Courage comes in many forms.
There is the physical kind shown when we risk our lives to protect someone. There is the intellectual where we face up to uncertainty and the limitations of our knowledge.
There are more subtle variations too.
Like when we stand up to our friends. Or when we stand up for them. Or when we decide to end a toxic relationship. When we decide to quit. When we decide persevere and continue the pursuit.
It also takes courage to change your mind. To admit your mistake and take action to rectify the error.
You may have taken a job that turned out to be the opposite of what you were expecting. You may have pursued a career that you have become disillusioned with. You may have achieved your ambition and realised that it’s not what you were really looking for.
You may have studied the wrong thing, made the wrong choice, walked the wrong path, trusted the wrong people.
The result is that you feel lost.
The weight of the choices you’ve made is slowly suffocating you. Crushing your energy, your motivation, your desire, your happiness. You don’t know where to turn. You’ve got no purpose. No direction.
So you ask yourself, “WTF do I do? Where do I go from here?”
At first there seems to be no answer. It was Henry David Thoreau who said, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
You say, “perhaps that’s what’s in store for me. I am condemned to struggle in the shadows, to suffer alone and live without purpose or meaning.”
Yes, that is an option. You could get a boring, mediocre job that covers your rent. You could show up, work the nine to five, take a holiday once a year and settle for the mundane.
But there’s another alternative.
You can turn into your problem. You can interpret your discontent, not as a sign of your weakness and inability to attain happiness or success, but as a compass that points towards the life you truly wish to build.
“How?” you say. “How can I go from nothing, from feeling lost and perplexed and stranded, to being joyful and energetic again?”
Let me show you.
The first thing to do
When it comes to physical training, the hard work doesn’t get easier, you just get used to it. The same goes for learning and growth. And life too. If you’re seeking an easy way out, a way with no struggles, no battles, no difficulty, no challenge, then you don’t need to read on. A life of “quiet desperation” is your lot.
The first thing you need to do is take control. Not in a tyrannical, domineering sense. Find something, anything, that you can command. It can be as simple as making your bed every morning. Or throwing out unneeded possessions.
That little piece of control will anchor you. That small part of the universe which is your dominion will ground you. It will help you to get back on your feet.
Next, you take care of yourself.
This means your health. Health is the foundation. If it’s weak, everything you place atop of it will be liable to shift and shatter.
Health means sleep well. Get eight or nine hours every night. Create an environment that is conducive to sleep—darkness, no flashing lights, cool. It also means winding down before you go to bed—using blue light filters, coming away from screens.
Sleep is a third of your life. So invest time getting good at it.
Health also means what you eat. No junk. Less sugar and less processed foods. Nutrition dictates energy levels. Low energy is synonymous with bad nutrition is synonymous with low motivation, depression and unhappiness.
Health also means movement. The modern environment is the opposite of what we’re designed for. Sitting all day. Not being outside. You must do the reverse. Strength train. Swim. Cycle. Roll around on the floor. Walk. Hike.
Movement re-awakens and nourishes the mind.
Energy begets energy.
The more energy you expend, the more you have access to. Health allows you to use the full spectrum of your mental and physical powers.
Unhealthy equals unhappy. Your health will give you energy that soon begins to radiate into every other area of your life—your relationships, your work, your own attitude to life.
Now you have more energy you can begin to use some of it to play.
It’s easy to fall into the trap and take life seriously. To see your life as an amalgamation of obligations, duties, responsibilities and commitments. Children are happy not because they are children, but because they are unashamed to play. To try something. To laugh at their failure and celebrate their success. Play and smile.
We can also divert some of your newfound energy into another avenue. We can start thinking about the big picture, your grand strategy.
Think of it like this: Tactics win the battle. Strategy wins the war. Grand strategy is what you’re fighting for.
To figure out your grand strategy, there are some questions you have to ask yourself and consider:
How do I want to live? Think about an average day. What would you want to do? Where would you want to be? Who would you want to be with? Why?
Don’t worry about whether you think any of this is attainable or likely. We can settle that later. Just answer the questions. Think about your personal life, your professional life, your social life. The better you answer these question, the clearer your path becomes.
Please note, the question is “how do I want to live?” not “what do I want to have?”
Having a mansion and loads of money is not living. Think about the life you want to lead, not what it would be cool to have.
