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?
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I am reminded of two lessons that I learned from a mentor of mine.
“If you are not growing, you’re dying”. It is true in nature and it is true in your life as well. As soon as you stop trying to grow and expand your learning, you are dying inside.
Comfort is for cavemen. It is an evolutionary response… designed to keep your right where you Are (where Sabertooth tigers are not eating you). In other words, it keeps you where you are and not where you want to be.
Naomi Dunford says
God, those first few months are hell, aren’t they? I get so many clients saying, “I’m doing everything right but I’m only getting 40 page views a day!” Such is the first few months of blogging.
Awesome stuff, Charlie. As per usual.
Naomi Dunfords last blog post..Happy Birthday to the Reason IttyBiz Exists
Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome says
I’ve been blogging for two years, but have just gotten serious with it. As I wait for business to start to grow and produce income, I’m in that unenviable position of waiting with patience and working hard. I’m not so good at patience and working hard is difficult because you never really know if you’re working in the right direction.
I’m definitely uncomfortable right now so I hope that means I’m pursuing excellence. 😉
Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Trapped in the Day-to-Day: Urban Panther Interview Part 1
I seem to live in a state of discomfort – does that mean I am always growing? I spent my twenties very much striving and I think that can get exhausting after awhile and leave you quite dissatisfied with your life while you’re living it, which is never a good thing. Happiness occurs very much in the present moment.
But I do agree that achievement and comfort tend to be opposing poles. And that’s why some people benefit from risking it all to pursue a dream – it propels them to success because they’ve dropped all their crutches.
Myself, I’m starting to think I should relax and enjoy a bit more comfort for now. I have spent most of my son’s 4.5 years pushing myself and feeling like I have to do everything NOW. But lately I’ve been thinking my boy will grow up soon enough and maybe focusing on the little things instead of what I want to achieve might make me enjoy these early years with him a bit more.
But then I do get bored easily, so I can’t just do nothing but mummy stuff. Oh god, just writing this makes me see how confused and befuddled I am lately…
Kelly@SHE-POWERs last blog post..Kickstart Your Brain With 21 TRUE Trivia Tidbits
Tom Volkar / Delightful Work says
Charlie I enjoyed reading this post and agree with most all of it. For me the freedom of a self-created, self-employed business is far better than any other opportunity I’ve ever worked. It fits my values. Yet I don’t think it’s always as black and white as you say. Like Kelly I do enjoy times of comfort even in the misdt of my chaotic business building. Overall all though I love the push that you’re suggesting here. Stumbled!
Tom Volkar / Delightful Works last blog post..I’m Not Ready Yet
@Kelly: The balance you’re dealing with is a healthy one – if you pull it off right, Bunny learns that people can live their dreams while taking care and loving others. He learns that lesson far better than you being focused solely on one or the other. I’ve said it before – you taking care of yourself and living your dreams with him is much better than you becoming a martyr and not really taking care of either you or him.
@Tom: I think we’re actually on the same wavelength here. It’s not about being comfortable in the moment – it’s about being comfortable with one’s life. Furthermore, being comfortable in some aspects of one’s life is completely healthy – I have no doubt (though I don’t understand it sometimes) that Angela (my wife) will remain a part of my life, even though I’m not sure what we’ll encounter in the next few years.
Think of a wave crashing upon the shore: there’s a brief moment when it’s neither advancing or receding. After that moment, it begins drawing energy again to make another crash. Such is the way of things.
@Emotivate: Nice metaphors! Thanks so much for adding to the discussion!
@Naomi: If I had to advise anyone on blogging, I’d definitely say the goals for the first few months should be entirely internal, i.e. write 50 posts, comment on five other blogs per day, etc. Those are the only thing that you have control of, and it’s those activities that actually help you start developing your voice. Counting stats, monetizing, and such are counter-productive and lead to the hell to which you speak. What do I know, though?
Thanks for the vote of confidence – having you indicate my usual stuff is awesome means a lot. Especially since I’ve lost objectivity with what I write.
@Alex: See my comment to Naomi re: blogging. But ask yourself a question: are you proud about what you’re writing? It may be incomplete, but does it mostly resound with you? If so, you’re moving in the right direction. Oh, and have some patience. :p
steve kennedy says
Charlie…thanks so much for this post. I really appreciate your input.
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