What’s my story?

Without a story compelling enough to make you stop, remark upon it & pass that remark on to somebody else, you’ll get nowhere.

Whether you’re building a product or building a personal brand, at some point you’ll realise that people just don’t care. There are 7 billion of you milling about the world, all thinking their lives are the most important thing that’s ever happened.

Fuck the Industrial Revolution, the World Wars, the invention of TV, the Twin Towers, the internet.

What about that fucking guy at the checkout aisle last week that pushed past me? Why can other people not understand how big a deal that was?

Because, as I said, there are 7 billion of you. No-one does — nor should they — give a shit.

 

So, to become noticed — to deserve to be noticed even — you must tell a compelling story that resonates with them.

You must tell a story that aligns with the stories they tell themselves.

Let’s take an example:

Imagine you write a quality blog about how to recycle better. You send it to a group of environmentalists. They’ll read it & they will listen.

Send that article to a right-wing, oil industry lobby group, however, and it’s going straight in their junk mail.

That’s because the stories you tell, your ideas, align with the stories the environmentalists tell themselves. A story of preserving the planet, of limited resources.

The oil industry lobby group, on the other hand, tell themselves a different story. A story of infinite resources, of the supremacy of financial gain, of protecting their vested interests.

Back to the drawing board

So when I sat down to write, thinking about what story I wanted to convey to the world, I realised I must tell one that clicks with my audience.

It could not be one that was self-indulgent, ego-driven & irrelevant for an outsider.

It would be a story of injustice. Of getting fired. Of having principled that would not be swayed. Of standing up to a fraudster.

I don’t know in which theatre that story will be played out, how each act will unfold, where it will take me even.

I just know that I stand by one primary belief:

That life is too short to not seize every opportunity, to go on the attack, to pursue your dreams.

That you have 4,000 weeks in your life to do something you love with. Something that gets you out of bed in the morning. Something that makes you look forward to each day.

That you can make all the excuses you want, but you’ve got the same 4,000 weeks as everyone else, so don’t go & waste them.

Is this success?

A never-ending ascent

We tend to accept a definition of success loosely based around financial gain & social status. Being a wealthy finance executive, or a partner at a law firm, or a business magnate.

‘Success’ is narrowly defined for simplicity. There is one definition that we as a society have accepted & therefore follow.

But can such a broad definition be applied to the diverse needs, interests & goals of each individual? Is it even accurate to say that one definition exists?

Firstly, no, we can’t fit all of humanity’s diverse goals, interests & goals into one narrow definition. We are just too eclectic. Too diverse.

Secondly, even if we base the underlying assumptions that define success on social status & the accumulation of wealth, then it falls up short.

Because both these assumptions have no clear outcome, no clear goal. They are entirely subjective & malleable. You cannot say, for example, ‘I have $1 million & should therefore be viewed as a successful person’.

Wealth is relative. Social status is relative. Both are also relative to your own perception & expectations.

A millionaire will think he is poor & inadequate in a room full of billionaires.

 

Climbing up the corporate ladder, always in the pursuit of more, never seems to have an end point.

Because where’s the point that you’ve ‘made’ it? Is it when you’re highest up in the ladder? Or you’re earning over $500,000 per year? Or you’ve got a nicer car than your neighbour? Or you’re head of the company? Or you’re head of the biggest, wealthiest company in the world? Or you’re head of your own company?

It’s impossible to quantify, or when to say ‘stop’. There’s no clear peak to summit. There’s no way of benchmarking yourself & saying, ‘OK, I’ve now made it. I am a success.’

There’s always someone else with more money, or with more social status. It’s a never ending struggle to the top. Once you start playing that game, there’s no end in sight.

 

Define success yourself

It seems to me that we need to re-frame the question.

We currently look at success based on outward metrics. Based on arbitrary concepts that society says we should follow.

But this is backwards. We can’t just define success as a singular concept. Each person must define success for themselves. If my priority in life is a balanced family life, for example, then being a wealthy business leader with three estranged kids is, in fact, a hugely unsuccessful life.

Instead, we should look at success inwardly. What is it that we want to achieve as an individual? Why? How can we quantify it?

Is it based on a metric, like wealth? Or on a journey?

Are you only focused on an outcome, or are you interested in seeing how things unfold along the way?

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — Bilbo Baggins

In my experience, outcomes can be a risky business. They can be arbitrary, they can change over time, based on new information or experience, & they can be outside of your control, particularly in a fast-changing world.

