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When I was in high school, I thought success and life would be all about getting an admit into a prestigious engineering institute. My sole concern was passing a national entrance examination. For 5 years, I craved for that admit each day.
Yet, I failed.
My first lesson about success and life.
Nevertheless, I got admitted into another engineering university. Back then, I wasn’t aware of my interests, aptitude, and personality traits.
Slowly, I came face-to-face with my inner life. I stopped doing what was expected of me. I started taking life as it comes with a pinch of curiosity.
Now, I trust my curiosity to provide cues for the next step. And it hasn’t disappointed me.
Along the way, I learned strange aspects of success and life. Let me elaborate.
1. Taking the leap is only the ‘first step!’
During my final year of engineering, my peers were applying for jobs. I didn’t feel a willingness to partake with them. Yet, I pushed through the resistance to appear for a company’s aptitude exam.
I felt conflicted inside. I was done with following the herd. I withdrew from the campus placements without a plan.
It seemed my success and life were turning out to be on a very different path for me.
My family wasn’t entirely happy, but my friends were supportive of the decision.
I had developed an interest in online media and playing with words. So I started a writing business.
In my first year of operations, I was gratified merely for having made a ‘different’ choice. The tension and anxiousness that pulled me to start the business subsided when people appreciated me for being a ‘writer.’
There was a tiny issue:
I ran out of money and was in debt.
I needed to get past the intangible elation highs and work towards building a sustainable lifestyle incorporating work I like.
I began working on my portfolio and my writing skills. This time I was naturally inclined towards building a skill set that’s in demand in the market.
Finally, I scored my first big-shot client.
Now, let’s come to life.We celebrate a lot of ‘beginnings.’ We’re elated to marry our dream life partner and enter a new house. We congratulate on the birth of a newborn.
The real work is almost always ahead of us. The challenge after the first step is staying determined in the face of unknown circumstances.
If need be, we need to change our beliefs and redefine our identities.
Keeping the faith, through thick and thin, is more difficult than committing.
We need to trust the process even in the absence of tangible results. After taking the first step, the hard work starts. We need to dismantle our ideas of ‘how we assumed it is.’
Take a hit, adapt, and evolve.
2. To attract your kind, you need to choose carefully…
In business, I have had victories by exclusively accepting clients that value my work. Even when I was running out of money, I didn’t go for writing gigs that paid ‘decently.’
I had made a stern choice. I decided what my time is worth and didn’t negotiate below that.
I have worked with only a handful number of clients because of such selection. In spite of the opportunities I have missed, I am proud of my portfolio.
Every association I have had has helped me grow. The clients I worked with respected my creativity and added value to my professional life.
Indeed, all the contracts have been mutually beneficial and fun for both the parties.
Let’s look at it in context of life – you’re expected to act nicely and kind-heartedly with everyone. The general consensus is that your honesty shouldn’t hurt people.
But, I refuse to speak softly and give in to people that are incompatible.
If I don’t like a person, I don’t let them infiltrate my life. I reckon you as well should exercise discretion.
After all, your time and mental space are at stake.
I also attempt to keep my life exclusively limited to activities I want to do. My success and life mean that I outsource my laundry, dishes, cleaning, and the like. I don’t despise them, but they aren’t aspects I deeply care about.
If you consistently make high-value choices, then you’ll eliminate clutter and make strides towards your ideal lifestyle.
3. Can’t figure out the next step? Then, begin with avoiding stupidityWhen I started my writing career, I was flustered with contract marketplaces. Most of the jobs posted by brands would pay peanuts.
For attaining a decent paying job, you had to stand out and win against hundreds of other equally competent applicants.
There I was in the midst of an unconventional choice (starting a writing business), trying to make it work by following the conventional route (job boards).
I realized that simply working on my writing skills won’t progress my career. My writing mentor Len Smith encouraged me to believe that my ability was already worthy of high-paying clients.
The answer wasn’t investing more time in polishing my writing.
Instead of going all guns blazing at my business and thinking of achieving earth-shattering success, I asked myself: “What is a stupid activity I am repeatedly doing that’s not working?”
The answer was sending out applications repeatedly and hoping a business would accept it.
I needed to catch the attention of prospective clients. For that, I needed to change my playing field.
Hence, I developed a specialty – writing 2000+ word articles. And market myself for this specific kind of writing.
I built my website and used a couple of jobs to build my credibility. Then, I didn’t need to send new applications. My clients trusted and referred me to their peers.
All of this wouldn’t have happened unless I took a step back and stopped doing what other writers were up to.
Similarly, you might stand at the crossroads when you’re faced with a life problem. Instead of stressing over it, just ask yourself “What’s an activity that you must absolutely not do?”
Let me share a couple of examples.
Looking for a compatible relationship partner?
Then, you need to socialize and increase your people exposure. Dressing well, working on your personality, and everything else is the cherry on the top.
Want to wake up at 5 am in the morning?
The first obvious step is sleeping early.
Setting an alarm, tagging along an accountability partner, and other tactics are secondary.
If you’ve reached an impasse with your inner life, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to find the ‘perfect solution.’ Simply return back to the basics.
4. Success and life require you to manage your inner universe
Financial crisis. Failure to meet business expectations.
Client changing his strategy and excluding you from it. A close one’s death.
Hurricanes and natural disasters. Terrorist attacks.
Life and business are full of such traumatic events. They happen unexpectedly and hurt deeply. Bouncing back from them can even take a lifetime.
What we need to remember is that, in case of any event beyond our control, we still can take stock of our emotional reactions.
In the long-run, we can’t fight and keep mourning over what’s already happened. We can only be better prepared for the next occasion.
If we want to fix a past mistake, we need to take corrective action. I didn’t like what I studied during my graduation – so I took the necessary steps to build a business out of what I did like.
My mind occasionally takes me to the past. It presents ideas about “what might have been?” if I had studied literature or psychology.
In such instances, I practice meta-thinking. I don’t stress over these thoughts. I try to discard them as ‘suggestions’ and go on with my day.
It’s also how I approach events in my life. If a person attacks my beliefs, I don’t fall into a defensive mode.
I try to detach myself from my opinions to get a clearer picture.
What’s helped me is adding a tad bit of curiosity. Previously, I used to approach every person and idea skeptically. I doubted the integrity and validity of anything that didn’t support my world-view.
Now, I question it with curiosity and empathy.
I can already see an increase in my understanding of the world and how it affects me.
5. Everybody knows how to do it; ‘doing it’ is the difficult bit!
With a certain degree of variance, most people know that for behavioral change, you need to work hard. Without changing your everyday lifestyle, it’s impossible to achieve your aspirations.
Yet what we end up doing is reading success stories and looking for ‘secrets.’ We want quick solutions and magic pills. It’s a mental shortcut embedded in our brains.
With the explosion of content on the internet, there’s no dearth of ‘actionable’ listicles (like this) to help you thrive.
They promise you that you can become mega-successful.
Reading is a terrific habit to expand your thinking, but it’s supposed to supplement your growth.
When you don’t ‘do’, then your body and mind get used to the adrenaline rush of reading. You derive entertainment and add minimal value to your life through such self-improvement literature.
I now try to limit my information diet. I read books and blogs on diverse subjects that provide new perspectives, but I try to take action. Maybe, it’s as little as thinking over a concept and applying it your life.
I suggest you do the same. Don’t fall for inspirational porn. And maybe then you won’t need to read more articles on success and life.