My good friend Sean Johnson recently shared a piece of advice his dad used to give him. It goes something like this:
"In life, you’ll always be juggling multiple balls at once. And, at some point, it’s a guarantee that one or more of those balls will drop. Having a successful life is a matter of knowing which balls are made of rubber and which are made of glass. Drop accordingly."
I can’t stop thinking about this advice lately.
I’ve spent a lot of my life trying not to drop any balls, but continue to add more of them to my metaphorical plate. In other words, I have “I need to be perfect” syndrome.
What the hell is that about, right?
I think people wear “I’m a perfectionist” like it’s a badge of honor. It has somehow become synonymous with, “I’m an A player,” or, “I work really hard.”
Truthfully, as a recovering perfectionist, I know it doesn’t mean either of those things.
What it really means is, “I worry about not being good enough,” or, “I have a ton of fear about how people will judge my work, so I find mundane excuses to not ship stuff out and into the world.”
Perfectionism, for the most part, really sucks.
When we try to force our imperfect selves to lead perfect lives, what happens is we start juggling more balls than we can handle. We juggle stuff that doesn’t mean much to us because we don’t know how to say “no” or simply don’t know what our priorities are. We forget that some balls are made of rubber and some are made of glass. And most tragically, we drop the glass balls because we don’t know any better.
Rubber Ball Examples:
- Most business decisions and outcomes
- Eating one unhealthy meal
- Not having the resources (financial, time, etc.) to do get something we really want the moment we want it
- Sporadic disagreements with family, friends, lovers, and colleagues
- Not getting all the way through our to-do lists
Glass Ball Examples:
- Lacking integrity in business decisions and reactions to outcomes
- Understanding your spirituality
- Devoting time to being fully present with people you love
- Not taking care of your body for prolonged periods of time
- Spending (a lot) of money you don’t have on things you don’t really need for short-term satiation
- Not being open to the greatest love of your life because you’re afraid of getting hurt
We’ll drop the glass balls. We’ll close ourselves off from love, stop getting adequate sleep, eat crappy food, not exercise, claim “agnosticism,” take shortcuts in business and relationships that might hurt or short change others because it’s easier, and allow ourselves to become easily distracted by shit that doesn’t really matter in the long run.
And we do this all to preserve the rubber balls—working ourselves into the ground, caught in a cycle of making and spending more money on irrelevant stuff that we won’t remember when we’re 80-years-old, and spending so much time on “productivity” that we forget to actually accomplish worthwhile things.
Success isn’t about forcing yourself to juggle more and more balls. It’s not about not dropping any of them, either.
Success is simply this:
- Choosing the balls you want to juggle carefully
- Not letting the fear of dropping a ball disable you from doing noteworthy shit
- Knowing which balls are glass and which aren’t—what matters, and what honestly doesn’t—so that when you do have to let one go, you know which one(s) can drop and bounce back.
Now, go juggle your heart out.
I’m out in SF this week, and went to a cocktail party with David Eagleman a few nights ago. He was talking about a lot of neuroscience stuff that went way over my head.
But something he did say that really caught my attention was this (paraphrasing):
"Our brains are really lazy. They will accept the easiest possible solution. You have a giant network of associations in your head. For instance, when I say "rabbit," you automatically think things like, "carrot, easter, cute, Jessica Rabbit, etc." Your brain doesn’t think about the thousands of other characteristics of a rabbit.
The same is true of our brains in business and life. When we have a problem, we come up with a set of answers based on the information and associations we already have in our head based on our personal learning and experiences. You have to dig deeper to find the unique solutions.”
I thought that was profound.
If you’ve taken any sort of biology, psychology or neuroscience class, you’re familiar with the basic premise of how our brains connect, process, and recall information.
But, when you’re actually in the thick of problem solving, this knowledge totally goes out the window most of the time.
We’ve also been trained from a young age to “trust the first answer we come up with.” How many times did you hear that from a teacher before a multiple choice test between elementary school and college? It’s engrained in our minds that our first answer is the right answer.
