The Road to Extraordinary

It's paved with problems.

The first is that it takes a long time and a lot of hard work. Call it the 10,000-hour rule, the ten-year rule, whatever. We can't expect to become groundbreaking creative successes overnight.

Ray Bradbury:

The first year I made nothing, the second year I made nothing, the third year I made 10 dollars, the fourth year I made 40 dollars. I remember these. I got these indelibly stamped in there. The fifth year I made 80. The sixth year I made 200. The seventh year I made 800. Eighth year, 1,200. Ninth year, 2,000. Tenth year, 4,000. Eleventh year, 8,000...

Stephen King:

When I got my rejection slip… I pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor [phonograph]… and poked [the rejection slip] onto to the nail… By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing. By the time I was sixteen I’d begun to get rejection slips with handwritten notes a little more encouraging.

Ten years later, he sold his first novel.

A long time and a lot of hard work, to say nothing of talent or actual skill.

In my style of martial arts, a fifth degree black belt is considered a Master. I've been a fourth degree for two years. Generally speaking, the number of degrees equates to the minimum number of years before you can be promoted. E.g., first to second degree takes two years, second to third takes three years, and so on.

But the jump from fourth to fifth degree is different. You can't just put in the time and make the cut. To be considered a Master, one must demonstrate mastery in every area—not just katas and combinations, but animal techniques, club techniques, knife and gun defense, chin na, grappling, and more. And mastery isn't a quantifiable thing; it's not how many leopard techniques you know, but how you move when you execute them. This means a martial artist can spend a long time at fourth degree. Being promoted to Master is arguably more difficult than achieving the black belt itself.

To attain such expertise, to become extraordinary, one must work very hard for a very long time and become very good.

Fine. That makes sense. If being extraordinary was easy, everyone would do it.

But there is a prerequisite question that must be answered before we can start putting in our 10,000 hours: What do I want to be extraordinary at?

This question leads to the second problem, which is the paradox of choice.

To determine at which profession we wish to excel, we consult our various identities. For me: English professor, yoga teacher, martial arts instructor, bass player, writer. For you: Crossfit trainer, accountant, parent, student affairs professional, recreation director, painter, and so on. We are privileged to be such eclectic individuals, but we are also paralyzed by the diversity of our passions and interests.

I feel that if I want to be the greatest writer I can possibly be, if I want to make a living as a writer, I need to immerse myself completely in my craft. I need to write every day. I need to publish constantly. I need to read other writers. I need to hire an editor. I need to hustle. I need to eat, sleep, and breathe writing. I need to dedicate myself to nothing else for years. And then—maybe—one day, I'll make ten dollars.

I feel that if I want to be the greatest bass player I can possibly be, if I want to make a living as a musician, I need to immerse myself completely in my craft. I need to play every day. I need to seek out other musicians to play with. I need to learn how to read music. I need to write and record songs and put them out there for people to hear. I need to hustle. I need to eat, sleep, and breathe music. I need to dedicate myself to nothing else for years. And then—maybe—one day, I'll make ten dollars.

The problem is that I fear having to give up other aspects of my identity in the hopes of becoming extraordinary at one of them. I love being a bass player just as much as I love writing, and I love doing yoga just as much as I love doing martial arts. There isn't one that I'm willing to give up all the others for.

Yes, of course no one (besides me) is saying I have to give everything else up. Successful extraordinary people have interests other than what they're known for. But when you're trying to break into an industry, when you're on mile one of that 10,000-mile road, I don't see how you can get away with not dedicating yourself almost entirely to your craft.

Beyond this inner conflict lies a third problem, one of practicality: how can I dedicate myself to my art and still afford to eat? No one is going to pay me to be a writer who's trying really hard. No one is going to pay me to be a bass player sitting in the woodshed.

So we get crumby part-time jobs, and if we're lucky, their soul-crushing nature drives us even further to power through that long road to extraordinary. Or, they sap our strength to the point where the dream seems even more impossible.

