“How many trucks are you guys going to unload before lunch today?!”
My co-worker and I shrugged our shoulders, as we grabbed dirty floor mats from the trailer. Ted, our boss, flashed an impish smile before walking away. He was thrilled with how much we were busting our asses.
This was circa 2014, when I unloaded trucks for a living. Every afternoon, 12 of the monsters lurched into the commercial laundry facility, pregnant with thousands of pounds of dirty pants, shirts, floor mats, and other assorted grimy stuff. The two of us unloaded them all, one by one. Then, we finished our shift with a huge trailer from Fort Collins. That required a forklift.
We threw almost everything into giant baskets that ended up weighing over 250 pounds, and sent them through a complicated conveyor system.
Some of the laundry was so nasty, we threw up as we handled it.
One truck contained clothes from a spice factory. That stuff smelled nice.
Most two-man teams could unload six or seven trucks before the first, and usually only, break.
My co-worker and I set records. One day, we managed to unload ten trucks before the “lunch break” at 6PM.
Before working that job, if you had told me the mass of stuff two people were required to move, and the time-period they had to get it done by… I would have sworn the task wasn’t humanly possible.
That job expanded my beliefs, for the human body’s capabilities.
Just yesterday I was reminded of this. While enjoying the Sky Lounge at my new apartment, I watched gym goers next door, march up and down the parking lot while carrying kettlebells. Then, I looked one block over, where a new building was under construction. There, workers hauled all kinds of metal and wood back and forth. Huh. On one side, people were paying good money to drag heavy stuff around, for their health. On the other side, people were getting paid money to drag even heavier stuff around, because that’s their job. What if the gym goers could volunteer to help the construction for an hour? I guess the local GDP would slip a bit.
Anyway. While unloading trucks, I learned what can make your daily task a joy… or torture. Here goes:
When I pondered this list a few years ago, I realized none of these items required a fancy position, or degree, or even much luck. I also realized that, if I ever had a job that prevented me from the positive side of this list (like a company with bad peeps), I’d quit. Because even a pay cut, or harder work, was worth the joy of good sleep, coffee, peeps, a future, meaning, competency, and enough food to keep me going. They’re worth more than anything, so it’d be insane not to prioritize them.
“I was scrolling through my Facebook feed…”
After my friend saw the look on my face, he followed up with, “I know… I know. But the thing is, it’s not like I’m just using Facebook all day. Actually, it’s more a form of recuperation. See, after I dived deep and did a bunch of work, I took a break. Caught up on what some friends were up to. Saw some stupid shit posted. It’s how I unwind my brain.”
Yeah, except that’s not what’s actually happening.
I understand the idea. There is a chain of logic.
Someone puts in a half hour of tough work. Okay, fine, we’ll pretend it’s an hour (are you timing yourself? I bet it’s not an hour). Then, when they begin to feel restless and a little burned out, they “take a break” by switching to the mindless puke river on Facebook.
This gives them some relief. And, after an hour (okay, fine, we’ll pretend it’s only a few minutes… you’re timing, right?) they switch back to work again.
But here’s the thing…
That’s not what’s actually happening. Internally, anyway.
You’re not giving yourself a break from burnout.
Instead, when you’ve worked with focus for half an hour, you begin inching towards the edge of your comfort zone. Your brain begins to balk at the intensity of the work. It begins to send signals of mental pain and anguish.
From here, you make a few choices.
First, you choose how to interpret those signals. Virtually all people give them a bad interpretation. They need a break!
Then, you choose what to do about it. Virtually all people give in to the Siren song of Facebook, and crash themselves on its shore.
Here’s the problem:
When you begin to feel “burnout” during some intense work, and you’re tripping towards the edge of your comfort zone, and you feel mental pain… this isn’t necessarily a danger to avoid or soothe away. Instead, it’s an opportunity to intensify your brain’s power to focus. It’s your chance to expand your comfort zone. And use both your new superpowers to build a healthier, more prosperous, more fulfilling life.
Think of it this way:
Let’s say you’re doing some bicep curls, to strengthen your arms. You’re capable of 10 repetitions with 50 pounds. As you lift the iron dumbbells over and over, the burning heats up in your muscles. By the 7th rep, you can’t ignore the searing pain. Then, during the 8th rep, as the intensity doubles… you drop the dumbbells to the floor and take a break.
“Whew, that was close!” you say. “I almost burned out! I’m glad I’m taking a break before I get back into it.”
You feel fine. And why shouldn’t you? You avoided pain, and you can claim you accomplished a workout…
… except you stopped right before the workout began to matter.* You saved yourself from going through the repetitions that would trigger your growth. Congratulations.
