The following is an excerpt (Chapter 5) from my new book — Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement
“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.” — Marcus Aurelius
I wish it wasn’t this way. I wish life was fair. I wish society was geared toward success of the individual. I wish your peers, friends, and family were geared toward helping you become successful. Alas, this isn’t how the world works.
Some of my favorite writers are the ones who tell the cold, almost amoral truths. People like Robert Greene who wrote the 48 Laws of Power15, as well as several other books about human nature. Until you adopt an attitude that accounts for reality and the way the world works, not only will you not be able to succeed the way you want to, but you’ll suffer even more.
People who think the world should be fair get hurt doubly when situations force them to realize it’s not. When you’re on the way to the top, you need to move a certain way, meaning you need to observe the games being played around you instead of being oblivious.
In my own life, I noticed I started doing more and being more as I continued to develop a hyperrealistic attitude about everything. I took off my rose-colored glasses and stepped down from my pedestal.
Before that, I let the world and other people in it mentally push me around. I was playing their game, not mine.
It’s more comfortable to try and fit the world into your narrative than it is to accept the world as it is. Your identity and personality are tied to a worldview you’ve spent a long time cultivating. Like I explained in my second book, You 2.0: Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You — Master the Art of Personal Transformation16, the process of changing your life is like dying. You can’t change your life if you hold on to those old narratives. You have to kill them.
As with any death, there’s a grieving process. Letting go of your old narratives and scripts is liberating in the long run, but can be very painful in the short run. On top of that, your new worldview won’t fit with the masses anymore, which means you won’t fit.
You’ll have to “play the game” in public and work on your evil plan in secret.
Life won’t be fair to you at all.
99% of What You Hear, See, and Experience Will Contradict the Way You Think
I remember a moment during college. I was sitting at the bar with two friends. One had graduated the year before, and the other was about to graduate. They were talking about the next steps: jobs, location, goals, etc.
“I want to make at least $70k right out of school,” my soon-to-graduate friend said.
“Oh no. You won’t be able to get a job at $70k. Find something entry level, and work your way up.”
I didn’t say anything, but deep down, I was annoyed. I was always a dreamer. Never once, even when I was dead broke, did I imagine a life of mediocrity. I always figured I would be somebody, somehow, someday. It bothered me to hear “sheeple talk.”
My attitude stayed like this for a while. As I started to learn and write more, I became very judgmental of the world around me. Everyone seemed lazy, mediocre, and out of touch with their true potential. I wanted to stand on my soapbox and give sermons.
I wanted the entire world to think like me, and I was pissed that it didn’t.
This is a general problem all people have. We want everyone to think the same way we do. “If only I could show them the light!” I thought. So I’d try to have these “big dream” conversations with people. A handful of them were receptive and thought the same way. But for most people I talked to, it went in one ear and out the other. I kept doing this for a while until it finally hit me.
Not only is it not my job to order people how to live their lives, but there’s also nothing intrinsically bad about the way people live their lives.
It’s perfectly fine to be normal. Nobody is a “sheep.” We all have different worldviews and definitions of success. I’ve learned to leave well enough alone, and accept that there will never be a mass uprising of self-actualized people — nor does there necessarily need to be.
Most people who start on the journey of self-improvement tend to get on their high-horse. You will do this. Even though before, they were just like the people they now criticize: They suddenly believe it’s their job to “help.”
No. Your job is to make your life better, reach your goals, and help the people who want your help.
As you continue to improve and learn, a lot of things won’t make sense to you: the amount people complain, their lack of ambition, their rock-solid faith in the status quo, their belief of the media, their acceptance of their lot in life, their conversations that amount to gossip or small talk, their preoccupation with pettiness, their lack of imagination, their quiet desperation they do nothing about, their evangelization of “the rules of society,” their poor choices, and their seeming blindness to all the above.
But you know what? Those are all judgments made by the person who’s judging, not accurate depictions of other people.
Everything I listed is an interpretation based on my worldview. They say more about my character than they do the people being judged. The same goes for your judgements. The way you analyze character can be sliced in two ways.
It could mean that you have high standards for yourself and don’t agree with what other people do, but also don’t care or wish to convert them. You live your life your way, build your tribe of like-minded peers, and welcome people who come to the light through your example.
