Staring into the distance looks overwhelming, but the man in the foreground looks determined to get there

Just Start


Story time. 

I had a friend once who was a firm believer in “the law of attraction”. He professed that as long as we think a lot about what we want, somehow the universe will provide it for us. That new job promotion? Just imagine yourself in that brand new office, with a steaming cup of coffee, with all that corporate power at your fingertips. Or how about that black Ferrari you always wanted? Well, just picture yourself driving with the top down as the wind blows through your hair on a sunny weekend morning, the smell of fine leather filling your nose. Put this stuff on a “vision board”, or take a long walk and like, meditate on it, or something. Voila. 

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Sadly, my friend was never actually able to manifest any of the things he dreamt up and so desperately wanted, and for one very specific reason — he forgot the part about actually taking action. See, it’s not that the above psuedo-sciencey theories are bad. On the contrary, when combined with brass tacks action-stepping and execution, visualization can be a powerful asset in goal setting. However, if all you do is sit there and dream about what life could be like, or how your project would look if you were to do it, you’re not going to end up anywhere different in 5 years than where you are now. So few people ever actually start doing something, and of those few, many quit when they don’t see an immediate ROI. 

Have goals

Let’s all take a moment and agree we are members of the small group of people who have goals, and are passionate to start moving towards them. For the sake of pragmatism and because I haven’t got a post up in a while (my bad), here’s a few key points to chew on about getting started, and pursuing your goals strategically.

Every goal starts with a clear picture, fleshed out and reviewed for quality. You want to be a famous YouTuber? Sure, but do you have a niche you want to focus on? Are you maybe a better writer than a speaker? Before you start down any path, you need to know where it’s leading, and if the destination is really worth the effort to get there. If you want that job promotion, or that fancy car (please note that “having a fancy car” is not a goal. It’s a side effect of having proper goals), then first stop to think about why it is that you want it so bad. Sometimes simply examining your motivations may lead to a more holistic goal better suited for your life. But assuming you’ve determined it’s the right move for you, then develop as clear a picture as possible of what it looks like to you. Brownie points for writing it down in a goal journal. 

From here, one technique is to start backwards engineering how to make it a reality. What are the specific steps required from finish to start in order to reach it? Starting at the end is often the easiest way to discover small but important details you didn’t even know were necessary to achieve it. But then, and here’s the real key, you have to start doing it. Don’t get caught up in the details if you’re confident in what you want to achieve and how you want to get there. All the planning in the world will take you nowhere if it ends at the planning stage.

If, for example, your goal is to become a freelance designer, as it is with another friend of mine, you better be damn well ready to hustle. You’re starting out in a saturated field where everybody and his dog is willing to work for next to nothing, and you want to get to a place where you’re making a decent living. You might start thinking about the types of design gigs that are likely to pay the most, and which you wouldn’t mind doing, and then you start chasing people down online and in person. Organize the direction of your hustle by asking yourself “where am I going to learn the most / get the most exposure / work with the right people?” You can start researching specific artists who you respect, as well as local companies who might potentially require your services. My advice here is to start hitting them up aggressively, offering value to them. Keep in mind that nobody cares you can draw because everybody is looking out for number one, so speak to that desire. Build a portfolio. Earn respect. Give value. Wow, sounds like all of that just took actually doing something instead of waiting for it to come to you. 

“Instead of ‘what do you want out of life?’ focus on ‘what are you willing to struggle for?’”
-Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck

So at this point, if your end goal is a cushy corporate gig where you can build a nice 401k and take 3 weeks of vacation a year, you switch gears and start leveraging those hustle skills into job search skills. Hot tip: the same skillset applies. Do quick work for friends and familiars, and build your contact list until you start meeting the people who can get you in where you want to be. Begging companies for work without a value proposition is a loser’s tactic. Be strategic. What does that company need to start playing on the next level? Provide that.

Play the long game

Other than specifically designing goals and setting logical action steps, there are a number of things that can drastically impact the success or failure of a goal-oriented endeavor. Think about the time required to reach your goal, but realize it’s probably a lot longer than you think. Without passion, it’s easy to procrastinate, get side tracked, and leave your success to faith and fate, so don’t decide you’re going to get great at something you hate doing. That being said, a healthy respect for challenges is necessary. You might not be good at what you want to do yet, but if you enjoy doing it, do it more and do it more often to get better. Life is short, but go to a retirement home and ask around, and you’ll soon see that one of the most lasting and profound regrets is not having made the effort to be who we want to be. 

On that note, learn patience. There is no “get rich quick” formula, and if you’ve been told otherwise, re-evaluate your relationship with that person. Everybody wants to win the lottery and make it big without putting in the effort, but you have to learn to love the process. No amount of money on Earth is going to satisfy you and give you a good life if you lack the confidence that you could build back up to that point from zero if you had to. By putting in the hours (and then the years), you will become a master of what you do – the skillset that leads you to success. Without that skillset to fall back on, consider any unexpected success fleeting at best, and deceptive at worst. Compare how you feel about, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger compared to some young rich Saudi prince, and tell me who you think has what it takes to get back to the top if they lost everything tomorrow.

While it’s true that the default is failure (no action, no success), and that most people underestimate the amount of time and effort required to reach a goal, there are also those who work to the detriment of their own productivity. As important as it is to have a healthy fear of inaction, it’s equally as important to understand what it means to “pulse”. To pulse is to output massive amounts of focused energy in your work in short segments of time, and then to rest. The realization of your goals does not happen overnight, so don’t kill yourself thinking that a week of all nighters is going to make the big difference long term. Proper down time allows for the mind and body to recharge, reconsider, course correct, and ultimately to be smarter in your execution. Play the long game.

Embrace the spirit of challenge

The road to success is wrought with obstacles, distractions, and wrong turns. But you know what? That’s awesome. It means when you get where you’re going, you’ve earned it. Bobby next door who stayed in to get high all weekend instead of hustling his ass off, or Suzy, who’s daddy bought her house for her – they may feel good in the moment, but you’re on a path and you know you’re only going to get where you’re going by doing what they won’t. If we compare my two friends mentioned in the first part of this post, it becomes clear which of these two dreamers has a fighting chance. The first is convinced that things will just “work themselves out” (spoiler alert: they won’t), while the second has a sense of direction, passion for taking action, and knows he is responsible for his own success. Be driven. Build a legacy worth passing down. Take action.

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