But, hey, you can say you’re balanced and productive.
*Exercise physiology enthusiasts can debate about what truly triggers maximal adaptation via growth – time under tension – volume – frequency – intensity – whether training to failure is good or bad… just go with the metaphor, instead.
“When the cop started knocking on my door, I knew I had to answer. They kicked me out of my room. I tried talking to the front desk, but the cop said, ‘NO. YOU NEED TO LEAVE THE PREMISES NOW.’”
That’s what David told me, when I called to find out what was going on.
Jeez, and I thought I had a frustrating time getting on the conference call.
A couple weeks earlier, David had asked to interview me about hooks in marketing and salescopy. We set a date and time.
A couple days before our interview, my apartment sent a notice that they’d be testing their siren system. They didn’t know when. But it could fall during our interview. Not exactly pleasant background noise. Even a 5% chance of the alarm blaring during our call, was unacceptable.
I found out I could lock myself in the club house’s theater room.
On the way down, the elevator lurched to a halt and I wondered if a cable would snap, rocketing me to the ground floor. I jumped out on the 1st floor. It was a premonition of things to come.
Two minutes into our call, my WIFI dropped. I called back in with my phone, breathing deep and making sure to enter all 50 or whatever digits to get back on the webinar line.
David admitted I wasn’t the only one having challenges. “I’m hosting this call from my hotel room and I asked the front desk if I could stay in my room a bit longer. They said I could, but I don’t think everyone knows. I’m getting knocks on the door.”
“Do you have the Do Not Disturb sign up? Worked for me in Vegas.”
Later, I’d find out how useless that suggestion was. But during the call, I noticed several times David disappeared for half a minute or so. I figured he had a bad connection.
After over an hour, David ended the call, his voice fading out so much that the final note of the interview was garbled noise tumbling into silence.
“Are you kidding me?” I thought.
So I called him, to find out what happened.
Turns out his connection wasn’t bad at all – at least not at first. He just muted his line, when the hotel staff began banging on his door, demanding he leave. He ignored them as best he could.
Then the cops showed up.
He didn’t ignore them. While keeping his phone close, David grabbed his things and tried reasoning with the police as they hustled him out the door. They wouldn’t even allow him to speak to the front desk.
I felt my brain re-wiring as I listened and realized how wrong my first impression was. There I was, feeling frustrated with how the call was going. And it turned out, David was holding his shit together while almost getting arrested.
“Dude, I’m jealous!” I said.
“You can reference me!” he replied.
And that’s what I’m doing now.
You don’t have to be a writer, to transform challenges into a story.
You can be someone interviewing for a job. Or going on a date. Or teaching something to your children.
What embarrassed you in the past? What caused you pain? What do you want to push away, not talk about, and hide from?
Bust it out, instead. Because, just like fears dissolving when you confront them, a painful past can become a positive force in your life, if you’re proud to share it. I hope David is.
As I raced along the side of the road, I heard the rumbling of the massive engine behind me. Little did I realize that I was moments away from receiving an open, bleeding wound.
I tried look inconspicuous. As though I weren’t in any hurry at all.
But in truth, I was 100% focused on beating that machine.
Specifically, the school bus.
Every weekday afternoon during my first two years of high school, my routine was the same. The bus dropped a few of us off at the three-way intersection at the end of Meadow Road.
Then, as we walked our separate ways, the bus began the cautious routine of backing up… lurching forward… and turning around to speed off, from whence it came.
Meanwhile, my house stood 100 yards away. My feet weren’t as swift as a vehicle on wheels. But I had the head-start. I considered it a race. With an unspoken rule: I couldn’t actually look like I was racing. No, I had to appear aloof and above it all. “Oh, did I beat the bus to my house? Funny how it just happens like that…”
So, that afternoon, I power-walked along the road, monitoring the rumbling behind me. I knew that, as soon as the engine’s shrill picked up to a fever pitch, I’d lost. The bus would blast straight past me, and charge up the hill to victory.
But that day, it sounded farther behind than usual.
I scampered onto my driveway, and then up my steps.
The shrilling began reverberating behind me. Too late for me to win? No, not if I hurried.
Up four more steps. I grabbed the screen door handle, flung it ope…
As I realized I yanked the metal edge of the door straight into the right side of my forehead, the bus roared behind me. I pretended it was business as usual… figuring that at a distance, nobody would realize what I’d done.
But I knew, so I rushed inside, and into the bathroom, to survey the damage.
The pooling blood, and dangling skin, confirmed I’d given myself a minor scalp injury.
