“I saw the angel in the marble and I carved it until I set it free.” – Michelangelo
Author Steven Pressfield describes the meeting between Alexander the Great’s aide and Philosopher Diogenes. In their encounter, the aid said, “The man has conquered the world! What have you done? The philosopher replied without instant hesitation, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.” The ability to tackle our internal conflicts is foreign to many. As a result, our external conflicts have rather been a guiding force in shaping what we do, how we think, and whom we tend to seek validation from. In the list below, I will share 22 lessons that have propelled me to battle my conflicts, enlightened my steps, and shifted my perception for the better before age 23.
1. It’s more important to be a go-giver than to be a go-getter
Some of us believe we have it all figured out. Our goals then pertain to working hard and achieving accolades henceforth it’s very seldom we decide to share or give. However, a close look at a number successful people shows how their willingness to give has driven them to make an impact their money could never purchase. As Arianna Huffington said, “The more you see life as go-givers instead of go-getters, the happier you become.” As you reach your hand out into the darkness to help another’s hand back into the light, you discover it’s your own.
2. Have Faith, Develop Courage
Matthew 17:20 says, “...if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Faith and courage are inextricably intertwined however, we almost never utilize both when we set out to turn our dreams into reality. Some of us focus on the process but fail to envision the result due to a lack of faith. Others focus on the result but fail to trust the process due to a lack of courage. Nothing of consequence gets accomplished without faith or courage.
3. Be resourceful
Eric Thomas once said, “If you want it as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful.” It’s quite shameful to use your lack of resources as an excuse to not accomplish your goals. A lot of accomplished people did not have the resources but they eventually got them because they were resourceful. Fortunately, we live in a time where there is a wealth of information but a poverty of attention. It boils down to utilizing the information you find the best way you can. As Bill Gates said, “The best way to stand out in the crowd is to equip yourself with information and the way you use the information can be a deciding factor between success and failure.”
4. It’s perfectly okay to say “NO”
Nobody really cares if you don't go to the party - both literally and figuratively. Those who consider themselves to be your truest friends would respect your decisions. It’s so important to learn how to say no when you do not want to commit to something. This is one of the few times in your life you may have limited responsibilities so turn the world into your canvas and paint outside its frames. Seek to make mistakes, learn the rules like a pro, break the rules like an artist, and you shall flourish. As Dr. Seuss once said, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” The act of pleasing others is beyond limiting.
5. Think different, Execute
Thinking is an experimental form of action, however, the same thinking that has gotten you to the level of success today will not get you to the level of success tomorrow. We forget we are powerful beyond measure. We pretend like we are not here to do something. We feel we must not be important. As Jonathan Jackson - Co-Founder of Blavity - said, “The worst thing is not the failure. What’s worse is knowing there is something you are supposed to be doing and you are not doing it because you are more interested in living up to expectation so you don’t make people uncomfortable.” You have a light to shine therefore execute.
6. Focus on your path
The people who seem to be the most figured out are the ones struggling the deepest. A pastor once said to James Baldwin, “Thou knowest the man, thou knowest not his wrestling.” We spend our entire lives trying to decipher why we are born. As a result, it’s quite effortless to be complacent when everyone around us seems to be attaining excellence. We forget some flowers bloom in the fall while others bloom in the spring. Henceforth if you do not bloom in the fall, trust to spring forth. If you bloom in the spring, be equally prepared to fall at some point. The question is whether you decide to get back up and excel.
7. Ego is the enemy
Becoming successful - regardless of your definition of success - is very attainable. The hard part is achieving success without developing an ego. This is commonly termed as the “Disease of Me.” It can strike you in any year at any moment. Catching this disease means you transform into someone you never wanted to be in the first place. Soccer Coach Tony Adams once said, “Play for the name on the front of the jersey and they will remember the name on the back.” No one gets to the top by themselves, there is usually a number of people at the backstage making sure everything aligns correctly. With success, fueled by ego, comes a strong sense of entitlement and when entitlement kicks in, it’s not about the work you do, it’s about proving who you are and eventually, you become banal.
