Yet another gem from Gary Vee.
It was something he said in passing, talking about business and social media – It’s either you are on the offensive, going out there and conquering ground, or you are on the defensive, pulling back, trying to protect the little that you have, making excuses for why you can’t win.
And that is really a statement about life isn’t it? There are two options, two main ways of existing. It is either you are on the offensive or you are on the defensive. You are either conquering or being conquered, by life, by the unfair conditions, by other players, by your excuses.
It is the difference between those who get what they want and those who don’t. It is the difference between the warriors and the slaves. To get what you want, you have to fight for what you want. You can sit around waiting for an opportunity or you can go right ahead and create opportunity. You can be proactive, pushing your agenda, or you can be reactive, being at the whims of everyone else.
Too many times, we wait around for something to happen to us. We wait for the opportunity to fall in our lap, for the situation to resolve itself. We live as victims of our own lives. But we have the potential to be so much more.
It starts with the shift in mentality.
You have to move from the defensive to the offensive.
The key to possessing this supreme power is to assume the active mode in dealing with your fears. This means entering the very arenas you normally shy away from: making the very hard decisions you have been avoiding, confronting the people who are playing power games with you, thinking of yourself and what you need instead of pleasing others, making yourself change the direction of your life even though such a change is the very thing you dread. – 50 Cent & Robert Greene (The 50thLaw)
Sometimes things do fall in our laps. Sometimes we do get lucky. But…
Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Failure is not an option.
To be on the offensive means to be actively moving towards your goals. It means to do the work. It means making the product. It means building the platform. It means networking and connecting with the people. It means searching relentlessly for the job, and while doing so, doing everything you can to make a buck. If you can’t get the job, then you will be the job. It means being awake to the reality of the world and attacking it as it is.
To the warrior on the offensive, there is simply no excuse that will do. The problems are not problems, they are obstacles that will be removed, climbed over or dug under or chipped away. Either way, the only acceptable result is winning. You can let your problems stop you, or you can rise to be bigger than your problems. The choice is up to you.
They can take away your resources, they can take away your choices, they can frustrate you. But they cannot take your mind, or your will and resolve.
To be proactive, is to set a goal in mind, a vision, and act in direct relation to that. Steadily, consistently. It means to take initiative, by yourself, even when you are not prompted to. It means to start. It means to create. It means launching. It means drawing a line in the sand and planting your flag. It means claiming your territory.
It means being awake. It being keenly aware of opportunities. It means increasing the odds of your success with relentless effort. It means doing the things that will actually move the needle. It is going above and beyond the call of duty.
Not to say that you will succeed. You will make mistakes and you will fail. But you will correct them, and you will keep going.
Some mistakes will be made along the way, that is good. Because at least some decisions are being made along the way. And we’ll find the mistakes, and fix them. – Steve Jobs
Your efforts on the offensive will sometimes land you in hot water, you will run into brick walls and obstacles. You will push, and the world will push back. But if you keep on learning and pushing, soon the world will yield.
What’s the alternative?
Being on the defensive? Complaining about how hard things are? Being bitter about the way things are today and the state of the economy or the attention landscape? What good will that bring you except coddle your fragile ego?
There will be a time for being defensive. There is a time for everything under the sun. Sometimes you will be on the offensive, doing things and expanding your reach. Other times you will be on the defensive. But you can only defend when there is something to defend. Are you defending your empire, your home, the life you are creating or you defending your excuse?
The best defence is a good offense.
So, go on the offensive this week, and the week after that, and the week after that. Do something you have never done before. Take a bold step, put yourself out there, reach further than you have ever reached before. That is how you will get what you want.
What do you think about when you think of success? Something big right? Like buying that house or buying the car. Hitting that number in the account or starting that family. Maybe it is bagging that degree, or chilling on a yacht sipping mimosas. Perhaps you more inclined to having a successful career or business as your benchmark for success.
We work diligently towards the big moments, the time when all our work culminates in something tangible. We daydream of the championship moment, the winning second. We desire some pomp and ceremony, whether it is the celebratory party or the humble brag Instagram post.
And they are wonderful.
However, in between our beginnings and these moments of climax lie the long days and nights of work, of mis-steps, of dashed hopes, disappointments or just plain mundanity. We face the thankless work, and unexciting grind. In this vast swath of dirt, we also find some glittering gems, the small wins.
The big moments we crave, the ones that we look to and pin all our hopes on, they add up to a handful, a baker’s dozen at most compared to the vast ocean of the trickling sand of day to day life. And that is why we celebrate them so much. They are rare, they are hard won. They are huge, and they are wonderful, they come with the euphoric rush and make for incredibly Instagram-able moments.