When you're in college, your full-time job is to be a college student. Your job is to go to class, to learn, to absorb, to meet people, to figure out who you are and what you want to do with rest of your life. This is why college is so great. No one expects anything of you other than that you do what a college student is supposed to do: explore.

Some college students are lucky in that they go to school to get a degree in a certain field, which grants them a job, and they set off on a career. I think mainly of business majors. They get a degree in marketing or accounting or business administration, and they get hired. An entry-level accountant gets paid while they learn how to be a next-level accountant. They achieve a respectable level of success for their age, which allows them to live comfortably, going to work during the day, and using nights and weekends to pursue hobbies, interests, and relationships.

Sometimes, I'm envious.

Now, maybe those people genuinely love marketing, or accounting, or business administration. Maybe there are people out there who eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff. I'm sure there is someone out there who is dedicating himself to being an extraordinary accountant, to making it his life's work.

But for those of us in the arts or creative fields, the road to extraordinary is not so smooth. For those of us who want our creative interests and financial living to be one in the same, we must figure out how to do it on our own. We must ask, "What am I going to love doing every day for the rest of my life that other people will pay me to do?" And if and when we can answer that enormous question, we must ask, "How am I going to survive while I put in the seemingly insane amount of time and effort creating that extraordinary life requires?"

On Making Things Happen

In my twenty-five years, I’ve had quite a few experiences that many would qualify as “lucky”.

I’m friends with Carl Thompson, a legendary musician and luthier, and I’m privileged to own one of instruments (#111107).

I’ve met Les Claypool and attended one of his soundchecks, thanks to Carl.

I’ve flown to Nashville to study music with Victor Wooten on a weekend that just so happened to witness the Nashville flood, which resulted in me and my fellow campers spending the night at Victor’s house.

I own several beautiful custom instruments, all of which are completely unique and irreplaceable.

I’ve met many of my favorite musicians and gotten pictures and autographs. I met Béla Fleck in the Nashville Airport. I’ve met all six members of Umphrey’s McGee. I’ve learned from Anthony Wellington and Bob Franceschini.

I’ve travelled to music festivals in Georgia, Florida, and Michigan, often witnessing historic shows and one-off performances. I’ve gotten setlists, drumheads, and other memorabilia.

Just this week, I won third prize in the Wooten Won-Hundred Sweepstakes.

I don’t mean to sound like a spoiled little kid here. Rather, I want to use these examples to illustrate a fact.

You could interpret each of these events as “luck”. You could say I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. But, as my dad reminded me last night, my “luck” has really been the result of me trying to make things happen.

I wouldn’t be friends with Carl Thompson if I hadn’t had the courage to track down his number, pick up the phone, and call him. If I hadn’t, he wouldn’t have agreed to build me a bass. He wouldn’t have invited me to visit his shop and see Les Claypool’s soundcheck. If I hadn’t taken the initiative to develop a friendship with him — if I had just called, placed my order, and waited for it to be finished — I wouldn’t be able to say I’ve been to his birthday parties in Brooklyn or that I’ve watched his band play.

If I hadn’t decided to put in my application, spend some money, and fly to Nashville, I wouldn’t have spent a weekend at Victor Wooten’s house.

If I hadn’t made it a point to answer ten trivia questions every week for eleven weeks, I wouldn’t have won third prize in the sweepstakes.

None of these things would have happened if I just sat around and waited.

You can’t get an autograph if you don’t ask.

So while I may seem lucky — and I certainly do feel that way — I think it’s more accurate to say that I’ve cared enough about certain things to make sure they happened. Call it “seizing the day” or “never giving up” or what you will, but the point is that we can’t wait around for things to happen.

We need to make them happen.

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That Week I Changed My Life

On the evening of March 31, I took the long way home — as I do — and decided that it was time to make a drastic, life-changing decision.

What lead me to this point?

Thesis Bound

Lately, I’ve been struggling with remembering who I am, which in large part has been a side effect of my inability to finish my thesis.

Not having my thesis done was paralyzing me. I felt guilty about not having it done, and I also felt unable to concentrate on anything else, like job hunts, apartment searches, important work, etc.

I could not move forward until my thesis was finished.

