Being Intelligent Or Talented Isn’t Enough

In fifth grade our teacher asked who was excited to eventually get their driver’s license. Everyone’s hand went up except for mine. Perplexed, the teacher asked me why I wasn’t looked forward to getting my license.

I replied that, “Getting my license doesn’t matter to me because by the time I’m 16 I’ll be rich enough to have a chauffeur drive me around anyway.” I was completely serious and confident in what I said, but I think it made everyone else in the room somewhat uncomfortable and the teacher played it off as if what I said was a joke. She gave a polite chuckle before quickly changing the subject.

My 16th birthday rolled around in the beginning of 2013, and to my surprise I wasn’t a millionaire yet. Another year has passed and I’m not measurably closer to being a millionaire. At my current rate of progression it’ll be another 10-15 years before I’m living the luxurious life I once imagined I’d be living before the end of high school.

What mistake did fifth-grade Cameron and millions of people who fall short of their goals have in common? They believed that being intelligent alone was enough to succeed.

The Truth About Intelligence…

is it isn’t as important as you’d think. I’m not saying that if you’re a super geek you need to bang your head against the wall to lose brain cells; rather that intelligence alone isn’t enough to produce success.

I’m currently reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and he makes an interesting analogy comparing height in basketball to intelligence and success. If you’re an NBA scout looking for players to draft height is an important thing to consider. Nobody under 5″ will be successful in the NBA, and even people that are 5’11” or 6″ could benefit from being a little taller.

However, once you reach a certain height being taller has less and less significance. 6’1” is a big difference from 5’10”, but being 6’9” isn’t a major difference from 6’6”. That height difference may change the position you’d play, but once you reach the basketball height threshold of say 6’4”, other variables become more important.

You might be tall, but can you shoot? Can you handle the ball well? Are you conditioned? Height may be a prerequisite to being a superstar NBA player, but at an elite level height alone will not make you a game changer.

The same is true of intelligence (though luckily for you, intelligence can be cultivated to a far greater extent than height). You may be intelligent or have natural inclinations toward certain activities, but relying on God-given abilities alone will not lead to you standing out from elite competitors.

There are lots of teenagers who are equally or even more naturally talented than me as a writer. However, because they don’t write regularly they have nothing to show for it while I have thousands of blog readers each month.

Similarly, I have natural talent as a long-distance runner. However, because I don’t work to cultivate this talent I can only run at a turtle’s pace 5.5-6 minute mile while other runners are receiving full-ride scholarships to college for their running.

Just like everyone else you have natural inclinations and “unfair” advantages. You might not be 7 feet tall or think analytically in the same way I do, but maybe you have perfect pitch or come from a wealthy family that can afford to send you to summer study abroad programs and the college of your choice.

Regardless, understand that while having “unfair” advantages may make the journey a little easier or provide you with a higher-ceiling of success, a massive element of action is still required.

I may have had the potential to become a millionaire by age 16 or 17, but because I didn’t hustle enough (and my priorities changed) I’m not. You may have the potential to be successful in your chosen endeavor, but realize you can’t live in potential the rest of your life.

While it’s certain your life will change over time, positive progress isn’t guaranteed and if you want to make your dreams become a reality you’re going to have to hustle regardless of your natural abilities.

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Choose Your Words Carefully

Last month Seth Godin wrote an interesting post on the harsh tone of most signs.

ABSOLUTELY NO CREDIT CARDS.

NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST OR STOLEN ITEMS.

BATHROOMS FOR PATRONS ONLY.

He made the point that, “There’s no legal requirement that signs have to make you sound like a harsh jerk in order to carry weight or to inform the public.”

Finally, he offered examples of positively reframed signs.

To keep our prices as low as possible, we only accept cash. The good news is that there’s an ATM next door.

Careful! We’d like to watch your stuff for you, but we’re busy making coffee.

Our spotlessly clean restrooms are for our beloved customers only, so come on in and buy something! Also, there’s a public bathroom in the library down the street.

Though Seth’s idea may be an interesting marketing concept it also has a direct parallel in the field of self-improvement. The words you use in responding to adversity can greatly affect your ability to combat it.

Instead of complaining about why you can’t do something ask yourself how you could do it. Instead of blaming others for your problems ask yourself how you’re going to solve them. If you ask your brain a question YOU WILL get an answer. Therefore the quality of the questions you ask yourself greatly determines the level of success you’ll experience in life.