But as soon as they come, they go. We rise high and then float back to earth and are off to the next thing.
But while we grind and work towards those moments, the process does come with some rewards. Cups of refreshing drink as we run the marathon if you will. Sometimes, success doesn’t look like pomp and celebration. Sometimes, success looks like progress.
It is in the slight differences between our ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics two months into consistently putting work at the gym. It is realizing you are now able to complete a task in half the time it used to take you. It is getting deeper into your craft and understanding it on an increasingly deeper level.
Success is not just the big moments, it is also the small wins. The ones we tend to discount because they are not marked with fireworks in the sky.
The small win encourages us. It lets us know that all the blood and sweat so far is not for naught. It reminds us to stay strong, it inspires us to take up more, and to tackle the areas we have slacked.
The small wins are worth paying attention to and celebrating, because life is not about the big break, it’s about the many tiny breaks that add up to something great over time.
Sometimes success even looks like failure.
Shekinah is now an award-winning artist, but she first burst into our collective consciousness when she came second place at Idols SA in 2012.
So, it’s not necessarily about the win or loss, it is about what you do with it. Sometimes failing can be the best thing, because it can have the seeds of your breakthrough. Many successful companies and products have their roots in failure. Twitter pivoted from a podcast subscription network called Odeo to what we know it as now. Tesla probably exists now from soil made fertile by Better Place’s failure.
Thomas Edison said that Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. In the same way success doesn’t always look the way we think success should look. Our focus must remain on doing the things that count, maintaining the action that increases the odds that we will get what we want.
If there is one thing I’ve come to see over the years of working and living is that generally, things tend to take longer than you think and certainly longer than you’d like. From small things like the design jobs I work on, to the bigger long-term projects, they can seem to drag on and on, and then life gets in the way and you lose focus.
To remain focused and consistent in the face of a seemingly unending struggle is sometimes a herculean task. But it is one that must be handled if you will succeed. Because that is part of the dip, that long chasm between desire and fulfillment. It is a battle, it is war.
There is a quote I often mention to my friends, that ‘the work belongs to you, but the results belong to God’. It is an admonishment and an exhortation to focus on what you control.
You can’t control when certain things will happen. You can’t control when that deal will come through, or if it will come through. All you can focus on is doing everything that is within your power – preparing, poking holes in your strategy and fixing them, making your case stronger, improving your art, improving your marketing and persuasion. You just have to do all you can, patiently waiting for your turn, ready for the moment Lady Luck smiles on you.
But where does the line fall between being patient and wasting time? It is a tough one for sure. Your being patient with your situation might mean that you are not being proactive enough or doing things that will move the needle forward towards your aims. But sometimes the right and hardest thing to do is nothing. Sometimes all you must do is wait and let the situation resolve itself, let the weather pass, let the opportunity present itself. Other times you must take initiative.
Whatever we choose, whatever the right action to be taken, it is important to remain vigilant. Because if you lose sight of what you are trying to achieve, if you begin to drift, you will soon enough find yourself caught off course and unawares. Be patient but stay vigilant on the goal.
There is the parable in the bible about the bridesmaids and the oil. The entire party is waiting on the groom and he takes forever to arrive. But eventually he does, and when he does, half the party has burned through their oil and can’t light their lamps. The other half were vigilant and better prepared with extra oil and were able to continue with lit lamps into the celebration because they remained goal focused even in the midst of a severely delayed plan.
And that is a form of persistence, not merely of action, but a keen presence of mind.
What do you do when you are blocked? When you are stopped, and all you can do is wait? What do you do when you are forced to take a break? When even though it’s all you want to do, you just can’t move forward yet? Do you give up and lose steam, or do you lean in and use this gift anyway?
Ryan Holiday shares Robert Greene’s distinction between alive time and dead time. The difference between the two is what you do with it. What do you do with your waiting time? Are you passive, letting your skills atrophy? Do you lose your momentum, or do you find some use for the time you have? Do you keep studying and honing the skills? Do you keep learning? Do you keep preparing, do you stay sharp?
Gary Vaynerchuk has the mantra of ‘Macro Patience, Micro Speed’, it is an incredible encapsulation of a deep-rooted truth, that in the long run, things just take time, that’s why you have to take the wide view, the macro view. But in the day to day, you have to act, you have to hustle, you have to be vigilant. You have to stay hungry and motivated.