A thesis is like an anchor, weighing you down and serving as your one final — but incredibly strong — tie to academia. It’s the last remaining bond between student life and the real world.

In some ways, it’s comforting. You’re still a student. The full pressures of adulthood do not yet apply to you. But, it’s debilitating for the same reasons. You’re still a student. All you have to show for it is a couple of degrees, a lack of direction, and no career.

My Fault

My inability to finish my thesis had been due to a lack of discipline. I work in the evenings, and I’m a night owl. I love to stay up late and sleep in.

When it comes to getting out of bed in the morning, a thesis is perhaps the least effective motivator of all time.

I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning and sleep until lunchtime, only to spend another hour in bed catching up on the day’s news on my iPhone. If I was lucky I’d find the strength to exercise in some fashion before having lunch and going to work in the afternoon.

Sounds luxurious, but it sucked.

I was in a rut, paralyzed by a routine of ignorance and complacency, ignoring who I wanted to be and just waiting for things to get better. I would fantasize about how awesome my life was going to be, and then I’d wait for it to happen.

Until I realized waiting doesn’t work.

Survey Says

Several stars aligned that last weekend in March, which helped me to reverse my downward spiral.

The first was that my yoga studio was about to start a 30-day challenge for the month of April. Hot yoga, Monday–Friday, 7–8 AM; your choice of weekend classes.

I had no intention of doing the challenge. I wanted to, but I told myself I couldn’t do it.

I work too late. I don’t know how to go to bed early. I’m literally miserable in the morning. I’m a stubbornly proud night owl. Let the cheery morning people do it.

However, that weekend I had to work my monthly Saturday shift, which consisted of teaching eight three- and four-year old boys how to do karate at 8:30 in the morning. So, I was up early. Not by choice, but I was up early.

On Sunday, I decided to go to yoga at 9 AM because my schedule had changed, and I was no longer able to attend my Thursday night class. I like to practice yoga at least twice a week, so I went to bed at a decent hour Saturday night, and made it to yoga the next morning. Up early again, this time by choice.

I’d risen early two days in a row, which is a rare thing.

Which brings us back to my Sunday night drive.


As I cruised along my familiar route, I listened to no music, no podcasts. I thought long and hard about the challenge, my thesis, and my life. And then I realized…

This is the only way you’re going to get your thesis done.

This is the only way to free yourself.

This is the only way to move forward.

That was nine days ago.

Since that night, I’ve woken up at 6:25 AM. Every morning.

I’ve done yoga from 7–8 AM. Every morning.

I’ve come home, enjoyed a cold shower, gotten dressed, made tea, and read. Every morning.

I’ve been at the library when it opens, worked on my thesis, and written for three hours. Every morning.

This routine has turned my life upside for the better.

When I say it was a life-changing week, I don’t mean to be hyperbolic. My productivity, mood, and sense of self-worth have increased ten-fold. I’ve been a proud night owl for as long as I can remember, and here I am getting up with the sun every day. I never thought it could happen, and I never thought it would matter.

It did, and it does.

I love it.

Freedom Found at Dawn

When my alarm goes off in the morning, it’s cool, calm, and quiet. There’s a sense of solitude, which is what I crave and thrive on.

When I practice yoga at 7 AM, I take care of my body. I get my exercise out of the way, first thing, and I feel energized for the rest of the day. If I want to do more exercise later, great. If not, it’s no big deal.

I get home, and it’s still only 8 AM. The whole day still lies ahead, and I feel like I’ve already gotten so much done. The library doesn’t open until 10 AM, so I take my time. I relax. I enjoy the shower. I shave mindfully instead of in a rush. I have time to make green tea. I sit by the window with my iPad, reading my favorite sites or equally amazing things in Instapaper.

I drive to the library at 10 AM. It’s about a ten-minute drive; just enough to enjoy some music or listen to one of my favorite podcasts. It’s beautiful outside. Springtime. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and infinite, and the clouds are fluffy. The roads are mostly quiet, as the morning rush has ended. It’s been an amazing day, and it’s only 10 AM.