Psychological studies support this, suggesting we should focus on process rather than outcomes in goal-achievement.

So, what is success then?

I can’t give you an answer. I’m neither qualified, nor do I believe that anyone else can give you an answer.

You must go, experience things, learn along the way, enjoy it, & start finding your own answer to that question.

 

Focus on the foundations

We tend to focus on the small things & ignore the big things.

When building a product, we skip over the problem in our excitement to build a solution – any solution.

When building a team, we skip over the principles that we must share to keep us together on the journey.

When building a company, we skip over building a clear, long-term vision.

It stems from impatience. Everyone rushes ahead, worrying about the little things, willing things to move fast. Busying themselves because they lack the patience, to stop, to observe. They allocate time & resources in a flash, rather than approaching it as methodically as a chess grandmaster would.

Fear also plays a major part in this. It’s hard to face the big issues. The structural problems in your company. The toxic culture. The lack of leadership you have provided.

It takes some deep self-examination. It takes questioning your ego. It takes making hard decisions that are going to upset a lot of people.

It also means confronting the possibility that things might not work out. That the underlying problems have become too big.

But it’s got to be done. Those problems will rear their head at some point. And you’ll be unprepared for it. You’ll act surprised, shocked even, but you always knew they were there. You just tried to ignore them.

So be patient & build your foundations properly. Without strong foundations, it doesn’t matter how big you may get, at some point that first storm is going to head your way.

And it’s going to blow your company right over.

How to stop people stealing your time

It’s not just at work that you find yourself led astray. You sort of expect it there. You watch out for it.

Maybe your boss asks you to stay in late to finish that project. Maybe a colleague asks you to help out with some seemingly important task that throws your to-do list off for the day.

But maybe it’s also your friends, your family. The people you love to spend time with, but maybe you spend up spending too much time with.

Whether it’s a holiday or long weekend away, there’s always the risk of other people throwing you off course for a few days. And it takes a few days to get back on it.

They want to do everything together, as you do too. But you’ve got to meditate, to journal, to write that article or record that podcast. They are just in full-on escape-from-work mode. They want to disconnect. Not hear the words ‘productivity’ or ‘creative’. They just aren’t interested.

Which is fine, but you’ve got keep those habits up.

So find yourself a few hours, maybe before everyone is up. Go to a café, do some writing, carve out those 1-2 hours you need to create something. Be focused. Leave it at 1-2 hours. Then go & enjoy your day.

Because, at the end of the day, you’re going to remember the experiences enjoyed with them in 20 years, as opposed to the writing or the meditating or the podcast.

But you can still do both.

What value should you create for the world?

When you are ambitious, it’s really hard to settle on one thing to impact. We want to impact everything, but as a result end up impacting nothing.

We want to change the world, rather than the lives of a few people in our own backyard. We think that small step is below us. It’s insignificant.

Which is wrong. Positively impacting others’ lives, whether one or a thousand, is equally admirable.

It’s just harder to accept.

Our desire to change the world also comes, to some extent, from our ego.

We think we can dabble in a bit of everything & do it all well. Focusing on having a specific impact on a specific, small group of people is hard to accept.

Our ego doesn’t like facing up to itself in the mirror & having to ruthlessly select, in as rational way as possible, the one or two things we can do really well. It hates admitting that we are mediocre or below average at many things.

Yet we over-estimate our level of competence in almost everything. Therefore humility is the way of the truth. The data doesn’t lie.

This over-estimation is also true even when we think we may be doing something altruistic.

We just can’t help ourselves.

 

Don’t stop yourself aiming big. The bigger the impact you have the better, if that’s what your aim in life is.

Just aim big, start small.

What’s the one thing you can offer to a friend? Someone in your family? Your time? Your knowledge? What can you help them out with that no-one else can? What problems are they stuck on?

Is it starting a business? Is it help learning Spanish? Is it simply helping them out with the gardening?

That’s your unique value proposition right there. Your unique offering. For one person. And one is enough.

You’ve ticked the box showing that you offer something of value & somebody wants it. It’s simple supply & demand.

Now the question is whether you can scale it.

Can you find that second customer? What if they’ve never heard of you? What if they already use another product? How are you better? How are you different?

Can you charge them for it? Enough to pay your own bills at scale? Is it worth the time put in? Do you enjoy it enough? Can you deal with the uncertainty?