That might be true when you’ve studied a ton of information and you have some vague recollection of which answer in a set of multiple choices “feels” the best. But, that’s totally different than solving highly complex, unique problems that have an unlimited set of possible answers.
When it comes to creative problem solving, growth, innovation, etc. here’s what we need to remember:
The first answer is almost never the best answer.
It’s just the answer that’s most readily available to your brain given how it’s neurally connected.
If you want to come up with truly unique and innovative solutions:
- Sit with the problem longer.
- Spend 20 minutes “free journaling.” Write down whatever comes to mind for you—even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else.
- Look outside of your industry or network to get advice from other people on how they’d approach solving the problem at hand.
- Study how successful people think through problems (not their results, but their thought frameworks)
- Chill out. Sometimes, giving yourself space provides all the clarity you need.
If you’re beating your head up against a wall to solve a problem, it’s probably because you are thinking too small about it.
If you’re willing to move past the first and easiest answer, you’ll probably come up with some of your best and most innovative ones.
There’s a lot of talk in the startup space these days about trying to find a “formula” for successfully launching a company. It started with the Lean Startup Movement (which is a fantastic book, not hatin’), but it’s turned into this crazy quest for some magic bullet.
It doesn’t work that way.
I haven’t launched multiple companies. I’ve never closed a round of funding by myself. I haven’t hired anyone and been personally responsible for making sure that person eats.
But I do have the great fortune of meeting with successful, brilliant starters every single day, and soaking up their stories of success, failure, hardship, and triumph.
I’m an editor, but what I’m really good at (and passionate about) is pattern identification. One of those patterns, though, isn’t a formula for building a successful company. No two entrepreneurs I’ve ever met have built their companies the exact same way.
That makes us all really uncomfortable. We want an easy answer. We want to know that if we just follow these 10 steps, we’ll have a profitable startup.
But as with anything truly amazing and worth doing in life (falling in love, traveling the world, etc.), there isn’t a formula. In fact, it often works out a lot better if you don’t try so damn hard to create one and just work/enjoy your ass off, and let serendipity handle the rest.
You end up happier, and the world has the space to work its magic on you and whatever you’re building.
If you’re out there building anything, please know that what will make it special is not something you’ll find in a manual or bestseller somewhere. It’s in you already.
Yes, you should learn from others successes and failures. Yes, you should look outside of your industry for ideas you can innovate into your own space. Yes, its useful to read well-written books and articles on building companies.
But don’t let all of those things stop you from the most important thing, which is that nothing beats your gut instinct about something you’re super passionate about and driven to make a reality for the rest of the world.
Stop looking for a formula.
Start listening to yourself more.
Just about everyone can spot a problem. But here’s the difference I’ve noticed between entrepreneurial thinkers and everybody else:
Everybody else will point at, talk about, and wallow in the problem.
Entrepreneurs will look at a problem and say, “I’m going to build something to fix that.”
We’re so caught up in categorizing entrepreneurs as people who close crazy rounds of funding, build huge teams, and grow a multi-million-dollar business. But those are all results. They are the results entrepreneurs achieve from thinking and behaving like dedicated problem solvers.
If you want to be an entrepreneurial thinker, it’s easy. It doesn’t require a ton of money or you building a formal company. All it requires is a willingness to actively seek out problems—and then come up with and build creative solutions for them.
If you want to build something truly great, you almost never need to reinvent the wheel. Startups that do are extremely rare.
The majority of great startups in our country were born out of necessity. The only think you need to do is find what’s truly necessary. What do people really need? The world’s next great solution lives in midst of the problems you find. Most of the time, those problems are ones that you yourself are experiencing.
So find a problem you have that you know other people have.
Then be the one who creates a solution for it.
What if You Had Just 10 Years Left? 10 Months? 10 Days?
What would you do?
Write it all down on a list. Right now.
Why haven’t you done the things on your list yet?
Honestly, what’s holding you back? What story are you making up about the way things are, or the way things have to be?