I take my usual cubicle in the library, in the corner by the window. I’m surrounded by books and people in pursuit of knowledge. I power up my Mac and work on my thesis, fifty minutes at a time. I take breaks, stand up, and stretch. It feels good to put my head down and power through the work. I keep adding words and pages. I feel like I’m making it better, and I feel like I’m getting better in the process.

I feel like I’m working toward where I want to be.

Around 1 PM, I stop working on my thesis — even if I want to keep going. I make a note of where to start tomorrow. I preserve the momentum. Then, I write something for this website, which I love to do. I take an idea I’ve been formulating, and allow it to become manifest. It’s a reward for typing about Middle English lyrics for the last three hours. The words seem to come easier, writing about things I love. I finish the draft. It’ll be reread and revised later on before being queued for publication. I feel accomplished.

And it’s only 2 PM.

I go home for lunch, feeling exceptional. Guilt-free. Productive. Healthy. Confident. I can eat mindfully, without rushing. After, I leave for work on time, or work out, or relax, depending on the day. So much has already gotten done; everything else that happens today is just gravy.

Life feels remarkable.

The biggest challenge is going to bed early, because I do work until 9 PM some nights. But, I manage to be in bed around 10 PM. I either read, or treat myself to some Netflix on my iPhone. And I’m excited to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

The first night, I couldn’t fall asleep until 1 AM because I was still so energized from the day, starting with yoga that morning. I thought I would be exhausted all the time, but I’m not. It’s bizarre to say, but sleep feels like such a small part of my day. I used to stay up until three, four, five in the morning, messing around on the computer, playing on my iPad in bed. I can’t work on my thesis at home because it’s too comfortable. Too many distractions. Even writing for QLE was a challenge, especially if starting something from scratch. Then I’d sleep until I woke up, and lie in bed until I had to get up. And somehow, I’d still be tired.

Now, I just sleep to rest. To recharge for the next day. Sleep is a way of fast-forwarding to tomorrow and all the joys it’s sure to hold.

I can’t stress enough how important this change has been for me. I know it’s only been a short time since I’ve made the transition, and I’m still mindful of it every day. I don’t want to lose this routine or take it for granted. It will take many more of these days before it becomes habit.

I never thought I’d say it, but becoming an early riser is the best change I’ve made for myself this year. While I love being a night owl, it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t helping me grow or move forward. But now, it’s the exact opposite. Everything’s changed. I was stuck, and now I’m moving forward.

I was paralyzed, and now I’m free.

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On Forgetting Who You Are

I wrote yesterday about having different identities and struggling to decide which one deserves your time and attention.

There’s a canonical Merlin quote from Back to Work S1E01 about procrastination. It goes like this:

Procrastination is an effect, not a cause. [The cause is] when you temporarily forget who you are, or who you want to be. It’s when you forget what you’re supposed to be paying attention to, and when you lose confidence about what your options are for doing something about it.

Sometimes, our individual identities are so ingrained in our consciousness that we forget they need to be actively maintained. When I pig out on crap, it’s because I’ve momentarily forgotten that I want to be in badass paleolithic shape. When I don’t put some kind of work into this site on a given day, it’s because I’ve forgotten that I want to be a writer.

If I want to write for a living, then I need to consciously dedicate my time and attention every day to making that happen. I can’t just throw up a new blog post and forget about it. Achieving your dreams is not a passive pursuit. You can’t wait for someone to hand it to you. It takes diligent, consistent hard work, and it might take a long time.

I know who I want to be. I have visions of my not-so-distant-future life, and it’s pretty great. And, it’s totally achievable. But, getting there requires focus. It’s not going to happen automatically if I just wait long enough.

We need to take control of our days. We need to ask ourselves each morning, “What can I do today that’s going to help me get to where I want to be?” And then do it. At the end of the day, we’ll be that much closer to whatever it is we want.

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If I Were a Pie Chart...

I'm pretty sure I have multiple personality disorder.

Not in a clinical way, but in a "Who the hell am I?" sort of way.