Starting a business & having an impact on the world isn’t rocket science. It just requires you to start small & ask simple questions at each step.

The tricky part is keeping your ego in check & maintaining discipline – and just realising that you need patience.

That you take small steps for years in order to get to the big steps down the road.

And unfortunately there are no shortcuts, despite what you might see on Dragons Den.

Why You Need Goals & Why They Are Irrelevant

If you want to live an extraordinary life, you must have a big, clear goal in mind.

Something that gets you out of bed every morning. Something that you are accountable to. Something that directs your being & your daily toil.

Without it, you’ll be floundering around like the rest of us, going a bit in one direction, a bit in the other. Never quite sure of what the point of it all is.

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe that there is some higher purpose to our lives. I do believe, however, that that this should not excuse our apathy & lack of ambition.

Doing something that excites you every day, having a positive impact on other people & finding purpose in work is something that is consistently scientifically proven to lead to a fulfilling life.

The pursuit of a goal, a life ambition, is one way of achieving this.

Making the assumption that people want to be happy, in some form, it therefore follows that finding a goal to pursue is a logical step for you to take, regardless of which goal you dedicate your life to.

 

The Goal is not The Goal

The goal itself is actually largely irrelevant.

For the vast majority of us, our work will outlive us by a mere moment, if at all. Most of it won’t last past next week. Some of it may last a generation. Some lucky few may find that their work is still relevant after a couple of centuries.

But recognise the facts:

We are only a moment in time, one of countless billions that have come before us & will come after. Only your ego can convince you that your life will have anything other than an imperceptible impact on the universe. And that’s OK.

This is not nihilism speaking. I don’t say this excuse you to live a life of apathy & lack of ambition.

I do it to stop you making excuses. To stop you (very legitimately) picking holes in the whole “self-help, find-your-purpose” doctrine that is so pervasive.

“Well, what’s the point, when we are so insignificant? What is actually impactful other than preventing global warming or preventing nuclear war? Why can’t I just treat work as a necessary evil & enjoy my moments down the pub or watching Netflix?”

 

My answer to these excuses is the following:

You need to set an ambitious goal for your life for the simple fact that, without one, your life will be a series of monotonous, dull days that slump into each other.

That is because each goal is accompanied by a quest; a journey of struggles, successes & surprises that moves forward in its own unpredictable way. Your days become full of excitement, from novelty & fear, rather than the comfort of routine & the known.

Without a goal, what’s your story? What’s your journey been like so far? What struggles do you expect to face? Which mountains will you climb?

A life with purpose is a richer life. A more exciting life. A happier life.

So are you going to reject the science? To continue living a tolerable, relatively happy existence devoid of purpose? Or are you willing to pick a goal & see where your journey takes you?

How we can re-think ‘success’

Imagine a society where ‘success’ was re-defined.

Caring for your elderly parents or your children would mean being successful. Teaching kids how to play the guitar would mean being successful. Organising football games for your local team. Writing a blog that only reaches 10 die-hard fans would be success. Cooking for friends.

Currently we live in a society where success tends to be defined by wealth. Investment bankers, lawyers, management consultants are ‘success’. Confidence, sexual prowess, happiness. All of these things supposedly come from reaching the financial elite. Film stars, magnates, entrepreneurs, slick bankers.

We place value on one figure: a number in your bank account.

 

Think about that for a moment. The whole, complex human experience is valued by one arbitrary figure. One that changes dependent on the country you live in. The spending power it provides. Goods you can buy with it.

It’s our way of judging how we are doing against others. A childish benchmark to give your ego a pat on the back each time your number increases.

Yet when [the evidence suggests](https://80000hours.org/articles/money-and-happiness/) time & time again that wealth brings no – or very little – extra happiness, what’s the point? Is it really ‘success’ to incessantly pursue the accumulation of wealth when it adds no real benefit to your life other than to satisfy your ego?

Is it really so absurd a concept to imagine a society that valued science, education & the pursuit of equality instead?

One that, rather than judging individual success on annual income, judges individuals on their level of job satisfaction, contribution to society, balanced social life.

 

Culture is a construct. Our thoughts, beliefs & actions are entirely shaped by our environment. An un-contacted Amazonian is going to be as unable to understand your concept of property as you are his.

