“Why have I achieved nothing in my life?”
That question comes up often, in various ways, through various people, with various degrees of desperation.
I think I attract the question because I seem satisfied. I seem happy. I seem fulfilled.
So here’s this:
There is really only one reason for why you have achieved nothing in your life, despite all the gurus advice, online marketers’ lists, or Huffington Post inspirational tips:
You have the wrong definition of “nothing.”
I have a friend who spends an enormous amount of time on Instagram.
“I can’t believe how much she does that,” her parents say.
Then, later, she takes incredible photographs because her eye has been so well trained.
A mother, to me:
“I feel like I’m going nowhere with my writing. I have a 3-year old and a 5-year old at home who demand a lot of attention.”
“You are raising human beings right now! That is a freaking worthy cause!”
If you are reading this right now, I’m willing to bet you have absolutely no interest in achieving nothing with your life. When you define your “something,” though, you’ll find this is impossible.
You just need to define your something
A) QUIT TRYING TO “FIND YOUR PASSION”
“Passion is the quickest to develop and the quickest to fade.”
— Robert Sternberg
This is a real conversation I had with a friend:
Me: “Man, it must be nice to have always known where you were going in life”
Friend: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Well, let’s face it — you were always going to be an chemical engineer!”
Friend: “That’s not true at all. You didn’t know me when I was younger.”
Me: “Really?” (with a glimmer of hope)
Friend: “Oh yeah. I could have studied ANY discipline of engineering.”
Resisting the urge to punch him in the face, I nodded politely and backed away.
You have a friend just like this. The one who was always going to be XYZ and no matter what anyone said or did, they were headed only one way.
We all expect that sort of clarity. Common knowledge implies that one day, you will be walking down a dirt path lined with daisies when suddenly, a butterfly will cascade from the heavens and announce:
“YOU, JOHN, YOU WILL WELD THE LIKENESS OF BARNYARD ANIMALS FROM OLD CAR DOORS!”
“Of course!” John will say. “Thank God I’ve finally found my passion!”
The road to fulfillment is rarely so direct. Instead…
B) FOLLOW YOUR INTERESTS
“Follow your heart. Don’t follow what you’ve been told you’re supposed to do”
— J. Cole
Many people spend their whole lives participating in a career in which they have absolutely no interest.
That could be for any of these reasons:
- They said they’d do what they love “one day”
- They are making a sacrifice for another person
- They have no idea what they actually like (this happened to me)
- They feel they aren’t allowed to do what they really love.
This last one is most terrifying. Beat into compliance by their parents or teachers or society, thousands of students step down from the graduation stage and keep descending into debt, then disillusionment, this disappointment, then despair, then depression.
I don’t mean to be dramatic. It’s just scary how quickly the downhill spiral manifests.
One of my relatives is obsessed with music. He told me Ed Sheeran would break about 3 weeks before “Lego House.” He told me Passenger would spend some time in the sun right before the “Let Her Go,” started getting played everywhere. He will dig for hours through used vinyl records to find the ONE he doesn’t have.
“You could sell these finds!” we say.
“You should be a talent scout for labels!” we say.
“You can learn to play or write music yourself!” we say.
Then, on Monday through Friday, he drives 2.5 hours round trip to a job he hates where he makes too little. There is nothing wrong with that.
Except he hates it.
C) GIVE YOUR TALENTS TO OTHER PEOPLE FOR NO REASON
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
— Winston Churchill
Imagine something for me.
Pretend you are the only person in the world with bricks. You love bricks. The other people in the world have clay and wood and stone, but they don’t have bricks. They don’t want bricks. “What’s wrong with our houses?” they say.
What do you do?
You could try and sell it to them. You could create a PowerPoint which explains the 7 reasons bricks are better than stone. You could say you went to House Builders University, so you know these kind of things. You could talk about your extracurricular activities which somehow qualify you to be aware of how brick-building is the wave of the future.
Or, you could build them a brick house for free.
If you are following step B, this should be no problem. Doing what is in your interests will not tire you, it will rejuvenate you.
In life, you rarely get paid what you are doing. You get paid for what you have already done.
D) BE PATIENT
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
— Leo Tolstoy
Nick D’Alosio is the founder of an app called Summly. At the seasoned age of 17, he sold the app to Yahoo* for several million. It is because of Nick’s success, along with Zuckerberg and the others, that we now have teenagers asking questions like “Why have I achieved nothing?” before they complete puberty.
The young CEO of a software business is the new connected Hollywood producer.
You are young. It is okay to be young.
Follow step A as much as possible. Do that for as long as it takes. Good things come to those who wait. Great things come to those who are doing steps A,B, and C while they are waiting.
(See also my answer to: What life advice would you give a 17-year-old?)
* It’s also worth mentioning that Nick’s mother was involved with Yahoo’s board, Nick’s father was a well-known name in Mergers & Acquisitions, and at the time Summly was created, Yahoo and Marissa Meyer were desperately trying to recreate their brand as something young, hip people were interested in. Wouldn’t you know it? In walked a young, hip whiz kid with an app.
Nick worked very hard. He is very smart. But there is always more to the story.*
E) CONSTANTLY UPGRADE YOURSELF
“Habits don’t change in a day. But 1% improvement every day makes every habit work”
— James Altucher
Every single day, do 30 seconds more of what you love and 30 seconds less of what you hate.
No, you can’t change your life overnight. But you can change your life over nights and days of consistent upgrades.
Amazon started out selling only used books. And — get this — they planned on not making a single dollar of profit for 5 YEARS.
Instead — they upgraded the business operations day after day, not the results. When the Internet market crashed in 2000, they were one of the few dot-coms who survived. Now, they are outselling Walmart.
Amazon did what they did WELL as well as the possibly could. They got better and better and better. They weren’t going to rush.
When you expect your “something” to come all at once, you might be a one-hit wonder who burns brightly for a few moments before fizzling out.
When you upgrade your life, day after day after day after day, you get to be Amazon.
You get to take over the world.
The Unspoken Letter “F”
“There has to be a way out of this,” I muttered to myself at 6:00 P.M. one night.
I was in a soul-crushing technical writing job, reformatting 120-page manuals day after day after day. I knew there had to be an escape. I knew there had to be an answer.
I don’t know why you read this post. Maybe it’s because you’re looking for an exit from your current job. Maybe it’s because you have an artistic vision the world needs to see. Maybe you just want to do more of what you love every day.
Maybe you’re looking for an answer. I have one.
It’s so simple you’ll want to kick yourself.
It’s this: NEW IDEAS.
When I made ideas the priority, I got out of the terrible job. I started executing my artistic vision. I get to do more of what I love than what I hated by a LONG shot every single day.
It all started with an idea. And then another. And then another.
Finally, I captured my idea process in a book, which I’m giving away for free. The Ultimate Guide to Infinite Ideas.