If you were to graphically represent Andrew Marvin in a pie chart, it might look something like this:

Obviously there's more to me than those seven labels, but those are the major identities that come to mind. All of them contribute to and define my larger identity: Andrew Marvin, the Person.

I love all of my sub-identities, and I want to get better and be great at all of them. The problem is that, generally speaking, I can't be all of them at once. Regrettably, I can't play my bass while I'm teaching a karate class. I can't write while I'm fiddling with TextExpander snippets. I can't work on omitting needless things while I'm doing research about Middle English lyric poetry. Alas.

I feel like I could conceivably dedicate my entire being to just one of those identities. For example, I could decide that I'm going to dedicate my entire life to being a martial artist. I could drive to the dojo and work out for three hours every morning, and then I could teach classes every night. That could be Andrew Marvin in his entirety. And I would probably get really great at being a martial artist.

But, if I did choose to do that, then all of my other identities would atrophy. I wouldn't get to write. I wouldn't get to play music. I wouldn't get to read about Apple and download new text editors. All of these are things I love to do. How can I willingly give them up?

Do I want to be great at one thing, or do I want to be pretty good at seven things?

Perhaps being able to say, "I am a [blank]" is largely dependent on your job. "I am a construction worker." "I am a lawyer." "I am a student."

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that having a job means you have no other hobbies or skills. An accountant might be an accountant from 9–5, but she undoubtedly has other interests beyond that. Still, an accountant can confidently say, "I am an accountant" because, at the very least, that's what she gets paid to do for eight hours a day. She might also be a mom, cyclist, and underwater basket weaver. But, accounting pays the bills, so maybe that's how she identifies herself.

But what about when you don't have income attached to any of your identities? Then how do you decide which one gets your time and attention? I guess the one that you like the most? The one that has the greatest likelihood of eventually leading to income? Some balance of the two?

The reason for this nonsensical article is that I sometimes have trouble deciding what to do with myself. That is, who I want to be today. Take yesterday, for instance. A beautiful 75 degree day.

It's gorgeous out; I should do sprints.

It's my day off; I should work on my thesis.

I need an apartment; I should look for a big boy job.

I don't want a big boy job; I should work on QLE.

So many shoulds, so little time.

What am I doing? Who the hell am I?

Which version of me do I want to be today?

Some days, I don't know.

More tomorrow.

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The Influence of Unicorns

Randy Murray offers some tough love about the influence of unicorns:

You may feel that you deserve that terrific job, starring role, the recognition of your greatness, but no one is going to hand it to you. You have to ask for it. You have to work for it, earn it. You may have to recruit all of your friends and family and everyone you know to get you in front of the right person. Your simple virtues won’t lead them to you to lay their head in your lap and surrender.

On Being Almost Done

I had a meeting with my advisor (Hi, Dr. McBrine.) to discuss my thesis, which you may or may not know is on Middle English lyric poetry. At the time, I had sent him about 35 pages of solid criticism — the bulk of a fifty-page master’s thesis. The consensus was that the work I had done so far was very good. After months of reading, researching, and writing, such positive feedback was music to my ears. The hard part, my advisor declared, was over. All that was left to do was write my introduction and conclusion and tie it all together. I was almost done.

That was a month ago.

One month later, I’m still almost done, but I’m not any closer to actually being done than I was before the holidays.

I am paralyzed on the brink of achievement.

In some ways, it doesn’t make any sense. Just finish the damn thing! But, unfortunately, procrastination is persistent. There are a couple of reasons why I’ve failed to make any progress as of late. The first is that those initial 35 pages were hard work, and I clearly interpreted advisor’s generous feedback as, “Great job. You deserve a break.” Wrong, of course, but I’m only human.

The second and bigger reason is the concept of “almost done” itself.

Being almost done is exciting, but it also makes it much easier to come up with excuses for not finishing. “I’m almost done!” becomes “Eh, it’s almost done… I can finish it anytime.” Any time that’s not now, of course.

