On Being Successful
For the majority of my life I couldn’t give two shits about being ‘successful’. As a natural born contrarian troublemaker child, the more and more people told me about the importance of finding a successful career, the more and more I wanted to disprove them all. Through the counter-culture crowds I was interested in at an early age – skateboarding and punk rock music – the idea of putting down my childhood interests and focusing on work was instilled in me to be something only dull conformists did. So I went on like that, even into my adulthood, carrying this concept of a good life only containing the activities and passions that gave me fun in the moment. Disregard the long-term plans, put it all into what’s fun right now.
This strategy works for a while, and the more practice that’s put into those activities and passions, the longer that lifestyle can be kept up. Yet, then there’s the problem… practice requires work. It requires doing less child-like play and more adult-like detailed refinement. It takes repetitively doing the same few things until it’s not fun anymore, and then continuing to do them until you’ve gained some mastery.
If you’re interested and passionate about something, you’ll naturally be better than the average Joe at it… but that only gets you so far. To be truly good enough at something to earn money from it, you’ve got to work hard at it. If it’s something that a lot of people enjoy doing, a lot of people are going to be moderately good at it. Quite a few people will be even better because they put more time and energy into it. A smaller fraction of people are going to be amazingly talented and skilled at it because they worked their hands to the bone to achieve that. So to make money from an activity, you’ve got to be on the same level as the hard workers… since there’s always only a limited money to be made from any given passion you might be interested in. You have to earn your share.
With all this competition, hard work, and practice… the process of gaining skill doing something you love can start to feel like serious work. That flies in the face of the childhood concepts of just having fun and enjoying yourself. If the goal is to spend your life doing the things you love to do because you think it will be easier and more fun… turning those things into a difficult grueling process of achievement can end up making you enjoy doing them less. The only other choice is to avoid putting in the hard work to get better at them and instead sacrificing your quality of life for it. Don’t strive to be one of the best, just do your thing and be happy with what you get from it. For the love of the passion and the ease of the experience, you’ll give up the opportunity for an improved lifestyle. You’ll give up money and the comforts that come with it, you won’t go as many places, you won’t meet as many people. At the end of the day it will be same as it always was: you having fun playing with your passions, taking only what you can get, reliving your childhood all the time – all the enjoyment with none of the responsibilities.
We’d all like to think that we’re unique enough or naturally gifted enough to not have to push to get that much better. It’s easy to get clouded by ego and confidence to think that some how, since we enjoy our passion so much, there’s got to be someone out there that enjoys what we make or do enough to give us money for it. No effort required. Picasso scribbled on napkins and sold them for thousands of dollars, so why can’t you? Reality TV stars can sit eating chips on a couch and making hundreds of thousands per episode, so why can’t you? Online social influencers just write tweets or make short silly videos all day and make millions, so why can’t you? It’s all just a cop out. It’s an easy way to avoid the responsibility of working hard. You don’t see all the hard work they actually put in behind the scenes, and you don’t see the millions of other people that tried to do those things but wound up with nothing to show for it.
People play the lottery and make millions without having to lift a finger, but they just won the money of the millions of people that bought a ticket that week and wound up with nothing. Millions of people try to get famous online, or get casted for TV shows, or skribble on far more creative things than napkins… and where are they? You pass them on the street everyday without a second thought, they’re the everyone and anyone that surrounds you at any given moment.
After all is said and done, only doing what’s fun and avoiding what’s difficult will only force you into bigger difficulties. Children can play and enjoy their pass-times all day long because they don’t need to pay bills. They’re relatively carefree and the world is still a huge unexplored place of wonder. We all vie to return to that childhood state of wide open fields of free time, without a care in the world. That’s why deep down everyone wants to be somewhat rich and successful, with all their dreams coming true, without ever putting in any more work than they’re comfortable with. Then you can enjoy that child-like state endlessly. We hear stories or witness instances of this happening with others so we sit and wait for it to happen to us. “Take it easy”, “enjoy”, “relax”, “have fun”, “don’t worry”, “if it’s meant to happen it will just happen”. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Expecting to suddenly fall into the perfect life without having to struggle or put serious work into it is the same as expecting the wind to blow a winning lottery ticket into your window one day with enough velocity to land on your TV remote to turn it on just as the winning numbers are being drawn and suddenly you’re awoken from your couch to thrust into the fabulous life. I’m sure it could possibly happen one day, but I wouldn’t spend my whole life waiting for it if I were you.
Success can be defined in so many different ways. Happiness with friends and family, contributing to a good cause, earning a good living, collecting the last Pokemon card for your completed collection, finding the perfect cherry blossom in a Japanese forest, or just not waking up with a sore knee. I can’t even begin to pretend that I know all of the different ways you might describe the concept of success but I do know 2 things for sure. ALL of those things still require incredible effort, and no matter what it is – sacrificing instant rewards for long time benefits will ALWAYS make your improve your success. So regardless of what you value, if you want to have more of it – focused hard work is both unavoidable, and will always lead you to it.
A major component to all of this is being stuck on the concept of being content with what you have. It drums up admirable images of a humble, lovable, joyful baker – just happy to make a few cookies and earn only enough to get by. Maybe you envision the impoverished guy that worked for Ebenezer Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’ who struggled to make ends-meet for his family and disabled son ‘Tiny Tim’. There are plenty of examples from popular culture that glorify and tunnel the audience into emphasizing, identifying, or just out-right feeling sorry for them. We like them because they don’t step on any toes. They’re always nice. They value being kind or generous with the little that they have over anything else. We want to be like them because they have so little, but do so much. At the same time we see characters that are the opposite. We see the evil characters in suits holding briefcases going to high-power board meetings and we’re taught to equate a successful mind-set, lifestyle, or wealth as being evil – with efforts put more into gaining and taking, rather than sharing with others.