I’ll give you an example:
“Every day I want to be able to read and to write. I want to train jiu jitsu. I want to be able to work from home, on my own schedule, and so have time for the people I love. I want to do work that is interesting to me and valuable to others. I want to be able to say no and set boundaries in my life and feel no remorse for missing out or turning down an opportunity.”
That’s an outline of a grand strategy.
The next step is to work backwards from that statement. A grand strategy can take years, decades to materialise. So we reduce it to a more manageable proportion. The question we ask is, “if I had that life, what would I do every day?”
The answer is contained in the daily standard.
In The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss explained two concepts:
- Pareto’s Law, or the 80/20 principle: “80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs.
- Parkinson’s Law: “a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for it’s completion.”
These two laws were the beginning of Tim’s reinvention, from burnt out entrepreneur to free man. He converted them into a call to action, a practical blueprint to use in his life:
“1. Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20).
2. Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law).”
In his next book, The 4-Hour Body, Tim talked about another concept. “The minimum effective dose (MED) is defined simply: the smallest dose that produces the desired outcome.”
Sometime after learning about these three ideas, I asked myself three questions: What are the most important things I need to accomplish daily? What if I only had a small amount of time to do them in? What is the smallest amount that I can do that will still yield significant results?
80/20 + Parkinson’s Law + Minimum Effective Dose = the Daily Standard
The idea was to create a formula, some minimum standard that if achieved every day, would make that day a victory. After an hour of scribbling and scrawling, I came up with one.
Every afternoon or evening, when I decide I am finished for the day, I take an index card out. On it I write five or six things to do the next day. Speak to xyz. This appointment at abc. Do this. Do that. And at the top of the card, I write the formula, my daily standard:
Med / 2R / Wr / Tr / Pl)
Med - Meditate. I do this most mornings. I kneel on the floor, close my eyes, and begin to slow my breathe. If I can’t do that, I’ll take time throughout the day to practice deep breathing and release the tension in my muscles.
2R - Read for two hours. It could be books, or articles I’ve saved online, or browsing my notecards. Whatever medium it is, I like to get it done in one block after meditating.
Wr - Write. For me, this means publish something on my blog. But it also means free writing in my journal, or adding quotes, ideas and observations to my notecards.
Tr - Train. Move. If I’m home, I’ll do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or strength train. Or go out for a cycle. Or take a long walk. If I’m not home, or I can’t get to the gym, I’ll move wherever I happen to be. You can always find somewhere and some way to move.
Pl - Play a game. Have fun. Laugh. Doodle. Watch some stand up. Learn something new. Anything.
The actual code iterates and evolves over time. I think I’ve changed it four or five times now. It started off with seven items. Or eight. I can’t really remember. But every time I change it, it is because I have gained a sharper sense of what is important to me and decided that I need to refocus and re-calibrate.
I am learning what I love to do and what provides the most value.
People and presence
So we’ve created a grand strategy and reduced it to a daily standard.
We have stated where we want to be in a decade and discovered what we must do every day.
But what about the middle ground? The environment you live in right now. How do you cope with that?
Ever heard that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Well it’s true. So you need to ask yourself a hard question:
Are the five people you spend time with now the sort of people who the future version of me, the one who has attained that grand strategy, would be with?
To achieve your ambitions you need all the help you can get. That help begins in your inner circle.
If your spouse and friends don’t share the same approach towards excellence, aren’t willing to grow and evolve and learn every day, to forfeit an easy life for a fulfilled one, then that attitude will seep into you.
Whether you like it or not, it’s true. You have to surround yourself with people who love you and support you, no matter how lofty or atypical your aspirations are. And you have to be willing to cut anyone who tries to drag you down or poison your life.
When it comes to enduring your current job there are a few strategies to use.
The primary one is the notion of dead vs alive time. Yes your current situation may suck. But every moment spent complaining or whining is a moment you could be spend harvesting valuable lessons.
Treat every situation as a teacher. Every person you come into contact with has something to give you. If they’re smart and productive, you can learn why. If they’re shallow and vain and lazy, you can learn what not to be like. If you can’t find a lesson you’re not looking hard enough.
Dead time is the moments we allow to slip by. Alive time is the moments we grasp and take value from.