8. Passion is overrated, Be determined
Historically passion has meant extreme emotions. Cesar Millan - a Mexican-American self-taught dog behaviorist - story tells passion as “...the soul, the spirit, and the heart. That’s where passion lives. That’s where we have to connect. Everything else is secondary.” At age 9 or 10, my personal slogan was and still is “My determination leads to my success.” Fast forward over a decade later, I now comprehend how much truth that statement held. The problem with passion is when you get hit in the face a few times (and you absolutely will), it seems to fade. However, when you are determined, where you choose to put your energy decides what you will ultimately accomplish.
9. Seek to attain fulfillment
Every single person has a story. The decision to strive for meaning or for happiness boils down to your respective story. For most of us, the work we do dictates whether we classify ourselves as happy-lovers or meaning-lovers. We choose to ignore that happiness cannot be pursued. It has to ensue. Meaning - on the other hand - cannot ensue, it has to be pursued. The common denominator between these two is fulfillment. In order to be fulfilled, it's imperative you strive to achieve autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward in any work you undertake.
10. Work hard on smart things
A plethora of people may have heard the saying “work smart, not hard” and there is absolute truth to that. Unfortunately, some of us work smart on things that do not provide any substantial value. Others work hard for the sake of working hard (Very guilty). As Malcolm Gladwell said, "Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning." In life, whatever we do is either remarkable or forgettable. Henceforth, before we decide to put our energy into something, we need to ask ourselves the simple question, “Does this action empower others to set out and achieve greatness or am I doing this solely for a need of praise and approval?”
11. Strive to attain personal growth every single day
If you knew it was going to snow an inch an hour for the next 24 hours, you could go out every hour with a broom and get rid of the snow. It takes 5 minutes. But when you are sitting in 24 hours, two feet of snow eventually piles up causing you to need a different tool for it. That is personal growth in a nutshell. It’s about incremental steps. As Socrates said, “ A life unexamined is a life not worth living.” One way I strive to attain personal growth is my $1,000.00 rule. Each year, I split $1,000.00 into four parts ($250.00 each). Each quarter of the year, I dedicate $250.00 to something educational. This could be books, conferences, or mini-trips. This thinking has catapulted my personal growth tremendously. However, this also wouldn’t be plausible if I did not make saving a priority. Pay yourself first.
12. Believe in yourself wholeheartedly
You have to believe in yourself, you have to love yourself, and you have to have instincts. If you have a combination of these three things, you can survive anywhere in the world. Some people are fortunate to be born into sheltered homes, others are disadvantaged to be born into the streets. The reality is you do not control what happens to you, you can only control how you respond. Depending on the situation you find yourself in, you can still achieve your dreams provided you have been granted the opportunity to do so. Opportunity comes in the shape of mentors, books, or even networking events. As Kevin Systrom - Co-Founder of Instagram - said, "The world runs on luck, the question is what you do with it.”
13. Focus is revenue
Jim Collins - author of Good to Great - said: “If you have more than three priorities, then you do not have any.” In the startup world, it’s commonly advised that you build a brand by being known for something or by finding a niche. In other words, the more local you are, the more global you can become. It’s so difficult to seek mastery when the human race has been transformed from being human beings to human doings. Once we can tap into whatever we can be the best in the world at, our perception begins to broaden and thus equips us with the wings to expand our horizons in any direction of our choosing.
14. Cultivate a keen sense of empathy
Empathy is one of those few buzzwords that have been thrown around a lot recently but what does it truly mean at its core? Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of someone who shares zero commonality with you so you can better generate a tremendous amount of connection and compassion in order for this person to feel understood. Henry Ford said, “If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” To cultivate empathy into your personal ethos, be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable environments and positions.
15. Displaying comfort will limit your potential
Determining whether you are comfortable is gauged by perspective. The way to use perspective is to view your life and adversity as an opportunity to propel you forward. Most of us are fortunate to be given opportunities to challenge ourselves in fields of our choosing. Unfortunately, due to comfort, we settle in environments we are mostly familiar with. A colleague once advised, “Once you realize you cannot learn anything new, move on or you will regret it.” Regret should not be something you seek to embrace because our biggest regret is not in our actions but in our inactions.
