It is a strange thing. Most people want to win – move forward to the next level and do more with their lives, reach their potential. But they want to do it while keeping everything in their lives exactly the way it is now.
As humans, we naturally resist change. Even with compelling evidence and impending doom, inertia keeps us stuck. We would rather maintain the status quo, we would rather hope that things stay stable and the sand doesn’t shift beneath our feet. We see this trait every time our favorite social platform or app changes its design, or every time a known brand changes its logo. Half the time there is outrage and hot takes from people who absolutely know they would have done better.
But, if you desire and expect different results, you cannot keep doing the same things. That is the definition of insanity. If you want to reach your potential, whatever that is, it means you have acknowledged that you can be and do more than you are doing right now. Which means that you would like your results and experience to change. But things do not magically change. There will be no outside force, move of God, magical unicorn rainbow that will come and do it for you…at least not in the way that you will like. If you want change, YOU have to change.
Change precedes change.
And that is the hard work. Changing on the inside first. Changing our minds, the way we think, the way we perceive and interpret the things that happen around and to us, the way we react, the way we act.
Our present results are a consequence of our past choices. To get new results in the future, we need to make new choices now. You don’t have money because you choose the pleasure of watching movies and playing video games over the pain of hard work and hustle. You are not fulfilled because you choose that cushy comfortable job over the uncertainty of incorporating purpose and meaning into your life and career. You don’t have the body you want because you choose to eat haphazardly and never exercise.
Sure, you have valid excuses. You are too busy, you have too many people dependent on you. You don’t believe in yourself. Your friends don’t support you. Your family doesn’t understand. All valid excuses, but you have still made the choice to let those excuses stop you instead of using them to fuel you.
The person who grows the fastest and goes the furthest is the person that embraces change the most. Even the act of walking forward is an exercise in change. Every step takes you to a position you were not in before. You literally change position.
And even if you don’t want to change. Even if you resist it all and try to keep everything the same, that is a fool’s errand. Because life itself is change. You can’t resist time. Things WILL change, you WILL change. You will grow older, your body will change, the people around you will change, the world around you will change, technology will change. A lot of things will stay the same sure, eternal principles and all that, but most of it will change.
Change is not a thing to be resisted. It is a thing to be considered and embraced because it is inevitable.
To embrace change and harness it towards reaching your potential, you have to have a fluid sense of self. You have to have a growth mindset. You have to be able to update your identity. It is an understanding that you don’t have to be what you have always been, and that it is never too late to be who you might have been.
That means you don’t have to be lazy anymore. You don’t have to be anxious. You don’t have to repeat your self-destructive patterns. You don’t have to be unhealthy. You don’t have to be a novice. You can learn. You can grow. You can adapt and change.
Once you embrace that fact, truly embrace it. The doors begin to open for you.
It is funny, remember how much outrage is spewed when the platform changes its UI, or when that brand changes its logo. All that dissipates within a week. People get mad, and then get over it and months down the line, they don’t even remember the previous design.
Same with you. There is the initial noise of change. You do new things. You try new things. You fail. But you learn. You stumble, but you persist. Until one day, the things that were hard are now easy. You have shed your old skin and grown a new one. You hardly even remember the person you used to be.
And what’s more, you have new results. Your account is fatter, your experiences are doper, your relationships are stronger, your body is snatched, you are more fulfilled and productive than ever. Your life has changed because you embraced the pain, because YOU changed.
This book was conceived, written and designed in 7 days.
I sat down last week to blog my thoughts on how you approach end of year reviews, and how to set and achieve goals in the new year. And as I started to put my thoughts together, I remembered a friend of mine – Mpumi had asked me a few times about how I went about strategically planning my year, specifically how you organize your life around the One Thing. She had read the book by the same name, and I had written about the book earlier in the year.
Fun fact, we have an almost hour-long interview we did together a while back talking about design, branding and personal development – here.
To be honest, the question threw me off. At first, I was just going to talk specifically on how I set goals and translate that to the day-to-day actions that would get me there. Now the scope was a little bigger. Taking into consideration the concept of the One Thing, I quickly realized I had to take a few steps back to accommodate the new ideas that spring from that one question. What is the One Thing, how do you find yours, and how do you orient yourself toward it? Why have a One Thing at all?