It’s not enough to wait for the good to happen. While you’re waiting life is passing you by. Every second not seized is one that has slipped past irreversibly. So use every moment, every relationship, every situation as a teacher.
You've come this far
Let’s regroup. So far you have:
- Taken control of one small thing in your life.
- Started to look after yourself, by eating, sleeping and moving well.
- Thought about your grand strategy.
- Figured out the daily activities that someone who’s accomplished that strategy would perform.
- Started to build a cluster of loving, supporting people around you.
You have more health and more energy. You have a dim outline of a destination and a daily standard to work on. Now we become more proactive.
What everybody wants
Everybody wants a wealthy life. We all want to do interesting work and lead a joyful life. But most people also want to retreat into their shell and enjoy the vast benefits from a small amount of work.
They think that they can do what they love and live happily ever after.
Not so. You can only make a living doing what you love if what you love provides value for others.
To be wealthy you cannot be selfish. To build the life you want to live you must continually and consistently add value to the lives of others.
Output is a consequence of input. So to add value, you must take in what is valuable. How?
Start by reading. Not just vampire novels. But books that teach you how to think, books that give you skills, books that teach you how to create, books that challenge you, books that aide you in overcoming the problems in your life.
Also, start filtering what you read elsewhere. Purge your Twitter feed of the useless. Remove the crap from Instagram. Unsubscribe from email newsletters that don’t make you think and make you better. Eliminate the noise in your life.
Remember input affects output. If you want to keep consuming low-quality information that doesn’t enhance you, fine. But remember, the cost is the life you want to build.
Your time, attention and energy are the most scarce resources you have. Spend them wisely, spend them on things that strengthen your ability to help others.
Now you’ve thought about what you read, what you watch, who you talk to and follow, where you go and what you do, we can think more about how you can get opportunities to provide value to others.
To get those opportunities, you need two things: skills and credibility.
The first two ingredients
When it comes to skills, remember this advice from Tucker Max: “I focus on where my skills overlap with what the world needs.”
You may have skills that the world needs. Which is great. You can start putting them to use. If you don’t that’s also not a problem. Because you can start developing them.
But that will take years, you say.
Maybe so. Better get started then.
Proven skills give you credibility. Credibility means that you are trusted. It means is you have demonstrable experience. This means that when people learn about you, they recognise you as eligible. They believe in your ability to do.
The fastest way to build credibility, after developing skills, is to build a platform. A presence online.
You don’t have to blog. You don’t have to write. But you do need to have a space where people can go to find out more about you. Your LinkedIn profile doesn’t count and neither does your Facebook or Twitter.
You need your own sliver of the internet where you can tell people what you most want them to know about you.
When you have skills and you have credibility you are on the way to building your life. You just need one more thing.
The third ingredient
Skill + credibility + connections = a career.
Connections are where the real test comes in. Connections are gained, not by kissing ass and flattering, but by having something to offer. By being good at what you do. By being of assistance to other people.
Others evaluate you by asking, “Is he useful to me? Does he make my life simpler?”
Everyone is busy. Everyone has too much to do and too little time. You can’t talk to and build relationships with people—in fact, it’s hard to even initiate contact— without first offering something of value.
To get your foot in the door the door must first be opened. And the skeleton key is how much you are willing to help the individual.
Of course, we are no longer constrained by locality. The best in your field probably don’t live round the corner. So you have to travel through the web, learn about them, read their work, study what they’re studying, find out what workshops and conferences they’re busy learning at, find who they’re learning from, understand what their problems are and think of ways to solve them.
You can do all this without even talking to them. And I advise you do.
Then when the time comes and an opportunity arrives, you’ve already done the groundwork.
Skills are the most important thing. The presence and demonstration of skills builds credibility. Skills and credibility allow you to make connections. And those three things allow you to build towards your grand strategy.
The most effective way to learn skills is to learn the mastery mindset. Robert Greene’s formula for mastery is this:
Mastery = time x attention x ego x love.
Let me explain.
To master something, you must do it for a long time, pay attention to the quality of your practice, strengthen your strengths and improve on your weaknesses, have the self-confidence to continue on through failure, monotony and plateaus, and have an emotional connection to what you are trying to master.
You don’t have to focus on mastering one skill, you can become a master of many.
Please note, the mastery mindset is more important than mastery itself.
