A reader asked this question in an email. This was a question that she asked herself constantly. This was actually just her thinking out loud.
Will I ever achieve anything?
And you’ve probably asked yourself this question too, or at least, some version of it.
Now TBH, if you went up to me in a coffee shop and asked me this question, I would most likely answer, “Uhh, sure. But it’s up to you,” and then go back to watching Gilmore Girls, or something.
Well, I’m not Lorelei – I’m not trying to be a smart-ass – because what you do with your life, how much or how little you achieve is up to you. Who you will be in 5-10 years’ time will be the result of your actions today. You’re the captain of your soul, master of your fate, and all that.
Now, leave me alone with my Netflix!
But, of course, being the overthinking, ENFP that I am, I couldn’t get the question out of my head. And I realized that although one part of the equation is belief – believing in yourself, that you can achieve what you dream and what you want to do – there’s another part to achieving success, and that is action – actually taking the necessary steps every day to achieve your dreams.
Think about it this way: world champion athletes eat, train, rest, live, think and behave like world champions, way before the medal was ever hung around their neck. Before they even step up to the podium in the Olympics games to accept their medal, chances are, they’d already been dreaming of that moment hundreds if not, thousands of times before.
Similarly, we have to believe that we can, and then…
But maaaaan, that’s just TOO fluffy. I dislike fluffy, motivational posts that leave you feeling good, but probably won’t change your life. And I’m here to change your life. So let’s get logical.
In this post, I’ll attempt to break down the second part of the equation – action. I’ll show you the right way to think about success, what to do when you’re interested in too many things, how you can ensure that you’re moving towards your goals every day, and what to do when you fail (because failure’s kinda inevitable!).
I’ll talk about the belief part in a different post.
A caveat though: I’m not going to pretend to know everything – I’m only 23 years old, and I haven’t even graduated from university, yet. Definitely, take my advice with a grain of salt. And with that confidence-boosting caveat,😏 let’s get into it!
Live with Intention
Don’t just let yourself drift. As Stephen Covey says in his seminal personal development book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, begin with the end in mind. You have to start with some sort of plan or end result in mind, otherwise, you won’t get anywhere.
**But how do you do this, practically? **
Let’s take a page from another of my favorite personal development books, The 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW). In the 4HWW, the author Tim Ferriss lays out a 4-step guide to achieving freedom of location and money. In the book, the first step towards freedom is Define – breaking down what success and living a rich life looks like to you. Not to your parents, not your friends – but to you.
- Does success meant that you have a nice house with a two-car garage, an Audi, and a husband or wife?
- Does success mean that you’re able to make a living off of your music?
- Does success mean that you have a huge network of friends and that you’re always out having the best time on the weekends?
- Does success mean that you have the means and the freedom to travel whenever and wherever you want?
In the book, Tim gives the example of wanting to live the James Bond lifestyle – and of course that requires an Aston Martin. 😎I did a quick Google search and found out that leasing an Aston Martin would cost $1,900 per month. That’s surprisingly cheap considering it’s an almost $200k car. If you could find a way to make $1,900 in disposable income, then you could own the proverbial supercar of your dreams.
Now, this is an over-simplification, of course, and personal finance gurus the world over would have my head for telling you that you can buy a supercar (“That’s a waste of money! Buy a second-hand Civic/Corolla/Mazda/Camry instead!”), but that’s beside the point.
What I’m trying to say is that big, hairy, audacious goals can be broken down into simpler, doable pieces. So instead of telling yourself, “I want to become a millionaire, so I can afford an Aston Martin,” you can ask, “How can I make $1,900 in disposable income per month so I can afford my dream car?”
For myself, success means that I’m living out my purpose in life, making full use of the talents and gifts I’ve been given to help others. I want to change lives with my writing. Maybe publish a #1 New York Times Bestseller one day.
And I want a lifestyle will allow me to go on a missions trip, take a cool startup job, move to Thailand to learn muay thai, and basically pursue whatever crazy goal I can think of – without worrying about finances, or having to clock in and clock out at an office.
I’m not really into accumulating power (House of Cards), amassing a lot of wealth (The Wolf of Wall Street), or becoming the dragon queen of Westeros (although, admittedly, a having a pet dragon would be nice).
I’m not gunning to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, or Arianna Huffington.
Heck, I don’t even think I’ll be buying a car anytime soon.