Also consider the specific vocabulary you use with yourself as well. Normally when you feel angry you yell, “I’M PISSED!” and feel as if you’re losing control of yourself. Yelling may help to some extent because it’s cathartic, but a more effective measure would be to break identification with your anger.

The next time you feel angry try yelling, “I’m PEEVED! I’M PEEEEEEVED!!” You’ll try to stay angry, but often using silly vocabulary will help you stop identifying with your angry emotions and see them for how trivial they are. It’s difficult to stay angry when you hear how silly you sound yelling, “I’M PEEVED!”

The vocabulary you use, and manner in which you phrase your questions may be simple tools, but they can have a tremendous effect on the life you live.

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Cut The Branch If You Want To Fly

Perhaps the most common complaint in self-improvement is that people feel stuck. They’ve tried to do this or that, but their life is at a stalemate. What should they do?

We could talk about cultivating a burning desire to change, how they could set better goals, or any other number of tactics. What I’m going to suggest in this post, however, is far more simple.

You can be stuck in a tree all day, but you’ll never spread your wings and fly if you’re comfortable with the branch you’re sitting on. Your brain is biologically wired to only engage as much as it has to. Therefore, you need to cut the branch you’re sitting on and make flying your only option.

However, there is a caveat to this. Cutting the branch doesn’t guarantee you’ll be successful. Quitting your job doesn’t guarantee you’ll put in the work needed to get your business off the ground. Signing up for a half-marathon doesn’t guarantee you’ll get out of bed and go for your run every morning.

However, the psychological pressure makes it a lot more likely. You may still fail, but even so, you can learn from your failure, take motivation from it, and recalibrate your actions to produce success next time. It’s a win/win situation.

If you feel like you’re stuck try cutting the branch. Doing so doesn’t guarantee you’ll fly, but it’ll give you motivation to try, and even if you fail; you’ll have learned what it takes to produce success and you’ll have gained emotional leverage to try harder next time.

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Even Our Greatest Heroes Are Still Human

For a long time I thought the celebrities I looked up to were super human. I might have said otherwise on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level I felt my heroes had something I didn’t. I felt that they were wired differently, and that regardless of what I did I would never amount to a person of their caliber.

Over time, however, my beliefs have changed. I’ve seen many of the people I looked up to fall off. People who were once doing meaningful work stopped. They became complacent. They gave into the biological mechanism to minimize the amount of effort they exerted and as a result they lost their engagement with life.

It’s something that deeply saddens me. The people I once held in the highest regard, the people that were absolutely crushing it, gone. And if we’re going to be honest, probably never coming back.

Some of the other people I once looked up to are doing better than ever. Tynan’s still blogging, learning languages, and improving SETT, (the platform the community here is hosted on) each week.

But even the people I hold in the highest regard struggle at times. Tyler of RSD has talked about nights where he wanted to practice pickup, but could only do half-assed approaches. Tynan’s written about days he wasted falling into the Reddit portal.

And most recently, with the community here growing I’ve learned that the legendary tales we tell of our heroes may be stretched. We may be victims to publication-bias.

Some of the younger readers here have told me that they’ve subscribed to the blog because it shows them what’s possible for someone our age, and that each time they get a post in the mailbox it’s like getting a cup of motivational coffee.

I’ve had another reader tell me he uses me as motivation to write because he refuses to let a young kid half his age write all these introspective posts while he’s diddling around and letting life pass him by.

I know I’m not even a Z-list celebrity at this point, but it’s interesting to see that some people consider me a hero in their lives. Whether it’s you guys here who appreciate my blog posts, or the people at school who tell me I inspire them by always smiling, it’s touching to know that to even a few people I’m the guy they look up to.

But what’s also interesting is that this has continued to show me our heroes aren’t so different from us. While some of you may think I’m always productive the reality is I’m not. Sometimes when I don’t feel like doing things I don’t do them.

I’m not proud to say that, but it’s the truth. Sometimes my days get wasted link chasing to every corner of the internet.

While the people at school may think I’m always happy the truth is I’m not. I go through periods of seasonal depression. I cry. I feel insecure at times. I wonder what it would be like to be popular again. I feel regret and pain for all the time I’ve wasted chasing things that don’t matter.

That’s not to say that I’m a depressed maniac who wastes all his days in a scrunched up position on the couch eating potato chips, and surfing the internet. However, the truth is life isn’t as rosy for anyone as it may appear.

