As a young twenty-something, I thought I’d take over the world, but by the time I hit 30, I had accepted a life of mediocrity.
There was no major disappointment, just one tiny setback after another. Each one signaled my brain. You‘re not cut out for this. You’re not meant for an extraordinary life.
That was my mindset for the next decade — an average guy who would never accomplish anything of value. With that belief crystallized, I landed the safest job I could find and drifted through life.
Being average felt comfortable and safe. I prided myself on being a normal dude who paid his bills and stayed out of the way — the kind of guy who works at a company for twenty years but you never learn his name.
My outlook changed at 42-years-old. I woke up one morning, terrified I’d die without accomplishing anything substantial. That recognition set me on a new path.
Today, as I approach fifty, I can point to several successes: building a successful side-business as a writer, raising two kids, and overcoming lifelong challenges of fear, laziness, shyness, and helping others do the same.
These achievements may sound more pedestrian than extraordinary, but most of us have a jaded definition of what extraordinary achievement means. In our culture, we drool over stratospheric accomplishments by the likes of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. For most of us, that sort of notoriety and impact is unrealistic at best.
Don’t set the bar so high that extraordinary achievement equates to near impossible. Instead, define it as any feat where push past your comfort zone and accomplish something beyond what you believe possible.
Here’s the roadmap to get there.
Make a character pledge.
For most of my adult life, I never finished what I started. I’d burst out of the gates but quit when faced with adversity.
That changed five years ago when I re-engaged with my love of writing. To ensure I’d stick with my passion, I made a commitment to myself — what I call a character pledge.
a commitment to spend a fixed amount of time every day for the rest of your life on something that defines your character and individuality — character pledge
Think of it as an iron-clad promise to yourself, not a “let’s see how it goes” experiment.
To accomplish anything extraordinary, you need to hone your skills, and making a character pledge gives you the necessary self-discipline to do the work required of excellence.
Pick a 10X outcome.
When I restarted my writing career, I committed to pumping out 1,000 words per day. That practice helped solidify my routine, but it wasn’t enough. It didn’t force me out of my comfort zone.
So, I set a goal of making $100K in a year from writing. At the time, I was making nothing, so my new goal amounted to more than 10X. The point is not necessarily to rack up monetary gains; it’s to force your mind to consider possibilities beyond what you feel comfortable pursuing.
Setting such an absurd goal forced me to confront my fear of criticism and rejection, making my 10X outcome possible and yielding personal growth gains I had never even considered.
Define who you need to become.
When I worked in copywriting, I always started with the premise, who do I want my customer to become as a result of buying the product I’m selling?
To achieve an extraordinary goal, you need to become someone new.
- What kind of person makes 100K from writing?
- What skills do I need to acquire?
- How daring do I need to be?
- What fears must I overcome?
Your questions may differ but start by looking at people who have already achieved what you desire, and then ask yourself who you need to become to realize your desire.
Work your money tasks.
Define your money tasks — the work you need to do each day to achieve your long-term objectives. Start with the end in mind and work backward to define the most critical tasks.
Don’t overcomplicate it with excessive planning. A loose plan will help guide you, but I’ve found that planning can become a never-ending excuse to putting off the hard work of improving yourself, risking rejection, and picking yourself up after a failure.
Create a routine that allows you to work on your money-tasks each day. This consistency, over a long period of time, enables extraordinary outcomes.
Enter the arena.
There’s no chance of achieving anything worthwhile without taking on risk.
If you’re in the arts, that means putting your work out into the world and accepting whatever praise or criticism that entails. If you’re an entrepreneur, that means starting a real business, not just talking about it.
It’s scary to put yourself out there, but that’s what separates the folks who merely show up from those who rack up results. They take chances, risk rejection, and defeat.
Sure, they sometimes get a bit bloodied. But as Teddy Roosevelt said a century ago, “It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…”
You will stumble along the way. It’s unavoidable. The pain passes, leaving behind a trail of wisdom and courage that propels you forward.
Embrace the Fabian Strategy,
Dreams die when you lack the resolve to push forward in the face of fear, exhaustion, and failure. When these moments of reckoning come, we either surrender or push forward. I’ve found it easy to fight on by adopting a mindset called the Fabian strategy.
It stems from a military approach dating back to Fabius Maximus — a Roman general tasked with defeating Hannibal during the second punic war. Hannibal, General of the superior Carthaginian army, had won early victories.
Fabius knew he couldn’t defeat Hannibal in a head-on battle, so he relied on small skirmishes to harass and drag out the conflict, eventually winning the seventeen-year conflict.
The war of attrition style that Fabius employed became known as The Fabian Strategy in military parlance. In simpler terms, it means stick around until everyone else quits.
Even if you make a character pledge, define who you need to become, work your money tasks, and enter the arena, there’s no guarantee you’ll come out ahead. But, if you commit to staying in the game long enough, you’ll cultivate the self-discipline required to win your share of accomplishments.
Victory by attrition is still a victory.