That is the dichotomy, the paradox. To make haste, but slowly. To do all you can do today, and this year, but knowing that your dream might take months, or years or decades. In all that, you must play the time, you must keep on working towards the goal. It is a long-term commitment to perpetually being excellent in the short term. It is not easy, but it is necessary if you will get what you want.
Burnout is one of the most insidious and pernicious things that can happen to a creative. Most times, you don’t even see it coming. Especially if you are someone like me. Always eager to put body mind and soul on the line for the sake of design. Piling on work unscrupulously, systematically going against everything I have been writing about – essentialism and all that.
Sometimes I do it for the sheer masochistic pleasure, I like being busy, being caught up in many things at the same time. It does something for me. I also like being able to do the impossible, being able to pull rabbits out of hats. But at some point, it catches up. Usually around June, the halfway mark of the year. This is a pattern now, it’s not the first time I’ve complained about burn out in June. Maybe it being Gemini season also brings some complication to the table.
It starts with the irritation, the annoyance, the loss of perspective. For a time, I forget why I do what I do. I start to hate design. I start to lose interest in doing my best, I just want to do enough to get by. But in all that I still push, still winging, still pulling rabbits out of hats. Until I can’t. I’m talented, I’m experienced. I make it look easy, but it’s not.
Then the more serious symptoms show up. It gets harder and harder to get out of bed. It gets even harder staying awake. The smallest tasks drain all my energy. Doing the dishes, cleaning, making food, replying emails for 15 mins can send me back to bed for the rest of the day. I wake up and sit by my desk and look down into the creative well, and nothing. No spark of genius rises up to greet me. It is then I know I am utterly screwed. I have worked myself past the point of no return. There is nothing I can do but shut down.
So, shut down I have, I write this from an undisclosed location, stealing some time away from the world. For the first time in days, I feel a little bit clear. I reach down to the well, and there is something there, a bit of water, a bit of magical creative energy.
I broke my streak. I didn’t blog last week. I am hoping to be able to write two posts back to back this evening to make up for that. I really didn’t know what to write about last week. And I was exhausted and overwhelmed, it was hard to even marshal the strength to put two sentences together in any cohesive way.
I was going to write about the dip.
The Dip is a concept articulated by Seth Godin in his book by the same name. The Dip is that long chasm and space between the moment of excitement when you embark on a new journey/goal and the actual moment of fulfilment. It is easy to start, it is much harder to continue when you are smack in the middle and the initial rush has worn off and all you are left with is the freaking tedium of the grind.
The Dip is when you start off the year with the goal of blogging consistently, at least once a week for the whole year, and then you run into June feeling like you have run out of things to say.
There are two things to do in the dip. You can push through, or you can quit. And both are valid decisions. Winners know when to quit. In fact, winners are better at quitting than most people. The key is quitting the right things. The Dip provides you with the opportunity to really consider what you are doing and gauge its importance. Are you quitting because this thing is hard, or are you quitting because this thing was a mistake? And that is the kind of thing you have to wrestle with for yourself.
The Dip offers the opportunity to take a step back and catch our breath and gather our strength. The Dip is important because it separates the ‘men’ from the ‘boys’. It is the winnowing process that only leaves the truly committed and truly worthy standing. The Dip kills the competition and builds a moat of safety around what you do. If you use it well.
“Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment” – Seth Godin (The Dip)
So, I’m in a Dip right now. I know I want to keep writing, I know I want to keep creating. I feel like I should shake things up a bit, change the format, maybe write about other things. For a while, I have been feeling a bit over the whole personal development thing. Not personal development as a whole, just my consumption of content has sort of slowed. I feel more concerned with doing and action over contemplation and philosophizing. But that’s how I feel today, I know that can easily swing right back tomorrow.
But I’m in my Dip. I am resting, I am reconnecting. I turn 30 in a few days. It is a sacred week. I’m doing some reflecting over the past decade and looking towards the next. It will come to me, I’ll figure out what to do.
There’s an amazing analogy I read yesterday over at Farnam Street. It’s so good, I’ll just paste it here verbatim.
Imagine sitting on a commuter train and your stop is near the end of the line. If you were certain that you were on the right track, you wouldn’t get off simply because the train stopped from time to time. You know that stops are part of the journey. You can learn a lot from them, and eventually the train will start moving again. Yet when it comes to the goals that are most important to us in life, we tend to jump tracks the second we stop perceiving forward momentum. We’re choosing the illusion of progress over what really matters.