In the real world, the lines aren’t so clearly defined but it’s still easy to mimic these stories and caricatures. It can be easy to assume that it’s honorable to live a meager life and be happy with only what you have. Yet, the reality of the situation is much different than it appears in fantasy. Tiny Tim’s father should have put as much of his effort as possible into finding a way to make a better life for his family and he should have quit working for Scrooge a long time ago. It’s a disappointing day when you have to rely on unlikely occurrence of Christmas ghosts to improve your life. I’ve met many, many people who make due with a low earning wage, low expectations for themselves, and high resistances toward working for bigger goals to improve their life. They use the excuses of making time for their family, or not being smart enough, or not knowing what to do, or where to start. You may be one of them and at their face, those excuses can totally feel valid. The tragedy is that your family and friends are worse off because of it. Your loved ones would benefit right alongside you if you realized that being smart is something you must practice daily. If you simply spent an hour or two every night to focus and look for what to do… you’d realize that’s a perfect way to start. Nowadays everyone living in a developed nation is a dozen google searches away from finding what they need to do to live a better life. If your time is limited, then finding ways to make time for it is the perfect way to start. Anyone who ever achieved any success at all had to do the same exact thing, you can too.
We’re taught that it’s neglectful to put all our effort into our career, because it doesn’t leave any time for our families. There are millions of examples of this in real life, you may be or you may know someone who was ignored by their parents because they were too consumed with work to spend enough time with them. It’s a story as old as time, and a topic that would warrant an entirely different blog post of this length. It’s awful to feel ignored. I’m not suggesting that you do that either. The thing is, those driven people that disregarded their family still didn’t put in enough effort to be truly successful either, despite what their bank account totaled, because they didn’t go the extra mile for their loved ones. Most of the time, “over-working” yourself and pouring dozens of hours of overtime every week at your job may be an act of avoidance toward other things, like your family or other important responsibilities.
As with all things, there’s always a balance that one needs to keep in their life. That’s where the effort should be placed. That’s what truly successful people strive for. I’m a firm believer that on this topic, you can certainly have your cake and eat it too. If the goal is to make more money or become amazingly talented at a skill or profession, then dumping all your attention into it and ignoring EVERYTHING else indefinitely is not the answer. Some people do that from the start and always regret not focusing on starting a family. They dive endlessly into their passion or career, then curse themselves for not ever taking a moment to pull their head out of it and look around.
In fact, including as many people as you can and involving your loved ones is often the key to it all. If you want to be a world-class actor or musician, then play some songs with your kids and let them be involved. Run some lines with them from their favorite shows or movies, paying delicate attention to your voice and delivery as you would with an acting coach. If you want to be the most skilled craftsman to have ever walked the planet, then build things for your significant other or your relatives that will help them and put a smile on their face. Let them watch you work and take in all of their comments and any constructive criticisms they might have, it will only make you better. Sometimes they’re the hardest to please. If you’re an accountant, then show your kids how they can turn $10, which only buys a small toy, into $200 … which buys numerous toys and a fun night out.
You won’t capture their attention with a single occurrence of something like this. At first, they may respond with the same resistance you felt before you ever started. That’s OK. It has to just become something you do every day, all the time, any chance you get, regardless of who’s watching. Find ways to involve them and captivate them, have them join your team, and always do it in a way that they can see the success you’re striving for so they realize it’s real – not just a daydream you’re poking at. Show them the failures of your attempts so they’re involved with the process, and they can celebrate with you when you succeed.
If you think you don’t have time to spend quality time with your loved ones while also pursuing success, pay attention to how you spend time with them now. Choosing to sit and watch TV with your kids isn’t quality time, you’re just near each other as you vege out in your own worlds. Neither is always doing the same things with them just because that’s what you’ve always done, and changing it up would ruffle their feathers. Showing your kids what driven passionate people do with their time and all the work that’s required to become skilled at something, or earn money, or make progress in life – now that’s real quality time. Show them the basics, it gives you a chance to revisit them for practice and it gives them the opportunity to join in.
If you’re interested in pursuing this success without them and it involves doing things you don’t want to involve them with… something is out of place, something is misaligned. Either you’re trying to find ways to avoid them and ‘take breaks’ from them, or they’re not in touch with what makes you truly genuinely happy. Those are tough topics to consider and even tougher situations to confront… and they don’t always have to be involved, or even accept what you want to do. However, it’s up to you to rectify that in the best way you can find.
Your family and friends might hate it and think you’re wasting your time, but that’s ok – that’s the constructive criticism that you need. Why do they hate it? Work to make them see what you see, or realize that it should be hated and find something better that works with your life. Why do they think it’s a waste of time? Work to give them assurances that it’s not a waste, work to become so good that it’s undeniable that you should be striving to get better, or again – find something to pursue that makes more sense. Even then, they may still have their criticisms, but that’s OK – if you focus, work, and challenge yourself enough every day toward the right thing – the benefits and rewards will be undeniable, they will provide their own proofs for further effort, they’ll make their own sense so that you don’t have to justify them with anything that doesn’t make sense. Then you can use that humble, loving, joyful personality to give the people in your life what they need to follow their own callings and passions. You can convert the dedicated hard work in what you love into a more comfortable life for the people that you love with more opportunity to do what they need to do.
The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to get started.
To sum it up: Productive effort over indulgent fun, proactive focus over the luck of the draw, building more of what you value over making due with what you have, maintaining a balance of attention over a single-minded pursuit, and the inclusion of others over a selfish hoarding of ‘work time’. No matter what you define success to be, that’s the recipe to have more of it. If you can honestly say you’ll always be happy with the success that you have, feel free to forget you ever read this. Thanks for your time.
That’s all the babbling I have time for today, have an awesome day.