Self-awareness is brutal. Most people are okay not fully understanding themselves because they're afraid of what they might find. I know I was.
Launching into self-employment is one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. But fear can act as a flashlight.
When a room goes dark, and the lights turn off, your body reacts by enlarging your pupils. Your eyes compensate for less light by changing so they can pull in every bit available. You might not be able to see better in the dark, but you do see differently.
Your hearing heightens. Your sense of smell grows more sensitive. Our hands reach out. If we can't see where we're going, maybe we can feel our way there.
All of this changes the way we perceive the world around us. Terror accomplishes a similar feat.
We have two choices when we fall into a bucket of fear.
Option 1: go on the defensive and shut out the world. I'm a massive fan of this option (you can blame my INTJ-wiring). Of the two, this is the less mature way to go. Defense keeps us safe, but in doing so, it also keeps us small.
This version of fear-handling alters our perception of the world. We see it as an increasingly dark and dangerous place — something to survive, rather than engage.
"Your playing small does not serve the world." — Marianne Williamson
Option 2: play the offense and allow fear to open our eyes. Maturity often boils down to simply acknowledging things about ourselves we would rather ignore. Self-awareness and deep self-examination are anything but safe.
Yet, if we want to grow…
If we're going to develop and change and flourish and love and expand...
Well, those are the only paths to get there.
Ironically enough, the more we understand ourselves, the less we end up focusing on ourselves. Self-awareness reveals to us that our world is what we make it. Our lives are not merely the consequences of other people's choices. We, as humans, have a say in the unfolding of our stories. And, whether that "unfolding" looks more like unraveling or constructing.
Below are three lessons pulled from the cutting floor of my self-examination over these past few months. Maybe they'll apply to you; maybe they won't. All I'm sure of is that sharing them with you is a part of my next step. What you choose to do with them will be a part of yours.
Choose better starting points
Creators all seem to fall into one of two categories: people who love to start, and people who can't help but finish.
Group 1 is the fast-moving, high energy, hit-the-ground-running folks who, the moment they have a great idea, can't help but taking the initial steps to bring that idea to life.
They produce. They're prolific, even if the depth of their work suffers for it. They never met the seed of an idea they didn't see the Everest-sized potential in. However, trouble comes soon after that.
Starts are exciting and new, but projects never stay that way. Even the most interesting endeavors eventually boil down to repetitive monotony. Without the initial momentum and emotion to continue fueling them, these creators let their creations fall by the wayside in favor of something new and promising. Only to end up repeating the cycle down the road.
Group 2 are the finishers. These champions of persistence choose a project and then proceed to dig their heels into the ground until it comes to life, come hell or high water.
On the plus side, most masterpieces we know by name were the work of these monolithic creators. It takes patience to be good, and the best finishers have it in spades. But, like group 1, they too have their faults.
Finishers are notorious perfectionists. They overthink, over-plan, and become enraged anytime life intervenes its colorful little head to throw their carefully constructed plans off course (which, might I add, is incredibly often when you're creating something).
Finishers wear blinders that disable them from being able to change, and shut down, projects that are no longer worth the investment.
I am a member of Group 2. I've made my home in more than one garbage pit of a project that ended up turning into a full-on dumpster fire.
But I'm learning to do better.
Because I'm a finisher, there are a few skills I need to work on like flexibility, communication, and openness. As I took a step back, I began to understand that one of my core issues was starting incorrectly.
Every time I started a project with an idea or product in mind that I came up with myself, I became immovable about what it was supposed to look like and how it would come to life. They were intangible, so they couldn't talk back and challenge me to change my mind. My work suffered because I focused on the wrong things.
In contrast, every project I began by focusing on a person I wanted to help or a problem I tried to solve ALWAYS ended better. By directing my efforts towards a person or problem, this built-in a default framework of flexibility, communication, and openness. I wasn't just trying to create something I wanted to see in the world. I was helping someone. I was problem-solving. These require me to use my creativity in a more robust and attentive way and, ultimately, make me better for it.
Going forward, if my projects don't have a clear person- or problem-focus, I'll know they're likely not worth pursuing.
Invest big in what you want
No one tiptoes their way into success.
If I'm not willing to invest $2,000 - $5,000 into a project I'm hoping will net me 10-20x then, do I really believe in it? If a goal I want to achieve in the next three months ends up taking three years, would I still pursue it?
Micro-investments get you micro-returns. Mega-investments get you mega-returns.
But this is where the problem lies. Micro-investments cost you next to nothing, which is why they're so easy to make. It's easy to spend a few hundred dollars on books or an online course. It's easy to work 18-hour days for a week to hit a deadline. They might hurt in the short-term, but they're doable. And if all of it goes to dirt, you'll survive.
No one has to rebuild their lives after losing a few hundred dollars or a week of good sleep.
Mega-investments are terrifying. Emptying your savings to build your business is scary. Selling your car, furniture, and taking out a loan to give your business some financial runway will wake you up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat at least a few times during those initial months (that is, if you're honest with yourself).
No one tiptoes their way into success.
Mega-investments are what move the needle. Marrying the love of your life, moving to a new city, leaping into entrepreneurship… The most significant changes in our lives are always terrifying because they require US to change as well.
That's the thing about change. It's never only about the thing you want to change. It's about how you want to be different because of that change. Happier, healthier, wealthier…
The degree to which you want to change will reflect the size of the investment you are willing to make in order to achieve that change. If you're not willing, then the truth is you don't really want it.
It's that simple.
And the sooner you're able to admit to yourself what it is you truly want (i.e., what you're willing to mega-invest in), the sooner you'll be on your way to getting it.
Act on the advice you keep seeking
Not all advice is worth taking, but (almost) all advice is worth listening to.
I never make a decision without doing some form of research beforehand. When choosing a place to eat, I'll read through 5-10 reviews for every option within a 3-mile radius. Before I bought my wife's wedding ring, I conducted 200+ hours of research into everything related to diamond rings (seriously, I can evaluate the 4Cs with the best of them).
The issue becomes acting on that advice and research.
I once sat directly across from an expert in a career field I wanted to get into and let his advice float into one ear and right out the other.
Why? Because I thought I knew better. My ego being the only evidence I had.
If I were achieving all of my goals and rocking into stardom in some field, then maybe this practice would be alright. I could get away with some ignorance if my results supported these ideas. But they don't.
We all need help saving ourselves from ourselves.
Experts are where they are for a reason. Their work has stood the test of time. They've refined their methods. They've worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of people just like you and me and know how to move the needle for them.
I'm also talking about the advice I get from my wife, and mom, and friends.
It turns out I don't always know better than everyone (I can see my wife smirking at this). And you know what… you don't either.
So listen – actually hear what the other person is saying. Then sit with it — no less than a day, no more than a week. Then take action.
What would the best version of you do in this situation? Are you making the choice that feels good or that is good?
Self-awareness is brutal because it's a process. It's not a shot the doctor gives you once every three years to keep you immune. It's the personal trainer yelling at you to do ten more burpees at 5:37 am... every weekday... for years. We all need help saving ourselves from ourselves.
Because when the lights go off, my pupils swell, and I find that life has locked me in the closet once again, all alone, I want to trust the person I'm in there with.
I want to know they'll have my back.
And I want to believe, when the lights come back on, I'll like what I see.