But I am clear on my priorities and what I value – and this clarity helps me make the decisions, and to put in the work towards those goals.
And this brings me to my next point.
Ruthlessly Eliminate and Prioritize
Once you have an idea of what you want and what you define success to be, it’s time to do the hard thing: it’s time to eliminate. One of the guiding quotes in my life is that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Well, as I like to tell myself, not all at once.
If you take a look at my Impossible List, there’s a lot of super fun stuff there (solo skydiving, anyone?). But to have the time, energy, and attention to accomplish the most important things on the list (like paying off my student loans before I graduate), I have to say No to other things first, like starting a vlog. I have to be patient with myself and take things one at a time.
Case in point: in my first two years of university, I wanted to do everything — I applied for an internship at a startup; I trained 20 hours a week to try and qualify for the Canadian Olympic Trials for swimming; I wrote and tried to grow my blog; I worked on my social skills; I tried to lose weight; and I started an online business, all at the same time.
By the end of it all, I was burnt out, my GPA was tanking and I felt like I was getting nowhere.
So I knew I had to let some things go, and start prioritizing.
I gave up swimming (but not the Olympic dream – I’m kind of delusional, but whatever); I learned how to network to land jobs that built up my resume.
My reasoning behind this is that once I’d learned social skills and landed a job, I could build a great network of cool people, while saving money and hitting my other goals, too.
Thank goodness I was right (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post today), and fast forward three years later, to the present, and I had achieved almost everything on my initial list:
- I have money in the bank, almost enough to pay off my student debt when I graduate next year
- I work part-time at my dream job at a startup – and with a very good chance that they’ll hire me back full-time
- I’ve published one blog post a week consistently for almost a year now – and my audience has 5x-ed from the beginning of the year
- I’m getting my health and fitness in order, and I’ve found a new sport that I enjoy more than swimming (not really that hard to do, but w/e. LOL.)
And it all started with a decision to, ironically, pause most of my goals and focus on a few things first – which brings me to my next point.
When I hit pause and prioritized my goals, I could have focused on the blog, an online business, or even losing weight first.
But I didn’t – I focused on getting a job. Why?
Well, practically, I needed cash flow to do most of the other things on my list. I also felt that I needed to learn the social skills to build relationships who, in the long term, could help me achieve my goals. And of course, I didn’t want to worry about getting a job when I graduated – the biggest weight on my mind at that time, and of millions of undergraduate students the work over.
For yourself, even if you’re not sure exactly what you want yet, that’s OK — you can always start by building skills that will be useful, regardless of what you end up being passionate about, skills like…
Have Patience and a Sense of Urgency
In Tim Ferriss’, Tribe of Mentors, Gary Vaynerchuk talks about this concept of macro patience and micro speed. You can watch Gary elaborate on it in this video:
But basically, you should have a sense of urgency in your everyday life, while constantly thinking long term and playing the long game.
Why? Well, micro speed means that you don’t waste time and work with an urgency and intensity, day-to-day. And with a macro patience view of things, you become resilient to the little dips and failures along the way, because in a 10-year timeframe, one day of failure isn’t going to matter much. Basically, you don’t worry about failure and about the future, because you’re showing up and putting in the work every day.
For myself, I set a lot of goals and work hard every single day. I wake up at 4:00 AM most days; I try to work out 2-4 times a week; I’m off social media most of the time and am fully focused on my day, whether that means banging out 1,000 words for you guys, editing a draft of a College Info Geek blog post, ripping through a boring chapter of a textbook for class, or coming up with ideas to build out Shoelace’s growth strategy. That’s micro speed.
On the other hand, I would say I succeed in accomplishing everything I set out to do just 4 out of 7 days a week, and fail miserably the other 3 days. This is where the “macro patience” mindset comes in. To keep me going, I must remind myself that that failure was just a blip – just one day out of 3650 – and that I should keep trying because there are another 3649 days that I can succeed.
Macro patience, micro speed.
So will you ever achieve anything? Of course. I truly believe that with time, yes, you can pretty much achieve and do anything you’ve ever dream of doing – but you have to start today. Start…
- Living with intention
- Ruthlessly eliminating and prioritizing
- Building a foundation for excellence today
- Being patient with yourself, while having a sense of urgency in the present
If you keep these four things in mind and just focus on working hard today, the future will take care of itself.
Also published on Medium.