It is okay to be still, it’s part of the process of moving forward. I feel like I’m in a stop phase right now. A lot of my actions and planning over the past 18 months lead to this month. I’m still, waiting for the verdict, knowing that from this point, everything will probably change, things will fall off, things will be added, but whatever happens, I look forward to it because I’m pointed in the right direction. It’s just a matter of being patient. Stops are just as valid as frantic motion. Savor being still.
Here is the thing about life. You will fail. In the pursuit of what you want, you will fall many times. That is guaranteed. Fear it. Run from it. Failure comes all the same.
We are not perfect, no matter how much we may wish we were. We make mistakes, we drift off course, we betray ourselves. We fail in our actions and our inactions. In the heat of battle and the thick of the day-to-day, we grow weary, we lose strength, we begin to falter.
The initial euphoria of giving chase to our dream wears off, and all that remains is the tedium of the day to day, the dull thud of the process. Fear and doubt set in, and we find ourselves in a fog, lost in the woods of life.
Sometimes we give it a valiant effort. We do everything we can. We practice, we prepare, and we try. We hack and slash. But despite our best efforts, things just don’t go our way. Sometimes because we just weren’t good enough. Sometimes for no fault of our own. Sometimes, it feels like the universe conspires against us.
What do we do in those times? How do we respond to failure, to setbacks, to not getting our way? How do we respond to the inevitable fatigue that sets in during our quest for what we want? How do we stay strong? How do we endure?
How do we bounce back even stronger?
First we stop
“Sometimes it takes a good fall to know where we stand”
The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. We have to stop whatever we are doing. Stop thrashing about. Stop running the scripts and patterns in your mind. Stop and breathe. Admit you have failed. But know you are not a failure.
Stop regularly even before you get walloped by a big failure or setback. Failure often doesn’t just come in one fell swoop out of nowhere. The signs of impending failure are usually there if we know to look for them. The missed routine, the sloppy preparation, the work that keeps piling on to the point of overwhelm. They start off as benign and then quickly grow malignant.
If you stop regularly and pay attention, you can recognize that you are failing before things really break apart. Unfortunately, it usually takes a serious failure or hit to our ego for us to finally stop. But once it hits us, once we see that we have failed, it is time to take pause.
Then we re-evaluate
“If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.” – Zig Ziglar
This part is crucial. It is no use to rush over our failure, eager to get to our next attempt, desperate for success. But failure invites us to reconsider our goals, our plans, and our strategies. Failure is an opportunity to learn.
Look around you, look at what you have done, look at what has happened. Mull it over and try and pinpoint the place where you went wrong. Try to tease out the trigger. Did you get overwhelmed? Did you fail to address bad habits? Did you not take the time to rest properly? Did you simply lack knowledge or fail to give your efforts the energy they need?
Diagnosing and carrying out post-mortems on our failures is an extremely vital leaning tool. It can help us be better prepared on our next attempt. It can help us update our strategies.
However, do not get stuck here. It is fairly easy to turn this exercise into a compulsion. Turning a situation in your mind over and over again and being paralyzed by your analysis. The purpose of the reflection is to help you learn, adjust and ultimately improve your odds for success.
Then we re-connect
“Failure isn’t so bad if it doesn’t attack the heart. Success is all right if it doesn’t go to the head.” – John C. Maxwell
Failure is never nice. It hurts, it disappoints. It causes us to begin to doubt ourselves and our journey. Have enough failure, and eventually you would quit. In the pit of our despair, we can choose to give in to the pressure and let go. Or we can forge our will to succeed and keep on trucking.
To make this decision, we must remind ourselves why this matters, why this is important, why we have chosen this journey. We have to reinforce our sense of mission, our commitment to the cause. What excites us about our vision? What do we truly want to create? What would we like to see happen in the world, in our world?
Are our actions still aligned with our values? Is this road you are on leading you to what you want? Can we rise to this challenge and seek to conquer it? Or should we pull back and take another route? Do we abandon this quest all together for a better one?
We have to get back to our why. We have to reconnect to our sense of vision, our ambition, and our desire for what we want. This is our north star, and our decisions and actions must stem from it.
Then we press on
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Once we are reconnected with our dream and vision, we take up new energy. With our faith restored, and our souls refilled, we embark on our journey again. We are creative and productive again. We are pressing towards the goal.
If it is a goal worth pursuing, it will not be easy, but it will be a little bit easier because you have failed, and you have learned. Now you have the opportunity to do something different, to try again more creatively.
So, we work hard. We do what we know to do, while staying vigilant against the things we must avoid. Knowing that we will fail again, but we have the tools to bounce right back.