Or it could mean you’re an arrogant asshole who thinks they know how other people should live their lives better than they do.
It’s a subtle distinction that makes a world of difference. Choose the former.
Once you accept other people for who they are, how they behave, and what they believe, you’ll feel less like you’re fighting this imaginary uphill battle against the masses. The masses will simply fade to the background while you get to work.
As more and more people fade into the background, you’ll find you might be the only one left.
You’ll Feel Lonely (But You Must Get Used to Being Alone)
The people in my personal life don’t know exactly what I do. They just know I write books and make money online somehow. I use writing as my medium to share what I feel, believe, and want to express. In my personal life, I barely talk about my business.
This is a corollary to the point above. Most people just don’t want to talk about big ideas. Most people are not entrepreneurs or artists or have dramatically switched careers, which is just fine. You’re a creative person, which means you love to express yourself and your ideas.
This makes you feel even more alienated where you share your vision with people who don’t agree.
You’ll live in a world that doesn’t always make sense to you, and where it’s difficult to find people who share your vision. Of course, even though it’s a smaller percentage of the population, there are plenty of people who believe in self-improvement. It is a billion dollar industry after all.
You’ll just have to go out of your way to find these types of people. I’m in clubs in my local community. I’m in online groups with other writers and entrepreneurs. I’ll have Skype sessions with people I met online who live halfway around the world to talk shop. You have options.
But in your day-to-day life, when you’re really working to build a dream, you might get a little lonely sometimes. You don’t have to go into “monk mode” and shut yourself from the world to become successful, but gradually, over time, you’ll notice you have less in common with other people. You won’t want to go out every single weekend because you want to work and have the energy to keep working. Small talk might bore you.
People will start to respond to you differently until one day you’ll hear that “you’ve changed.” Few people will be in the trenches with you while you’re working. Sure, they’ll flock to you once you’ve “made it,” but that doesn’t matter.
Most of the important steps to improving yourself not only happen on your own, but they happen for you alone. You’re no longer working for the praise and validation of others. You’re working for your own validation.
Finding validation in yourself, without outside input, can be lonely at first.
But if professional accomplishments and finding meaning in your work is something that drives you, a little loneliness is worth it, don’t you think? It’s not as if I lock myself up in my office 24/7 (although I do in stretches). I have friends and family who I share different interests with. I engage in small talk and let the conversations stay relatively small without being bothered.
I’ve come to understand how to navigate the world properly without having to be a self-help evangelist. I’ve also come to understand the unintended consequences of such evangelism, so now I just stay in my lane and work on my carefully guarded dreams.
And I guard them for an important reason.
Nobody Believes in You
Whatever dreams you have floating around in the back of your head, nobody thinks you can pull them off. Why would they? Only people who believe they can pull their dreams off would think someone else could do it. It’s human nature.
People view the world a certain way, and automatically assume everyone else is either like them or should be like them.
My ex-wife’s brother is an engineer. I remember once their mom was talking about who’d take care of her when she got older. My ex is a school teacher, so not exactly rolling in it. And at the time, I hadn’t really gotten any traction in my writing career or made any serious money yet.
“Well, it’s probably going to be Joe. He’s the one with all the money.”
I was pissed. “Didn’t she know I was going to be a bestselling author with a 7-figure online business???”
Which was of course, stupid. To anyone but me, it makes sense that an engineer would make more money than a “writer” because … oftentimes writer is just a synonym for “unemployed.”
These are the type of thoughts I used to have when I had a major chip on my shoulder. Sure, I did convert some of that misguided energy into producing work, but the energy was misguided nonetheless.
You’ll start working on that little dream of yours. And in the beginning, it will be little. Why would anyone believe in your future when:
- you have zero evidence you’ll succeed, and you’re just talking shit?
- the world is full of people who talk shit but never get anything done?
- even some people who do try to walk the walk still fail?
Dreams are fulfilled in obscurity and silence, while the world continues to spin as it always has. Nobody believes in you, but nobody has to believe in you for you to get the job done. You have to believe in you.
Over time, you’ll come to understand that the only opinion of yourself that matters is yours, anyway. Once you embody that, you’re another step closer to being free.
