and then start again
There is a part of the game that is hardly talked about. And that is the after game. We know all about striving and pushing towards the goal. That’s the basic fodder of self-help content. We are very concerned with what it takes to win, to become successful. We don’t talk too much about the aftermath.
What do you do after you get what you want?
In our minds, we only really see the long difficult journey, imagining that ‘bam!’suddenly, one day, we arrive at the destination, our own version of happily ever after. We imagine we will undertake this journey, do the work, push the hustle until we get what we want – the job, the business, the spouse, the family, and then we will be suspended in contented bliss, never to stress anymore.
But we know that’s not the case. That is not how life works. There is always the day after. The day after the fairytale wedding, after the graduation, after the raise, after the investment exit.
The day after, after the high of struggle and work, the roar of the crowd has died down, and the court is empty. The lights switch off and the darkness sets in. Now you are listless. You don’t know what to do with yourself. Your whole life was structured around the pursuit of this one thing for so long, you feel lost at sea now that you have gotten it.
Our lives are finite, with a beginning and an end. But between the hour of our birth and the hour of death, like our planet, our lives resemble a spiral. We continually move through the same seasons, with similar rhythms, but each cycle is unique. We have the ups and downs, the moments of activity, the moments of rest, the inspired days and the dim ones, as we move forward in time.
Same as success. In many ways, getting what you want is death, it is the end of an era. But it is also the beginning of a new journey. It is the end of a cycle, but it is also the start of a new one.
In the midst of the pursuit, we forget that.
We think that the end is THE END. And that space, just after the win, is a very vulnerable place.
Especially when the battle is hard won, and you are scarred and wounded. With no real plan or rest routine in place, we can forget that there is yet another peak on the horizon. We think we have arrived. In this moment of success, it is too easy to plant the seeds of failure.
You set a goal, you ran the race, and you made it. It was tough, but you won. What do you do now? You have to rest. The way we wind down is just as important as how we take off. We have to land properly so we can get a running start into the next phase of our journey.
Take a step back to celebrate your win. Relax, take a load off, soak it in. For a moment, for a weekend, for however long makes sense. Get off the treadmill. Rest is the crucial counter balance to productivity. Allow yourself to be replenished.
And then you must review and reflect.
The true value in getting what you want is not the ‘thing’ that you get. It is who you become in the process of going after what you want. Now that you have your prize in your hand, you must turn your eyes inward. Gaze upon the mirror and see the person you have become. Are you happy? Did you do your best? Who are you now? How have you changed? Do you even want this thing anymore? It is possible to seek a thing, gain it, and then not want it anymore. The process of seeking changes us, shifts our perspective, adjusts our priorities. Sometimes the change is dramatic.
Search your thoughts.
Do you still like yourself? Are you happy with this thing you have worked so long for? Would you like to move forward? Where would you go next?
If you subscribe to the idea of letting your moves stack on each other, the thing you have gotten is also a stepping stone on the road to a further ultimate goal. Your latest acquisition is also your seed.
You are back at the beginning, but you are stronger, wiser, more experienced, with some wins under your belt. It is time to look at what can be improved, what can be strengthened, where can you stretch and occupy more of your potential?
Then it is time to begin again. There is more to be done, you still have much in you to give. You must jump into the fray again.
Return to the starting blocks with humility and assume the beginners mind. Remember that mastery is built on a firm foundation of the basics. Now decide what you want and set the goal before you. This time, challenge yourself.
Go harder. Go Higher. Do more. Do it better.
I have this set of notebooks that have been with me for years now. When I was 16, there were just two or three of them. Now, there are maybe 20 of these notebooks and sketch pads in a pile on my shelf. A modest collection of personal journals. I have written in these books for over a decade as a means to tease out and understand my innermost thoughts and intuitions. Once in a while, I dip into them to remind myself of the things I’ve thought, and days gone by.