We all know life is short. We all know it could end at any moment. And it’s up to us to start living with the same intensity as that sobering reality.
So, stop giving yourself lame excuses for living an unmemorable life.
The formula for success is simple: If you want to be a champion (at work, love, friendships, family—whatever), start playing like one.
You’ve probably heard the expression…
"Insanity = Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results."
It’s amazing how quickly we fall into bad—sometimes unforgiving—habits. It’s easy to get lazy. It’s easy to cozy up to the comfort of traditional ways of doing things. It’s easy to find excuses about why things can’t be different.
But the thing is, if you keep doing things the way you’ve been doing things, you’ll keep getting the same things you’ve always gotten.
A distant family.
What are you complaining or worrying about these days?
What circumstances do you want to be different?
How do you want to be different?
If you want things to change—if you want different results in your life in any area—what you need to do is very simple.
1.) Know this: there isn’t a specific checklist of tasks you can do to become successful.
Success isn’t that formulaic. Part of what makes success special is the personality you infuse into why and how you do what you do. Stop looking for theprescribed set of answers. Success is creating your own checklist.
2.) Study the attitudes and though processes of successful people (and not the specific actions or results).
Read a ton of biographies. Take people you admire out for coffee. Read the stuff they write. Figure out how successful people think. Uncover how they view certain types of situations (like: success, crisis, failure, setback, pivots, etc.). Too often, we try to model the specific actions of successful people, hoping we’ll get similar results. But, your list of actions is the part you get to make uniquely your own. It’s really learning about how to think and respond to things that matters. If you pay close attention, successful people will show you how.
3.) Get out of your own way.
Create a list of the specific things/circumstances you want to be different in your life. Write down what behaviors or habits you engage in that are getting you the result you don’t want. Then, go out of your way to do things differently. Give yourself permission to veer off course.
That’s why the best kind of treasure is at the bottom of deep oceans, and not a slot machine in Vegas.
If you want things to be different, you need to be different. Do the unexpected. Go where others don’t go. Go where others are afraid to go.
That where you’ll find your treasure.
Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about productivity and developing new habits. One of the questions people have been asking (and I’ve been thinking about) is how to stay committed to a new goal or habit.
There are three habits/goals I’ve really stuck to this year so far:
1.) Blogging every single day this year
2.) Eating 100% pesca-vegan, except on Saturdays
3.) No drinking (wine, beer, liquor…nada!) for the month of February
All of these are huge, big, tough things to commit to. But I have stuck to them, and I haven’t cheated even once.
That got me thinking: what’s different now? In the past, I’ve set tons of goals that I never met or fell short on meeting. I felt like I really wanted to achieve my goals just as badly as I do now…so what’s changed?
Three primary things.
1.) You really have to know why you want to achieve what you say you want to achieve.
In the past, I wanted to eat healthier. So, this is how it usually went down: I’d give myself a strict list of foods I could and could not eat. I’d make obscure rules like “no eating after 9pm” or “no sweets during the week.” But, it was unrealistic, and honestly, way too much effort. I was forcing myself to spend a lot of time thinking about food at least three times a day. It was kind of…miserable.
This time around, I’m armed with a ton of research about why I decided to go pesca-vegan. Ultimately, it wasn’t to “save the animals,” “save the planet,” or “save my body.” Those are all great causes, and I’m glad my diet helps me do those things. But, the main thing that motivates me is that I have personal evidence of what happens why I go strictly pesca-vegan for 6 out of 7 days every week. I feel lighter and less exhausted. I have more mental clarity. I make smarter decisions (or at least, I think/hope!). I feel more alive. In short, I feel like the much happier and healthier version of myself.
That’s what keeps me going. I’m in touch with my body and soul. I’m developing an acute sense for what will make me feel good and not so good. I’m strengthening my level of self-love and self-respect every day, which entices me to do more of what makes me feel good and less of what doesn’t. And by “feel good,” I don’t mean instant gratification behavior. I mean doing things that my heart, soul, and body can all get behind. That’s what matters.
2.) You have to create new scripts.