As I wrote, I found myself meandering, getting to page 4 without even scratching the surface. For context, I usually write about 2 – 3 pages per blog post. I had two options, continue the blog route and make a 4-5-part blog series, or just write all the pieces and make it into a book.
Hmmm. I released my first book in October. Could I really write two books in one year? Why not? It was a stretch but it was certainly doable. It could at the very least be a cool flex.
So, on this whim, I asked around, ‘what people would like to read, a series or a book?’ The book won by a margin of like 3:1. So here we are.
As I wrote and thought more about what I was trying to say in this book, it became apparent that I was really trying to write about the art of living intentionally. I believe the road to fulfillment – happiness, and success starts here. To be successful, you have to be able to set a north star and move towards it consistently. But how do you define your One Thing, and how do you connect the dots backwards to your day-to-day life?
This book is an attempt to answer these questions.
Personally, I’m a lazy artist. I want the biggest bang for my buck. I want to do the absolute minimum and still make an impact. That’s why I love Jean Michel Basquiat. His work is proof that you can paint with the proficiency of a 5-year old, and still make a statement worth listening to. Also, doesn’t he look like what would emerge if Kid Cudi and The Weeknd did the fusion dance?
Basquiat was an incredibly gifted artist, cut short in his prime (he died at 27) and namechecked by rappers ever since. His work was distinctive, full of childlike youthful energy, irreverent, and seemingly nonsensical, but also revealing a profound knowledge and respect of art, its history and social commentary. In 1980s New York, an electric nexus of time and space, Basquiat emerged as an unlikely artistic force, rising as a black man, from the grimy streets, to global stardom.
He is the quintessential example of the artist who throws himself with reckless abandon into his work. Moving out of home for good as a teen, he spent most of his young adult life basically being a bum, surviving off money picked up in the streets, and immersing himself in the culture and the scene of the time, bouncing from place to place and party to party. His early creative efforts included cryptic haikus scribbled in graffiti under the moniker Samo scattered all over the city, as well as experimental live music with his band (none of them could actually play an instrument, but that was part of the appeal).
He is charming, talented with a keen air of innocence, and he befriends and eventually moves in with his sort-of-girlfriend, Suzan. At this point he had progressed from graffiti to full on painting at the insistence of another friend. Suzan worked and paid the bills, while he spent his time painting. And it is this one anecdote about his life that really earned my respect. Basquiat was too broke to afford canvasses, so he would salvage broken doors, windows, fridges, scraps of paper, tins, anything with a surface he could paint on. He didn’t wait to get proper canvases, or the right kind of paint or tools. He worked with whatever he could find.
If you really want to create, if you really want to do something. You just do it.
That is the crux of true creativity, its raw essence. The true artist doesn’t allow a lack of resources to become an insurmountable obstacle. In fact, we are drawn to such art-forms, pieces made with the scrappiest, bare essentials, because through all the limitations, and perhaps, even because of then, we can see the passion shine through, we can see the potential. We see a brave artist battling against his restrictions, turning his obstacles into stepping stones that pave his way. Basquiat has nowhere to paint, so he turns an abandoned fridge into a priceless work of art.
This same energy you have to bring to your life and to your work. If you have ambition, a burning desire to create something that resonates, that has impact, if you want to devote your life to the mastery of a skill or an artform, or a career, you start where you are, you work with what you have.
Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can
The biggest companies on the planet right now all started small. The origins of the slick phone you’re reading this on now can be found in a dinky garage decades ago with a bunch of nerds, hippies, and a couple pieces of hand-assembled circuit boards. Facebook the almost omnipresent behemoth it is now, started in a dorm room. The colossus that is Amazon started in a garage with doors as its first desks, Jeff Bezos packing books with his team to fulfil customer orders. The first Star Wars movie was produced with a shoe string budget and a lot of DIY.
Our problem too often is that we want perfection right out the gate, before we have earned it, and we want to do it with the absolute best tools. We think we need the light ring and DSLR camera before we start the youtube channel, the best mic and mixers before we start the podcast. So we don’t start.
Or we are insecure in our creative ability, and so hide behind our lack of tools. Sure, the right tools do help, but it is the artist that precedes the tools. A writer who knows what he is doing will do a lot more damage with an ordinary pen than a talentless hack with a Mont Blanc. You cannot hide your lack of skill behind expensive tools, but you can use the lack of tools as an excuse to procrastinate. You just have to begin. If you are really good, the world will respond, and better tools will present themselves to you.