I asked this question on WhatsApp the other day, and I got back a few interesting answers from friends. Most people said something along the lines of they would sacrifice time, or energy to get what they want. To be honest, the first thing that popped into my head when I asked the question was…myself.
…I know right. I’ll explain just now, but let’s talk about desire and sacrifice for a bit.
So, this whole year, I’ve generally been writing on the theme of how to get what you want. The idea has been to share the concepts and lessons I’ve picked up from reading too much and thinking too much, so you don’t have to.
When I think about ‘what you want’, I think about the general drive to be successful and to acquire things. We all want to grow and achieve and climb. It is hardwired into our nature as human beings. We are driven by dissatisfaction and desire. And there are great things to want that are part of the human experience – success, education, money, relationships, family, safety, stability, etc.
But should you always get what you want though?
Desire is a tricky thing. How many times have we desired a thing, eventually gotten it and then realized we wanted the wrong thing. We strive for it, get it and tragically realize that we were worse off. Sometimes not getting what you want is the better outcome. Sometimes for what you avoid in not getting it, sometimes for the person you become or the perspective you gain from not getting it.
It might seem the better strategy, to want things, and to focus on achieving them while being completely open to the universe bringing things of the highest good to you. Things that you may not be able to imagine right now.
What you want is a reflection of what you value, and what you value is a reflection of who you are and what you believe. And you are probably not that great, so you can’t want properly.
But let’s assume your desire is valid and noble. What are you willing to sacrifice what to get what you want? That is the question that tests the strength of your desire and willingness to do whatever it takes.
For every move upwards and onwards, two things usually happen in tandem. We must gain something – a new skill, a new perspective, a new connection, a deepening sense of mastery, whatever. We must also lose something to move up, something that is keeping us anchored to this level – a habit, a perspective, an emotional kneejerk reaction, an unresolved fear, trauma, a grudge, a fear, etc.
The gaining we sometimes find easy enough. It is the sacrifice that gets hard.
To move to the next level, and to get what you want, you have to cut away things that don’t serve you anymore. And that is the crux of sacrifice – giving up something you value, something you are attached to, to gain something of greater value or good.
Sacrifice is the release of attachment. There is the call to sacrifice when there is a need for a change in the status quo. And when this need arises, it is a sure sign that there is something, someone, a situation, a behaviour, a habit, a belief pattern, a mental model that does not serve you anymore. This thing that you are so attached to, this thing that may have brought you here, is also the reason you are stuck. It should not be there anymore. You must identify it and you must sacrifice it.
And it is painful. Sacrifice is violent, and bloody and fatal. Sacrifice means death.
But sacrifice is powerful. It is an explosive release of power, and as an archetypal idea, it is the idea of submitting something of great value to the highest ideal.
But sacrifice must be done with skill. A half-hearted sacrifice is no better than no sacrifice at all. That is why in the bible, Abel sacrificed correctly, and Cain didn’t.
If you will sacrifice, you must come correct. The higher the value of the thing you sacrifice, the more power you release.
And what greater thing to sacrifice than the self.
The self is our biggest source of agency and our biggest stumbling block. It is the self that holds desire and strives towards them. It is also the self that holds on to patterns and habits and behaviours that keep us trapped and stagnant.
And so, to sacrifice something of greatest value we must go within. You go looking for the chaos dragon, for the shadow, the sacrificial lamb. You do deep self-introspection to realise that if you want something, if you are to achieve it and hold it, you must give up something of yourself. You must let go of an attachment.
It could be as innocuous as hitting the snooze button or as life threatening as shooting up drugs. It could be a relationship or interaction that does add some value to you while crippling you in fundamental ways. Many times, it is precisely the thing we don’t want to address.
Brian Tracy in an article about life-long learning makes the following claim.
The weakest key skill sets the height of your results and the height of your income. You can be excellent in a variety of areas, but the one essential area where you are the weakest, determines how far and how fast you move upward and onward.
Your breakthrough, your potential for explosive growth is precisely in the place you have refused to look. It is the place you have allowed yourself to be the weakest. That is the place your sacrifice is. The thing we refuse to address is where the key to what we desire is hidden.
And so there we must go, we must descend into the depths. Sometimes to the very foundation of our thoughts and emotions. Sometimes the thing we must sacrifice is ourselves, the things we have built our identity on, the perception we hold of the world, the perception we hold of ourselves, the self-doubt, the fear, the comfort, the limiting beliefs, the grudge, the hate.
To get better, we must become better, and that means continual perpetual skilful self-sacrifice.