The idea of building self-love and self-respect is critical for this point. Loving and respecting yourself comes from listening to yourself. The more you listen, the more you’ll hear the stories you tell yourself that aren’t serving you. These are what I like to call “scripts.”
Scripts are those really annoying voices in our head telling us things like, “You might as well just have a few french fries,” or, “You can start the project tomorrow,” or worse, something like, “You’re never going to be successful,” or “No one will ever love you.”
Blah, blah, blah. NONSENSE.
It’s amazing how often and quickly we give ourselves permission to live in a state of mediocrity.
Once I got in touch with my disempowering “scripts,” I realized that I needed to understand my triggers, and then change my scripts if/when those triggers occurred.
Start to pay attention when you tell yourself things that aren’t serving you. You need to be prepared to call out that idiotic and untrue voice in your head that resists change. Resistance always lives in the space where the most important change must occur. It’s just a reality—resistance in the form of a negative voice that stems from fear? That’ll always be there. It exists even in the most successful people in the world.
Successful people have trained themselves to tell the negative voice, “Get the hell out of my way.” And that’s exactly what they do. And that’s exactly what you should do.
3.) Make behavior change as easy as possible.
This has probably helped me the most in terms of changing my habits and accomplishing my goals.
As I noted above about trying to get healthy in the past, I made it incredibly hard for myself to change because there were 57 different rules. This time around, it’s very straightforward: I don’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, butter, cream, or any other animal products (except for shrimp or salmon, occasionally) except on Saturdays. Even then, I still eat mostly vegetarian (just a little bit of dairy, since I love cheese and anything that has spicy mayo on it).
I’ve totally taken the guesswork out. I know if it’s Sunday-Friday, I don’t touch any of that stuff. And I know on Saturday, I don’t have to think or worry too much about how unhealthy the food I’m eating is—I ate very healthy the rest of the week, so it’s fine if I have an omelette or mac and cheese.
Also, the more you love yourself, and the more in touch you are with your body, the easier it is for you to avoid the bad stuff. As a vegan, I can eat tons of fried tortilla chips or processed crackers. But, I know that stuff doesn’t make me feel good—so, for the most part, I avoid it. Treating yourself well is like a positive snowball effect: the more you make great decisions, the better equipped you’ll be to keep making them.
The major thread in all three of the goals I’ve kept is that I make it really, really easy for me to stick to my goals. They are very specific and I don’t have an obnoxiously long list of rules for each one. If I fail at any of them, it’ll be very obvious. And because I make it straightforward, I don’t spend a lot of mental energy on behavior change, which is usually what stops people from overcoming procrastination or some other bad habit in the first place.
So, in short, if you want to stay committed to a goal or habit change:
1.) Truly understand the real reasons why you’re motivated to change.
2.) Understand your triggers and negative scripts, and develop a positive replacement script instead.
3.) Make it as easy as possible to change.
That’s it! Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t give yourself excuses. If you really want something, try implementing these three steps, and then get busy making it happen.
If there’s something weighing you down or holding you back, let it go right now.
Whatever story you have about why you can’t let it go, let go of that, too.
Yes, you can, and right now. I promise you, you’re wings are there. But, you’ve got to take a leap to see them.
Your life can be different—you can be more of the person you want to be—in an instant.
All you have to do is decide and commit.
"Go find your passion."
This is probably the most frequently doled out piece of career/life advice. And it’s a shame.
It’s a shame because it’s become such a watered down concept. So, I think people vaguely understand that you should find work you don’t hate—even if only for the basic reason that life gets miserable very quickly if you’re spending the majority of your waking hours doing work you don’t like for people you don’t like and a company you don’t care about.
Yes, everyone should avoid work they don’t enjoy.
But there’s a detail hidden in this common piece of advice that people miss…
If you have any aspirations to be an expert, thought leader, successful entrepreneur, or top executive—basically, if you want to have a kick-ass career—there’s literally no choice. You’re either going to spend the time now figuring out exactly what keeps you awake at night and gets you up every morning, or you’re always going to fall short in your expectations for your future career.
