I used to have lofty goals. For one, I thought I’d be a millionaire by the age of 30. And I wanted to buy a pub for my parents who used to love drinking with their friends.
But my mum has since passed on and my dad’s stopped drinking, so that’s one goal out the window. And I’m nearing 40, so the before-30 goal’s out of the question too.
That’s how we arrive at my first lesson: goals never stay the same, because life never stays the same. So you best err on the side of action before your opportunities pass you by.
Of course, being the writer I am, I’ve also created my own writing analogy: Embrace the shitty first draft before you lose the idea entirely.
I figure that’s a great place to start.
1. Everything changes
As we’ve just established, you best strike when the iron is hot. It’s often better to start and adjust rather than wait for all the lights to turn green before you step on the gas. I know this because I tend to favour thinking over action.
My problem? The constant dive down rabbit holes, pondering useless questions before taking the first step.
For example, you won’t see me heading to the rock climbing gym to pick up the sport. Instead, I’ll look up every tool and source for the best prices and reviews, before I even climb my first route.
So if you have a goal in mind, it’s important to Just. Get. Started. Because more often than not, something will change, and your opportunity will fade.
You’ll lose interest. Your friends will lose interest. A pandemic will ravage the world and imprison you at home. Then you’ll feel real silly for having bought the best-reviewed tools, but not getting to use them.
We can also take chess as an analogy.
Millions of possibilities exist on the chessboard, and it’s pointless to process them all before making your move. You’ll need to choose, then follow up, but only after your opponent has made their move. Because it’s silly to waste time on possibilities that might not even happen.
Basically, don’t overthink things.
2. Reaching your goals is underrated
The problem with the results-based mentality is that you’re the exact same person before and after attaining your goals. Sure, you may enjoy harvesting the fruits of your labour, but then what? What next?
For eight years, I’d dreamed of being a traditionally-published author. And that goal felt so unattainable that I never even tried.
Then I did try and I saw my book in print. But reaching that milestone didn’t magically turn me into Neil Gaiman. In fact, I was probably worse off, because now I had to think about sales and marketing (or the lack of it).
My lesson from all this? It was that the actual writing gave me confidence, not the accolades. So every day, judge yourself not by the harvest you’ve reaped, but by the seeds you’ve sown.
3. Sometimes, timing and luck matter
…and they matter much more than you think.
When other countries were producing fighters like Sakuraba and Fedor, Malaysia had yet to even see its first MMA gym.
We didn’t have grappling programmes (wrestling in the USA), nor did we have roots in the striking arts (muay thai in Thailand).
So aspiring to fight in this climate might as well have been me trying to be an Olympic gymnast at the age of 40.
And while I do believe we can achieve great things in life, I also know that there are hard limits to our abilities. We can’t fly, for one. For me, I couldn’t become a fighter in a gymless environment at the time.
Here’s another example of bad timing.
Back in the nineties, you couldn’t choose to play Starcraft as a career without being seen as a loser. Today? The Malaysian women’s team just won a Dota 2 championship and the country is celebrating.
Am I bitter? Slightly. Maybe this is the genesis of my ‘when I was your age’ phase in life. You can’t be mad at learning though, and I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s just not the right time for your goals.
And that’s okay.
4. Time still passes
Just because the world isn’t ready for your awesomeness doesn’t mean you can’t get started. Because waiting for the right moment only wastes time. And someday you’ll realise that ten years have passed you by without you having anything to show for it.
Maybe that’s why I picked up jiu-jitsu. Because I’ll turn sixty someday. And when I do, at least I’ll be a sixty-year-old with a black belt (with all his joints intact, hopefully).
It’s the same with playing the piano or learning a new language. You could either whine about not starting during your formative years, or you could start at sixty and be a decent pianist by seventy.
Either way, life goes on, with or without your participation. So you best sow your seeds today.
5. It’s better to fail than to not try at all
Cheesy. Cliche. Ca-truth. (Sorry, 3Cs have a better ring to it than 2Cs and 1T).
You know how stupid you feel after telling everyone about your new blog, then dropping off after a month? Or how you pursue a new sport, only to quietly quit because you’re worried about being judged for giving up?
Yeah, you’re going to have to get over that.
Because if you try hard enough, you’ll inevitably come across more pursuits that don’t suit you than ones that do.
I mean, look at me. I’ve gone through three career changes, and that’s not including the mountain of odd jobs I’d cycled through either. And I turned out okay, right? Right?
Not gonna lie though, it seems that I’ve only gotten much better at failing. And the only tangible achievements I have to show for my 40 years of living are a couple blog posts and a book. That’s it.
But I tried, and that’s what matters. So if death were to come for me today, I’d at least have the answer to my eight-year question of ‘can I write a novel?’.
And perhaps that’s what we should be striving for in life. Not just to achieve what we set out to do, but to fail, and subsequently become better versions of ourselves.
Because at the end of the day, everything changes. So we might as well change for the better.
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