“Man, this You guy could do anything he wants,” I thought as I flipped through the pages of self-help book number 45.
The message flew over my head.
If a self-help author starts talking about you, they mean you — not some other guy named You.
“What? Me? Oh, no — there must be a mistake. I couldn’t –“
Yes. Really. I mean you. You could start a business. You could learn to roller-skate. You could memorize 2,000 Kanji in less than a year. You could start a podcast and interview your favorite writers.
But only if you want.
How far you lean in when someone starts talking about your potential correlates to how much faith you have in yourself*. When you ignore them, stuff your head up in the clouds instead of paying attention, it means you’re not ready. Not ready to face the harsh reality of having a 1 in 8 billion gift. The gift of your perspective, drive, passion, and care.
How do you feel when you talk about your goals? Do you stumble over your words? Do you hunch over to defend yourself from an attack? That means you’re not committed. There’s still a part of you that’s stuck in the past. A part of you that thinks you’re still not capable.
You are capable.
Go make stuff.
(*I don’t have any statisticians to back me up on this, so I need you to go accomplish your life’s mission.)
Those words convey movement. When we embody any of those words, we signal to others that we mean business. Because even when we’re sitting in the backseat of a car, we can still get things done. We can listen to a podcast. Or we can write down ideas for our next blog post. Seize every opportunity!
And I like these words. Centered. Harmonious. Aware. Intentional.
Those words convey stillness. I get anxious when I’m merely productive. But I feel better when I remember this second group of words.
We’re familiar with the signals and messages of the first group. But what’s healthier is when we combine the two groups to form a compound behavior.
We can be…
Productive and centered; harmonious and ambitious; proactive and aware; efficient and intentional.
We could describe ourselves and our work with one word. But nobody is only productive. And nobody is only intentional, either. We’re always combinations of two or more qualities.
Naval Ravikant once said, “A sick person wants only one thing.” I’m sick. I want only one thing – to stop comparing my blog to other people’s blogs. Seeing other people’s blogs is now a way to inspire and depress me. It’s great to see other writers sticking it out on their own, making money while they sleep. But it’s depressing when I perceive their success as evidence that I’ll never do the same.
So I wrote this to cure my sickness. If you’re catching yourself comparing more than creating, I hope this helps.
I wish I could position myself as someone who doesn’t struggle with this. “I can’t. I’m no guru.” I often paralyze myself by looking at all the blogs with as many as thousands of readers and as revenue. But by doing this I’ve learned that too much comparison leads to a temptation to copy. “They’re doing it that way. So, I must do it that way. Though I know nothing about SaaS marketing, I should start a SaaS marketing blog.” A project should be as interesting today as it is tomorrow. If I were to start blogging about SaaS marketing, I wouldn’t look forward to working on it the next day.
Ambitious coders and writers in the world of the “new rich” dream of building the asset that earns money while they sleep. When a side-project succeeds in becoming that money earning asset, we see it as the ticket to our dreams. “That worked for them. Which means that I should do the same.” But it’s likely that the work that went into their successful project is not the kind of work that you want to do. You see their results. You don’t see the type of work that led to their results. So you cannot truly copy somebody else’s results. You could copy the image of the results. You could build a landing page that promotes a new email service. But if you’re not interested in programming everyday, then you’ll lose interest in the project.
Naval Ravikant followed up his statement about sick people by saying, “Happy people want ten thousand things.” A happy person wants their projects to succeed. But they also want their success to benefit other people. They want other people to reap the rewards of the hours of work that went into this piece of coding or writing. This list goes on for another 9,996 reasons for why the happy person stays productive.
Comparing yourself to others is not an effective way to move forward. A better way to move forward is to start working – even if you don’t know what to work on. This is a kind of work that I call faux-work: the work of figuring out what kind of work suits you. Faux-work is the foundation of the work that you’ll do for the rest of your life. When you start faux-working, even if you’re just spewing word vomit into Evernote, you’ll become conscious of what interests you. What interests you becomes your work. Your real work. The work that you can’t wait to get back to. This isn’t to say that we don’t need accountants. There are people who would love to do your accounting. And there are people who would love to read your blog about metaphysics.
There’s a short book about finding meaning through suffering that many of you have read. It’s called Man’s Search for Meaning. It resonates with nearly everyone who reads it because Frankl writes directly into the human condition – the condition of suffering. It takes only 154 pages for Viktor Frankl to teach us how to transcend the unavoidable suffering that comes with being alive.
There are many books about the survivors of atrocities, but only a few about the perpetrators. ‘The Nazi Doctors’ by Robert Jay Lifton is a book about the perpetrators of medical killing in the name of the nazi ideology. It’s a book about how healers became murderers.
Biocracy. Cleansing. Sterilization. Hygienic Institute. These were the words that were used as sleight of hand maneuvers not to cover up the killings, but to make sure that everyone involved felt as if they were still healing, not murdering. The word healing began to take on a twisted irony. The killings were done in the name of “healing” the “national body” of the Aryan race. And who’s supposed to be responsible for all this “healing”? Doctors. Many of these doctors could find meaning in their murdering by convincing themselves that their actions were in the name of something greater than themselves – for the führer.
Even the most useful psychological functions can be used by people with malicious intent.