What you’re trying to do has probably been done before, in one shape or another.
And the obstacles that are obstructing you have been conquered as well. Maybe your problems aren’t special.
The joy of witnessing the creation of the Information Age presents a hardcore reality that ignorance or a lack of education is no longer a viable excuse. 30-something years ago, yes, it definitely was, because people didn’t have the privilege and access we have today.
I caught myself not doing what we all should be doing: looking things up when we don’t know something. My friend was wondering why he was able to see better when he pulled on the side of his eyes. We came up with a bunch of theories, talking about light and details. Neither of us knew what we were talking about.
Then out of frustration I looked at my phone and said the magic words: I’m going to Google it.
Of course, within minutes, I found an answer. At first I didn’t know if it was the right one, but after digging around, clicking on links past the second page of Google, I had more knowledge on that weird subject than I did 5 minutes ago.
Choose your hero
There are so many things we don’t know that we can look up, cultural changes that we are unaware of, knowledge that can ultimately make us better citizens. After all, my belief is that education is the greatest panacea.
It’s quite possible that your parents aren’t your greatest source of inspiration. Maybe, in fact, they are your greatest obstruction due to their fear-based, industrial mindset that doesn’t connect with your artistic aspirations like writing a book or creating an app. Maybe they want you to play it safe, to follow the checked-off boxes. You have to draw the line and know where you stand. Have an idea of who you want to be.
Seth Godin and Marcus Aurelius were my greatest source of inspiration when I was lost in college trying to reinvent myself and self-actualize. It was their books that helped me change my mind. Godin’s idea of choosing yourself, being a linchpin, seducing fear, etc. It was Marcus Aurelius’s stoic principles on hardcore realism, humility, self-awareness, and self-discipline that made me stronger.
I found my heroes through books. You don’t have to do what I did, but books are a great start.
Having a hero is vital. It’s about finding someone who does or thinks the way you would like to, learning about them, and extracting life lessons that you can apply to your own life. It’s about realizing that you’re not alone, that the path ahead of you has been walked before—just not with the shoes you’re wearing.
As I was reading through Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon—a fabulous read on creativity and life—he mentions the idea of climbing your own family tree. It connects the idea of what I’m getting at here: that we don’t need to depend on only family and environment, but rather we can explore the lives of masters from history and steal from them, learn from, and be like them. A lot of this can be found on the internet. He goes on to say:
Instead, chew on one thinker—writer, artist, activist, role model—you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.
The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want from them. They left their lesson plans in their work.
I love that.
By studying the masters in the past, we can see patterns in their habits, decisions, thinking, and the opportunities seized or dismissed. We can witness the kind of adversity one went through and how they overcame it, or worse, how it unmanned them.
The key here is to find patterns.
Think of a young athlete. They aspire to become their hero, like Michael Jordan or Serena Williams. The young athlete follows their hero, watching their games, studying every move. They buy the gear, hang up posters, send fan mail.
Or think of a person who just heard of Anthony Robbins or Zig Ziglar. They are engulfed in motivation. Their tweets start to look different. They start to pull out quotes that remind them of what to do in times of adversity. They use the principles and mantras to help guide them to better thinking and in turn, action.
It’s likely that you can’t get to where you want to go with your old habits and ways of thinking. You’ve just hit a wall. You have an idea of where you want to go, but don’t know how to get there. That’s where your hero comes in—their principles, patterns, habits, lessons. They help you break through that plateau. For just a moment, you become like your hero, doing the seemingly impossible tasks.
Austin Kleon shares an awesome quote from L.A Laker’s basketball star Kobe Bryant in Steal Like An Artist:
There isn’t a move that’s a new move. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. I seriously have stolen all of these moves from all these great players…I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It’s all in the name of the game. It’s a lot bigger than me.
In your quest of finding or reinventing yourself, realize that you don’t have to be alone. Find a hero and steal from them. In my past state, I was unable to make brave choices even if I knew they had to be done. I was lost and confused. Scared. But with the help of my heroes, taking their principles and applying them, I essentially made the choices that I was unable to make before.
Almost all the information you need is already out there, on dusty shelves to forgotten books in the Amazon archive. But all the information in the world won’t help you. That’s just a start. A basis. Something to create a foundation. Something to stimulate your mind and to start connecting the dots so that you can change your mind.
The most important aspect of all of this is that you must act. You have to be that hero. Copy their moves. Study the game. Embrace principles that overpower the ephemeral nature of moods. Let it completely absorb you. By doing this, you can slowly work your way to reinventing or finding yourself. It’s hard, but the tools are already out there waiting to be used.