Every master was once a disaster.
T Harv Eker
We all have to start from somewhere.
If you waited till everything was perfect and you had all the resources, you will be waiting forever. And even if you did get it – the perfect studio, the perfect lab, the right writing chair, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. At most, you would churn out works of stunning mediocrity. The tools don’t make the artist, the work makes the artist. The lack of tools is a gift. You get to work with the scrap, failing, prototyping, learning, crashing, rising up, drafting and tearing up, you need the grind, you need the work, because that is where you hone your skill. That is where you work around the obstacles, that is where you distil and learn the principles of your craft.
I started my design journey on dinky little Toshiba laptop (that was everything to me then by the way), a pirated copy of photoshop, and a design magazine. Now, I type this to you from a MacBook Pro. But it was all the work I designed on that first Toshiba, and then a PC, and then this sexy huge white Dell I had, that allowed me to finally get my first MacBook and then another one, and now, all the bells and whistles I need to create.
The obstacle is the way.
Creativity is just as much about limitations as it is about infinite exploration. The searching and playing around is an important part of the process. It is necessary to go far and wide in ideation. But it is the limitations – the brief, the deadline, the boundaries that really focus us and unleash the creative power to combine ideas, materials, colours to create something inventive, something remarkable.
With inventiveness and creativity, you can make the limitations you face a distinguishing feature in your work. Don’t have enough money for different colours? Limit your palette. Can’t make the special effects you really want? Hack it and let it have a DIY vibe to it. Whatever the obstacle is, use it to your advantage.
You don’t have to be fancy. You just have to begin. Even Basquiat started by painting on abandoned doors.
Every day, something new is created in the world. The effects of most of these – events, inventions, products, and new knowledge are linear. They build on top of what has been done before, what we know for sure is possible. They improve, they optimize, they make things slightly better. Then there are those events, inventions, and breakthroughs that are simply revolutionary. They spark an incredibly far reaching change in a relatively short period of time. They upend everything we understand and take for granted about the world and open up new possibilities.
To innovate is part of human nature. Forever restless and full of creative energy, we are always inventing. Major milestones in our history like the development of language, the written word, the concept of money, modern finance, the printing press, gunpowder, electricity, the steam engine, the electric bulb, the computer, the internet, the smartphone, and space travel did not just make our lives better, they radically transformed them.
I’ve been reading an incredible book lately – My Vision by Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum. It’s a book about the thematic ideas guiding the growth and development of the UAE and Dubai. I don’t pay enough attention to world politics and global trade, but between this book, talking to people, being home and looking at things with fresh ‘outsider’ eyes, I am inspired, and I have ideas. It is apparent, there is a clear way to development, growth and wealth creation on the African continent, if we can fix the underlying issues of leadership, unity, vision, commitment and political will.
Every great achievement or victory does not happen by accident. From the global stage to our personal lives, they happen as a result of an ambitious vision backed with real work ethic. Painstakingly, with great effort and perseverance, despite obstacles and set-backs, great heights can be attained. But it begins with vision, the ability to see the unseen, and to imagine what does not yet exist.
It is no easy task. It is much easier to match the status quo, to say, let us rise to this benchmark, the set standard. We have seen what an efficient company looks like, so let us imitate and build one like it. We know what functioning healthcare systems behave like, so let us create one just like it. And that certainly does work. A big part of personal growth is the idea of modelling winning behavior. Look for people who have what you want and model how they live. The problem with that, is that where you can go is capped by what has already been done.
The visionary studies the best solutions and thinking and then pushes them even further. The visionary stretches the imagination to create something never achieved before.
When you face a challenge that demands a solution or a decision, you have two choices – you can either emulate the example set by others, or use your own creativity and intelligence to formulate a new idea.
– Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (My Vision)
To rise from bottom in our lives and as a nation or a continent, we must reclaim the pioneering spirit. It is not enough to be like the greats, we have to go where no one has gone before. We have to be committed to doing more and going further. It can be as basic as being a pioneer for excellence in a surrounding sea of mediocrity. Or as boundary pushing as changing the game. Why settle for good enough, why not shoot to be the best? Why stop at building a great company, why not revolutionize the entire industry?
One way of thinking is incremental, the other is exponential.
If you want to lead, if you want to get ahead, then you must go even further, take the pioneering and creative approach. Break the rules, change the playing field.
Be an instigator.
