Choose to be outstanding (or choose to continue to suck)

Earlier this year, I interviewed Copyblogger associate editor Jon Morrow for Question the Rules. At the closing of what became the best interview I have ever heard with anyone, anywhere, ever, Jon gave his parting advice for anyone looking to accomplish something with their lives.

He said:

When you decide what you want to do, don’t just figure out what it is and how to get there. Find out what the price of that thing is, and go ahead and commit to paying that price.

That’s pretty profound.

That single piece of advice holds the secret to getting almost anything you could ever want — provided you understand what it really means, and how it conveniently removes the word “can’t” from your vocabulary.

The story of my six pack

I hate to blame “getting a little older” for anything because it implies that we’re all victims of time, irreversibly destined to slide into frailty with nothing but loose skin where the best parts of our bodies used to be. But dammit if I couldn’t eat Oreos and college cafeteria food 24/7 ten years ago and have a ripped midsection, and dammit if broccoli doesn’t do me in nowadays. It was frustrating for a while that I couldn’t get my six pack back, but that was before I understood what Jon was saying.

I used to be pretty active in a weightlifting forum, full of guys who mainly wanted to get bigger and stronger. Then, one day, one of my online friends added some new photos to his profile. The guy looked like he was ready for a magazine cover, and he hadn’t leaned out at the expense of his muscle. He remained one of the strongest guys I knew, able to deadlift almost 600 pounds. AND he was my age, with two kids and a set of obligations similar to mine. Everyone wanted to know how he did it, and he gave us the answer.

He told us that he lifted weights 4-5 times a week using a long and meticulously laid-out workout (he had a spreadsheet with progressively increasing weights according to percentage of his max lift) and ran five miles on most of those days too. He did rope-jumping intervals a few times a week, and tons of pushups and situps every evening. He ate only lean protein, fruits, and vegetables and posted a spreadsheet he’d created to break down the macronutrient content of those meals. He recorded shit like “three macadamia nuts” and broke down what was in them. It went on and on; I’m forgetting plenty about his ridiculous routine.

Here’s the important point: After reading through what my buddy had posted, I knew how to get that six pack back. We all did. There was nothing genetically special about this guy. Any one of us could be big and ripped and strong.

But I read it once, read it twice. And then I said, “You know, I don’t think I want it badly enough.”

See, I like to spend a lot of time with my family. I like to work, to play Rock Band, to read. And I like chocolate. And bread. Not to excess, but I like it fine.

I decided that now that I knew the price of that six pack, I wasn’t interested in paying that price.

But note: It was a choice. It was a conscious decision to value some ways of spending my time, my food intake, and my mental and physical energy over others. And because it was a choice, I could no longer say I couldn’t do it. I was choosing not to do it.

I could have realigned my priorities to put that physique above food and activities I currently enjoyed, but I decided to leave those priorities where they were. With that choice, I was accepting a certain outcome — one I decided I was at least 80% of my ideal, and was something I was totally cool with.

Feel like a victim? Knock it off, asshole.

I can’t stand it when people whine that they can’t do this or that because of some arbitrary attribute or circumstance when there are people in the world like Jon, who can’t move from the neck down but would honestly probably find a way to play racquetball with me if I asked, and would probably win. Are there cases where a thing legitimately can’t be done? Sure. But is that the case most of the time? Absolutely not. The vast, vast majority of the time, it comes down to priorities. You’re choosing one thing over what you say you “can’t” have or do.

Jon said in that interview, about a price he decided to pay:

I’m living beside the ocean, but I work twelve hours a day on the computer. I’m practically a recluse. But the reason why I live this life is that I accepted that if I want to move as fast as I do online, then working that hard on the computer is the price. If I want to be successful, then I’m going to have to give up sleep; I’m going to have to give up friends; I’m going to have to give up loving relationships. The more of myself I pour into what I’m doing, the faster it’ll go. I’ve traded everything for what I do.

I know that a few of you are rebelling right now after reading that. Some of you are denying that that’s what it takes to be successful. Some of you are agreeing, but saying defensively, “That’s right, that’s the price. And I don’t want to give up everything.” Some of you agree with parts of both but the entirety of neither.

But ask yourself: If, given your circumstances, you had to “give up everything” to be successful, would you do it?

Yes? No?

The answer doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve made a choice.

Jon also paraphrased billionaire Felix Dennis, from his book How to Get Rich:

He said, “You have to be insane to want to be a billionaire, because you have to give up everything. Give up having kids that love you. Give up having spouses that love you. Give up having friends that love you. Give up having anyone that cares about you. Go ahead and commit to be alone and fighting your entire life. You want to be a billionaire? That’s how you do it.”