We only equate wealth with ’success’ because that is what we collectively value as a culture at this specific moment in time. It is not fixed.

But it also does not change overnight. Culture gradually evolves, as different influences, ideas & events mould it in infinitesimal, inconspicuous ways.

It’s already happening. Western youth are more interested in who you are, rather than what you do. We pursue experiences rather than the fancy car & white, picket fenced house. We value our time over our money.

Materialism still exists, as strong as ever. Social media has created a new outlook for our egos. Yet there is progress.

Will it happen in a generation? In 5? Who knows. It will be gradual, but we can all play our small part in changing that culture, starting from today.

 

Discover that burning need you can’t ignore

“Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.” 
— Napoleon Hill
You start feeling physical symptoms. A tightening around your chest. A deep sense of dread that shakes you to your core. A physical aversion to facing that office door & walking in to face another day. One of nothingness, one that blurs into all the others, one that numbs you.
You start to become ill. Depressed. Angered by it.
You’ve finally reached that point where a burning need to quit your job or start a business emerges. Not doing it is just no longer an option.
Without this burning need, however, you must accept that you are not ready. Without it, it’s too easy to give up. You’ll hit your first bump in the road & hastily retreat.
Entrepreneurship is fraught with fear, uncertainty & no guarantee of success. You can put your heart & soul into something for years & come out of it with your self-confidence shot through, no money in the bank & an endless list of what ifs’.
So you need that burning need as a constant companion. There are too many reasons to give up otherwise. Too many excuses you can rationally make. Too many people saying you are wrong. Too many unknowns for fear to not overwhelm you.
Think of dieting. Of alcoholism. Of drug addiction. People don’t change until they hit rock bottom. Until they hit rock bottom it just hasn’t got bad enough. The temptation to treat yourself just this once’ becomes too great.
You could have the best diet plan ever, the best trainer, & a mountain of evidence to support how & why you need to lose weight. But, until you internalise that why’ to such a deep level that you see no alternative, you’ll give up.
Peer-reviewed studies, for example, suggest that the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous, the most popular addiction recovery programme in the world, is only 5-10%.
Unless that burning thirst to change is unquenchable, then just don’t bother starting.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness” William Hutchison Murray

My Rock Bottom

I reached rock bottom three months ago. I hated my job. I lacked purpose. I was miserable. I felt myself getting sucked into the tired cycle of 9-5, with a brief respite on a Friday night to allow myself to ignore the dread & the ever-present question:
“Is this it?”
So I started waking up early. I gave up going out. I gave up on a lot of my social life. I avoided any extra work in my day job.
I discovered a burning need an obsession even to dedicate all of my limited resources to finding a solution to the problem. To find a clear purpose & focus all of my attention on it. To avoid the trap of busying myself to feel like I was doing something productive. To put in the work to write 30 articles in 30 days, whilst always knowing only 1 or 2 may hold the answer.
For me it was not dramatic. There was no storming out of the office, resignation letter in hand. No snap decision without rationalisation.
My plan would take months, but each day I was dedicated to constantly moving one small step closer to it.
Each day took me towards leaving an unfulfilling job, towards the relative freedom of freelancing & building our business, punchintheface, in order to help others in similar situations take action.

You are not ready

If you do not feel the pull of entrepreneurship as a need, but merely an interest something you want to dabble in, to test out just to see if you can do it then you are not ready.
And I say not ready’ very deliberately.
Deep down we all desire freedom. It is a fundamental concept underpinning our basic human needs. The freedom to not worry about paying off a mortgage. The freedom to buy that new car. The freedom to travel the world. The freedom to take a Tuesday afternoon off to catch up with an old friend. Freedom from oppression. From society. From doing things we just don’t want to do.
A corporation takes that freedom from you. It impinges upon you. It takes from you.
Everyone has that desire to gain their freedom somewhere within them. In a capitalist society, that freedom of or at least control over time & money comes from entrepreneurship.
Therefore the question is not about whether you are the type of person that is an entrepreneur’, but, rather, whether that burning need to act upon your thoughts is strong enough. Or will fear of the unknown, fear of change & fear of failure get in the way?
Ask yourself, are you more scared of waking up one day, old, unsatisfied, having never tried?
Or are you more scared about what people will think when you leave your job? Of needing to cut down your spending when your company is struggling? Of not boasting about your new promotion at the next office party?
If you are scared of the latter, then ask yourself another question:
“Who is living your life? Society? Your friends? Your family? Or yourself?”
You know the answer. Yet you will convince yourself you are happy. That your corporate job has created a beautiful, fulfilling life for yourself. I mean, if everyone else is doing it, then surely it’s the answer?
To that I would say look yourself in the mirror. Can you honestly say to yourself that you are happy? That this is what you want to do with your life? Your only chance to live new experiences, to try new things?
It’s OK to be scared. Everyone is. Starting something new, going against the current. All of it is scary. But what should really terrify you is having never tried.