So, the wound didn’t come from the bus…
… but my own stupidity, curtesy the misuse of a screen door.
After a brief reminder of the human body’s fragility – and washing myself off – I applied a band-aid. The next morning, even though I didn’t need it, I put on another band-aid. I figured that’d look better than a weird head scab. I don’t remember anyone asking me about it.
About 15 years later, there’s still a subtle scar.
This afternoon, when I looked in the mirror at the Denver International Airport, just before a flight to San Jose, I was reminded of its existence. Not my first head scar either. The earliest – and far more noticeable – is directly over my Third Eye. Story for another time.
Until then, here are a few lessons I got reminded of, while looking into that mirror.
Nothing bad happens to a creator. Every little – or not so little – ding and dent help shapes your ability to create something worthwhile. It makes you less inert, so you can become the catalyst you were meant to be. This is the more real-world version of Nietzsche’s quote “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”
Many times, when I read that quote, I remember a certain episode of The Simpsons. Homer, after suffering a heart attack, asks Dr. Hibbert, “Yeah but what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger, right?”
“Oh no quite the opposite! It’s made you weak as a kitten,” Dr. Hibbert replies.
Homer’s doctor might be right about your health. But what doesn’t kill you, can make you a better creator.
I was so desperate to beat that bus, I hit myself in the head with the door I was trying to yank out of my head’s way.
This example makes it easy to see how stupid it is to scramble.
When the scrambling is subtler, catching yourself in the act is trickier. Like if you’re desperate to get a job, and inadvertently repel employers. Or you scramble to find the right team member, and you drive away an A-player from ever working with you.
In those situations, you lose the benefit of the immediate whack to the head, so you never realize you were yanking too hard, and not paying attention.
You were using force instead of being empowered.
This is where the skill of discernment comes in. You must move your observation through time and space, to unearth the cause and effect you’re missing. Just writing this, reminds me of how difficult this is. Especially if you’re trying to resolve something causing you pain. Yet this is one of the most valuable skills on this earthly plane.
(Just now, as I paused from writing mid-flight – the captain announced to fasten our seatbelts. We shot into the worst turbulence I’ve felt in many dozens of flights. My stomach flip-flopped as if barreling through a roller-coaster ride. I wondered if the pilot were hiding the truth – that something was very wrong, and we’d plummet to the earth soon. I considered my options, remembering that being centered counts more in a crisis. Could I stay rational? Yes. At least, so far. Chances are, what you’re reading is not a posthumous publication, from a recovered Microsoft Surface Pro from the crash site – so we came out fine.)
Hitting my head caused barely any pain. But the evidence remains, years later.
Some agonizing events – like 2nd degree burns on my hand and foot – are now invisible to the naked eye.
Same with your psychology. Sometimes, it wasn’t the devastating humiliation, or the attack, or the betrayal, that changed your wiring. Instead, it was a symptom. The real trigger was a mere snowflake, that caused the avalanche.
So who cares? Perhaps because this can help shift your mindset from “I’m working to resolve this big, horrible thing” to “I’m re-writing a tape in my head, which is a challenge but I’m certainly up to the task.”
“I get up every morning around 7AM…”
San Diego. March 2016. I think.
I was standing with a group of mimosa-sipping business owners, when someone asked about my writing schedule.
“First I shower. Then I meditate. Then I sit down to write.”
I described my process, and how I feel at a visceral level when I need to take a break from writing.
After that, I continued: “Then, I get up… walk over to my modem… plug it in… and start my day.”
“Wait, what?” one of them asked. “Your modem is unplugged?”
“Oh yeah!” I answered. I didn’t realize that was so weird. “Every night, before I go to bed, I unplug my modem. And my phone is already on Airplane Mode. Heck it’s pretty much always on Airplane Mode. I’m unreachable unless someone knocks on my door. And I usually don’t answer.
“That way, I can’t even check my phone or get on the internet when I first wake up. I just write. And I assume my day is pretty much going to go to hell as soon as I plug in that modem. Because sometimes it does.”
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a similar afternoon session. I’ll march over to my modem and rip the plug out of the wall. Then I’ll plop down in front of my laptop, and begin Round 2. Or 3 or 4 or whatever. I’m thinking of doing a more formal nighttime session like this, after my evening meditations and right before I go to bed.
This is augmented discipline.
All the blips and bloops your computer emits, as well as your phone’s screeching, are designed to distract you.
They want to pull you off your task and check on them instead. Otherwise, the apps behind the blurps would get less attention, fewer uses, and couldn’t command advertising rates as high. They certainly don’t want you prolific or fulfilled. It’s not relevant to their interests.
