Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to call you mediocre, chastise you for your lack of productivity, or tell you there’s a right way to live.
Just this week, I skipped two days of writing, got into a fight with my spouse, and have dealt with major doubt on a decision to make for my side business.
No one’s perfect. Life is hard.
Even when I have setbacks, bad days, and bouts of emotional instability, I still can safely say my life is moving in the right direction.
How? There are certain signs that signal you’re moving in the right direction. It doesn’t matter where the direction specifically leads, as long as you’re trending forward and not backward.
The moral of the story? Chill out. Stop being neurotic. You have something going well for you. Focus on what you’re doing well and add to it. Don’t beat yourself up.
If any of these signs apply to you, use them as fuel.
You are excited to wake up in the morning
No, no, no. You don’t need to take a cold shower and drink a gallon of green tea at 5 a.m. in the morning.
But if you’re excited to wake up because you’re looking forward to something, you’re on the right track, even if that something isn’t grandiose and monumental.
Maybe you like to spend part of your day learning something new. Maybe you have — while not your dream job — a position that’s challenging and fun. Maybe you can’t wait to squeeze your kid first thing in the morning.
You wish you didn’t have to spend any time sleeping because you have so many great ideas running through your mind. You can’t wait to tackle the day and do something that you are passionate about.
Every day is truly a new adventure, and the sheer volume of things you can accomplish should be exciting enough to hop out of bed.
Having a general sense of looking forward to your day — in any capacity — puts you in the top 10 percent of human beings, period.
You are learning something new every day
Some scientists say learning new skills slows cognitive aging. There’s no conclusive evidence, yet, but it makes sense.
In a way, love of learning gives you a reason to want to live. If I had no other obligations, I’d read for twelve hours a day, because the mountain of things I don’t know fascinates me.
I just spent 4 hours working on a new Google ad campaign I’d never tried before. It was annoying and tedious at times, but there’s nothing like the high of finishing a project and developing a new skill.
When you learn a new skill it’s yours forever. You can’t guarantee you’ll protect your money, your career, or your business — those can be taken away.
But no one can take away your knowledge.
If you learn just to learn, it will come in handy later. You don’t have to have a specific purpose for it or create the ‘Master Life Plan.”
In the year after I decided I wanted to change my life, I read about 75 books. Knowledge from those books have helped me write my own, make more income, have better conversations, get a better handle on my emotions, get more productive, and a myriad of other unintended benefits I didn’t know I’d get.
Had I thought about exactly what was in it for me, I’d have gotten nowhere.
Pick up a book, watch Youtube videos, take classes on Lynda and Coursera.
For those of you who are already falling into learning rabbit holes left and right, keep going. That information will come in handy about an order of magnitude more than you think it will.
You never grow old if you are putting new information into your brain. Some people, on the other hand, are metaphorically six feet deep simply because they’ve unplugged their brains for the remainder of their life.
If you’re in the learning phases for a new challenge in your life, stick with it, and you’ll see payoffs and opportunities everywhere you look.
You are surrounding yourself with the right people
If you’ve made the decision to cut negative people out of your life, congratulations. If you’ve recently done it, realize the pain involved in removing them from your life pales in comparison to the pain you would’ve kept enduring.
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who challenge you, care for you, and even call out your b.s. keeps you grounded enough to make changes in other areas.
I mentioned this point because simply having this area intact will help you stay well-adjusted enough to improve yourself. This is something people don’t talk about often — self-help usually only works for people who are well-adjusted, e.g., going from mediocre to great. Going from dire to mediocre is ten times harder.
If you find yourself in the latter situation, I empathize with you, but helping you is above my pay grade. I’m not a doctor.
If you’re in the former, be grateful you’re even on somewhat stable footing. A lot of people aren’t.
Also, your social environment means more than your friends and family. Your workplace, your community, your social media networks (this goes deeper than you think), and even your interactions with strangers affect the way you think and behave.
Maybe it’s mundane, but a lifetime is the sum of the mundane yet important moments where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A lot of people don’t understand that.
Maybe you do, though. Keep doing your best to have positive interactions daily.
You know what’s important
My life changed when I stopped giving a f*ck about all of the things that don’t matter. It was much more a process of subtraction than it was addition — most positive results are.
I stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me, what I thought of me, what I should or shouldn’t be doing, what the talking head on the news said, failing, pretending like I know the answers when I don’t, being somebody I’m not, my Facebook albums, the statistics on my blog, what my parents think about my career decisions, the fact some of the people around me don’t get it, so it goes.
When Michaelangelo was asked how he created the sculpture of David, he said, “I removed everything that wasn’t David.”
I’m removing everything that isn’t Ayo.
If you’re removing everything that isn’t you, whittle it down to the few defining characteristics that matter to you. Mine? Family, friends, freedom, creativity, and action over hesitation.
Once you’ve removed most of the b.s. from your life, the hard part’s over. You don’t have to try super hard anymore. If all that’s left is what you truly need and enjoy, it won’t take a ton of effort to accomplish stuff. Some effort, yes, but not nearly the amount it takes to build an emotional house of cards.
That’s the funny thing, people who care too much — although they know caring less would make them happier and more productive — are actually some of the hardest working people in the world.
It takes a lot of brain energy to mentally juggle negativity, other people’s expectations, and the outward exterior you don’t even really want to portray.
Better to rid yourself of those excess f*cks and focus on what matters.
People are noticing the changes you’ve made
If you’re at this point, really good things are about to happen for you soon.
It’s the point where you’ve finally looked at the future you want and you actually believe it can come true.
You’ve been setting little goals and reaching them. The goals are swelling a little bigger right along with your confidence.
You’ll start noticing the tell-tale signs. People will make comments about your progress, both positive and negative. This is the important part to remember.
When you’re on the rise, people around you will take note of it. When you are dedicated to rising above the crowd, it’s impossible to ignore.
People will literally feel something when they’re around you. They may not be able to put their finger on it, but they know you’re going somewhere.
On the positive side, some people will look up to you and even seek guidance from you. On the negative, some people will say things like “you’ve changed,” or “who do you think you are,” or “look at the big shot!” They’ll say these things to your face and behind your back.
Why? Because, like Ayn Rand says in The Fountainhead, “Men hate passion. Any type of passion.”
You’re a mirror now. People who don’t want to see their reflections don’t like to be near mirrors. When they see you, they see their ‘couldas, shouldas, and wouldas’ in 1080 pixel H.D. It’s unnerving, secretly inspiring, and unnerving to them at the same time.
This is how the world works. Some people are asleep and they don’t like to see awake people. This isn’t even much of a harsh judgment. It’s the truth.
When you’re awake, you have two options — shrink or shine. You’ll be pressured to do the former but most of the real joy in life can only be found doing the latter.
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Originally published at medium.com