The brink of achievement is a precarious place. On one hand, most of the stress is gone. The hard part’s over. What once was an intimidating behemoth is now just a handful of leftover pages that need to be written. But on the other hand, less stress also means less motivation. In my case, having an entire thesis hanging over my head was excruciating. It drove me to power through in hopes of removing that pressure. Being almost done, however, means that my thesis is no longer a big deal. I’m not worried about it. Because it’s almost done.


That “almost” is a killer. It’s a splinter in the back of my mind. A much smaller splinter than it once was, but a splinter all the same. My thesis is still there, waiting to be finished off. And so it shall.

The only way out is through.

Obviously, I have no intention of going through life with an almost done thesis on Middle English lyric poetry in my back pocket. The time has come to finish the job.


Discipline and perspective.

I’m writing this Wednesday night, so my Thursday is reserved free and clear. Time to dig in. Fifty minutes on, ten minutes off. Repeat until lunchtime. Then hit it again until yoga. I recommend the BreakTime app.

What’s even more important is to think of the thesis — or any horrifying task — not as a To-Do, but as what Merlin Mann calls a To-Have-Done. That is, think not about how much it’s going to hurt to do the thing, but rather about how good it’s going to feel when it’s done. That shift in thinking makes it much easier to get started. Or get finished, as it were.

I’m not looking forward to working on my thesis for six or eight hours, but I am looking forward to being six or eight hours closer to done at the end of the day.

It’s time to own this thing. Soon it’ll be just a memory, and I can’t think of anything sweeter.

Regarding Your Quest for Passivity

Chris Guillebeau wants to teach you how to put off making decisions about your life:

Always remember: there’s plenty of time. No one ever dies young or unprepared. Ignore the 1,440 minutes available to you today, the changing of the seasons, the nagging sense that you could have done something more if you had made the effort. Don’t worry about the days flying by that you’ll never see again.


I’ve been writing this site for 51 days now. It’s been an awesome and very fulfilling project, even though I haven’t told anyone about it. Now that the time has come to reveal it to the entire internet, I’ll admit that I’m a little nervous about doing so. I feel afraid, but it’s a fear that’s also strangely familiar.

You see, while I’ve only been writing the site for a couple of months, I had the idea years before that. At the time, I was working in an office and just starting my master’s program. While I found most aspects of office life utterly soul-crushing, my time in the cubicle did help me realize two important things.

The first was that I hated the routine of waking up early, driving to the same building, sitting for eight hours, and then driving back home to sleep and repeat. Every day. I found it exhausting and depressing. Some people don’t mind the routine, and some have decided to accept it, but for better or worse, after two years, I decided it just wasn’t me.

The second thing I learned was that there are amazing people on the internet. Brilliant writers and designers and programmers. People who make great things and are passionate about doing so. You might call them artists.

And as I sat in that cubicle with my almost-two very expensive English degrees, and nothing but a terrifying job market waiting outside, I thought, “Hmm. I’d really like to do something like that. To be one of those people.”

While these thoughts were taking shape, I was coerced into giving a presentation at my university’s Student Leadership Retreat. I wasn’t keen on the idea, because I knew little about how to fill out payment request forms, or what goes into drafting a constitution for your club or organization. Fortunately, plenty of other people did. I, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what I had to offer.

Since personal development was one of the presentation categories, I decided to create and give a talk called “Simple Happiness”, which was about using simplicity and minimalism to lead a calmer, more productive, and happier life as a college student. To my surprise, it was very well-received, and I got several generous reviews from students and faculty. I was even asked to give the presentation twice more: once for the Honors College, and again at the following year’s Leadership Retreat.

The success of my presentation indicated that there was a market for this type of discussion, and while minimalism blogs were a dime-a-dozen at the time, I thought I might have some worthwhile things to say if I ever had my own website. The more I thought about it, the more grandiose the daydreams became, and the more excited I got about the idea. But the problem was, it was just an idea. An idea that remained a daydream month after month.

The barrier, of course, was fear. Fear of starting something new. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of change, really. I was comfortable with my amazing dream website, and all the groundbreaking articles I would write, and the impressive readership I would amass… someday. Dreaming about it was fun and exciting, and it was safe.