Start something new. Let the world be different and better because of it. Even if it is just your neighborhood, or your company, or your class.
Be a pioneer.
Sure, you will be mocked, you will become a target. The pioneer disrupts the status quo. By her very existence, she throws shade on everyone else who is passive and subservient to the system. You will be misunderstood, you might even be accused of terrible things, of being foolish, reckless, or willingly seeking to harm or exploit people. But pioneer you must anyway.
First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.
– Nicholas Klein
It is easy to color in the lines, and do as you are told. Sit still, blend in, don’t ruffle feathers or stir up the pool. But pioneers, the ones who stoke the fire in their bellies are the ones who expand our understanding of what is possible. They end up building higher than we have ever seen and exploring depths we have never imagined. They expand our world.
But it takes huge vision, ambitious vision, crazy vision. And faith, faith that it is possible, faith that if we work hard at it, confident in its resolution, this project will take shape, this obstacle will fall, and a new era will dawn.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
– Rob Siltanen
We live in an exciting time. Sure, we have tremendous challenges, unsolved problems, deepening inequality, crises in climate, in economics, in politics, in finance, in development. All around the world. With these challenges also come tremendous opportunity, to think differently, and pioneer new paradigms. For the first time in history, we are connected to each other and to storehouses of knowledge at a bigger scale than ever before. It is the age of ideas, and it is our inspired ideas that will change our lives radically. If we do not become pioneers, we will fall even further behind.
If our sole goal is to attain the level others have reached, then we are setting our target too low…Do not fool yourselves into believing that we are moving forward when we are only keeping up with general trends, while the real opportunities are slipping away.
– Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (My Vision)
To be a pioneer means to embrace the unknown, to trust instinct and curiosity, to try over and over and fail, and try again. To embrace every obstacle not as an invitation to stop, but as a challenge to solve. To work harder than anyone else but driven by passion, by love and obsession. It is hard work, but it is worthy work.
Reclaiming the pioneer spirit means that you are not limited to solving problems you have seen before. But you can confidently face the future and tackle completely new and left-field scenarios because you have the mental toolkit and resources to meet the challenge and create transformational solutions.
And in case you thought it was the work of the lone ranger, the lone genius working in the basement, know that it is also born of community, of a shared belief and shared hope for a collective destiny. A pioneering group of people united will build the world of the future.
Whenever you come into contact with an immerse and impactful piece of work, the towering obelisk, the frescoes on the ceiling, the sculptures, the works of art, the architectural marvel, the music, films and books that draw us in deep into new and exotic locales, it is easy to be so impressed, so moved by these works that we are both inspired and intimidated. We feel the stirring within, that innate desire to go on and create our own masterpiece. We also feel the fear. How can we attempt such? How will we ever pull off creating something so great? Where would we even begin.
For each of us, the masterpiece is different. It could be picking up a new habit, or learning a new skill, or making something, an event, a painting, an EP, a book. But at its core, they are all the same. It is an undertaking that will demand time and effort.
We know that the road to getting things done is not without its twists, turns and difficulties. So, in our minds, to get started, we have to carve out this block of time. The perfect Saturday evening to sit down and work through our idea, and really get it going. We fantasize about the one perfect stretch of time and space that would arise to really work on it and get it done.
But things never happen that way, right? Life is just too unpredictable, and there is enough that pops up daily to stop us. A new project pops up, a family crisis arises that we have to handle. In that way, we keep plodding along, putting out our fires and getting busy with the business of living. At the back of our mind, the thought lingers, on the thing we need to be doing…
Even worse, let’s say things do go that way. You successfully carve out the time to work on that big idea or dream of yours, and what happens? You squander the time. You play around, you get distracted, you find an excuse. Making the time is one thing, doing the actual work is another.
There is a better way.
The idioms that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, and that the way to dispose of an elephant is to eat is one bite at a time offer the clue. When you stop looking at your project as this immense thing, and begin to understand that with consistent small actions, you can tackle it. You can hack your doubts to death with a thousand cuts and bring your work to life by a thousand strokes, applied over a long time.
Sure, creative work demands large stretches of time, to think and to tinker our ways to answers. But don’t let that metastasize into an excuse that stops you. Adopt the long-haul attitude also. Embrace the little time you can get. Maybe you can steal 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour or two here and there to work on this project that is so important to you. Take them. Work within those constraints.