16. Ask thought-provoking questions
The ability to ask questions in a thought-provoking manner boils down to what Sociologist Annette Lareau calls “Concerted Cultivation.” It’s an attempt to actively “foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions, and skills.” Based on her research, children of less affluent backgrounds tend to grow and develop on their own and as a result become very independent. Children of affluent backgrounds, on the other hand, are the exact opposite. Their parents instill into them a desire to be entitled. Fast forward years later, they have no problem asking questions because they believe they are entitled to a response. Although this can be a psychological barrier for most, surrounding ourselves with others who challenge us to step out of our comfort zone and ask thoughtful questions is a very feasible cure. Thoughtful questioning opens doors to stimulating discussions and challenging perspectives.
17. Widen your vision
“The sky's the limit” is a phrase often shared with the younger generation, however, what isn’t mentioned is the sky is only a figment of our imaginations. When we are told the sky's the limit, we are being told that your imagination is the only thing that’s limiting us. It’s so important to think beyond our wildest imaginations because the larger our visions, the greater our insights. As Ben Horowitz cleverly put it, “The hard thing for most of us isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dreams turn into a nightmare.” To avoid this, we need to think big, start small, scale fast, and most importantly, set short-term goals.
18. Love more than you are loved and you will fear less
We are complex human beings and it can be difficult for others to fully understand and love us at all times. The key to being understanding is to recognize the other person’s strengths and weaknesses and give them room for who they are. This approach to working with others eventually turns into a superpower, which makes others gravitate towards us and nurtures our confidence. So far as we love in the beginning of the relationship, in the end of the relationship, there wouldn’t be an end.
19. Assume leadership roles at the chance of opportunity
While Ken Chenault - CEO and Chairman of American Express - said “The role of the leader is to define reality and give hope,” Jack Welch - Former CEO and Chairman of General Electric - said “A great leader is like a gardener. He nurtures and grows it and only seldom they throw out the weed.” Both men have different definitions but share the same underlying concept; empowerment. No matter who you are, no matter your present state or past circumstances, you are capable of empowering others. Being a leader also means you have to learn to trust the process and those around you. Abraham Lincoln said, “It’s better to trust and be disappointed in a while rather than distrust and be miserable all the time.” The moment you show any sign of distrust, you lose the respect of being a leader and this is when you also lose the value of the relationship.
20. Simplicity is key to unlocking greatness
Simplicity is the microscopic basis of ingenuity. Yvon Chouinard - founder of Patagonia - once said, “The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life because everything pulls you to be more and more complex.” When you take a critical look at most of the world’s ground-shaking innovations, they are usually very simple ideas that artists, entrepreneurs, and visionaries took very seriously. The simpler you construct your journey, the more self-aware you become, and the better you dedicate your time to things of value.
21. Practice what you consume
It’s better to read 24 books a year and critically analyze each detail from cover to cover than it is to read 48 books and attain no substantial value from them. A philosophy to abide by is to determine one thing you want to solve each year and read three great books about it. Although Benjamin Franklin said, “Investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” consuming too many books but not executing leads you to think there is more to consume before you go on to execute. This is a drastic universal problem.
22. Resting is just as important as working
This is a subject I should not be speaking on but I have also seen its benefits to others. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death, and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.” The idea to limit sleep in order to succeed has been practiced by many, however, analyzed by few. This is because the more sleep deprived we are, the more our brain tells us that we are awake. As a result, caffeine becomes a supplement as opposed to its intended purpose of being a complement. The body will always weep the tears the eyes never shed so unless we spend the little time we have catering to our health today, we will find no time to co-create the world from our hospital beds.
According to Robert Greene, there are two types of time in our life; Dead time and Alive time. Dead time is when people are passive and waiting. Alive time is when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second. The majority of us go through life dead. In order to attain your fullest potential, you have to first figure out what you want or you will be given whatever others did not want that was left over. Provided it hasn’t been found yet, the difference between 22 and 23 is you will still be searching for one of two things: happiness or meaning. So begin searching.
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