Let’s think about that silly mundane question we kind of love to ask children, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ How are they supposed to figure that out with so little information and experience about the world? They simply don’t know anything that qualifies them into making that decision when they’re that young. Some of us even get stuck trying to answer that very same question for the rest of our lives.
You take the kid, throw him or her in school and try to make them fit into the mold of a student, a follower, a worker, and an employee. You successfully create a person who is good at taking instructions, good at following orders, good at following the blueprints of discipline you install into their psychology so that they can self-censor, and learn what is right and what is wrong according to the field manual you teach them for 18 years.
Then all of a sudden, you pluck the kid out of that mind-numbing soul-sucking traumatizing experience we call the education system and expect them to be able to figure out the one thing they would want to do for the rest of their lives.
The problem is, not everyone has the same pace in life, and even though some people can be lucky enough to figure out exactly what they want to do early in life and pursue it with everything in their power, others are not so lucky and get out into the world absolutely clueless to what is that thing they’re good at.
A friend of mine recently told me that the thing you figure out you’re good at is the exact same thing you fall in love with. Being good at something is a function of genetic and hereditary aptitude and getting the chance to practice that exact same thing that you’re pre-programmed to excel at, if those two things join forces at the same time, people go through life as if they’ve got a rocket-fueled jetpack that gets them soaring into unbelievable heights with a level of confidence and self-esteem that decimates all obstacles.
And that just doesn’t happen to everyone.
Amongst the people in your immediate circle is an avalanche of human potential that never got to be fulfilled. You have a friend who could have been a talented singer, another who had a tremendous potential of becoming an exceptional athlete, another who would have made an inspirational fashion designer, another who could have been a world-class chef, another who might have been a superstar race car driver, and another who had the intelligence, work ethic, and bravery to be an astronaut. Yet, they’ve never had the chance to be on the right track, practice the very thing that lights their internal fire, and excel at doing it at the highest level. We’re swimming in an ocean of crushed potential.
And this is not a hypothetical idea either, this is a hard fact that people can find buried deep down inside in their heart of hearts if they actually can sit down with themselves and have a one-on-one honest conversation. Most people simply lost track of the thoughts of their potential 3 or 4 lifetimes ago fighting the stormy seas of life.
This is why we look with admiration, envy, and regret at all those beacons of success in the world. They’ve made it, we didn’t!
It kind of bites at you when you figure these things out so late in the game when a lot of people just stayed the course of whatever they were set to do at the beginning of their life and stuck with it until they excelled. It could happen that way too you know. As a matter of fact, that’s what your parents were trying to tell you all along but you wouldn’t listen.
Growing up there were plenty of movies and TV shows that vilified the notion that a person’s parent would make for them all the important choices in life, like what sort of education they would get, or what vocation they should apprentice in, or the life partner they should marry. The emerging culture was all about celebrating independence, breaking tradition, off with the old, on with the new, those old folks are stupid and don’t know what they’re doing.
Well, I guess pushing too hard in one extreme can force the rebellious nature of youth to push back in the opposite extreme.
In retrospect, you have to understand that at certain points in history or in certain types of society, eliminating choice and setting you on a course was a gift of kindness your parents were trying to give to you. If you didn’t know up from down and life was just this huge big maze where you had no idea where exactly to start, those people who have your best interest at heart were nice enough to give you a nudge in a direction, any direction, right or wrong, it doesn’t matter.
The only true failure in life is to sit on the sidelines not doing anything and not know what to do or where to go. Taking that first step and moving in any one direction, right or wrong, good or bad, is the right thing to do.
Any decision is orders of magnitude better than no-decision.
There’s no such thing as too late to do something else. Let’s bust this myth right there. It’s called course-correction. and that thing, that voice in the back of your head screaming at you about the amount of resources of time and otherwise you’ve already invested, there’s a name for it. It’s called the sunk cost fallacy.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the tendency to stay committed to an endeavor, a project, a career, or simply a decision just because of the previously invested resources of time, money, or effort. It’s a failure of logic and judgment that involves a little bit of Ego and pride in it that pushes you to keep going further and digging a deeper hole for yourself. It’s throwing in good money after bad, and not knowing when it’s a good time to fold your hand and cut your losses.
