on. There’s your answer. A lot of the time, you’ll try to explain away what you feel in your gut because the answer isn’t always the most politically correct or it’s not an answer other people would give in your situation, but it’s your answer.
Make no mistake about it, trusting your intuition can cause collateral damage.
A lot of those decisions guided by intuition involve ripping a band-aid that will hurt yourself and other people in the short term but might open up a path to success for everyone involved long term.
It might mean upending your life and letting go of everything you’re used to or even letting go of the idea of the person you thought you were for so long.
That’s the hardest part. Usually, trusting your intuition means you have to let go of something important to you, but is also holding you back from being your real self. This is something I can’t tell you to do because I’m not you. But I can say it’ll set you free.
To bridge on that and be a little more specific, often your intuition tells you to create boundaries that make your path to success a lot easier t navigate. Setting boundaries is hard for some people because there’s this convoluted sense of obligation you can feel to yielding.
I’ve thought about moments in my life where I wanted to say no but said yes.
The times I knew I’d wake up with a hangover and hate myself but let my buddies pull my arm into going out. Every time I said yes to some request I didn’t want to do it because I’d feel like a selfish, bad, person if I said no. The times I didn’t set a boundary with society at large and did what I thought it wanted from me like getting married when I knew it was a horrible idea.
All those little concessions create a weakness in you — this sense that the needs of everyone else matter more than yours. The answer is that, for a time, you probably need to be more selfish. Take care of yourself, meet your needs, focus on what needs to be done to make your life better first, and then worry about everyone else.
Hell, that might even mean putting yourself above the people you care about most like your children, and sacrificing a bit of what you give to them short term so they get to have more of you in a lifetime.
Obviously, there’s a fine line you need to walk with all of this, but know that stretching yourself too thin leaves everyone who does get a piece of you a little bit less well off and you suffer in the process.
Martyrdom creates resentment. Put your oxygen mask on first.
Much of life is suffering. No matter what you do, you’re not going to escape the devastating blows that come with simply being alive. If you can’t avoid suffering, what can you do?
You can change the narrative around your suffering.
Instead of suffering needlessly because you’re avoiding the hard stuff, find something worth suffering for. We spend so much time trying to calibrate our suffering. We’d rather take it in doses we can control over and over and over and fucking over again as long as it means we can see the amount of pain coming before it hits us.
I always try to ask myself…what’s the root of all this fear of uncertain outcomes? Why is it strangely easier to let our souls die a little bit each day than to fight it out taking the blows as they come but getting back up?
Maybe it’s because the suffering that comes from really putting yourself out there just packs such a ferocious jaw-breaking blow. It knocks you out of your spell because it hits so hard and fast you don’t have time to rationalize it away like you can when you choose to sit in the shadows.
Sitting in the shadow is suffering, but at least no one else witnesses it but you.
You can put on a good front using this strategy but going through the suffering of throwing yourself into the arena means you have to suffer in front of other people. Either that or the situation forces you to realize that you actually aren’t good enough. You no longer get to pretend like maybe you could be.
And for whatever reason, these are just some of the worst feelings in the world. But they don’t take long to fade. I’ve thought about all the most embarrassing, humiliating, and dejecting moments of my life. Just a blip on the radar. You take the punch and heal up. Do it enough times and you’re no longer afraid of the fight.
A lot of us try to create this path to success that keeps us from avoiding whatever our nightmare scenario is.
Whether it’s putting all your effort into a business, losing every penny, or falling flat on your face creating something no one wants — a truly terrible idea. Or getting on stage in front of a bunch of people and having them all laugh at us. Or getting everything we want and finding a way to fuck it up and lose it all.
We try to conjure up this fearless image of ourselves that will never exist. This ideal self that has zero doubts and moves through every situation with infallible confidence. Truth be told, there’s a way to reach a level where you’re more or less like this, but not without the possibility of experiencing some version of that nightmare.
You’ll know you’re on a real path to success when you not only try to avoid the nightmare but just accept beforehand that it’s definitely going to happen. Maybe it won’t. But just accept up front that it will and if you happen to avoid it instead of trying to avoid it, there’s even more of a win for you.
In a weird way, the story of your life is better when you go through the nightmare and still realize you’re alive. Every situation a human being goes through can be seen through seven billion different lenses.
If you come out the other end of it and you still keep going, what else is there to stop you?