10 minutes might be all you need to outline your project and note down some quick execution steps. Then when you get another bit of time, you can work on those first steps you outlined, and then the next steps and so on. The idea is to begin where you are, and work with what you’ve got.
This does a couple of things
When you work in spurts like this, you are able to savor the process more, and let creative ideas percolate and evolve over period of times between the sessions. The slow burn can help you birth a deeper, more nuanced work than trying to hack through it all at once.
You focus on building the habit of working on something consistently. You can move your attention from quality. You are not worried about getting it right all at once, you are concerned with showing up. You won’t always be at your best, you might not always be inspired. But you can commit to making something small consistently, and then over time, you gain volume, and out of that volume, you can curate something great.
And when you do get that magical block of time – a day, a weekend, a month to really dig in, it would be easier not waste it, because you have cultivated the habit of working on it consistently.
You focus on acting and creating in whatever pockets you can find them, until your creative obstacles collapse in a constant barrage of strikes, and your creation, your masterpiece emerges over a thousand strokes.
Since January, we have been on the journey of unpacking what it takes to get what you want. Knowing yourself, embracing the hard work, crafting the routine, and being consistent. These ideas help us lay a strong foundation of habit, and action. They make sure that we step up to the plate every day and take a swing. They are the core of this process.
Supposing you have laid this foundation. You have adopted new habits, established routines and rituals. You even journal and check in frequently to keep yourself accountable in the process of chasing success – getting what you want. There is something fundamental and invisible that can hold us back or make us stop short. That is our mental image of ourselves and our future.
Like a great athlete, we must have a very clear vision of what we want to accomplish before we make a move. Vision, in preparation for an action, is as important as the action itself. – Marianne Williamson
The law of attraction has as one of its tenets, the concept of visualizing what you want in order to manifest it. So, imagine sitting in that new car, getting the keys to that new house, going on that holiday, setting up that foundation, whatever floats your boat. And while that can sound like very rah-rah motivational kind of fluff, we do need to embrace the power of the mind’s ability to visualize as a key part of getting what we want and becoming successful. To get what we want, and then transcend it, we have to exercise something we sometimes take for granted. The power of imagination.
It is not like we don’t use it anyway. We are skilled in the art of imagination. It is just that our mind more easily tends to paint images of doom and gloom. We think about our futures, and the fears rise up like specters crowding and clouding all corners of our mind. We are more easily inclined to think about all the things that could go wrong than all the things that could go right.
And that is okay. Sometimes, our present situation is too overwhelming, our environment too toxic, the economy is shit. We are surrounded by negativity, by a fearful apathetic world. We have problems and obstacles in our way. That is why we do the work. That is why we learn how to maneuver, how to overcome impossible odds. That is why we focus on what we can do, the actions we can take. That is why we create an inner citadel, a place of peace and positivity and light.
Because we need that foundation. Think of it like trying to build on a plot of land. Imagine this land is full of ruins, rubble and weeds. First, we have to clear it. We have to remove the obstacles, the rocks, the weeds. We have to reduce the plot to an empty clear space ready to be built on. And that is a good metaphor for what we have discussed all year. Clearing the plot, putting yourself in the position to succeed. The routines, habits and actions begin to form the foundation that we are going to build on.
So, what do we build?
It is easy to settle for just comfort. After all, we have overcome so much, let us just build a small little house and take it easy. Don’t do that. Invest in the quality of your imagination. In the field of architecture, there are designers that create cookie cutter, functional design, and there are those that shift paradigms of what a building could even look like. Become the visionary architect of your life.
I have referenced Peter Theil’s idea of ‘definite optimism’ before. The outlook of having a definite ideal, a clear vision for the future backed up with a strong commitment and plan to achieve it. It is a call to stop being resigned to the status quo for yourself and reach for more.
It is this vision, this mental image of ourselves doing and experiencing and creating things we would never before that fires us up, fills us with emotion and both magnetically matches us to the vibration of what we want, and pushes us to take the concrete actions and steps to get there.
The greatest motivator of change is a crystal-clear vision of what the future should look like. – Andy Stanley
Build something remarkable. Don’t just settle for being comfortable, for setting yourself up and heading off into the sunset. Go Big. Dream Big. Allow yourself to experience and build and create things you never thought possible for you. Visualize yourself living your wildest dreams regularly. Paint a daring audacious vision for your future.
And not just for yourself, but for the community, the people and the world around you.