Travel abroad, digital nomad, lifestyle design, self-improvement, life-hacking, balanced living, finding yourself…
These are well and good, but only valuable at the right time. The right time is when you’ve worked hard, learned how to create value, and are actively doing it. Otherwise these phrases and practices are empty and distracting.
A sports analogy
Imagine an aspiring basketball player. This person tries to master Phil Jackson’s meditation techniques, replicate Tom Izzo’s pre-tournament sledgehammering of tape from the season, study the mechanics of elbow angle at release point, optimize diet and conditioning, parrot Reggie Miller’s trash-talk, and internalize Jordan’s head games…before getting on the court and playing.
This person would not be a future pro. They’d be an idiot.
Practice, practice, theory
Real masters employ a pattern of practice, more practice, and only then reflection and study of the finer points, only to immediately implement those insights with more practice. None of the mindsets and theories matter until you’re a player. Players play. It’s better to be a player with no theory or self examination than a well-examined sideline sitter.
To be good, you play. To be great, you play and play and then reflect and theorize and play some more. The examined life only makes sense if you have life’s work to examine. Create a life first, then begin to examine it.
Learn to work, create value, overcome hardships, deliver. Once you know how to do this, the magic opens up. Now Tim Ferriss’s tips and Gary Vaynerchuk’s inspiration become valuable. Now the latest startup podcast or side-hustle hacks open new doors.
Just go do some real stuff
I meet far too many bright young people on their fifth backpacking tour of South America with the world’s greatest podcast playlist and a crossfit-paleo-cold shower routine anyone would envy. Except they haven’t earned anything but tweets, built anything but dreams, or optimized anything but the options they imagine. I don’t trust them to deliver. Hell, I don’t even trust their insights if they’ve not been tested in the world of grind-it-out value creation.
Once you’ve learned to create value for other people, been told no, fought to earn yes, and built a daily routine that includes rather than avoids labor, that’s when finding yourself matters. Until you’ve gotten lost in your work, there’s nothing to find.
Don’t misunderstand me.
I’m not arguing a hard and fast rule here. I’m not claiming drudgery is good. I’m not saying don’t study or think or reflect, or that you need some minimum of expertise before you optimize. I am saying that all the self-help and lifehacks in the world can be just as dangerous as they are good if they become a trap that keeps you from doing your work.
The right mindset may be necessary for greatness, but it’s not sufficient.
Get shit done. After you’ve mastered predictably delivering the goods on time and under budget you can start to analyze the way you work, your true desires, your ideal workflow, and find yourself.
Adventure is required to discover who you are. But adventure doesn’t require a plane ticket to work. It requires plain work to get started.