Fine, you start on this path and go to med school and graduate and practice medicine, but you discover and nourish your passion for being a standup comedian? Well, you can do that! It’s been done before.
You spend a lifetime climbing up the corporate ladder in the banking industry and then decide you really wanted to be a journalist? Hell yeah, you can do that, and it’s been done before.
Hold on now, no one said quit your job, jump ship, throw your entire life and that of your family and dependents in complete disarray to ‘follow your passion.’ That’s stupid! Khaled Hosseini the author of ‘The Kite Runner‘ was a full-time doctor and a family man whose real passion was literature and writing novels. He woke up every day and started writing his novel for years until he was able to finish and publish it.
If you think that you need the complete dedication of time towards doing something important in your life, it is not a must, you can actually work around your life to find the time to do the things that are important to you.
The fact of the matter is, if you want something done quickly and efficiently, you give it to a busy person. Successful people work more than everyone else, not less, they’re just really good at structuring their time and prioritizing.
Also, there’s no such thing as being too old to do something. Stop telling yourself that. Stop pulling obstacles out of thin air and starting to put them in your own path.
It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. The one and only thing that really matters is that you start doing that thing you want to do and spend your time doing the work you love and enjoy.
All joy is in the work itself.
Does this mean you’re going to be better than someone who figured out they want to be a standup comedian and practiced every single day since they were 12 until they’ve become one of the very best and most sought after in the world? Not necessarily, actually, chances are not that great because that other person has out in a whole lot of time and work over a longer period of time so much that the law of compounding interest worked to their advantage that no one else can be at their level unless they’ve started at about the same time.
But, the kicker here is there’s so much room at the top, and there’s a whole lot more on the way to the top. The most important thing you must know and believe at all times is that those who do, those who start doing what they love to do and what they really want to do, have a leg up over everyone else who doesn’t even start.
So, hell yeah, did you figure out you really want to be a chef at the young age of 55? Do it! You can get farther in the game than someone else who’s the same age and who has the same dream but never acts upon it because it’s not ‘appropriate.’
It doesn’t even matter the level of skill and mastery that you accomplish eventually because what you will eventually figure out on your own is that the pleasure of doing something meaningful that brings purpose and joy into your life is much much greater than the rewards of reaching certain checkpoints and achieving certain levels of success. Detach and divorce yourself completely from the outcome and you WILL get those too if you stick with it long enough.
The thing is that it’s not just the one thing.
You don’t have to do just one single thing for the entirety of your life. People change, evolve, gather and stack more knowledge and skills as they go in life.
Our main thing as human beings is that our ability to be creative and adapt to the world around us. And this is why we have an advantage over dinosaurs and all the other apes who did not evolve the same way we did all those thousands of years ago.
I’ve been reading a new book by James Altucher called “Skip The Line” and I plan on doing a detailed book review because it’s brilliant work. The main thing I managed to glean out of this book is the 10,000 experiment rule.
The best strategy when someone’s stuck in life and they don’t know exactly what to do or where to go is that they embark on series of experiments in any and all viable directions until something sparks up.
That’s exactly the kind of advice I am going to give my son when he gets to the age when he asks me about what to do next. I’ll tell him, run an experiment, try something new, pursue something with everything you got and see where that leads you. Sometimes it is the exact same thing you’re going to do for the rest of your life, and some other times you’ll just learn something new about the world or your own self and then move on a tangent or in an entirely different direction.
There’s no just one direction, it’s a myth.
Even people who manage to do something that they’re really good at for a very long time can suddenly meet the end of that journey because of an injury, an economic catastrophe, or some kind of reversal of fortune. The successful ones just pivot and pour all of their attention and energy into morphing their life into another field, another skill, or a different type of life.
You can change your life, but most importantly, even if you don’t intend on changing your life, it can change against your will and despite any of your protestations, and without any warning whatsoever.
