Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
– T.S. Eliot
Are you comfortable with your life? Are you excelling in your life?
The majority of people can’t answer “yes” to both questions. They’re either pushing their boundaries to the limits and hence are uncomfortable, or they’ve become comfortable and stopped pushing.
The problem is that the “standard track” tends to push people towards comfort and away from excellence.
I know I’ve recently railed against American culture and our ideological inconsistencies, but the impetus of this post is not from that, but rather Steve Kennedy’s comment in “Why Productivity is Bunk.”
In that comment, he says:
I think that my main problem is not having defined goals that have to be accomplished to pay the rent. I have a high-paying day job that provides me with a level of comfort that doesn’t force me to be focused and productive with my ideas. Unfortunately, that day job doesn’t provide me with the feeling of accomplishment that I am constantly seeking.
Steve is further along than a lot of people, for he recognizes the problem. But it goes much deeper than that.
Pushing Yourself is Hard Work
Pushing yourself into new frontiers takes a lot of work. I’ll just use blogging as the example of pushing those frontiers. There’s a period most bloggers go through that’s incredibly hard to work through. During this period, you’re writing in the dark, your readership and pageviews are low, and you’re not making much money (if that’s what you’re trying to do). From what I can tell, this period usually last three or four months.
A lot of this has nothing to do with the quality of your content. I’ve watched some blogging phenoms take off in six or eight weeks, but there were a lot of contributing factors to their success that many of us shouldn’t really count on.
Back to the comfort bit. It’s really hard to go to work, come home, do chores, and then spend another two to four hours working on something that doesn’t seem to be progressing. It’s much easier, and more comfortable, to come home, do our chores, have a little leisure, and then go to bed. Rinse and repeat for a few decades until retirement.
The problem, of course, is that that track won’t lead to our excellence. Our energy, ideas, and time will be spent on other people’s projects and goals and not our own, and we’ll never push our own boundaries and become excellent. We’ll never learn that thrill when something that’s through-and-through ours takes off and the fear that it will stink and plummet.
Blogging was just the example. Almost any new endeavor is like this. At some point you either have to get risky and quit to do what’s making you excel full-time, or you have to put in a lot of extra work to maintain your full-time job and build your new endeavor. It’s hard as hell to do, and faced with the secure comfort provided by the full-time career and the risky-as-hell prospect of doing what we love on our own, a lot of us buckle for comfort.
Do You Have Room to Grow?
A few of us are lucky enough to be in an employed position that allows the same thrills and spills that I’m speaking of. They go to work challenged and leave exhausted not from watching the clock or spending their energy on someone else’s projects, but rather the exhaustion that comes from throwing themselves at a task or project that they’re fully invested in. Most of these people have a work culture, though, that praises the individual’s contribution to the project. (Google’s corporate ethic comes to mind on this one.)
If you’re in the position in which you can push the boundaries while being employed by someone else, then kudos. Push it, start excelling, and smile upon your fortune. Someone will pay you to be excellent!
If you’re not in that position, you have got to come to terms with either being comfortable or being excellent. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.
What’s It Like on the Other Side?
I’ve said this to a lot of people, and I do so because it’s true. If you find that thing that makes you come alive, you will wake up early and stay up late working on it. You will come alive from the inside, and even though you’re risking it all, it’ll (mostly) feel like you’re risking more by not doing it.
If you don’t get up early excited about the possibilities of the day, you’re not excelling. If you don’t smile when you think about what you do, you’re not doing the right things. If you don’t want to talk about what you’re doing with other people, you’re not excited enough about it yourself.
The only person that can really make the change is you. It’s not your boss’s responsibility to give you something to do that lights your inner fire. It’s not your family’s or friends’ responsibility. The honest and sad truth is that they’ll likely get in your way. They mean well (they really do), but the choice is yours and yours alone.
So: Will you excel, or will you remain comfortable?