That’s not a prediction. That’s a promise.
The hard truth is that if you don’t figure out what you feel compeled to do—what you were put on this planet to do—you will wind up doing something you’re sorta kinda interested in or good at, you’ll make a living, and that’ll be the extent of it.
Now notice, I didn’t say everyone needs to pursue their utmost passions, or else it’s doom and gloom. If you’re goal is to become a senior manager, or run a local “solopreneur” business, or doing some freelance and consulting work to pay the bills so you can spend most of your time engaging in hobbies that you don’t wish to monetize, then maybe you truly don’t need to go through the crazy-hard work of finding that thing you feel absolutely, totally born to do. It’s a “nice-to-have,” not a “must-have,” for you.
But, if you’re reading this and you aspire to be a leading expert, inventor, top executive, news-making entrepreneur—if you have a strong urge to be at the top of the game in whatever industry, community, etc. you’re passionate about—you better be damn prepared to find your passion. And you better be prepared to chase after it hard.
Whatever excuse you’re coming up with in your head right now about why you can’t or why it’s hard or why I’m wrong…I’d ask you to take a deep look at why you’re resisting the idea so much.
Is it because you’re scared you’ll never find it?
It it because you’re afraid you’ll fail?
Do you think you don’t have what it takes to become the best?
If you can answer those questions honestly and still think I’m wrong, come talk to me. I’m confident that I can find a workaround.
But if I’ve got your buy-in, then it’s time for you to get real and do the hard research and work to figure out what it is that totally drives you. There’s no magic bullet—finding your passion is often a long-term game of trial and error. Trust your instincts and let yourself be drawn toward whatever it is your drawn toward. Then, test, test, test. Meet with people who are doing things similar to what you want to be doing. Ask them a lot of questions. Shadow them for a day. Watch and read inspiring stories about experts in the space you really want to get into. Study the people who have your dream job.
Then, put what you learn into practice.
One day at a time, one decision at a time.
Because they eventually build up to a career worth building, and a life worth living.
A Year From Now, You Will Wish You Had Started Today. Don’t Wait Another Second to Pursue Your Dreams.
It’s so easy to complain about the way things are or aren’t.
But reality check: complaining takes you literally no where, except often times backwards.
What are you doing? Why are you wasting time? You’ve been given literally every possibility in the universe. If you have the capacity to dream something up in the first place, then you also have the capacity to accomplish that dream. It’s really that simple.
Why are you telling yourself “I can’t”? Why are you giving yourself excuses? Why are you wasting your time?
- If you want to create something…stop talking about it! Just go out and create it.
- If you want to get a meeting with someone…go hustle to get the damn meeting! That person has 24 hours in every given day, and I don’t see why one of those hours on one of those days can’t be spent with you.
- If you want to accomplish more, create a detailed plan about how you’re going to accomplish more. Stop complaining about how much work you have to do. There are people in the world who have accomplished far more than you. They don’t get a bonus 10 hours a day. If you’re not accomplishing more, it’s not because you can’t. It’s because you haven’t figured out what you want to accomplish and/or you haven’t built your plan for accomplishing it.
Unsuccessful mentality: “Find an excuse as to why I can’t accomplish my goals when things get too hard”
So, now the only question left to answer is…
Which mentality are you going to choose?
That’s what I thought.
Go, create—and let me know what you come up with!
- You weren’t compelling enough, so ask in a different way
- You’re not asking the right person who can say “yes”
- Prove how badly you want a “yes” with your hustle
Please exit out of passive reading mode, because I’m about to ask you to do something important. If you don’t have 10 minutes right now, stop reading this and come back to it later.
(…I know more than half of you are thinking to yourself that you don’t have the time, but you’re going to keep skimming anyway. Because that’s what we do. We like instant gratification, right? Unfortunately, this post won’t be nearly as meaningful if you just read it to absorb the gist of it. So I truly hope you’ll take the time to sit down and do this. It’ll be 10 minutes well spent. Promise.)