You can fight their influence with your willpower. And you have to, to avoid your apps entirely. But you can augment this discipline by making it a tiny bit harder to access them. Sort of like keeping ice cream, chips, and soda out of your kitchen. If you have to drive to the store to get it – or order it – then it’s harder to mindlessly nosh on it.
If your schedule doesn’t allow a morning marathon session of unplugged work, then schedule one later in the day. At the appointed time, rip your modem power cord from its socket. Turn off your phone. Then, you can’t check distracting apps, even if you wanted to.
Start practicing this, and you’ll experience something fascinating:
Your productivity is no longer linear. Your relatively short blocks (aim for half-hour blocks if you’re new to this, and increase) of work will launch you lightyears beyond people doing the same work on a distracted schedule.
Test it and see how augmented discipline works for you. You’ll begin producing so much, you might feel guilty about finishing so much by early afternoon.
One spring morning in 2010, I woke up, ambled over to my computer, and discovered my partners cheated me out of a business.
I didn’t find out by receiving a long email. Or even an angry phone call.
Instead, it was because I checked on something that seemed slightly amiss. The day before, one of my business partners had neglected to send me an article. We had a routine. Every weekday, one partner wrote an article. The second partner edited and approved it. The third – me – sent it to our list of subscribers.
Had he forgotten?
Maybe I missed something?
First, I decided to log into our email-broadcasting software, to see if anything had been sent out, at all.
I typed in my username, password, clicked…
… and it said my login information was incorrect.
Not a rare occurrence. My fingers frequently fumble. So I tried again.
“We’re sorry, but the username and password you entered did not match our records…”
One more time. Same result.
“Wait a minute…” I thought to myself.
I typed in the URL for our shopping cart software system. Then, I tried logging in there.
For the past few weeks, one of my business partners and I were getting more pissed at each other. A couple days earlier, he tried to schedule a phone call. I was getting sick of holding meetings about meetings, so I wrote I wasn’t interested.
“Interesting,” was his reply.
I didn’t think much of it. Later that evening, during a seated meditation, I briefly saw him, facing me. He sort of puked my way. And it was gone. I didn’t think much of that, either. But I wondered…
… and that morning, I figured things out.
He changed all the passwords.
And he already controlled the bank account and merchant account. He’d drawn up the corporate papers.
I considered my options for about 2 seconds. And I decided to start over, and go on with my life in a separate direction. After one half-hearted attempt to patch things up – that’s what I did. My two former-partners kept all my advertising copy, the sales structures I designed, customer base, business assets, and ongoing revenue. I never visited the website again. I have no idea what happened to either of them. My best guess – aided by brief asides from mutual acquaintances – is that the business bobbed up and down like something strewn into a river, before gently sinking into nothing.
Many people write and talk about “firing negative people from your life.”
I’ve said many things to that effect.
That’s wrong, in a subtle way.
If you’re stuck with an asshole in your life, there’s a reason.
You’re either an asshole too, or a victim. Or both.
It’s true that you should fire assholes from your life.
But, chances are, you won’t. Or, if you do, you’ll get a replacement for the open position, in record time.
Here’s how I know this:
I was a terrified, ego-driven, asshole. So guess what I attracted? An odd soup of predators, idiots, victims, and a whole slew of people who, let’s say, “lacked conscious awareness” to a similar degree as me. It was tricky to see at first, because everyone was so different. But there was a subtle regression to the mean, in terms of everyone’s collective development.
Unless someone bounced away from me, they were just as fucked up as me – in their own unique way. For the vast majority of the human population, this is the social dynamic. At least, after puberty. From then on, most people stake their psychological claim, and attract their peers. It may not be smooth sailing from there, but it’s choppiness within the same ocean.
But I was initiating internal changes. And stepping into different waters, to continue the metaphor.
Several months before this business break-up, I began practicing an intense form of meditation.
I’ll tell the story another time, but here’s the short version: It almost wiped away my crippling, suicidal depression, and began waking me up in ways I’d never predicted or even considered.
Little did I realize, my life would pluck apart and rearrange itself.
First, a random event forced me out of the condo I’d been living in, for almost four years. Weeks later, the same thing happened with my business with two partners. Then, a few weeks after that, the same thing happened again with a business group I was a part of.
And yet… I didn’t feel like I’d tumbled into some bad patch in life. Instead, I felt more alive and awake than ever before.
Because I’d been enlivening myself and awakening myself more than ever before.
As a result, I didn’t need to fire any negative people from my life.
Instead, they fired me!
Because the resonance between us, evaporated.