Make yourself ready

Very few of us ever become ready. The truth is that you will never be ready. It’s all going to be new & unknown. You’ll constantly need to learn new skills. To learn how to face known and unknown fears.
But you can cultivate that burning need.
Who are you hanging out with? What do they talk about? Are they really happy? What are their ambitions? Their goals?
If you haven’t felt the burning need to change now, then part of the problem is them.
The type of people that accept the norm, that shy away from difficult conversations, that are unsupportive of your ideas. They are people to avoid. They will only drag you down.
If the law of averages holds true, then you are the average of the 5 people you spend time with, so think carefully about who you want to become & what average you are willing to be.
If your friends work unfulfilling, corporation jobs, then you are likely to work an unfulfilling, corporate job. If your friends talk about buying a new car, then you will talk about buying a new car.
If, on the other hand, you surround yourself by some of the world’s best entrepreneurs & thinkers, then it’s a fair to assume that you will start pushing yourself a lot more in life.
So surround yourself with 5 interesting people doing interesting things. People who constantly strive to push themselves. To try new things. To be idealistic. To become empowered.
You’ll find yourself in conversations about life. About what the point of it is. About whether there’s a point. About crypto-currencies. About technology. About change.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
You will start to develop ideas. To question things you never questioned before. To develop ambition & idealism.
You will find that a subtle momentum starts to build. Quietly at first. Then almost tangible.
Your interest will be peaked by something. You will start to develop an idea. Most tend to be crushed in infancy, but your friends will encourage it & develop that idea with you.
It will start as a small flame, but you will feel that burning desire to pursue that idea. You will start talking about it, reading voraciously, obsessively thinking about it.
And one day you will stop & think back to this article. It will have hit you. You never even saw it coming. That burning need to change.

Turning travel into a quest: How to find joy & wisdom on the road

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.”

– John Steinbeck

 

We see the same quotes dotted around a hostel, a Facebook group or generic travel websites.

They leave us in wonder at the depths, the complexities, the meaning behind the words.

They invoke an image of ourselves as the intrepid explorer, trespassing into the unknown, digressing from social norms at every turn. We aren’t “tourists”, we are “travellers”, conjuring images of wise, experienced beings who have seen it all.

Yet this is far from the reality.

The reality is that we travel for its own sake. We travel to a small island in Thailand to get drunk with other white, middle-class people from Northern Europe, Australia & North America.

Yes, you may learn a lot about yourself & other cultures. What drinking games they play in France, how to say ‘Cheers!’ in Thai or the political landscape of the US, for example.

I don’t mean to trivialise this, either. Some of the best conversations & experiences I have ever had have come from having a beer with someone new in a hostel or chatting with a group of backpackers out on an excursion.

But what such experiences lack is purpose.

 

Are you traveling just to escape “real life” for a few months? To lose yourself in the hedonism of backpacker, beach life for as long as your money lasts? Or are you using this as an opportunity to face hard truths, make real change in your life & really learn something about yourself?

You could travel to every corner of the world & still come back as clueless about – & scared of – life as before you left without departing with some specific goal in mind.

So whenever I look at quotes like the one above, I find it depressing to think that many of us will never really experience their true meaning.

We trick ourselves into believing we’ve ticked the box & really learnt something about ourselves just by getting on a plane, rather than truly changing ourselves in any significant way.

 

4 monkeys & myself in the Amazon

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot. I’ve spend around 8-9 months backpacking in total since finishing school & I have loved every minute of it (apart from the odd bout of food poisoning).

There was, however, always a niggling frustration somewhere in my mind during my first two trips abroad.

I felt like, yes, this is great fun: I’m seeing wonderful new things, having unique experiences & meeting some fascinating, diverse people. But where’s that sense of conquest & completion that we associate with long-term travel?

Where’s my Motorcycle Diaries moment? My big summit to climb?