Do you know what I do now? I say absolutely nothing. I work on my projects in silence. Then, when I’m actually done with a project, lose the 30 pounds, reach the milestone, have tangible evidence of the dream, I announce it to everyone unabashedly because I’ve earned the right to do so.
When you actually accomplish something, go ahead and stroke your ego. Show off. Tell the world. But only do this after you’ve actually done something. Do it over and over again, and you won’t even feel the need to announce anything. You’re whole, and you succeed for the sake of pleasing yourself and no one else.
In Steve Martin’s words, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”17
When you do that, not only will you not have to brag, but people will come and fawn over you. People like finished products. They don’t want to know how the sausage is made. So don’t tell them. Just be a glaring example of the full potential of human capability. People will smell it on you and feel it when they’re near you. You won’t have to say a word.
“Success” Will Take Longer Than You Want
I can’t predict exactly how long you’ll have to work on your path before you feel like you’ve “arrived,” but I’m almost certain it will take longer than you want it to.
What does “arrived” even mean?
It depends on your situation. For some, it might mean simply having a job they love in a career they’re fascinated with. For others, it might mean being the owner of a small business that gets them by. Yet for others, it may be a totally financially independent lifestyle with six to seven figures in the bank.
Almost all scenarios would involve meaningful work you have a real talent for, and the freedom to pursue it. You want the feeling that for the most part, you’re doing what you want to do more often than not.
In your case, just know most of the promises you hear about income, specific results, and timelines can’t be trusted. In my case, I finally made the mythical six-figure income online this year. That was a benchmark that meant a lot to me. Do you want to know how long it took? It didn’t take “six months” or “six weeks” like those Facebook Ads told me it would. It took roughly five years.
I can make an educated guess that if you began working on a side project right now, you could reach the point where you could do it full time a few years from now; but I can’t promise that.
Trying to predict the future and come up with a specific milestone to aim wouldn’t do you any good. Instead, focus on the immediate and near future. Forget about day dreaming for a while and work on getting any traction. Period.
If you’d just begin putting a real effort toward a direction, any direction, you’d look up and time will have passed quickly. Not instantly like you might desire, but quickly.
Let’s say, for example, it took you something like five years to discover your talents and strengths; experiment with a new life-path, job, or business; and develop enough skills to transition to doing that new “thing” full time. In the beginning, five years seems like a long time, but in retrospect, it’d be nothing.
You have odds. You can increase those odds through diligent work over a long period of time, usually years. Odds are, if you continue to learn, improve, and iterate over time, you’ll come somewhere close to your personal version of success at some point, even if I can’t guarantee it.
Remember, the theme of this book involves me not guaranteeing anything.
The days are long, but the years are short. I’ve been writing for a half-decade, but it doesn’t feel like it. Not only does it feel like time flew by, but I’m having fun. I’m having fun because I chose to do something I actually wanted to do and had a knack for. Working on something for a long time isn’t hard if you enjoy it.
I’ll cover this more in the section on finding your talents and strengths, but liking what you do is everything. Not loving. Not ultimate bliss and passion. Just something you enjoy. I don’t love every day of my writing career, and I still have to do some things I’d rather not do, but on the whole, I wake up everyday thinking my life is pretty good.
Pretty cool, pretty good, enjoyable, sane, relatively content — those are the adjectives I use to describe a great life. Most people don’t even get to pretty good. “Great” is icing on the cake if you can get there, but “pretty good” can set you up for life.
As Robert Kiyosaki said in Rich Dad Poor Dad, “Don’t work for money. Work to learn.” I didn’t get into writing for the money at first. I started doing it for free, for years, because I didn’t even know you could make money from it. On top of that, I was just having fun, and writing made me feel alive. Somewhere out there, people were taking my words seriously, and that meant everything. Had I not found joy and meaning first, turning my writing into a career would’ve been a lot harder.
As I progressed, I started to learn more about online writing as a career, and decided I wanted to pursue it in a real way. I’m thankful I didn’t see the dollar signs right away because I would’ve quit. Some people say external motivation doesn’t work. It definitely works but often to the wrong end.
You see this with people who have “golden handcuffs.” They work 80 hours a week, doing something they hate, to earn a six-figure salary, which they spend on bullshit to impress people who don’t even like them. That’s not wealth.