Jon wouldn’t pay that price. I wouldn’t pay that price. Maybe you wouldn’t pay that price, and maybe you wouldn’t even pay Jon’s price. That’s cool.

Just remember that what you have right now is a result of the price you have decided you’re willing to pay. If you want something more, you might be able to get it by sleeping a few hours less, eliminating your lunch break, or spending less time with your family. Some of those things, you might be willing to do. Some you may not.

It’s up to you. It’s all up to you.

Priorities: They’re not just for your Outlook calendar anymore

I think a lot of people fail to understand that most of what they say they can’t do is due to a choice. In some cases, it’s a big, obvious choice, and sometimes it’s more subtle. Consider this:

Perception: I can’t lose weight.

Reality: Certain foods are more important to you than losing that weight, and an extra hour of sleep is a higher priority than exercise.

Whatever choice you make is cool. If you don’t want to lose sleep and eat health food, nobody’s judging you. But for the love of God, stop saying that you can’t lose weight. You are choosing not to lose it.

I just read Chris Guillebeau’s new book The Art of Nonconformity, and Chris talks about a friend who “wished” she could travel like Chris does, but said she couldn’t afford the expense and time away from work. So here was her situation:

Perception: I can’t afford it.

Reality: Your current financial obligations, rent, mortgage, “stuff,” and whatever is a higher priority than travel.

Most “can’t” myths are easy to debunk. Ask yourself: If someone put a gun to your head and said, “Give me X amount of money or you die,” or “lose X amount of weight in a month or you die,” could you find a way to do it if it meant saving your life? You could make more money or find the time to exercise. You could borrow. You could steal. You could get liposuction. You could refuse to eat. Not all of those are great options, but they are options. Stop lying to yourself. If you could do it with a gun to your head, then you could do it now, too.

Sometimes I wonder if I could double my income. And so I consider the price.

If the price is better leverage and better systems and better effectiveness, then that’s a price I’m quite willing to pay. But if the price is to spend a lot more time working and to do so for an indefinite period of time, I don’t think I’d pay it. Freedom, family, and happiness are my highest values, and spending a bunch more time working conflicts with all of them. So if that’s the price, then I won’t be paying it. A doubled income isn’t important enough to me to pay that price.

If working long hours is the only way, I will choose not to make more money. I will choose to stay where I am.

People tell me lies all the time.

They tell me, I can’t quit my job, even if it’s killing me. I can’t take that trip, even if it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. I can’t buy that course, even if I know it’ll improve my business. I can’t. I can’t.

Bullshit. If you think you can’t do something, you either haven’t truly figured out the price of what you want, or you do know it and are unwilling to pay it. Your priorities are stacked such that what you think you want is a lower priority than what you actually want most day-to-day.

And again, this is all totally cool. If you want to be fat, be fat. If you want to be poor, be poor. If you want to be bored, be bored. Just make sure you actually look at those priorities and decide if things are stacked the way you really want them to be. If you truly, honestly, want donuts to be at a higher priority in your life than heart health, then knock yourself out. But don’t let it happen by default.

The next time something comes along that you want or desire or know it can help you, I’m here to say: Feel free to choose to not be or do or have that thing.

But please don’t fucking tell me you can’t do it.


  1. Kellie Craft says:

    Every time someone comes to me whining that they can’t do something, I just tell them bullshit. You have a choice and stop whining. Cowboy up or get off the damn horse.

    You slap people in the face with your articles – a much needed wake up call. You rock!

    • Johnny says:

      This reminds me of Jon Morrow saying that when he writes posts, he literally imagines that he’s bludgeoning the reader with a baseball bat.

  2. Michaela says:

    Love this! I tell people that everything in life is a trade-off. I constantly run into people that say that they want to be their own boss, but they’re not willing to trade-off extra time spent on this, not getting a weekly paycheck etc.

    Of course, many of those people don’t like me very much 😉 . I think more people are afraid of success than they are of failure. Because that would change their world and most people don’t like change.

  3. Yes, it’s all about choices, and we each get to make them whether with a gun to our head or not…

  4. Aaron Posehn says:

    I keep kicking myself that I didn’t find this blog sooner. I find that many blogs are generally good at producing good content most of the time, but I haven’t read one post from this site yet that I haven’t felt is at least verging on “seriously life-changing.” Great stuff!


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