Life is long, and time is relentless. As our days progress, they blur into each other, the days turn to weeks, and the weeks turn to months, and then years. A perpetual cycle of change and evolution. It is easy to forget things. That is why we instinctively try to capture memories, in videos, and selfies and journals. They help to leave checkpoints along the way that we can return to and relive, albeit in faded form, our thoughts, and feelings at certain points in our lives. They serve as records of our lives, evidence of our growth and transformation. They serve as reminders of our resilience.
This is the first power of journaling, as a reminder.
“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”
When I browse my past journals, I do it to remind myself of the things I wanted to accomplish, the true yearnings of my heart. They have served many times as a firm reminder, a sharp reprimand or a fond nudge in the right direction. They have also been sources of pleasant surprise, as I dig into an old notebook and find that I had inadvertently accomplished things I had written before.
This is the second power of journaling. With it, you can create the future. Asides from just marking time or serving as time capsules, the act of writing is also kind of magic. If you took a notebook, and wrote down some things you wanted to accomplish, and then closed that book and only came back to it a year later, you would be surprised how far you would have gotten in the pursuit of that thing, if you hadn’t already gotten it. And if you haven’t gotten it, you would also know precisely why you hadn’t gotten it yet.
That’s the magic. I don’t know why it works. I have just experienced it. The act of writing somehow, encodes the desire deep into your being, and releases the intention to the universe, so that subconsciously and super consciously, you are working towards your goal.
More than just creating the future however, you can also create yourself through journaling. You can write out the person you want to be, the things you want to do, the things you want to have, and let that magic cause the person you desire to be to emerge.
“In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”
I remember in my late teens, writing about the kind of person I wanted to be. How I wanted to interact with other people, how I wanted to be perceived, even down to how I wanted to dress. I came across those notes a few months ago and chuckled. I became what I wrote on those loose pages many years ago in my mother’s office. Simply noting down the desire for the person you wish to be helps to change the way you see yourself and creates new possibilities for your life.
Journaling also serves as compass to find your way.It is often the first advice I’d give to someone who is lost and confused. Pick up a notebook and a pen and write. Express yourself. What do you feel? What are you worried about? What do you desire? Where do you see yourself? How can you get there? What is stopping you? How can you overcome it?
It is a wonderful practice that clears the fog of confusion and begins to show you solutions and paths to take. Every time I have felt distraught, or unfocused or like I was on the wrong path going nowhere fast, I would just start writing, releasing and wading through my thoughts until I could start brainstorming solutions and making plans.
As I began the journey of blogging weekly this year, I quickly settled into a ritual. Before I could get around to drafting the post for that week, I first had to journal. If I was to gather my thoughts and craft them into a coherent piece, I had to let go of all the chaotic ones built up from the week before. And so, without intending to, I started a ritual of journaling every week.
Every Sunday I sit down to journal serves to center me, to remind me of what is important, and of the promises I made to myself, of the goals I set. It serves as a navigation system to keep the main thing the main thing. In life, there are too many things and forces competing for your attention, and your effort. The journal helps one keep things in perspective.
For years, I have complained about being blown off course from my true goals by the pressures and demands of life and business. This year, I’ve been a lot more intentional, and its partly due to the journaling habit.
With it, I’ve also been able to time travel through my thoughts since last December, observing my struggles, my insights and my progress. And that last part is important, being able to track progress and evolution.
One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer
Journaling serves as a force of accountability.Once a thing is recorded, it can be measured. It stands as something to reference. Journaling regularly allows us to keep track of our thoughts and our actions. If you want to break through to a new level, you have to be able observe and judge yourself in real time.
You can argue with memory. You can’t argue with stats.
When you record your intentions, as well as your actions, you are able to clearly see the difference between the two. How well did you do? How bad did you miss the mark? What went wrong? Then you can adjust and then record the results of those adjustments, until you win.
Some people think they have 20 years’ experience, when they have really just had one year of experience repeated 20 times. Conscious journaling and meditation allow us to ponder the quality of our lives and the time that we have spent. With this powerful practice, we can live more intentional lives, we can create ourselves daily, and we can get what we want.