To make an increasingly long story shorter, I dreamed about it until July of this year. I had been “designing” (read: fiddling with) a page for a few weeks, thinking, “As soon as I find the right colors, I’ll start writing.” Or the right font. Or the right column width. Or the right name. Obviously, that’s no way to get any real work done, so I finally decided, quite spontaneously, to write one tiny little post and click submit.

Nothing bad happened.

Nothing really happened at all, other than some words appearing on the page. And I found myself thinking, “That actually doesn’t look terrible… Maybe I’ll post something else.”

Coincidentally, on a then-recent episode of Back to Work, Merlin Mann advised anyone thinking about starting a website to do it privately for thirty days. Post something every day, but don’t show it to anybody. That way, you can see if it’s really something you want to do. So, starting that day, I did, and it was great. I loved it. I still do.

All that daydreaming and fear of starting was a barrier, which caused me to procrastinate and not move any closer to my goal. I finally broke through it, and now, 51 days later, a similar situation is presenting itself.

For the past two months, I’ve been writing consistently and loving it. You know how they say, “Dance like nobody’s watching”? Well, I’ve been writing like nobody’s reading. And let me tell you: it works! I actually have a website now, and there’s actually a lot of pretty good, not terrible stuff on it. But just as I couldn’t daydream forever, I can’t write in secret forever. Not with the dreams I have of becoming a full-time independent writer.

So, like every movie when the second-in-command guy pressures the President to make the controversial next move, the time has come! “We must launch.”

As I’m sure to find out, nothing bad is going to happen. One day people won’t know about the site, and the next day they will. One of the great things about writing privately for thirty days is that I know I can do this regardless of whether or not anyone’s reading. Sure, now I’m going to be vulnerable to criticism, but that’s the only way to get better. What’s the worst thing that could happen? If no one decides to read, then I’m no worse off than I was for the past two months. If a bunch of people decide to read, and they all hate it and think I’m an idiot, well… alright then. I’ll try to fix it. They can’t eat me.

In any case, when it comes to barriers, the best way out is through.

The next 51 days start in 3… 2… 1…


(Or, How Math Homework Can Teach You to Not Worry About Yesterday)

When I was little, I hated getting in trouble.

Being a nerd when you’re 24 is cool; being a nerd when you’re 11? Not so much. But a nerd I was, and so I was mostly well-behaved, studious, and terrified of rule breaking. Not of other kids breaking rules, but the thought of personally getting in trouble made my little pre-pubescent heart palpitate.

One night, when I was in sixth grade, I didn’t do my math homework. Well, I wrote down the numbers to the problems, and stared at the paper for a little while, and then scrawled a big question mark next to the problem to fill up some of the very blank page. Unfortunately, question marks weren’t considered acceptable. When my teacher checked my homework the next day, despite my stammering attempts to explain, all I got was a smug “Boo-hoo. Sign the book,” in her elderly southern drawl. The book, as in, The Detention Book.

Needless to say, I was a wreck for the rest of the day. Detention? I don’t even know what that means! What do I have to do? Where do I go? What are the procedures? How do I get home? How can I avoid mom and dad finding out about this? What the heck is a “late bus”?!

It’s funny, in retrospect, how much anxiety a little boy can experience just from having to stay an extra 45 minutes after school, but what can I say? I hated getting in trouble.

I still do, even as a post-pubescent. Fortunately, my last math assignment was over four years ago. Still, even a simple, “Sir, you can’t park here,” makes me flinch. I end up repeating the incident over and over again in my head, replaying it ad nauseum until enough time passes, and it fades from memory.

Fortunately, as an adult, I rarely find myself in trouble, and the occasional incident is far less debilitating than it was in the halls of John Wallace Middle School. What I’ve come to realize is there’s no point in worrying about things that have already happened. Repeating a mistake in your head over and over again rectifies nothing. It only causes you to experience the same unpleasant emotional response you felt at the time.

It sounds simplistic to say you should learn from your mistakes, but that’s really all you can do about them once they’ve been made. I should have done my homework. Oh, well. Can’t do anything about it now — except prevent it from happening again.