This is why “firing negative people from your life” is wrong, in a subtle way. When you work on yourself, you don’t need to pay much heed to getting rid of bad influences. At the proper time, they’ll bounce off you. You might need to nudge the ball rolling. Maybe.
I’ll get to the specifics of nudging in a moment. First, here’s how to work on yourself:
There are as many ways to meditate as there are to exercise. Probably more. Sample as many different kinds as possible to find one that’s a match for your disposition, at this time and place. Sitting and observing your thoughts… standing and quieting your mind… deep breathing… guided visualization… affirmations… chanting… slow walking… tai chi… chi gung… nei gung… yoga… HIIT… push hands…
… dive in and do one. Every day.
The United States is suffering from an epidemic of “triggering.” I rarely heard that word until about a year ago. It seems similar to getting rattled, except “triggering” has a sinister edge to it. Like, “if you upset me, you’re pulling my trigger, and I’m going to shoot you.”
People who get off on getting triggered, and riding the wave of feeling simultaneously superior and mentally unchained, are beyond hope. But if you’re someone who just gets rattled too often – observe why. What throws you off? You’ll find that merely observing, begins to dissolve its power and expands your comfort zone.
If shitty people surround you, don’t fertilize them. Don’t give them a reason to poke at you, express their doubts, or sabotage you. Don’t tell anyone about good stuff you’ve got cooking.
Now onto nudging…
If you’re working on yourself and making progress, the dissonance between you and negative people will push hard on your behalf. And it can push harder than you.
If you’re at a party, and you’re trying to avoid eating chips and soda, some “friends” might goad you into breaking your willpower. They’ll tease you. They’ll throw fake concern your way. You might give in. either way, it won’t be fun.
But if you’ve been meditating and working on your psychology, and the wrong foods for you no longer lure you (a common result) then your “friends” will sense it. Maybe not even consciously. But they’ll just know you can’t be tempted anymore. They won’t even try. If they make any feeble attempt, you can just shrug your shoulders and shake your head.
That’s the nudge.
Same if you’re starting a business. Or embarking on a new career. When you’re changing internally, they’ll see it in your eyes. Chances are, you won’t know because of what they say. Instead, they’ll just stay out of your way…
… or support you, because maybe they’ve been changing internally, as well. It’d be sad if you pushed away true friends.
No need to fire those who try to hold you back. Keep working on yourself. Eventually, they’ll either shut up or fire themselves.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
I focused on the gaps between my footfalls – when I floated through space, and my spine lengthened and aligned. Then, when my feet landed, coiling like springs… I focused on blasting off again, from my hips.
It was around 8AM, just south of downtown Baltimore, at the Inner Harbor. I sprinted up the corner of Federal Hill. It’s a manmade hill cut like a trapezoid, overlooking the harbor and buildings.
During a nighttime thunderstorm over 156 years ago, General Benjamin F. Butler led a thousand Union troops to the hill, where they secured a fort. They dug their heels in, for the entire Civil War.
That morning, I used the unnaturally steep incline to challenge my muscles, lungs, and nervous system.
The effort triggered a gush of growth hormone through my system.
And all kinds of pleasurable brain chemicals began flooding as I did some chi gung afterwards, amidst the trees. Usually playing with one tree.
Back when I lived in downtown Baltimore, that was my Saturday ritual. Usually, I’d sip some water mixed with a pre-workout stimulant, while walking to the hill. Later I discovered it was spiked with amphetamines. No wonder I felt so amazing.
I regret not performing the ritualized workout more often. These days, instead of taking a full week to recover, I do stair sprints every 3rd day. If only I’d kept up this pace in Baltimore. I imagined how much less stressed I would have been, how much more creative, and how much healthier.
While pondering this, I decided to list out a bunch more regrets. But not one-off opportunities I didn’t take, or single mistakes I made. Or anything to do with predicting the future. Instead, I wrote only about habits. Here they are:
Already covered this one above.
I was too lazy, didn’t see the value, assumed they’d take my energy away from other projects, or feared I’d run dry on creativity.
None of this turned out to be true. Once I kicked the laziness to the curb, I discovered putting energy into writing that’s fulfilling, delivers me more creative energy. And rather than running out of things to say, I’m downloading more. Much to the chagrin of many, I’m sure.
I used to let myself sleep in, and wake up “naturally” – figuring this would give me more energy. But instead, it settled me into a subtle malaise. Now I set a wake-up time that’s just a little bit “too early” and I feel more energized.
This year, I’ve been fascinated in how tight and misaligned my hips have been for decades. And how much emotional gunk has been trapped in there.
