Have you ever found yourself at life’s equivalent of a Taco Bell drive-thru at 2 AM? You know, you’re sitting in your car surronded by so many choices, yet when it’s your turn to order, you don’t know what to say.
Well, my stuck-at-the-crossroads-of-life friend, if you’re into poetic justice, yin and yang, or whatever philosophy-turned-bumper-sticker that tickles your fancy, brace yourself for another frustratingly sensible truth: To know what to do next, you’ve got to start with what not to do.
Confused? Stick with me.
We’re Afraid Of Fire
In life, it’s easier to know what we don’t want instead of knowing what we do want. Take, for example, the most frustrating question there is. “What do you want out of life?”
If you ask most people what they want from life, they might hum and haw, and throw out abstract nouns like “happiness,” “fulfillment,” and “appreciation.” All great answers to win a beauty contest, but horribly vague answers to win at life.
But ask them what they DON’T want, and suddenly they’re as specific as a hipster’s coffee order. It’s a caramel macchiato, extra hot, with almond milk, no foam, extra shot, two pumps of caramel, light whip, extra cinnamon, and a hint of unicorn tears; thank you very much.
So how do we use this insight for the good?
It Starts With A Goal
First, nail down your goal. For me, it’s being a New York Times Best Selling author. For you, it’s (fill in the blank.)
You need to start with what you want; otherwise, how will you know when you get it?
Create Your Do-Not-Do-List
Pretend for a minute if you never wanted to achieve your goal, what are the things you absolutely wouldn’t do? For example, if I never wanted to be an NYT bestseller, I would:
- Not bother writing every day.
- Take a lifetime ban on reading.
- Never lift a finger to hone my craft.
- Say a big, fat no to developing an authentic voice.
- Shirk from writing the best story I possibly can.
- Dodge feedback like it’s a swarm of flies.
- Laugh at the thought of getting an agent.
- Ignore expanding my network.
- Completely avoid applying myself.
Break Out The Red Pen
Now, cross out the “nots”, “nevers”, and “nos” and see what you have left.
- Write every day.
- Read like a bookworm who’s lost in a library.
- Hone your craft.
- Develop your authentic voice.
- Write the best damn story you can.
- Court feedback like it’s the last hot meal on earth.
- Find an agent who believes in you.
- Expand your network like a social butterfly.
- Apply yourself relentlessly.
And that’s it. The secret sauce to moving forward, apparently, is looking backward.
Because life zigs, when you zag. And sometimes, the only way to know what to do, is to create a list of what not to do.
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