Sometimes your heroes are getting their asses kicked. They might not always tell you because they’re afraid of being vulnerable or discouraging you, but they’re going through struggles just as you are.

The only difference a super hero has over the average fan is that he/she understands that he/she has what it takes to overcome these challenges. They understand that everything they need is already inside them, and that they don’t need to wait for a mythical aura of courage to envelop them before confronting their struggles.

So what I ask of you is to stop waiting for something outside of yourself to give you permission to be great. Turn inwards, and with an absolute commitment to your chosen endeavor, there’s no reason you can’t become one of the heroes you once idolized.

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(Picture is of Dallas in April 2014)

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How Much Should You Practice?

As a juggler a topic that often arises when talking to other jugglers is the amount and frequency one should practice. Of course, most of the community here doesn’t juggle, but I think it’s an interesting topic nonetheless so today’s post will focus on general guidelines that can be applied to ANY field.

Think Assimilated Information

I know many jugglers that practice for 4-8 hours per day. According to the 10,000 hour rule this would mean they’re on the fast track to mastery right? Wrong. At least in most cases. Something people often forget when discussing the 10,000 hour rule is that time spent practicing only counts if it was spent deliberately.

The amount of information your brain is able to assimilate is much more important than the amount of input you take in. When done properly deliberate practice is exhausting and because of that most elite performers practice for only four hours per day. Going through the motions is a waste of time at best, and doing so potentially risks ingraining bad habits.

(Also, for jugglers or others pursuing excellence in a fine motor skill physical pursuit; in general, once your muscles are fatigued it’s time to be done. Occasionally you’ll want to ensure that you’re capable of performing even when you’re tired, but at the same time practicing with exhausted muscles will only lead to the practicing of poor technique.)

Though your ability to focus is a muscle and can be increased over time, as a general rule it’s in your best interest to stop practicing when you can no longer do so deliberately.

Come Back Tomorrow

Another frequent problem is people beginning practice routines too rapidly. They practice several hours per day for a week or two and then are never to be seen again. Or, the more disciplined among them continue practicing several hours per day, but resent the activity and as a result are not fully engaged (thus they’re not practicing as deliberately as they could be).

Either way I’ll make a simple recommendation. Practice just enough so that you’ll still want to come back tomorrow. Our lives are too short to be spent doing things we don’t love. If you’re trying to logically rationalize why you need to spend more time practicing there’s a good chance you’re settling for an activity that’s not the ideal fit for you (at least at that time).

Take Breaks

I recommend a standard routine of six days of practice per week. If you love the activity you’re practicing (and you should if you’re seriously pursuing mastery in it) then you’ll be happy to practice this often.

The reason I don’t recommend practicing seven days per week is because I’ve found that having a full 24 hours each week where you can step away from your craft is extremely beneficial.

Although practicing seven days per week may appear to be the ideal practice routine, many people progress faster when practicing six days per week because they’re able to be more enthusiastic about their training and thus be more engaged.

Having a regular break from practice each week can also provide you with additional scheduling flexibility and make adhering to your practice routine easier.

Finally, your day off will allow your brain to assimilate the things you’ve learned over the last week using the incubation effect. Overall it’s a matter of personal preference and the field you’re pursuing mastery in, but consider 6 days of practice per week as a baseline to experiment from.

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The World Is Your Mirror

There’s something very esoteric about the eyes of human beings. When you hold extended eye contact with someone you can peer into their soul, yet at the same time it’s impossible to see your own eyes without the use of a mirror (or other reflection).

An interesting theory I’ve heard in the past is that what finds most upsetting in others is actually what he/she mosts resists in him/herself. In other words, if you find someone’s selfishness most off putting that’s likely an area where you experience insecurity and need significant work with yourself. This concept applies to every aspect of life.

But just as it’s impossible to see your own eyes without outside assistance, it’s also impossible to be completely objective with your own behaviors. It’s easy to say that you’re a positive person, but the energy you bring out of others will often be a far more accurate indicator of the type of person you are.

Of course, there’s a balance that must be struck. You don’t want to sit around waiting for other people to tell you who you are, but at the same time if people are constantly running away from you and telling you to leave them alone it’s probably best for you take a look at recalibrating your energy.

The universe rewards good behaviors and punishes poor behaviors. If you’re grounded in your presence people will generally react positively towards you in social situations. If you’re seeking validation and trying to leech positive energy off of other people you’re going to get roasted.

In the same way realize that any discontentment you feel is rarely the result of your external circumstances. Perhaps the world is a bore, but is it also possible you’re just boring?