This power of being flexible with life is what they call resilience. Being resilient is the skill of being able to adapt to life’s circumstances and the caprices of fortune.
There’s only one trick in the book, but it’s the be-all-end-all sort of skill, and that’s diversification of interests.
When you’ve many hobbies, interests, passions, you’re going to experiment with many ideas, follow many pursuits and many paths, mainly as a byproduct. But if you do that with intention, it’s even going to give you another layer of strength and resilience that’s going to hold you when the going gets tough.
I want to make this example of how to choose a romantic interest and eventually a life partner. The way most people go about it is instinctive. People feel a physical attraction to another person and then they try to make a connection and see if it will go somewhere. Sometimes they click together and things take off and some other times rejection puts a stop to the whole thing.
The weird thing is that, for the inexperienced, both paths eventually lead to the same destination which is it all ends at some point because both parties didn’t really know much about themselves or what they would want in their significant other. There’s a whole lot of trial and error at the beginning.
People who get comfortable with rejection early on, get an easier time at it when they go out and about in the world and try to find a good match to their quirkiness and their imperfections.
There’s just one thing to do when it doesn’t work out, you try again, you stay at the table and wait to be dealt into another game. and that’s pretty much the secret sauce to rejection, failure, and life in general. Fall down 7 times, get up 8, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on.
On the flip side of that coin, there are also no guarantees for those who settle down with a life partner that matches who they are and what they want in life that things will remain sunshine and rainbows forever and ever. Some couples pull it off alright, and you better believe those stories of everlasting love and devotion and the insurmountable sorrow that follows when one of them passes before the other. But other couples simply don’t stay the course and opt for the exit when it’s not working out anymore, sometimes after months, sometimes years, or even decades.
People are unique in their interests and their passions, as well as in the rate they accumulate knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Even in the same household, with your own siblings, each one of you grows up to be their own person.
The same thing happens in long-term relationships and marriages. People who have lived together for years might reach a point where their interests, their goals, and their plans for the future diverge significantly from something they might have shared with the other person for a very long time.
Things change. People change.
This is exactly how people drift apart and how we sometimes get caught up by complete surprise when it happens because usually they never see it coming. Friendships will cool down and vanish, marriages will end, business partners will stop seeing eye to eye, and a small gap can grow into the grand canyon over time.
People will take their own path in life, and some people will be able to share part of the journey along the way and then find their own way at one point or another, and the lucky ones will find someone or even an entire group of people with whom they can share the biggest stretch of the journey.
You can superimpose human relationships onto professions, careers, and skillsets. What you need to actively seek in your life is mindful and purposeful evolution.
Your real power comes from the resilience you can cultivate with the intentional investment in experiences, experiments, and knowledge. There’s some really versatility and creativity when you’re a jack of all trades, master of one at a time.
This is no call for mediocrity in everything you do. The real secret is not to do the bare minimum in anything and try to do it with heart, intention, focus, and determination, all the while aiming towards excellence.
The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
Never get hung up on perfection, though. Because perfection doesn’t exist. Actually, seeking perfection is a form of procrastination. No matter how much you work at something, there’s always going to be room for improvement.
There are too many paths to success and greatness. If you just do your own part and be prepared for when opportunity comes, you’ll get your chance.
I remember something I learned from the book “The Third Door” by Alex Banayan about opportunity. Eminem is wrong, opportunity doesn’t come once in a lifetime. Think of opportunity as a bus that you have to wait for at the bus stop. It doesn’t matter if you miss your bus. It doesn’t matter that you were at the bus station but couldn’t get on the bus because you didn’t have enough for the ticket. The most important thing to get your chance to get on the opportunity bus is to actually go to the station and to be prepared with the price of admission, with effort, skill, time, and maturity.
With enough preparation and patience, you’ll get used to waiting for and jumping on opportunities when they come by your stop. Sometimes you’ll even pass on getting on that bus because it’s going to the wrong destination for you, and that’ll be ok too.
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