Relaxing and aligning them (with virtually zero stretching involved) has been exquisitely slow. Like a flower blooming. Fun to witness. But I regret not starting sooner.
(Notice how these first four regrets revolve around energy, with a focus on health?)
When I lived in Colorado for the first time, I was shy and egotistical and terrified and made almost zero friends. I drank. I cried. Then I went bankrupt and crawled around the bottom for a few years.
My second time in Colorado, I met friends and friends of friends, and now maintain a MasterMind in the industry I love. Great connections, answers, vendors, and clients are an email away. I get special access and prices (sometimes this price is free – or I get a valuable service nobody else could even pay for). I have zero fear of becoming financially destitute again (unless we experience a devastating global financial catastrophe, and I’m still working on that fear). This (almost total) lack of fear isn’t derived solely from my income, or even mostly. It’s the knowledge that I have relationships with great people.
For years, I coasted by on writing that was “good enough.” I could have stayed that way. And lived on a relatively stable income. Now I see I was turning my nose up at sharpening my skill, because I feared the work and the new territory. No more.
I hated company parties. So I hated myself for hating them.
I worried about my zany thoughts, so I kept them to myself.
Nowadays, I simply avoid the stupid party – if it’s too loud to hear people speak. Otherwise, I tolerate it just fine.
And now I blurt out my thoughts. People either engage, or we both learn we’re not a match for each other.
However, my thoughts were not always blurt-able. Some still aren’t. Which is why I regret…
From someone competent. Someone great.
Because the best therapy is someone empowering their psychology to help you detox yours.
The benefits are exponential. When your brain is optimized for what you want to feel and experience, all your results come easier.
Positive-minded coaches are fantastic to help you drive ahead. But sometimes you get stuck from moving forward until you work out the psychological vines twisted around your ankles.
I’m glad I still feel a tinge of regret for everything I wrote about here. Because it reminds me to keep doing them. More. I wonder what I’m not considering now, that I’ll regret next year? Or five years from now?
How about yourself. What habits do you regret not doing a year ago? Five years ago?
What habits and rituals would you BEG your children to do?
Are you doing them now?
One early morning, while it was still dark outside, a friend of mine bolted awake in a cold sweat.
Even though he lived under a roof with his wife and five children, he felt completely alone. Because, instead of providing for them, he was leading the entire family into a death spiral of debt.
Just a few months earlier, he’d quit his secure job to start his own consulting business. His savings evaporated. He burned over $90,000 in expenses, while earning only a few grand in return.
Financially, he was steering himself right off the cliff, and taking his family with him.
Years later, we had dinner together.
He told me he chose the right path. According to my friend, the shock of losing that illusory safety net, was exactly what he needed to get his ass in gear.
I struggled to believe he was right
Hindsight is – supposedly – 20/20. It’s usually sharper than your vision in the moment, at least. And who knows what could have happened, from taking a different path?
Nevertheless, I thought my friend was nuts. Because I jumped straight into being an entrepreneur, without a full-time job as a safety net. It kicked my ass.
So is it always a bad idea to leave your career cold-turkey to start your own business? Should you moonlight instead? Or… perhaps… is breaking your handcuffs as an employee, your only hope?
Rather than declare one as “the” truth, here are five reasons to stay at your job, and five reasons to quit.
Five reasons why it’s insane to quit your job
Despite what some motivational gurus might say, putting your back to the wall in a situation of near-panic, rarely inspires genuine and healthy creativity. Especially for making money. Instead, it spurs you to take irrational risks and blinds you to opportunities.
As old acquaintance once told me over a decade ago, about business, “Things like this always take longer than you think.”
I replied, “Yeah and sometimes they happen faster!”
I was much younger then.
He shrugged and nodded…
… and he probably continued to make millions of dollars while I went bankrupt a few years later.
Things take longer than you think. They’re more expensive. This can be a problem when you have limited seed capital. Especially when you’re also using it to buy food and shelter.
When I worked for a gold-buying business five years ago, a fellow employee gave two weeks’ notice. She asked the owner if she could ever come back, if things didn’t work out at her new job. He said yes. She said something to the effect of, “Oh good so I can have you as a back-up!” He almost fired her on the spot. She meant no harm or disrespect. But any time you transition, there’s no guaranteed you can push the factory reset button.
Think you’ll be fired up to take action, because you got rid of your safety net and claimed all this free time? Ha! Don’t be surprised if you park your butt in front of your television instead. Your brain will come up with all kinds of soothing excuses for sitting on your duff.