There just wasn’t one. I went from hostel to hostel, country to country, person to person. Each was unique, but each was also the same.

Just a series of random events blurred into one.

 

So, 3 years ago I decided my next trip would be different. I decided it was time to go out there & find my summit to climb.

I had been living in Spain & had saved up enough money from teaching to go on a big trip before my final year of university started.

I had starting self-teaching a bit of Portuguese whilst living in Madrid, seeing a girl from Brazil & did a weekly language exchange. I wanted to set myself an ambitious target.

So I booked flights to Brazil to spend 3 months traveling by myself & learning Portuguese properly whilst on the road.

From angry ex-guerrillas playing cards with indigenous men in the Amazon, to football in the Maracanã, to being taught how to dance in Salvador. Each experience I will savour as an experience in itself, but also because I was constantly learning, constantly pushing towards my linguistic summit.

I even spent a week hanging out at a lodge 2 days from the nearest town, with 4 orphaned squirrel monkeys & an angry parrot as my only company. One of the monkey babies would sit on my head as I took walks in the jungle. It was awesome.

By the time I got to Southern Brazil, I had gone from barely understanding a word to having fluent conversations in Portuguese, even in a large group.

All because I had set myself a goal of getting to near fluency & had gone after that goal incessantly. I had sat on sweltering boats down the Amazon with my grammar books out, chatted to locals everywhere I went & avoided the tourist traps at all costs.

 

Hedonism is not the aim. Fulfilment is.

And the beauty of it? It was by far the most fulfilling trip I’ve ever gone on.

People view trying something new as a struggle. As an uphill battle with no guarantee of success. The summit is so far off that they tend to give up on the way.

Yet they don’t see the enjoyment found on that journey, during the process.

They never even start because they have no idea what they would start with or are too scared as they look up the mountain towards the distant summit.

But hedonism only gets you so far. We end up spending all our time sitting by the beach, drinking out of boredom & having the same conversations about where we’ve been & where we are off to next because of hedonism.

Fulfilment means you can still do that. I spent many a night enjoying drinking & chatting at a hostel, but it’s not the aim. You lose interest after a night or two & move on when you realise you get more satisfaction from the difficult pursuit of your goal.

 

Create your own quest

Whether you know what you want to achieve or not on your next trip, turn it into a quest. Create a game with different levels in your head.

The joy of games comes from confronting a challenge & overcoming it, yet when we confront challenges in real life we crumble in the face of the difficulty & adversity they represent.

Everything is framed differently. Everything is a new opportunity. Everything becomes an exciting challenge for you to overcome.

You change your mindset, from “I can’t be bothered” to “Where can I find the most outlandish challenge for my quest”.

This technique has even been used to help those struggling with mental health to radically improve the symptoms.

The main thing I want to get from my next trip, for example, is to spend as much time alone in nature as possible to think about starting my new business & what I want from it on a personal level.

This has led me to book 4 days in the desert in Jordan by myself. I’m currently working out whether I can rent a horse & go fully Lawrence of Arabia for a few days*.

Without my quest, I would never have thought of the idea. It even seems absurd – & a terrifying prospect – to most. But I know it will be a hugely enriching experience for me.

 

If you, like most, have no idea where you would even start, then just stop & ask yourself a big question you would like to solve whilst away.

Maybe you’re unhappy with your job? If so, set yourself the quest of knowing exactly what career you want to pursue when home.

Start reading about new industries, asking friends about their industry, maybe try an online course, most of which are free. Just do 2-3 hours of work on this every morning & spend the rest of your time enjoying meeting new people & discovering new places.

Be prepared to try ten things & end up only following one. Each failure becomes a learning. Each challenge you overcome gets you closer to that goal.

Say you go away & learn to programme for 3 months. There’s no reason you can’t come back with a good enough level for an internship or full-time employment, a few mentors in that industry & a good idea of who to contact for a job when you get home.

 

Takeaway

It’s always easy to think we are learning a lot about ourselves or becoming wise whilst traveling.

Usually we are lying to ourselves. We are learning variations of the same things as we jump from hostel to hostel.

So next time you feel that slight sense of feeling lost, of angst, of wanting something more, set yourself a quest. A simple goal you can achieve whilst on the road. Break it down into smaller goals you can start ticking off your checklist every day.

You’ll find you come back a wiser, more fulfilled person.

 

“He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.”