My definition of wealth is the ability to do things you enjoy as much as possible. No, this doesn’t mean find your rainbow-colored unicorn-like ultimate passion and never work another day in your life. Just find something you like to do, and have a natural talent for, and work on it for a really long time.
That’s pretty much the entire recipe. Patience is one of the hardest traits to master because it’s the most worthwhile. Anything worth acquiring is hard to get by definition. Over time, you’ll learn to change your perception of time.
I once read a book called The Millionaire Fastlane18, which is actually a pragmatic and useful book despite the name. How long was the fast lane to riches? About five to 10 years.
When you think about it, that is pretty fast. It’s fast when you compare it to four or five decades of slowly letting your career and surroundings suck your energy and meaning away. It’s fast when you compare five to 10 years of diligent work to half a century of groundhog days of work, eat, TV, sleep that drip a piece of your life away little by little like Chinese water torture.
I’ll end this section with one of my favorite quotes about this topic:
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” — Bill Gates
I’m living by that quote, and I can tell the words are true. It’s hard to envision yourself this far down the road. But from someone who’s part-way there already, it’s more than possible, and if you just get started in a sincere way, the time will fly by.
That being said, you will experience obstacles that have nothing to do with your dream while you’re chasing your dream — the side swipes we don’t see coming. In spite of all the worldly success that’s possible for human beings, we can never escape all problems and tragedy.
Dealing with those situations will be a recurring theme in your life, and a huge part of living successfully involves knowing how to deal with them and keeping them from throwing you off balance.
The World Is Constantly Trying To Throw You Off Balance
Picture your spouse cheating on you, right now. Imagine your doctor told you that you have leukemia. Mentally transport yourself to the HR office at your company, being told the company is “restructuring,” and that while they value your contribution, “they have decided to move in a different direction.”
Or moving lower in degrees of shittiness, imagine your kid waking up two hours earlier than usual, interrupting your creative time to work on your business that you wake up early for on purpose. Picture just being ready to launch your book with the money you saved, but the transmission in your car goes out, and you have to spend your savings to get a new car. Think of a scenario where you find your dream job, get three interviews, and still don’t get hired.
I remember a moment a while back that almost crushed me. My writing career was growing, and I was making a little bit of a side income, but we were in major debt. So even though I was making an extra $1–2k a month on top of my job, my debts and expenses were sucking it all up, and I was still living paycheck to paycheck. I always found a way to pay for everything, but I never let on about my financial frustration or talked much about it with my then wife.
One week, the bills came pouring down on me. We’d promised my daughter we’d buy her some fish that weekend because someone gave her a free fish tank. Of course, when we go out shopping, we end up getting food, too. I had $35 in cash and another $25 on a near maxed out credit card. We go into the pet store. My wife is browsing around for “accessories.”
“Please get the cheap tank filter. Please!” I thought.
But I didn’t say anything. We looked at fish. The tank was small, so we could only fit three fish in it. I’m doing mental math, trying to subtly convince my wife and daughter of the positive qualities of the cheap fish. “Wow look at that one’s tail. It has stripes!”
We get the fish and fish accessories, go to Chick-fil-A for lunch, and go home. I have $3 left. I wasn’t going to get paid for another three days. Another bill hits, my bank account is now negative. I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I was emotional for a little bit, swallowed that negative energy, and converted it to more work.
I was getting traction already. I knew it was only a matter of time before I reached a tipping point. Six months later, I had my first five-figure month from my side business. Now, I’m more or less financially free and starting to bear the fruits of my work. A big part of that was the ability to deal with the bullshit life threw at me the entire time.
The world will try to throw you off balance. Don’t let it.
- Greene, Robert. The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books, 2000, Amazon Kindle.
- Awosika, Ayodeji. You 2.0:: Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You — Master the Art of Personal Transformation. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017, Amazon Kindle.
- Jay, Mike, director. Steve Martin. Performance by Charlie Rose, and Steve Martin, Charlie Rose, 2007, charlierose.com/videos/20473.
- DeMarco, M. J. The Millionaire Fastlane: Crack the Code to Wealth and Live Rich for a Lifetime! Viperion Publishing, 2011, Amazon Kindle.