Dwelling on the past beyond any meaningful reflection is a waste of time.

That’s not to say it isn’t hard to do, but sometimes you need to ask yourself what you’re gaining from allowing a thought to take up residence in your head. What purpose does this thought serve? Is it healthy for me to continue to think about this thing I can’t do anything about?

Maybe the answer is yes. Maybe it’s taking a long time to figure out exactly what happened and how to learn from it. That’s okay. But anguishing over things you can’t change, and things that, in thirteen years, might not be such a big deal, isn’t productive. In fact, it can be counterproductive if it prevents you from moving forward. It’s another form of paralysis generated by the mind. Fortunately, that means it’s also something you can control.

Everett Bogue puts it splendidly:

Spending one moment more than necessary worrying about what I should have done yesterday is a moment that I’m not spending now taking concrete actions that are necessary in order to achieve what I need now.

Don’t worry about yesterday. Do your homework, and soldier on.

On Paralysis, Starting, & Cookies

Richard J. Anderson, of Sanspoint, on developing a superego:

All it takes, one thinks, is one misstep, one moment of weakness, and you’ll have to start over from scratch–so why even bother? In other words: fear of imperfection leads to paralysis. The expectation of perfection is, in many ways, a built in escape clause.

This is a huge point. Regardless of what self-imposed challenge you’re currently undertaking — diet, exercise, changing a habit — you cannot let the fear of imperfection prevent you from ever accomplishing anything.

Richard uses the perfect word here: paralysis. I had the idea for this website more than two years ago, and yet I could never bring myself to actually start the damn thing. I second-guessed myself so often — “Who would possibly care what I have to say?” “Do I even have anything to say?” “Why don’t I just leave it to someone else? Someone smarter.” — to the point where I was almost content with daydreaming about what my website could be rather than actually realizing it. Imagining the site was exciting, but if I started it and failed, I would only have disappointment to show for it.

Richard quotes Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution:

Oftentimes people strive to be perfect just so they can “fail” and give up.

Most of the time, perfection is unattainable. After years of excuses, I finally told myself there would be no “perfect” time to start a website. If you spend all your time waiting for the perfect opportunity to try something new, you’ll probably be waiting a very long time.

Fear — both of failure and success — is a paralyzing force. If you remain paralyzed, you won’t fail, but you also won’t succeed. Starting is the hardest part. For me, it was one tiny little link post. That’s it. Just a block quote and barely a sentence of commentary. But it was enough to get me started, and the second post came much easier.

Once you’ve started, of course, you will have missteps. Richard has a great way of looking at these setbacks:

The path is always there. You can step off the path, you can go miles off, get hopelessly lost, and wander barefoot in the desert for forty years, but the path will remain, and you can always find your way back.

Again, this is essential, and it’s a comforting perspective that will help you sum up the courage to begin.

When people try to change their diet and eat healthy, and they accidentally eat a cookie at 10am, they think, “Damn. Welp, the day is shot. I’ll just start again tomorrow.”, which results in a day of junk food. There are two points here. The first is, yes, you can start again tomorrow. But starting over tomorrow everyday is not a path to success. The second point, and the better perspective to have, in my opinion, is that one cookie is not as bad as two, which aren’t as bad as three. This isn’t an excuse to have two cookies. Rather, if you step off the path, as Richard says, it’s important to recognize it immediately and step back on as soon as you can. It’s better to have one cookie than to eat an entire pizza for dinner. One unhealthy bite is better than one unhealthy meal.

Striving for perfection is a good way to go insane. Mark Sisson calls this the 80/20 Rule. The idea is that if you’re reaching your goals 80% of the time, you’re doing pretty damn well.

Even though 100% compliance isn’t the exact everyday expectation, 100% commitment is the intention.

In whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you can’t be perfect all of the time. Missteps will happen. But if your commitment is strong, and you keep everything in perspective, it will be significantly easier to recognize that pesky 20% when it happens. You can always step back on the path; the key is, after that bite of cookie, are you going to do it tomorrow, or right now?