You need a bit of relaxation…
You’re letting the creative juices stew…
You’ll work later in the day (and you never do)…
You’ve got other responsibilities, like cleaning your fridge for the third time…
You’re hiding from fear.
You’re avoiding the discomfort of doing something new.
You’re fortifying yourself well within your comfort zone.
In this case, your free time works against you. It convinces you that you can relax your pace. You’ll lose your sense of urgency. You’ll be like the hare, taking a nap as the gainfully-employed tortoise slowly catches up…
If you’re an employee at a functional company, then you’re getting paid to attend a magical business school. Every meeting, project, criticism, test result, and interaction is a chance to learn how to grow a company. And you’re getting paid to learn it all!
Same deal if you’re working at a dysfunctional company. You get to see what causes meetings, projects, criticisms, test results, and interactions to fail. Take careful mental notes (or even written notes and turn it into a book!) of what goes wrong and why.
But if you quit to start your own gig, you miss out on these lessons.
Now the flipside. Here are…
Five reasons to leave your soul-sucking job
Building a business is tough enough, without a bunch of crabs reaching out with their claws and clasping your legs, dragging you back into your shared dungeon. This is where making a clean break could be a life-saver. It’s hard for “friends” to make snide comments or lead you astray, when they can’t get ahold of you. Or, more realistically, it’s just a tad too difficult to get ahold of you, for them to overcome their laziness.
Do you have it so good that the big, scary world of entrepreneurship is just a little too foreboding for you to make the leap? Then you might have golden handcuffs syndrome! The cure may be to focus on your level of personal fulfillment, and recognize no amount of security or income can fill that bucket.
Or the cure could be just ripping off the band-aid.
If you stumble home mentally exhausted every night at 10PM, then you don’t have the momentum you need to start something new. This was why my old sign-spinning job was so perfect for me. I’d stand on my feet all day outside. Very little mental effort. Then, I’d come home and engage my brain at night.
Sometimes, having your back to the wall actually does work. More to the point, it’s the only situation that works for you. If so, start some fires and let them push you towards that wall!
Sometimes, a shitty job can inspire you to climb out of it. Other times, it strikes just the right balance of shitty-ness, easiness, and mindless routine to destroy your oomph. In this case, consider simply changing your job, rather than diving off the entrepreneurial cliff to see if you’ll fly.
And here’s a bonus #6 for both options:
Consider how valuable your networking opportunities are right now. Huh, I get a little “blech!” reaction every time I type the word “networking” but, well, shit… it’ll do. Anyway, your current job might be giving you valuable opportunities to meet potential partners. Without as much time pressure. And you’re getting paid to do it. That’s a very good reason to stay at your job.
On the other hand, maybe your job is occupying your time and mental space in an industry completely different from what you want to dive into. So it’s actually barring you from the networking (heh, I’m starting to like that word again) that’ll help you.
So which route to take? We’re back to the age-old question asked by frustrated employees yearning for more:
“Should I quit my job and jump into building a business full-time? Or build my business in my off-hours, while keeping my job?”
What’s the true answer? Because I listed reasons going both ways, I bet you can guess…
As the perpetually-chilled-out denizens of Thailand like to say, “Up to you.”
People hate that answer. Especially non-entrepreneurs (take note of that). You need to diagnose your situation and identify which choice will work best for you.
Me? After diving into the deep end – and hitting my head on the bottom – I eventually got a job… and back on my feet. Then I seamlessly transitioned to self-employment. And now I’m also building a business.
My friend? After getting beaten up enough, he figured out how to grow his consulting business. Now it runs on word-of-mouth. All his children have moved out. I think he’s a grandpa now. And he doesn’t spend even a microsecond worrying about money.
Which is right for you?
“Up to you.”
The school hallway loomed as large as an airplane hangar as I paced towards the Principal’s Office. Without the crowds of kids shuffling from class to class, or dashing out the door to busses, everything felt eerily quiet and empty. Especially to a small nine-year-old.
I was in trouble for something. Most of the time, I didn’t know what, until someone told me. Then I remembered. It was usually because of a fight.
After arriving at the main office, they directed me to wait on a bench. All too soon, I found myself called into the Principal’s Office, where I sat and stared up at him, as he read through some files about me.
He was so bald, his head shone, and he sported a big, wacky, bushy beard.
He spoke with a booming voice that was too jubilant to be God-like.
He fussed with the papers a little more. Then he turned, looked down at me, nodded his head, and boomed, “You’re a… you know… YOU’RE A GOOD KID.”
Okay, I was a good kid.
I had never consciously considered the idea, one way or the other. But in that moment, a perfect storm of psychological sparks came together. I was visiting one of the most authoritative figures in my existence. I was scared, but my guard was down because I deferred to him.