This is pure speculation, but as a mental model of reality imagine that consciousness in the universe wants to evolve. Unconsciousness want to become consciousness and consciousness seeks to become higher consciousness.

The problem is never the world. It’s you. The world is inherently perfect. The only thing that keeps it from being so is your mental judgements of what is good and bad.

There’s no reason to be angry when it rains. When you were a kid you would have splashed in the puddles and had the time of your life.

The irritations and resistance you experience when it rains are simply lower levels of consciousness coming to the surface. Learn to accept these feelings, and as you do you’ll eventually begin to transcend them. As you advance on your journey of self-improvement and evolve in consciousness you’ll find yourself amused that these trivial things once annoyed you.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and though we are all equal as human beings, many of us struggle to see the beauty in the world because we all (some more than others) don ugly masks that prevent us from seeing the beauty in every imperfection in the world.

But as we take off our own masks we not only become free, but also help inspire others to do the same as well as increase our ability to be able to appreciate all the beauty and experiences the world has to offer.

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(Picture is from my trip to Dallas last month.)

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When Life Gives You Shit, Roll With It

Yesterday had just been one of those days. I committed to taking a break from juggling, but irresponsibly forgot to schedule an alternative activity. As a result I got sucked onto the computer, and wasted an entire night chasing shiny objects through every corner of the internet.

I don’t mind taking breaks from work, but the problem occurs when those breaks are spent doing activities that are only going to further drain me. Following the self-esteem hit from wasting several hours of my life, I went through a rare episode of insomnia and woke up this morning exhausted.

Today wasn’t shaping up to be a good day and in the past it wouldn’t have been. I would have resisted my emotions and felt guilty for feeling the way I felt. Today, however, I decided I was going to roll the dice life has given me.

Something I understand now, but couldn’t accept even a year ago is that emotions come in waves. While it’s a good idea to craft your life in a way that’s conductive to your happiness, you’ve also got to realize that it can’t always be high tide.

Different sides of the spectrum cannot exist without each other. What is day without night? Yin without Yang? Life without death? Understand that we could not perceive happiness without the occasional moment of sadness. The days you feel down are there to help you appreciate when life is on the upswing.

Furthermore, understand that there isn’t a need to identify with your emotions. You are not sadness. You are the awareness that perceives the physical body producing negative chemical reactions in the brain.

The problem is we all have egos and most peoples’ egos attempt to enlarge themselves through the stories we tell ourselves. This person said this about me. Or this shouldn’t have happened. Or my circumstances aren’t fair.

In truth life isn’t fair, but nobody ever said it was going to be fair either. Thus, there’s nothing to complain about. You can’t control what other people say. You can’t control traffic or the weather. You can’t control the odd mood swing and you shouldn’t try to either.

It’s not our circumstances that cause us to lose fulfillment in life. It’s the way we react to them. It’s the stories we tell ourselves. Was your date 15 minutes late because she doesn’t care, or because she spent extra time dolling herself up for you? Is an odd blasé day something you should feel guilty about, or is it a natural occurrence in life?

Sometimes you’re going to experience negative emotions. I’ve felt a bit down all day, but I’ve come to realize that feeling this way is ok. Feeling out of it every once in a while isn’t something you need to place a moral judgement on. Doing so will do nothing to improve your situation and you’ll only create stress and guilt for yourself.

You’ve got to experience the lows every once in a while to appreciate the highs. Interestingly enough, accepting this is what allows you to become process-oriented and quickly work through the lows.

Furthermore, accepting what is allows you to experience deep inner-peace even while you’re experiencing negative emotions or chaotic occurrences in your external reality.

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(Picture is of a lake in Texas from April 2014.)

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Success Will Never Come Knocking At Your Door

I just finished the toughest workout of my life. Although I’m completely spent, I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. In today’s workout I decided to stop going through the motions, and I pushed myself further than I’ve ever gone.

That’s what I want for you. I want you to do whatever it is that challenges you, and push your comfort zone more than you ever have before. You may feel exhausted afterwards, but you’ll also feel an intense sense of satisfaction unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

Understand that life isn’t about minimizing the amount of effort you exert. That’s merely your biological mechanism. In reality life is about giving everything you possibly have to give so when you do decide to relax you can actually appreciate it rather than relaxation being a form of addiction.

