“When we consciously tie our most significant dreams to our daily actions, we pull ourselves out of the muck and step firmly onto the path that leads to success.” ― Richie Norton
Whenever you read about people’s success stories or those zero to hero stories, they always make it sound like it was mostly smooth sailing. The story always starts with a challenge or a difficult situation. Then there is this little bit in the middle where the person had to demonstrate some grit and determination and really push towards their goals. And then, they are successful and decide to tell their stories to motivate others with mantras like “If I can do it, so can you”.
The problem with these stories is that they often tell you “how” after the fact. They look back and try to imagine what they were thinking and feeling as they were overcoming their challenging circumstances and then they share platitudes that are meant to inspire action in others. However, most people who are still stuck, listen to these inspirational stories and think “Wow it really does take a special kind. I don’t think I could ever do that.” Very seldom do we actually believe that we could follow in their footsteps.
One reason is often it’s unclear how successful people got unstuck in the first place. Now, there are exceptions to these. I can think of three people off the top of my head that followed a different approach. They were willing to share their secrets and tell others how they managed to overcome their challenges and build successful lives.
Dorie Clark has built quite a following, because she shows up authentically and shares her real stories and “trade secrets”. She is honest about the amount of hard work, commitment, determination and persistence it takes to succeed. There are no short cuts. The people that succeed are the ones that persist, even in the face of adversity and setbacks. The one’s who keep their eyes focused on their own goals and who keep pushing until they get a different result. It involved being able to tolerate disappointment and rejection – often repeatedly for months or years. It involves building skills that will help you accomplish what you hope to.
Scott Adams wrote a book about his journey entitled “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”. Now, if that doesn’t tell you how much failure is involved in the middle bit between where you are starting and where you end up, then nothing will. And as Adams rightly says, a lot of success has to do with luck – i.e. being in the right place at the right time or pitching your idea timely to the right person.
So, another reason why these zero to hero stories, don’t always inspire people to “go for it”, is just because it worked for them, it doesn’t mean it will work for you. You are a different person, with a different personality, background and mindset. Even if you could repeat every step of their process exactly, you might not end up with the same result. Luck just might not be on your side.
Cait Flanders is another person who openly shared her journey in overcoming her challenge with overspending, getting out of debt, and becoming financially independent. She wrote a weekly blog outlining her struggles and progress. What is inspiring about what Cait did, is that she was willing to talk about what it’s like to be in the “trenches” as Brené Brown would call it – or what I would call “being in the muck”.
A recent conversation with my coach highlighted how unwilling people are to talk about what it’s like in the muck – i.e. that middle part when you haven’t figured it out yet. You’ve decided that you are tired of your old story and you want a new story. You’ve decided that you want to change your life, but you still haven’t figured out exactly how you are going to do it. You have no idea where to start, so you just start somewhere and hope that it will get easier as you move along this path towards personal growth and transformation.
Of course, it does get easier over time. I have no doubt about that, but I don’t think it’s instantaneous. And I don’t think you feel empowered every day of your journey. I’m guessing there are days when you feel stuck or you feel like you are being sucked back into the old story. I’m guessing there are days when you feel really lost and you actually don’t have the answers. How you choose to show up on those days, what you choose to tell yourself on those days, and what actions you take on those days, matter more than on the days when it seems as if your intentions are aligned with the universe and everything is smooth sailing. Why does it matter more? Because it’s on those days that you figure out the how. It’s on those days that you build character and grit. It’s on those days that you figure out what you are really made of, what you really believe and who you actually want to become.
So, considering this, and through the inspiration of people like Dorie Clark, Scott Adams and Cait Flanders, I’ve decided that perhaps stories about being in the muck are worth being told. I have overcome many challenges in my life, and I’ve had to reinvent myself or start over from scratch a couple of times. However, when I look back on my journey to try and figure out what made the biggest difference, I can only guess at what the biggest factors were that led to my success, because I don’t know. I just put my head down and went for it. I just pushed and kept trying until I got what I wanted. I never took the time to examine my inner thoughts and feelings or the person I was becoming. I just got to a point on the journey when I realised, I had changed, and I am now a different person.
However, when you are coaching others towards their greatest aspirations and goals and when you are supporting others in their transformation, it’s often helpful to know what it’s like to be stuck in the muck and to be able to share those real stories with people to empower them, so they really do feel like it’s worth it to keep going – even in the face of no tangible evidence that a transformation is in the making. It’s helpful to understand the mindset of being stuck in the muck and what it takes to keep moving while in the muck. You have more capacity to serve, when your struggle is real, just like theirs and you are not sitting on a pedestal pointing out how they are thrashing about in the muck and not really making much progress…
I don’t know what will happen on this journey. However, at the start of this new decade, I made one resolution and that was that this year I will not be attached to one specific outcome. I will trust that the right opportunities will present themselves when I’m ready to embrace them. I will have the inner resolve to move forward on this journey, even on the days when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. So, to this end, I want to share my struggle and my insights. I want to write about being in the muck. And I want to invite you to choose to be in the muck with me this year. Decide that this year, you will take steps towards changing your life, even if you have no idea how you are going to do it.
In the words of Scott Adams, just start with the smallest thing you can muster today and let that be what you accomplish today. And tomorrow, you take the next small step you feel compelled to take. The reality is, we don’t change our lives overnight. We don’t win big or become successful overnight. The muck is not just a blip on the screen towards success. The muck is where the big growth happens. The muck is where we learn who we are, what we value and what we are made of not made of. The muck is where we decide to keep going or to quit. The muck is where the real magic happens. And one day, you will look back and realised you have left the muck. You are on the side bank of the river. Somehow you got out of the muck and reached the other side.
- Adams, S. (2013). How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. New York: Penguin.
- Clark, D. (2013). Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. USA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
- Flanders, C. (2018). The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store. Hay House.