And he declared something about me with complete conviction.
His words didn’t just seep into my consciousness.
They zipped inside like light beams shooting through the universe.
Invisible until they hit something.
Sure, I had my problems for years after that. Awful ones. But what’s striking is how I never stole cars, dealt drugs or abused the hard ones, or became a criminal. Some of that was probably because I was too alone and lacked the creativity… but I wonder how much the Principal helped that day. Along with everyone else who affirmed I was inherently okay.
Thank you, Principal, for reminding me of a truth I needed to hear.
It’s horrible that some children hear the opposite. A sick tragedy. They’re growing and absorbing as much information as they can… completely unable to sift and sort like they should… and someone tells them they’re bad.
The programming slips right in… folds itself into a deep crevice… and runs for the rest of the child’s life. Into adulthood.
Unleashing yet another cycle of pain.
I still need to remind myself that I’m a good kid. It’s interesting how one’s self-image can vary so much, based on splintering one’s life into sections. Money. Sex. Appearance. Parent. Boss.
But the reminder is so simple. If your heart’s in the right place, you’re okay. You’re human. Yeah, you make mistakes.
But… YOU’RE A GOOD KID!
A couple evenings after launching Should You Date Nate, I stood in my bedroom doing a brief standing meditation. Similar to a practice called zhan zhuang.
After a couple minutes, I sensed a peculiar, pleasant energy flowing to me from all directions. And from many, many different sources. As if I were standing in the middle of a packed stadium, feeling the rumbling crowd resonate through the air to envelope me.
Suddenly, I found myself thinking, “So that’s what he meant.”
An old teacher of mine had said over and over, “Celebrate your critics and naysayers because they give you energy.”
I’m sure virtually everyone who heard that, assumed he meant critics can motivate and inspire you to prove them wrong, and keep you “on your toes” (a funny and mostly dysfunctional position for a grounded response, now that I consider the phrase).
He was pointing to something deeper. I know, because that night I had the visceral experience of what he actually meant.
I was curious to discover what inner healing and empowerment I’d experience. Already, some hate mail from my ad was flowing in. I knew the tsunami was warming up.
The campaign changed my perspective on talking shit about someone. Now, whenever I’m tempted to “know” the story of someone else, I stop to wonder if my assumptions are true. And if the information is true.
Another seed was planted in my mind, when a more recent teacher, Lama Tantrapa, taught me “Yi dao, chi dao.”
Where attention goes, energy flows.
That seed sprouted right before my official “get up” time one morning, a couple weeks ago.
Our society is addicted to talking shit. Most people take perverse pleasure in hurting others, so they can feel the effects of a brain hormone cocktail. However, some criticism is valid and helpful. Both for the object of your critique and, in the case of, say, a politician, a warning to others.
So how to tell the difference?
I came up with a useful rule to gauge.
Here goes. Before you criticize, ask yourself this:
“If writing, or even thinking about this person I want to criticize, gives them positive energy… would I still do it?”
If thinking about what an asshole that guy is, actually sends him a tiny blessing – straight from you – would you still devote your mental energy to it?
If gossiping about someone at work who you think is doing a terrible job, actually enriches her life in some small way – would you still say anything?
Changes your perspective, doesn’t it? And your priorities.
Even if you think the idea of transmitting any kind of energy through communication or thought or emotion is silly, consider this idea’s usefulness as a framework. It gives you a system to objectively measure whether to spend your time and effort to criticize someone.
This question is a polished mirror you can use, to see the value of what you’re doing.
You’ll see how pointless your thoughts are. Or even how they help foster the opposite of what you want.
But sometimes the answer will be different. When you ask: “If writing, or even thinking about this person I want to criticize, gives them positive energy… would I still do it?”
… you might decide yes. Because your criticisms might serve as a fair warning to others. If you’re a commentator with a platform, you can alert people to corrupt politicians, unethical businesses, or even lousy restaurants.
In these cases, the light you’re shining on them, might be worth the chance they receive some positive energy. That’s for your judgement.
However, you can now see – and perhaps experience in a tangible way – how useless and backwards virtually all criticism, gossip, and arguing truly is. Every comment on social media. All mindless chatter at work. Your thoughts about people you can’t stand.
What if you were secretly, and inadvertently, empowering all those people?
What if this triggered you to finally stop? Or at least direct your energies more diligently?
Yi dao, chi dao. Where is your attention going? Your energy?
I know I’m more careful. I’m learning to withstand other people sending me helpful vibes. And being more considerate of where to send mine.