Someone asked me the other day how I managed to stay upbeat, and full of energy. What keeps me going? What keeps me so fired up? I was pleasantly surprised, because I don’t particularly see myself that way. My answer included a bunch of things like growing older and having a chip on my shoulder, but in hindsight, a part of it is probably down to habit. I have been doing certain things almost every day for years now and at this point in time it is just a way of life, it is an obsession.
Every empty pocket of dead time – waiting in line, unexpected delays – I spend reading or watching videos. I’m always learning or being motivated or enjoying insights from the most productive, prolific and impactful people in the world. It’s just what I enjoy doing. If I’m too tired or feel overloaded, then I’ll binge watch Netflix. But generally, I fuel my fire every day out of habit.
I’ve been thinking about momentum lately.
“Momentum,” she repeats. “You can’t just stand there if you want something to fly. You have to run.” – Lauren DeStefano (Fever)
Since the beginning of the year, I blogged around the theme of how to get what you want. To get what you want, you have to know what you want and why it is so important to you. The burning desire for it is what makes you act, fighting against inertia to move you from point A to point B.
At the beginning it is hard work. You don’t know where to start, so you start anywhere. And because you are new to this, you fail, but you start again. You persist. You keep it moving, you keep working.
Soon you win the battle against inertia and eventually get into motion. Even though it feels like a series of starts and stops, eventually, we get a bit of wind. Taking action becomes easier, and now and then, we even start to gather hot streaks. We get stretches of time where we stay in motion, maintaining that flow, seeing our efforts begin to multiply. We have gained momentum. And this momentum is a powerful and profitable force.
Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort. – Charles J. Givens
Momentum emerges from being consistent over time. The longer we take a line of action, the deeper the habits are ingrained, and our moves become instinctual. But you have to front load the investment to reap the reward. And that reward is the exponential increase on our input.
When we gain momentum, we become formidable. With your moves stacking on each of each other, results begin to compound. Success builds on success. New possibilities appear, new doors open. The universe itself seems to unfold before you.
When you find yourself in the thickness of pursuing a goal or a dream, stop only to rest. Momentum builds success. – Suzy Kassem
But momentum can be fragile. It can become its worst enemy. Hypergrowth is just as bad as no growth if the system cannot grow to accommodate it. So, we must manage ourselves so as not to burn out from the power, from the abundance and increasing influx. It takes discipline to manage momentum. Too many times, we get a bit of traction and for some reason or the other, we stop and let it die out. To keep momentum alive in a sustainable way, and to protect it from waning or even reversing, we have to keep moving, we have to keep adding to the fire. We must continue to strike the iron while it is hot and knead while the dough is wet. We can’t afford to stop.
Sometimes, bad things happen. Tragedy strikes, we get unpleasant news, we get into bad company, we are knocked off course and pushed back on our heels. With that falter, rises the flicker of doubt. We see our momentum reverse against us. The fear sets in, the anxiety, we make another mistake, or another tragic thing occurs. We begin to spiral, maybe we react badly, reaching for something to cope. We are stressed, we are failing, and the failure compounds. This is how fortunes are lost, this is how citadels crumble.
Momentum can make you or break you. When it’s positive, it is great. It buoys you up like a wave, moving you forward with little effort. When it is negative, it is incredibly hard to stop and can dash you against the rocks.
You always want to optimize for forward momentum. Only stocking up healthy food and snacks in the house, as well as installing triggered habits like 5 push-ups every time you went to the bathroom, would make your forward momentum in staying fit more antifragile. Hanging around smart and inspired people can fuel your forward momentum in building a successful career into a roaring steam train.
The trick, once you have secured the basics of taking action towards your chief aims, is to go a little harder, a little faster, and a little longer. Build momentum and make it easier for yourself to succeed by pouring fuel on the flames.
This means staying focused. On the goal. On the objective. Despite distraction, and setback, you must keep an eye on the goal. Take a step back if you need to, catch your breath if you need to, but keep pushing forward, learn to break into those pockets of momentum. They will put wind in your sails and push you forward further and faster than you could imagine.
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.