If I could go back to my 18-year-old self and give one piece of advice, it would be this:
Figure it out.
Figuring out how to figure things out is the simplest, hardest, most important skill (attitude, mindset, call it what you want) that you can develop to make yourself better.
Don’t let your lack of specific hard skills keep you from committing to something exciting. We move from ledge to ledge, paralyzed with indecision and the belief that we aren’t prepared enough, too afraid to make a leap of faith. You don’t have to have the required skills to commit to doing something amazing.
You can figure it out. Relying on skills that you think you need but don’t have will land you on a never ending chase after the untouchable.
Otherwise, make an excuse and stare at the problem you have while doing nothing.
You will never be prepared enough to have the full confidence to do something worth doing. The timing will never be right. You will never have enough credentials or external support. It’s easier to default to “Once I have X, then I can do what I really want.” X is simply something you value less than the thing you really want. It is easier to chase X than what you really want because failure is acceptable. If you fail to achieve X, you never even wanted X in the first place. You wanted something else.
Betting on yourself is much harder. People skirt around the truth before decisively choosing to be bold, take a risk, and bet on their ability to figure it out on the spot.
The harsh reality is that sometimes you won’t be able to figure it out. You’ll get yourself into a situation where you either have to swallow your pride and ask for help or failure is inevitable. The other part of this reality is that if you care about what you’re doing, most of the time you will figure it out.
I used to book up house-painting jobs before I knew how to hold a paintbrush. I was confident enough in front of customers to book big jobs, not because I gave off the appearance of a veteran painter, but because I knew I had the ability to figure it out when I got to that point. I showed the customer that I was on top of my shit. I owned the project. They didn’t have to worry whether or not I knew how to paint, they assumed I did because I assumed I could learn it.
Then, 2 months later, I would be standing on the job site with my crew, painting that house. My painters didn’t know how to paint either. They assumed I knew. So, when they ran into a problem, they would ask me what to do, as if I had faced this exact type of challenge before. I hadn’t. So what did I do?
I figured it out. I found a way.
I used my brain with all its current knowledge and experience to solve the problem to the best of my ability, in that moment. I didn’t know what the end would look like when I began solving the problem, but I figured it out as I went. Sometimes my current skills and experience were enough, and the solution just required some experimentation on the spot. Sometimes, I couldn’t figure it out at all, and I had to call someone to ask for help. Sometimes, I couldn’t call anyone and I was stuck with failure. Either way, I figured it out.
Every small or large obstacle can be moved or skirted. There is always, always, always, always, always a way.
I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. I was pitching a customer, and it was going better than usual. I was on top of my game today. With every objection she threw at me, I had the perfect answer and communicated it without a hitch.
Not ready to get the house painted? “If not now, when? You’ve got me here, now, and you know I’m going to get it done right. Why risk waiting until it gets worse?”
Too expensive? “This is 10x cheaper than the cost you’ll have on your hands when the wood starts to rot. Don’t you want to get it fixed the right way, now, rather than wait until it’s worse and more expensive?”
My confidence was at an all-time high. It was a good day. Then, my phone buzzed again.
I booked the job. $2750. She told me I really knew what I was talking about and that she had no more excuses. There’s not a better feeling in sales than turning 6 hard no’s into a confident yes. She handed me the deposit check, and I went to my car feeling like a badass.
Shit. I pulled my phone out of my pocket. 17 missed calls. Oh boy.
I was running a house-painting business that summer. I quit college to do this full-time because I got to be a real entrepreneur, book real jobs with real customers, make real money, and the best part? I didn’t open a textbook the entire time.
My crew was working on painting a house that day. It was towards the end of the summer, and they knew what they were doing by now. I had already struggled through most of my customer issues for the summer. My painters were well-experienced, and I spent most of my days doing estimates, meeting with customers, or running my marketing team. It was nice to not have to worry about production.
I had finally figured it out. I could book jobs, pass them onto my production manager, and he would take care of them. I barely had to pick up a paintbrush by this point, let alone show up to the job site.
The only time they called me was if they unexpectedly ran out of paint, or needed me to bring them another ladder. But they never called me 17 times within 20 minutes. Something had to be wrong…
Ok, uhh, I’m not sure how it happened, but basically we tipped over a bucket of paint and it’s all over the roof.
I had never been in this position before. I couldn’t have taken a class on it, and I couldn’t have had a mentor explain to me in advance what to do in this unlikely one-off situation.
So what did I do?
I figured it out.
The time was going to pass regardless of what I did. The paint was already on the roof, I was 20 minutes away, and something had to be done. That’s all I knew.
I told my production manager to put water on it. I didn’t know if that would work. I asked him if the homeowner was there. “No,” he said.