Attaining mastery can takes decades and only some truly do it. But the mastery mindset is within reach for anyone and is just as transformative. Approach the building of your skills with the mastery mindset and watch what happens.
You now know what you must do every day, the grand strategy you’re aiming for and the kind of supportive environment you must create for yourself.
All this is useless unless you realise one thing:
Your success is directly related to your ability to help and provide value for others.
I’m not being preachy here. It’s not altruism. It’s calculated self-interest. If you create value for others, you get to keep some for yourself. That’s how the world works.
You give and give and give. You adapt. You learn. You grow. You provide value. You provide more value. And then you capture some of it.
How exactly do you capture it?
By forgetting about credit and instead building assets—strong relationships, varied experiences, valuable skills.
By building large redundancies—for example, having at least a year’s salary in the bank.
By eliminating single points of failures—both in your career and in your personal life.
By removing dependencies, by controlling your downside. By, ultimately, continuing to build skills and credibility and connections and putting them to use for the benefit of others.
At no point have I said you need to go back to school, or get a degree, or go to a certain place. All of this can be done with a pen, a notebook, an internet connection and an energetic mind.
Key word: energetic. We developed our energy right at the beginning.
Some more things you need to understand. The first is the capital-wealth cycle:
An entrepreneur’s fundamental activity is to sense opportunity, to build, to make, to create. The material with which the entrepreneur, the creative, or any productive person builds?
The factors of production, the elements that combine to produce a good or service are known as capital. In classical economics there are three principle types: land, labour and money.
More recently, economists have agreed on four different types of capital. Financial, represented as money in trade, investments and assets. Natural, including trees, water, land and other ecological systems. Social, or the co-operation, collaboration and relationships between people. And human, which includes knowledge, skills, judgement, intelligence, wisdom and the experience of individuals and collectives.
Capital is a factor of production, or more simply, anything that is used to create wealth. If we remember the definition of wealth as something people want, we are able to see a distinct and powerful cycle.
1. Creation/accumulation of capital.
2. Capital harnessed to generate wealth.
3. Wealth is used to promote further creation of capital.
4. Repeat 1-3.
This cycle is as close as we can get to a perpetual motion machine in our economy.
Capital is no longer stashed behind fortified institutional walls. Yes, large amounts of financial and natural capital are difficult to acquire. But social capital? Human capital? Anyone can acquire these last two with a little effort and ingenuity.
We can access unprecedented amounts of knowledge. We have incredible capabilities for communication at our fingertips. We can afford to experiment and be more courageous with our education and development. Human and social capital, which we can accumulate without needing anyone’s permission or a stockpile of resources, can be used to create wealth.
Think how easy it is to test the viability of a new company or build a relationship or promote an idea or share your work.
If you’ve got something good, your wealth increases and you can use it to create more capital for yourself. And if you don’t have anything unique to offer? That doesn’t matter. You can help those who do.
Capital creates wealth. Wealth generates more capital. We have the chance to make something out of nothing.
Another thing to keep in mind:
It will take tenacity and effort. And tenacity and effort are at their most effective when they are backed up by systems of support, filters and boundaries.
Most importantly, you need to understand the timeline:
Reinvention does not happen overnight. It happens over days that accumulate into years. When you are trying to transform your life, if you do not understand the longevity required, you will either burn out or quit.
Neither of those things is what we want.
Buckle up. Settle down. Enjoy the ride.
This behaviour is not conventional. It’s not normal.
You’ll meet with resistance. Some of it overt and ugly, some of it passive but no less ugly. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the people and situations that suffocate your energy, drive and spirit.
Also recognise that what may seem best for you—a life of comfort and ease and pleasure and enjoyment—is actually what harms you the most.
We are at our best when we battle, when we struggle, when we overcome, when we force ourselves to learn and grow every single day.
The answer to the question, “WTF do I do?”, is as follows:
Take control of something. Then take care of yourself.
Think about how you want to live. Figure out what you need to do every day to get there. Then do it. Create an environment that supports these behaviours and makes them sustainable.
Build valuable skills which enhance your credibility, which in turn allow you to make connections. Use those three things to add value for others and then capture some of it for yourself.
And while you’re doing that protect yourself against misfortune by building redundancies, controlling your downside and eliminating dependencies.
That is the answer to your question.