Anyway, onwards with 25 at 25, Part 3!
25 at 25 #11: If you want to get a big task done, break it up into actionable steps.
To go “meta” for a minute, following this principle is how I’m able to get these “25 at 25” principles written.
I know if I were to sit down and write out all 25 at once, along with these short little explanations, two things would happen:
- I would get burnt out.
- The work would not get finished.
That’s assuming I could even get started, because even though I enjoy writing, I naturally shy away from momentous tasks.
There’s an old saying that if you want to eat an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.
That is so true, whether you’re building a house, writing a book, preparing for a trip, starting a business, learning a new skill… really anything.
Sometimes you’re excited to start, but then that excitement fades when you realize just how daunting the task before you is.
The best way I’ve found to circumvent this is to break the task into reasonable milestones, set reasonable deadlines, and then just start marching towards the first milestone.
And when you reach a milestone? Celebrate, recharge, and get ready to keep going!
25 at 25 #12: If you want to make progress towards a goal, you must do something towards it every day.
Let me tell you firsthand… it’s exciting to start out towards a goal. You feel motivated, you’re full of energy. Nothing could go wrong!
But then you start hitting barriers that take effort to overcome. You encounter obstacles that require you to replan and reroute. And some days, for any number of reasons, you just aren’t motivated to keep at it.
Enough experiences like this and pretty soon you’ll be throwing in the towel. Or you’ll go into permanent procrastination mode, when you say you’re going to “do it tomorrow”, but tomorrow never comes.
The key is to adopt a concept that business author Jim Collins calls “the 20-mile march”. That is, if you were to take on the enormous task of hiking, say, the Appalachian Trail, you could achieve it by simply hiking 20 miles a day, every day.
Not only must you break your goal up into smaller objectives (25 at 25 #11), but you must execute on those smaller objectives every single day. That’s the only way you can keep progressing and stay motivated.
It doesn’t matter if you feel great or terrible, if it’s sunny or rainy, if it’s hot or cold; you just get up, lace up your boots, and hike 20 miles. Day. After. Day.
So whatever great goal you want to accomplish, start chipping away at it a little bit every day. Hike 20 miles whether you like it or not. Let the enjoyment of the good days counterbalance the agony of the bad days.
To sit still is to waste away. Keep moving forward.
25 at 25 #13: The grass may or may not be greener on the other side.
Wow, Matthew. How insightful. (Tell me: Isn’t that what you’re thinking right now?)
The truth is, we’re almost always operating with an incomplete perspective. Even if we try to look at something objectively, we can only be as objective as the information we have about it. And we almost never have complete information about anything.
I’ll give a personal example.
Since about age 8 or 9, I have been writing stories. I remember writing my first “novel” on sheets of notebook paper in a 3-ring binder, just for the joy of writing. In my senior year of high school, with lofty aspirations of fame and fortune, I decided to write a sci-fi novel that I was sure would be the next big thing.
You see, I thought, perhaps like many, that the author’s life was the life. You get to dream up whatever plots you can imagine, you can write whatever you want, and people will love you for it.
But it ain’t that easy.
Good writing is hard enough to do, but writing a good novel is downright painful. You’ve got to make characters realistic and relatable. You’ve got to stick to a major plot. The writing itself has to be clear and coherent. And at the end of the day, you have to write something that other people actually want to read.And that’s just the writing part. Then you have to get your novel edited and proofread, pitch it to agents (get ready for a load of rejections), and, if you’re fortunate enough to find an agent who will represent it, pray it gets accepted by a publisher.
And after all that, all that, you still might not make much (or anything) off all the blood, sweat, and tears you poured out on the pages.
So, am I still going to write novels?
But I’m also realistic enough to know what it takes to make it happen. The grass ain’t necessarily greener, just a different shade of green.
So the next time you find yourself wishing for that “better” job, that “better” boyfriend or girlfriend, that “better” house… play Devil’s Advocate for a few minutes and think about whether that’s really what you want.
Because you can certainly have whatever it is you’re wishing for… but it comes with a price. Don’t pay it until you’ve read all the fine print on the contract.
25 at 25 #14: Everything that’s free to you costs something to somebody else.
This is my paraphrase of “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (TANSTAAFL).
This is one of those laws of life that is either painfully obvious or completely foreign. But it is true.
Think about anything that’s “free”, to you or to somebody else:
Healthcare? Taxpayers pay for that.
Education? Taxpayers pay for that, too.
That free insurance quote? An agency spent time and money putting that together.
Videos on YouTube? Video ads pay for those.
Salvation through Jesus Christ? God’s only Son paid for that with his blood.
This is in no way a political statement. This is as apolitical as the truth that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
It scares me that more people don’t realize that there’s no such thing as “free”. Everything has a cost—if not to you, then to someone else.
And remember, everyone acts in their own self-interest all the time (25 at 25 #3), and they’ll be expecting to receive something back in some way. It may just be a good feeling, or it may be an interest payment.
You will never give without receiving, and you will never truly receive without eventually giving back in some way. Everything is in constant exchange.So just beware what you might accept as “free”, because you will become indebted to someone or something, whether you like it or not.
25 at 25 #15: Don’t necessarily make a living doing what you love, because in doing so you might grow to hate it.
In high school, my “thing” was guitar. I auditioned for the jazz band and played all 4 years. I made All-Region band my junior and senior years. And that was fun (for the most part).
I remember at one point, Mom asked me if I’d want to study guitar in college. Instinctively I knew that would not be a good idea.
Why?Guitar was my outlet. I did it for the fun of doing it. Sure, I practiced and challenged myself to get better, but I wasn’t under the gun to learn an etude for a grade (at least most of the time).
I just knew that turning guitar into a career focus would turn it into a task. And turning it into a task would, for me, take the fun and creativity out of it. What do you use to unwind after you’ve spent all day focused on the thing you used to unwind to?
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t “follow your dreams” or “pursue your passion”. It’s just to say that, when you tie things like grades or money to something that you enjoy doing just for the sake of doing it, that fire beneath it can burn out.
I think this is a big reason why so many full-time artists struggle. They are doing the things they feel they exist to do, yet they rely on these things to pay the rent and put food on the table.
And yet, they couldn’t settle for “normal” lives and just doing these things as “hobbies”.
I think this is one of life’s biggest paradoxes.
Once again, thanks for reading. I hope you’re finding these as fun to read as I find them to write. And, above all else, hopefully these are are educational and help you improve your life in some way.
If you’d like to read the next five, Part 4 is available here!