Most people end up living common, ordinary lives. They play it safe. Keep their head down. Fit in. But a few people break the mold. They live extraordinary lives.
Instead of living by the terms dictated to them, they are able to set the terms. Instead of playing by the old rules, they are able to play by their own.
How can you escape the first group and join the second? It’s not easy, but it is possible.
I’ve spent too much of my life in the first group. But I’ve been slowly turning he ship around. As I’ve been making the transition from ordinary to extraordinary, I’ve been studying and emulating extraordinary people. Through my observations and experimentation, I believe there are three essential ingredients to becoming extraordinary.
What is your vision for the future?
Most people have a general, vague vision. I want to be happy. I want to be rich. I’d like to be famous or important, or accomplish something.
General and vague isn’t going to cut it.
As a human being you’ve been gifted with the ability to look far into the future and plan out how things might go. You can’t afford to waste this precious ability on an unorganized jumble of half-defined wishes. So what should you do? How about making a plan?
Your 10 Year Plan For a Remarkable Life
For me, one of the most influential podcast episodes I’ve ever listened to was when Tim Ferriss interviewed Debbie Millman on episode #214 of the Tim Ferriss show.
She shared an exercise that was shared with her by one of her mentors called the 10 year plan for a remarkable life. It’s a very simple exercise that you can do with 30 free minutes alone (although if you’re married and want to stay married, include your spouse).
The exercise involves asking yourself specific questions about the future. Here are some of the questions you might use:
- On this date in (10 years from current year), what does your life look like?
- What are you doing?
- Where are you living?
- Who are you living with?
- Do you have pets?
- What kind of house are you living in?
- What kind of clothes do you wear?
- What is your home like?
- Your furniture?
- Your bed?
- What is your career like?
- What are you reading?
- What are you making?
- What are you learning?
- What excites you?
- What is your health Like?
- On this date 10 years from now, what does one day look like from waking up to bedtime?
And of course, the question behind all these questions is “what kind of life would you create if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
To be willing to take extraordinary action, you need a compelling vision of a better future. You can create one from scratch in 30 minutes with this exercise.
Related Post: Your 10 Year Plan For a Remarkable Life
How to Afford Anything
Part of having uncommon vision means that you are forced to ruthlessly prioritize. The 10 year plan is a good start, but even then you need to think about which parts of it are the most essential.
The blog afford anything is predicated around the idea that you can afford anything, but not everything.
Most people don’t ruthlessly prioritize. They want whatever the marketing they are exposed to tells them to want. They want everything but can’t afford anything.
Most people think their only chance of being able to afford what they want is to have a miracle event like winning the lottery or finding viral success on social media. If you want to be extraordinary, you can’t rely on this kind of wishful thinking.
The Fight For Freedom
Many of the things that I want most aren’t things. In fact, when it comes to money, the thing that I want to buy most is freedom.
There’s a quote from Ellen Goodman that has always haunted me:
“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for—in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”― Ellen Goodman
If that’s not depressing I don’t know what is.
I don’t want to be shackled to a desk in a cubicle. I want freedom. The dignity of autonomy. The ability to choose how I spend the precious resources of my time and attention.
Freedom can be won either by saving up enough money to never have to work again, or by creating income streams that you control. This can be something like real estate or starting your own business. Personally, I like the idea of creating digital assets that work on my behalf.
If you’re like everyone else, you overestimate what you can accomplish in a day, but understimate what you can accomplish over time with consistent effort.
You can build a business.
You can learn a language.
You can get in the best shape of your life.
The 10 year plan helps give you perspective and set a more realistic time horizon, but you still have to show up every day and do the work.
Never Get Shut Out
When a sports team gets shut out, it’s embarrassing, but it’s ultimately the same as any loss.
But pursuing your dreams is a very different game. In this game, shutouts—days when you make zero progress—are uniquely devestarting.
Days when you get shut out easily turn into weeks where you get shut out. Stack up enough weeks of being shut out and you’ll quit.
It doesn’t matter if you can only make five minutes of progress today. It doesn’t matter that you don’t think it will move the needle. Don’t get shut out.
Twenty push ups is better than getting shut out. Reviewing five flashcards is better than getting shut out. Writing two crappy paragraphs is better than getting shut out.
When you make war on shut outs, you’ll find that many days end up being more productive than you thought anyway. Following the advice of bestselling author James Clear, there have been plenty of morning where I didn’t feel up to working out and I’ve told myself “I’ll just do one set and see how I feel.” You’d be shocked how often doing one set leads to doing the whole workout.
Writing one paragraph often leads to writing more.
It turns out that inertia is the real obstacle. It’s hard to get going from a dead stop. But once you’re moving, it’s not so bad to keep going.
Work On Something Where Today Builds on Yesterday
Why am I writing this blog? Well, there are a lot of reasons. I want to help you. I want to make money. I want to teach and share what I know.
But one reason is that with a blog, the work I do today builds on the work I did yesterday. Yesterday there were 95 published posts on this blog. By the end of the day today, there will be 96.
A blog with 100 posts is far more valuable (both to the reader and the author) than a blog with 10. You don’t get to 100 posts (or 500 or 1,000) all at once. You get there one day at a time.
Each post is a new opportunity for someone to find my writing. Each one is a new opportunity to provide value to an existing reader.
Yesterday I had 95 blog posts and today I have 96. My work is building on what I did yesterday and I am making progress.
This is also a way to deal with the crushing disappointment of your early results. Because make no mistake, your early results will be humbling. Don’t look at your stats in the beginning. Tell yourself you’ll start worrying about the starts when you have 250 posts under your belt.
One of the biggest obstacles in your way is fear. The fear of failure. The fear of the unknown. The fear of dicomfort.
Courage is being afraid and acting in spite of fear.
Without uncommon courage, you have little chance of being extraordinary.
Fear as a Guide
When your ancestors felt fear—say because the heard a rattlesnake’s rattle—chances are they were in real physical danger. The comfort zone and the safety zone were almost the same thing:
But in modern society, something extraordinary has happened. Life has become extremely safe.
The most dangerous thing most people do is driving, and even driving is pretty safe. People live longer, fuller lives now.
Yet we still feel plenty of fear. The fear hasn’t gone away, it has just shifted on to new targets. But there’s nothing dangerous about most of the things that we now fear.
Take the example of public speaking. This is one of the most common fears out there. In some cases it’s even more common than the fear of death. But what is actually dangerous about public speaking? Are you going to burst into flames if a group of people all turn their attention to you simulatenously?
No, but it feels like you are. And this unpleasant feeling of fear is enough to prevent many people from even trying.
So here’s the key insight: In a world where the comfort zone and the safety zone are separate entities, the best way to be extraordinary is to follow your fear. In most cases, following your fear is safe, but it doesn’t feel safe.
Step outside your comfort zone. Follow your fear. Stay safe, but be courageous.
The bottom line is if what you wanted could be found in your comfort zone, you’d already have it.
Vision, consistency, and courage. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
But then again if it were easy, it could never be extraordinary.