It was one of those moments where I could only think of one word to say to myself, and I said it over and over.
“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”
I called my production manager every 5 minutes for an update, and he said the same thing every time: “It’s working, but it’s really slow.”
I eventually got to the job site, climbed up on the roof, and began scrubbing paint. I told my painters to all get back to work and finish the house, and *don’t spill any more paint*. I used different tools every few minutes to see what worked best. None of them worked best.
I scrubbed for about 2 hours. Then, when it was mostly gone, I called the customer and let her know what was up. I told her, tactfully, that we had spilled paint on the roof, but we cleaned it up quickly and you can’t really tell what happened. I let her know that I’d be scrubbing for another hour to make sure it’s completely fixed.
In the moment, I had no idea what to do. I ended up doing the right thing because I wasn’t over thinking it. I was simply reacting to the situation, using whatever abilities I had at my disposal.
This moment taught me an important lesson. You will always run into situations in which you find yourself unprepared, and it’s impossible to prepare for everything.
The ability to just “figure it out” is the most important ability you can have.
It’s the ability to put yourself into a situation knowing full well that you might not know what to do. It’s putting yourself on the spot. It’s trusting yourself to rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion. It’s accepting that preparation is only important because it lends itself to making you more effective for game-time. Without gametime, practice is futile.
Luckily, that customer was a sweetheart, and appreciated my honesty. We still got paid for the job, because I had simply decided to “figure it out.” Though, I never got any extra compensation for my near heart-attack.
Success, however you define it, takes a lot of time. If you’re impatient like me, this can be frustrating. Today I sat down to figure out why I always underestimate how much time it’ll take me to do the things I set out to do.
When you set a goal, you look straight towards it, but the actual path is never linear. There’s always a long learning curve. Our growth and progress are always exponential when taking on something new.
It’s like this:
After you do the same thing consistently for months and years, you’ll eventually hit a stride and become much more effective with each move you take. But it does take months and years.
If you deceive yourself into thinking that the path is linear, you’ll compare yourself to an unrealistic benchmark of progress.
You’re really not that far behind. You’re actually much closer than you think. But if you let that unrealistic deficit get in your way, you might quit or believe you’re not taking the right steps.
Instead, put your head down, be patient, be consistent, and keep doing what you’re doing.
I met Chandler through an internship we both did in college. He’s an example of someone who just doesn’t quit. He’s always moving, always grinding, and always having fun doing it.
Chandler is the author of 5 bestselling books including “Book Launch” and his most recent book titled “Published.”. He’s also the founder & CEO of Self-Publishing School, the #1 online resource for writing your first book. Through his books, training videos, and Self-Publishing School, he’s helped thousands of people on their journey to writing their first book.
Here are his top 3 book recommendations:
The Miracle Morning
The One Thing
Check out Chandler’s article on Business Insider, visit his website, or find him on Facebook!
BI Article: http://www.businessinsider.com/chandler-bolt-self-publishing-school-2015-4
Once upon a time, I was an International Baccalaureate student. This was an elite group of students within my high school. We had more homework, read more advanced books, and were held to a higher academic standard than the rest of the students.
While I despised the schoolwork, I quite enjoyed the social atmosphere of it – this was ultimately what made it bearable.
In high school, I got to goof off with my friends during the day. In college, the dorm experience is unmatched when it comes to socializing and making new friends. It was fun.
I had fun in school because I put most of my energy during the day towards things other than schoolwork. I would study social dynamics and behavior of the people around me for fun, something that is very transparent in a high school. I observed, and learned a lot about how people interact, why drama is created, and what to do about it. I would talk my friends through their problems and I enjoyed giving rational advice because I understood the situation from an objective point of view.
I remember the day I stopped trying in school.
It was 8th grade, and I had a crush on a girl. We were in math class together. As a 13 year-old, it got me a lot of attention when I pretended like I didn’t care about school, and that’s one thing I cared about: getting that girl’s attention.
That day, we were all supposed to be quietly working on our math problems. Instead, I would give her looks and mess around, showing that I don’t care about working on my math problems even though that’s what the teacher said we were supposed to do. I really felt like a badass.
Over time, avoiding schoolwork became a habit, even after the girl was gone.
But I’m convinced this habit wasn’t a product of the girl. It was inevitable. I never really tried in school up to this point. I had been a straight-A student because the assignments were easy and I was generally a bright kid.
Eventually it was clear to me that I couldn’t stand it. Most of the time I either didn’t do the work and accepted a 0 on the assignment, or found a way to complete it without actually doing it.
I remember one time I had a 4000-word extended-essay that I had known about for over a year. Some kids started a year early. Some started 6 months early. I started 2 days before it was due, and stayed up all night cranking it out. This was the biggest writing assignment of my high school career. I honestly couldn’t tell you the topic. That’s how little I cared about that assignment.
