“The greatest thing in this world is not where we are but in what direction we’re going.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes
To push yourself out onto the frontier, to get swept up in some new exploration, to travel in a direction personally uncharted, this is the "greatest thing in this world."
Don't make your endgame a destination; in fact, scrap the whole notion of an endgame. You're not looking to arrive. You're looking to move and stay on the move.
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”
— Ecclesiastes 3:1
Life comes to us in seasons. Just when we’ve been enjoying a particular period in our lives, things change. Sometimes our disciplines and routines don’t translate well into a new season.
In the past, I’ve failed to notice seasonal shifts and assumed I was slacking, or worse, on the verge of losing a hard-won habit. But when life shifts on us, we must be prepared to tinker, or downright vary how we approach our routines.
If you’re wrestling with getting back into the swing of things, reevaluate where you are. Is it a new season? Try to determine what’s different, and make adjustments that will reestablish the discipline you’ve been building.
Life doesn’t stand still. New seasons are coming. Don’t leave your discipline behind.
“If everybody is thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking.”
— George Patton
It’s easy to assume that the actions we’ve determined to take have been well thought out, but if we haven’t searched out differing opinions then we haven’t done our homework.
We need to hear diverging viewpoints, even when they're deadset against our own. When we do, we'll be sure to make better decisions. As hard as it may be to hear, we should always listen with open minds and hearts. Who knows? Someone may reveal a blindspot in our thinking.
The bottom line is that whenever comprehensive thinking is abandoned, the best way forward vanishes.
“Patience and time do more than strength or passion.”
— Jean de La Fontaine
It was true when the French fable writer, Jean de La Fontaine, said it in the 17th century and it’s still true today. Patience and time are stronger than strength or passion.
The wisdom in this quote, however, would have been hard for me to swallow when I was young.
When you’re in the early stages of your career, you assume that strength and passion are the ordained ways to get ahead. The more muscle and fervor you give to a project, the further along you get with it, right?
As commendable as these characteristics are, they don’t top patience and time. Patience defined is the good-natured tolerance of delays.
I hate delays.
Live long enough, however, and you’ll discover their ongoing inevitability. The lesson then is this: During delays, exercise patience... if possible, with good cheer. Don’t strong-arm every problem. Don’t assume more passion will get you to the finish line. Give things time to work themselves out.
More often than not, patience and time are your best and only solution.
“Americans are too rich to be broke.”
— Dave Ramsey
We’re also too well off to not give.
Roughly 50% of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. That’s $75 per month or $900 per year. Contrast that with $44,600 for the average American.
In the flurry of day-to-day living, it's easy to lose sight of how well off we are. But when we look at the data, it's clear—we have so much to give.
Perhaps our spending habits need to change to make room for charity. Nevertheless, we should always reserve a line item in our budget for giving. It's the best kind of insurance from the grip of greed.
“The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life.”
— Zadie Smith
Writing is a way of examining what’s going on inside. It’s a way of testing our thoughts and ideas. Writing is how we stay awake throughout life.
Writing isn’t just for experts and novelists. Writing is for everyone. It’s for the entrepreneur. It’s for the auto mechanic. It’s for the bookkeeper, and biology major.
It’s for anyone who wishes to walk with eyes wide open.
“What we do in this life echos in eternity.”
— Maximus Decimus Meridius
To say that life ends at death is far too simple a climax for the story that is our lives. There is more than biology at work inside us.
In the Hebrew scriptures, it's said that God himself wrote eternity on our hearts. Deep down, we sense it. Our lives are leading up to something. Our Choices, public and private, count, not only for this life, but in the one to come. Actions, in that sense, are forever.
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”
— Thomas Edison
Everybody has ideas. They blow in and out of our minds like the periodic winds that bring new seasons. Our task is to harness and utilize the good ones before they’re gone. Once we've counted the costs and determined in our hearts to act, we must do so; and we must be prepared to stamp out procrastination and fear all along the way.
Your idea is waiting on you. But it won’t wait forever.
“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.”
— Carol S Dweck
We’ve all experienced the excruciating feeling of beating our heads up against a wall. Was it when you were studying for that Statistics exam? It got so bad that your textbook was moments away from the fire. Or perhaps it was when you were trying to learn CSS? You got so close to putting your laptop through the wall.
The turning point to a fruitful finish, however, is the precise moment we push past these episodes of fruitlessness and keep at it. Persist. Persevere. Snatch the book from the fire. Yank the laptop out of the wall. Get back to it. Be encouraged: this is what growth feels like.
“Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free;
Force me to render up my sword,
And I shall conqueror be.”
— George Matheson
So much of life is letting go, surrendering, falling to one’s knees and crying out, "I give up, Lord!"
This prayer should never be far from our lips. We must continually be losing bits of our life; only then, will the path open up before us.
Don't fight the paradox, embrace it.
The evolution of getting good at something is what brings about career happiness, not just picking something you're passionate about.
– Cal Newport
When we go and see a movie, we’re banking on the fact that the story will have a strong arc. All the great ones do. The protagonist starts "here" and ends up "there" All that's in between grips and holds us.
Yes, we want strong arcs in our movies; and, yes—we want them in our real lives too. The journey to proficiency, excellence, and mastery in any field makes for a strong, and satisfying arc. Get one going in your life.
