I’ll bet almost anything that you define success incorrectly.
Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. Today, here and now, in our world of internet and TV and McDonald’s and the Jonas Brothers and that Cling Wrap shit, it’s hard to figure out when you have it right because everyone is always shouting at you about how you have it wrong. This isn’t a conspiracy; it’s human nature. And it’s marketing. I mean, look at me: I’m telling you that you have it wrong too. You big fuck-up.
But here’s the thing: I can almost guarantee you that what you think would make you successful or happy or complete or rich or whatever isn’t what you really want. I’ll bet you’re shooting for the wrong goal.
Let me step back a bit.
I was talking to Lee Stranahan the other day (I did an interview with Lee for a series that includes Seth Godin – check it out!), and Lee has this thing about UN. Not the United Nation, but UN as in the prefix, as in “not” or “different.” As in UN-marketing and UN-schooling. And also as in UN-assisted birth, which he and his wife are into but which he’s not going to convince my wife about, ever.
And Lee and I, we share a lot of the same beliefs about freedom and about what you could, I guess, call UN-jobbing, or getting people out of the 9-5 pressure cooker and into something they love. Lee wanted to partner up on something where we’d create a program to get people out of their jobs and into their own thing in six or twelve months or whatever, but I resisted.
Because I’m like, “People are going to fuck it up. And then they’ll quit their jobs on some half-assed dream and then they’ll lose their house and be all miserable.”
See, I have this whole thing where I try to tell the truth about how — let’s be honest — not everyone is going to make a go of their big dream. A lot of people are going to fail. A lot of people are going to fail repeatedly, in fact. So to promise to get them out of a job in a certain period of time is going to be an issue for me.
But then it dawned on me: This unjobbing thing isn’t really about getting people out of their jobs, or about teaching them how to start a business that makes X dollars per month so that they can replace their income. It’s about getting them into the life they want. We sort of assume that the way to get there is to find a new source of money, then quit the job, then keep on truckin’ to Shangri-La. But there are other routes to meet a goal, and other ways to define success.
I’ll bet you think you want money. But really… do you? Do you want green slips of paper with photos of dead presidents on them the way you’d want an original Monet if you were a collector of impressionistic art? If you got a million dollars, would you make a special box for it so that you could display it? Would you iron that cash so that it looked its best, and admire it constantly?
Or would you spend it?
I know what you’re thinking, you bastard. You’d spend it. After slaving away for that million dollars — after all the blood and sweat and tears and striving for it daily as if your life depended on it — you’d just piss it away in exchange for other stuff. You finally got your million, and now you’re letting it go again.
So yeah, you didn’t really want the million. Too bad you sacrificed so much to get it.
Nobody wants money. Money sucks. People use the bathroom and don’t wash their hands and then pick their nose and then the cat barfs on the rug and some cat barf gets on their thumb and then they sow manure into their garden and then they grab a twenty out of their pocket and hand it to you.
If you’re shooting for money, stop it. Look at the real goal. Maybe it’s getting out of your job. Maybe that takes money and maybe it doesn’t, but at least be clear what you’re really after.
It’s like in the movie Office Space. Lawrence asks Peter what he’d do if he had a million dollars, and Peter tells him he’d do nothing. He’d just lie around all day and do nothing. And Lawrence says, “Hell, you don’t need a million dollars to do nothin, man. Look at my cousin. He’s broke, don’t do shit.”
See, Peter hates his job. He wants out, but thinks he needs a million dollars to do it, to sit around and not go to work and do nothing. But doing nothing is our default. It takes work and initiative to do something, but nothing happens automatically.
Tony Robbins tells this story about going to Fiji, and seeing Americans arrive on the island in awe, and they’ll say things like, “I want to live here. I’m going to work really hard to accelerate my retirement and make enough money that I can come back here and buy some land and live in Fiji year-round.” And the Fijians just look at them like, “Dude, why would you do that? Why not just drop your old life and stay here right now?”
We don’t even know what success, or happiness, or our ideal really is. We think it’s something outside of ourselves, and that if we want to be successful, we need to get what the “successful people” out there have.
Maybe you look at Brian Clark of Copyblogger and you think you’d like your blog to be as big as his. Really? Why? Maybe what you actually mean is that you want his lifestyle, but of course that’s a joke because I doubt you know him and have any idea what his lifestyle actually is like. Maybe he lives under a bridge. That may be the case, too, based on what Sonia says*, like, “Oh, Brian lives under a bridge with some hobos.”
I think Lee, who I mentioned earlier, is pretty damn successful. He writes for the Huffington Post. He conducted an interview with director Kevin Smith that Smith says is the best interview he’s ever given. He knows this long list of celebrities that he’s too humble to name-drop unless you weasel it out of him. He made a movie. Every day, he works at home, working with film and video, with his kids and wife around him, because they home school.
But Kevin Smith isn’t impressive to everyone. As pleased as Lee is to have that “success,” other people wouldn’t care about it. I met Blake Schwarzenbach from Jawbreaker once and exchanged a few emails with James Brogan of Samiam. You probably don’t care, but those are successes to me.
Success and happiness are relative. You can’t chase role models because their values are different from yours, and what is vital to you is meaningless to others. If you refuse to give yourself credit for achieving things that matter to you and won’t feel successful until you achieve things that matter to other people, you’re going to be one confused and unhappy motherfucker.
Me, I think I’m really successful. It’s not because I’ve started making a great income lately, because honestly, most of that went down the toilet thanks to my really terrible real estate investments. It’s because of what that income is starting to afford me, which is freedom from those hideous investments and peace of mind. And it’s because I have this great family, and because we’re all healthy, and because I do stuff I like every day.
But… dude. I could have gotten the exact same results — the same criteria by which I’m currently defining success — by moving to a small town in Nepal. If I picked up with my family and moved there with virtually no money and left everything here behind to rot, I’d have peace of mind. I’d have a great, healthy family. I could find something to do all day that I’d enjoy.
If that sounds like a ridiculous scenario, look at Baker from Man vs. Debt. He didn’t move to a hut in Nepal, but his family sold almost everything and travels the world. You’d think you need millions to do that, but that’s only the case if you’re holding on to a mortgage and attachments back at your home base. You can earn and earn and save and save with the hopes of one day traveling the world, or you can set your priorities straight and do it now.
So I was talking to Lee, and we’re discussing how ideas — especially big ideas — are like Stephen King’s definition of stories as things that already exist and need only to be unearthed. And it kind of occurs to us is that in our discussions, we’re beginning to unearth something very cool, that feels new and exciting to both of us. And maybe, what we should be working toward is a way to show people how to get what they really want, not how to do something objective and externally verifiable like quitting a job or making X per month.
That, I can do. That, WE can do. From where you are now. With the resources you have, the people you know, the situation you’re in, the connections you have. It’s a thing that’s just starting to be unearthed, but holy shit is it cool from what I can see already.
* May be a total libelous fabrication
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