— Emerson, Self-Reliance

 

 

*One excuse that is so common is lack of money to travel. Don’t travel to popular places (e.g. Barcelona, Paris) & piss money away on €8 beers & over-priced meals. For my desert trip, return flights from Berlin to Eilat, Israel were €39 in January. It’s €50 to pay the visa to get into Jordan, which is a 10-minute bus from Eilat. I am then spending €8 per night at a tented camp in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Renting a horse is still being negotiated.

Fear & doing hard things

I look around me & see people just going through the motions. It is action by rote, rather than by creating something new.

In a new startup, employees spend more time worrying about their Twitter profile than hunting down that first customer.

In bigger companies, meetings are organised to discuss things they will never put into action.

In our personal lives, we create problems out of nothing to avoid this self-examination that inevitably creeps in when we have nothing to worry about. We worry about what the traffic or weather will be like, more than why we are even going there in the first place.

But do not think that I look down, detached from this world. I find myself also susceptible to just going through the motions, rather than spending the time – or having the will – to go after one or two high-impact tasks.

We at punchinteface are building our new company out of a need to create world-class culture. We do not except low-impact work & work for the sake of it, yet we are also learning how to best use our time & maximise our impact.

 

Chasing after 80/20

Pareto’s principal states that 80% of the input tends to yield 20% of the outcome, & 20% of the input tends to yield 80% of the outcome. It is a general rule of thumb that tends to exist in life, whether looking at the yield of vegetables, investment or human capital.

In short, one or two of the tasks you do tends to have a disproportionately large impact, with most being largely ineffective or a complete waste of time.

Tim Ferriss, a hugely successful entrepreneur & self-experimentation extraordinaire, therefore performs a weekly analysis to weed out the ineffective from the effective.

Despite having read about Pareto’s principle numerous times, however, I still find myself struggling to follow it’s lessons.

Firstly, it is inherently difficult to separate the important from the urgent. What’s right in front of you tends to get assigned a disproportionate amount of importance purely because it seems so urgent.

Yes, using techniques such as meditation or writing prioritised to-do lists helps, but there will always be some difficulty in objectively analysing the impact of what you are doing when you are in the inevitably messy, day-to-day of a new business.

Secondly, fear as a driver of action is really underestimated. We usually know exactly what we should do & which tasks will be highly impactful, but we become paralysed by fear.

We find excuses. We organise meetings to discuss it. We try to convince ourselves that actually setting up Twitter or organising our files is essential to the success of the company & nothing should get in the way of it.

We do anything to avoid the foregone conclusion, that one, hard thing that sits waiting for us to tackle.

It hit me yesterday that all of this has been true of myself this week.

I am building the audience for this very blog, but have avoided the hard truth of what I must do.

I have busied myself with SEO changes, organising articles & creating artwork, rather than just building an audience.

Because building an audience is scary. It’s hard. It’s unknown. Building an audience requires hundreds of hours of commenting on other authors, of analysing my own work, of filtering through endless feedback to keep pushing myself to improve.

So last night I forced change upon myself.

 

I wrote down the following questions:

What are the hard tasks I am avoiding? What would I do if I only had two hours to work each day?

 

Just this simple, rough approach to 80/20 analysis worked effectively. It also took under 1 minute.

When you ask yourself tough questions, you force tough answers on yourself.

Immediately the answer I had known all along came to mind: that I must only focus on creating value for an audience.

Writing articles relevant to that audience & commenting with insightful thoughts on other articles relevant to my audience. As simple as that. Write articles. Write comments.

Yes, there are important things to consider outside of that, such as monetisation, long-term content strategy, etc., but none of them matter if there is no audience.

Without the audience there is no business, no value, no motivation.

 

Taking Action

So I urge you to ask yourself difficult questions. To stop hiding behind the guise of busyness. To just go through the motions like everyone else. If you do that, you’ll never create something new, something impactful.

Right now, just write down the 5-10 tasks that are taking up most of your time. Which are creating impact? Which would you complete if you only had 2 hours per day? What will happen if you don’t complete the low-impact tasks?

Add a calendar event at the same time every week to spend 5 minutes doing this. Just 5 minutes. If you don’t add it to your calendar, you will forget. You’ll get caught up, busy like the rest of us, just performing things by rote rather than by deliberate action.

Remember that just going through the motions won’t get you anywhere. Facing your fear & going after that hard thing will.