“Status quo is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’"
— Ronald Reagan
Confusion, disorder, turmoil, these are all good descriptors for what we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives—the mess of a soul. The inner chaos is hard to contain and often breaks out into our physical spaces as well. Disorganization is a symptom of the status quo.
One way to break it is to begin cleaning and ordering the rooms in which you live. If your study, for example, is littered with mail, unread books, and general clutter, spend some meaningful time tidying. Open every letter, throw away every piece of junk; and, out of the unread stacks of books, pick one to start reading and shelve the rest.
Cleaning up a space you live in, and love will begin the process of purging the disorder and mess inside. It’s a first step. It’s a way of getting started. It's a way of shedding a single beam of light into your soul. And it's the easiest way to begin putting distance between you and the status quo.
“We are made of flesh and bone—and pages of books.”
Who would you be if you’d never read a single page?
The answer to that question scares me. And it makes me want to tackle, with renewed vigor, the unread stack of books in my study. From time to time, I need to remind myself that I’ll get more out of a book if I do more than buy it.
The books we’ve finished have marked us in deep and permanent ways. We know this. They've become a part of our makeup. What is it about a book that does that?
Let’s make a pack. We won’t let the pile get too high. We will keep turning pages.
“Don’t start the day until you have it finished.”
— Jim Rohn
A day isn’t a thing to waste because it is crammed full of the thing we want most—time. Why do we so often act recklessly with our most precious resource? We spend too easily like prodigals.
To ensure we don’t fritter away our hours and minutes, we, therefore, plan, outline, sketch and design our day. We write a screenplay, then we go out and faithfully execute on it. Sure, things may change as we move from scene to scene, but we always keep the script in our back pocket. It’s always there for us to fall back on. And, in the end, it’s the thing that ensures the story we want told is the one that unfolds.
“Becoming is better than being.”
— Carol S. Dweck
There is a joy, excitement, and energy to the continual process of growth. It’s an adventure that only stops when we say it does. As Plato rightly observed, we do, in fact, live in a “World of Becoming.”
Vitality, therefore, should mark our days; growth, after all, is the form in which life takes.
“A deep life is a good life.”
— Cal Newport
The opposite of depth is shallowness, and that’s where we can end up in a world with as many distractions as ours. To go deep then we need uninterrupted time with something or someone. Our phones, computers, and televisions, however, don’t make that easy. We're going to have to fight for depth.
Spend some time this week searching for the shallow spots in your life and commit to diving deeper.
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.”
— Steven Pressfield
Does your "unlived life within" ever haunt you? Does it ever wear on you? Do you ever wish you could make meaningful progress toward “that life” that you know you ought to be living?
We all do.
One trick is to start small. Pick one thing out of your unlived life within and begin implementing it routinely. Maybe you want to cook more meals at home, or start jogging, or write regularly, or perhaps you want to learn a new, complex skill. Whatever it is, begin with a baby step. If it’s cooking more meals at home, for example, don’t start by preparing a four-course meal—every night. Start with one entree, once a week. Do this for a month, and then begin biting off more.
Before long, you’ll find a new rhythm and solidify a habit that’s drawing out that unlived life inside. Bear in mind; you don’t have to get it all out at once. Little by little, let it come to the surface. Take enough baby steps, and, in time, you'll find your living one life—the one you always wished for.
The vice of willful blindness is easy to fall prey to. It has to do with reality avoidance. When we're operating in willful blindness, we're dead set on refusing to look at the handwriting on the wall. We instead cling to the belief that, “As long as I don’t look, the problem isn’t there.”
In my early twenties I engaged in this vice as it related to the balance of my checking account. As long as I didn’t log in and look at it, it wasn’t overdrawn!
Let's call what all of this refusing-to-see really is, an act of cowardice. The opposite of willful blindness is willful seeing, an act of courage because it involves taking a good hard look.
Refusing to open your eyes and examine the evidence is no way to live. Try this. Take a trusted friend or mentor out for coffee and ask him where he may discern blind spots in your life. Listen closely. Thank him for his insight. Then spend every day thereon with eyes wide open.
Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.
— Julia Cameron
When you read, you get the benefit of plumbing the depths of another’s mind. When you write, you get the benefit of plumbing your own. Therein lies the great benefit to writing. The task is an exercise in self-discovery. It's an exploration into who you are, and what you believe.
We all know reading should be a lifelong pursuit. In the same way, writing, too, should be a lifelong endeavor. They are both strategies for growth. You need both in your life.
Start journaling. Start blogging. Start writing a short story. Start writing poetry. Begin writing now. Start and never look back.
Your will, in large part, determines what you do. It is the impetus to action.
History, of course, bears witness to the adage: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I much prefer to say, There’s a way where there’s a will. It puts the reward right up front. It dangles the carrot before us and causes us to give heed to the words that come next.
Do you ever think about next steps? Are you stuck out in the dark, searching for the path? The way can always be found by a firm, unflinching will. It may not be the way you surmised at the outset, but the way always appears for the resolute.
Those who wait for opportunity to knock, abandon the very thing that humanity was made for—action. Don’t wait. Act.