Now, I want you to genuinely reflect on everything that’s happened in your life over the past 7 days—the decisions you made, interactions you had, emails you received, meetings you attended, meals you enjoyed, etc. Write down the highlights, good and bad, of each of the last 7 days of your life.
Once you have your list of highlights from the past week, grab a pen and paper (old school style!). Using your highlights list as a guide, read each of the bullets on the list below and put one tally mark next to the one in each pair that best described you on each of the past 7 days.
- Had a sense of gratitude III
- Had a sense of entitlement IIII
There should be 7 tally marks in total for each pair—one to represent the theme of each day of the past week for you.
Here are the pairs:
- Had a sense of entitlement
- Had a sense of gratitude
- Criticized more than I complimented
- Complimented more than I criticized
- Was more likely to hold a grudge
- Was more likely to be forgiving
- Took credit for other people’s victories
- Gave other people credit for their victories
- Blamed other people, things, and circumstances for my failures
- Accepted responsibility for my failures
- Watched TV more than I read
- Read more than I watched TV
- Didn’t actively reflect on my life
- Actively reflected on my life (via journal, blog, audio or video recording, etc.)
- Secretly hoped someone would fail
- Deeply wanted someone to succeed
- Thought I knew it all and didn’t embrace new opinions
- Admitted I didn’t know it all and opened myself up to learning
- Operated from a transactional perspective
- Operated out of a desire to truly transform situations
- Talked about other people, sometimes in negative ways
- Talked about ideas more than I talked about other people
- Hoarded information and data more than I shared it
- Shared information and data rather than hoarded it
- Felt paralyzed by fear of change
- Decided to embrace change
- Flew by the seat of my pants
- Was intentional about writing down and sticking to my “to-do/project” list
- Exuded anger more than joy
- Exuded joy more than anger
- Didn’t set any goals
- Did set goals and develop life plans
- Didn’t have a clear sense of who I wanted to be
- Actively kept/reflected on my “to-be” list, and lived accordingly
Once your tally marks are all down on paper, count up the number of successful behaviors vs. unsuccessful behaviors (I’m sure this is obvious, but the first one in each pair represents the unsuccessful behavior; the second one is the successful behavior).
Which side wins? Were you surprised? What unsuccessful behaviors have you been engaging in more often than not that you need to let go of now? What successful behaviors are you actually really good at, and could be more conscious about cultivating going forward?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear you saying it now: “Seven days isn’t a big enough sample size,” or, “The last week was particularly challenging.”
When are we going to stop giving ourselves excuses for living mediocre lives?
For illustrative purposes, I’ll use myself as an example. When I did this exercise, I realized that out of the last 7 days, I’ve spent more time holding a grudge and being upset about something than I’ve spent being in a state of forgiveness and acceptance about it. I’ve been failing this week at exuding the kind of joy I actually feel about all the things going right in my life, just because one thing is going not-so-right.
I loved doing this exercise because it was a healthy wake-up call to get over myself. And whatever unsuccessful behaviors you’re engaging in right now, you need to come to terms with those tally marks and get over yourself, too.
Think I’m being harsh?
The reality is that today may be the last day you get. THE LAST DAY YOU GET.
To me, that notion isn’t depressing or upsetting; it’s sobering. If these past 7 days were your last 7 days—the only 7 days people remembered about the way you lived your life—how would you be remembered? What would people say? What would you be proud of? What would you regret?
Here’s the thing. Few of us take adequate time to stop and reflect on who we’re becoming. So, while it seems harmless that you criticized someone or watched TV or held a quiet grudge this past week, it matters. It matters because one week of behaviors quickly turns into two, and then 4, and then 40, and then 400. And, if you aren’t paying close attention, you’ll wake up one day wondering how you got to be so critical, resentful, and addicted to television.
Habits are sneaky like that.
If you want something to be different, then change your damn behavior. If you want to be successful, stop thinking and behaving like an unsuccessful person. And the level of your willingness and commitment to doing something about the last two sentences?
That’s how you can determine if you’re going to be successful.