Stop being a robot. Get off autopilot. Get out of your head, and do something that challenges you. Go on an adventure, talk to the girl of your dreams, destroy yourself in the gym. Go motherfucking crazy and channel your energy in your chosen pursuit like you never have before.

Have you ever noticed that every child has a little sparkle in their eyes, yet few keep this sparkle into adulthood? The reason this happens is because at some point their dreams were killed. They stopped believing in what they were capable of accomplishing.

You don’t want to be the person mindlessly walking through life without dreams. Understand that simply existing doesn’t entitle you to the realization of your dreams. You’ve got to work motherfucker. The newspaper might come to your door every morning, but success will never come knocking at your door.

Never will you answer the door, and have the FedEx guy say, “Got a package of $100,000,000 and all your childhood dreams, just sign here.” If that’s what you believe you’re going to waste the rest of your life waiting. Some things just come to you, but your dreams are something you’re going to have to fight ‘til the death for, and take by force.

Taking MASSIVE action is the only way to keep the sparkle in your eye shining. You’ve got to exert yourself. LAZINESS is NOT AN OPTION. The way of the warrior may not be easy, but nothing is more fulfilling than seeing your dreams become closer and closer to a reality with each passing day.

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Why You Need A Social Support System And How To Build It

Today’s blog post was inspired by a comment I recently received from a  reader named Pavlos. He goes on to say, “Your blog is excellent. I really found help in it! And yes…all this is true but what should I do when noone has free time because of studying and I don’t have any type of support? When I have to solve all the problems and situations by myself? What should I do then? I live in a place where everyone goes to many activities and very rarely finds some free time…”

First of all Pavlos I’m glad you’ve found my blog to be a useful resource. That’s always an encouraging thing to hear. 🙂 Moving onward to your situation, it appears there’s two main questions here.

1. Is it possible to manage one’s own emotions, and produce the results one would like without outside support?

2. If not, how should one go about establishing a positive support system?

Although an entire book could be written on this topic I’ll do my best to cover the main points within the scope of this blog post.

(#1) Self-reliance is a desirable trait and something you should aim to cultivate. No doubt about it. With that being said, you can’t come close to meeting your potential without the help of others.

There’s a reason solitary confinement is considered one of the cruelest punishments. Humans aren’t independent islands. We’re social creatures. We’re meant to interact with each other.

This doesn’t mean you need to become the most popular kid at your school. Under ideal circumstances you’d have a few close friends or family members that you share a loving relationship with, and that will support you on your journey towards whatever you define as success.

Bare minimum, however, you need acquaintances and regular social contact to prevent yourself from going completely insane.

On the career side it’s certainly possible to be successful based solely on the merits of your skills, but you’re much more likely to receive opportunities if you have acquaintances that can provide you with connections.

Also keep in mind that having people you care about and enjoy spending time with can provide with you with motivation to take action, as well as provide a work-life balance that prevents you from burning out.

(#2.) Two main pieces of advice here. First I’d encourage you to realize that it’s a mistake to passively wait for others to befriend you. If you’re lacking social connections it’s up to you to proactively go out and establish them.

You did this on a small-scale by leaving a comment and reaching out to me and the community here. That’s a great first step, but online connections don’t carry the same substance as those made in the real-world. Making connections offline may be more intimidating to you, but those connections will in most cases be far more valuable.

The other piece of advice I’d like to offer is that you need to give as you’d like to receive. The world is your mirror. If others are responding negatively to you it’s because you’re putting off an undesirable vibe or because you’re talking to the wrong people. Over time do your best to consciously weed out your unappealing behaviors, and also aim to put yourself into more social situations.

You say that you live in a place where others are always going to activities. Why not join some of these activities yourself? You didn’t mention what you enjoy doing, but even if the activities themselves aren’t particularly appealing they still provide a good opportunity to meet other people.

If necessary you can quit the activities after you’ve established social connections from them, but even if these gatherings initially appear dull you’re sure to enjoy at least a few of things you try!

Finally, if you have friends or even mere acquaintances ask them if they’d introduce you to their other friends. You don’t want to manipulate people or use them merely as stepping stones, but at the same time realize that every fat girl has a hot friend, and most guys will have a friend who shares some of your interests.

Understand that finding people you truly mesh with can be a lengthy process. You’re going to have to soldier your way through countless conversations, and social events. At times you’ll feel nobody can relate to you, and that there’s no where you belong. In the end, however, you’ll eventually establish fulfilling relationships and see that spending time with people you’re truly compatible with is one of the greatest pleasures this world has to offer.

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