Deep down I never cared about school. The stuff I was supposed to be learning didn’t matter to me. It didn’t excite me in the slightest. Out of the 20+ books I was supposed to read in high school, I probably actually read 4 or 5. And I look back on those ones fondly, because I was genuinely interested in them. I wasn’t able to bring myself to spend my time reading the other ones because I didn’t care.
No teacher could make me care. My parents couldn’t make my care. The threat of not getting into a good college couldn’t make me care (I was confident I could figure that out when I got there).
Sometimes I was able to will myself to give a solid effort, but only out of respect for the teachers I liked, and the effort came in rare, short bursts.
Having the drive to excel is completely unsustainable when the thing you’re putting your energy into isn’t returning excitement or motivation.
My modus operandi in school was not learning my subjects, but figuring out how to get good enough grades to pass. That’s the goal, right? I was pretty good at it.
I even got my IB diploma, something not everybody earns even after going through the program. I barely got it based off my test scores, but scraping by had worked for me up until this point. It was a game.
A’s are better than B’s which are better than C’s, right? But why? If I got a C, I still passed the class. My life went on as normal. Sure, my GPA would drop, but I didn’t feel any immediate effects from that, and quite frankly, I was totally content with having 2.something.
I went through the motions for the entirety of high school feeling like an impostor every day. I never brought this up to anyone. My own self-confidence was damaged because of it.
Every day I felt like I was digging myself into a deeper hole. Every day it got harder to bring it up to anyone. Suggesting the idea that school was hurting me more than helping me would be utterly ridiculous. So I kept quiet and plugged along, treating my entire life the same way as I treated my school assignments – the only way I knew how to treat anything: half-heartedly.
I was a smart kid. I had a lot of common sense. I was well-spoken, well-written, and I had big aspirations. I had a strong work ethic, just like the other elite International Baccalaureate students. But my attitude towards academia was the same as that of the druggies who smoked cigs in the corner of the school parking lot.
In either group I was an impostor.
This attitude was wrong by all the standards I had grown up with, and those of everyone around me, so I had a looming sense of guilt for it. But this didn’t change the way I acted. No amount of guilt could change my true inner values.
School told me that I should be studying math, science, reading, government, history, and writing. School told me that I can pick from electives like psychology or economics. School told me what I should like. How I should act. What goals to have, and what I’m supposed to do to get there.
School never asked me what I wanted. School never encouraged me to do something exciting. It only made me feel guilty for not being excited about what everyone else was supposed to be excited about.
This ultimately lasted 3 semesters into college, where, yet again, I had a blast with the social scene, and avoided schoolwork at all costs. I skipped class most days because there wasn’t a point in me going. I knew that even if I went, I would find a way to be distracted and I wouldn’t really gain value out of it, so why waste the time walking there when I could read a book I enjoy or hang out with my friends?
The 3rd semester, I failed 3 out of my 5 classes. The only ones I passed were Psychology and Philosophy, with a C in both.
This was the last straw. My student loans were piling up, and it seemed like I was getting worse and worse at school. I had a lot of ground to make up if I was going to stick with it.
I had finally found something that excited me – entrepreneurship. I ran a house painting business over the summer and felt the highs of making sales, the lows of screwing up the production of those deals, and I made it out alive with a valuable skillset backed by an exciting story.
I finally got to apply my mind to something real, in a practical way. I felt my own success, and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like an impostor.
So I went back to college for a 4th semester, and resolved to put that new-found energy back into my college courses.
Remember what I said earlier?
“Having the drive to excel is completely unsustainable when the thing you’re putting your energy into isn’t returning excitement or motivation.”
I lasted 3 days, then I dropped out. This was undoubtedly the most liberating decision I’ve ever made, and it’s lead to my proudest moments as a leader, author, and entrepreneur.
What do you want?
This can be one of the hardest questions to answer. Success, money, happiness, love, freedom? Those are some real but vague answers.
I preach a lot about going out of your comfort zone and stepping into the unknown. There is no better way to learn and grow than to do something you’ve never done before and be forced to figure it out.
But why do you want to learn and grow in the first place? It’s not so you can be in a constant state of uncertainty. It’s so that you can gain stability.
Instability is the necessary stepping stone that leads to stability. When I imagine the success, money, happiness, love, and freedom I will earn in my life, I imagine them as stable things that I will earn and keep.
Don’t lose sight of why you are embracing uncertainty in your life. It is not to be uncertain, it is to develop certainty over time. Don’t swear off any sort of stability for the sake of learning and growing because it’s the stability at the end of the tunnel that makes the uncertainty valuable and necessary.