All Your Reasons for Waiting Are Bad
Let’s play a game.
Think about something that you really wish was different about your life. This can be anything: a new job, a trip to Europe, better flossing habits.
Now — be honest with yourself, here — how many steps have you taken toward that goal today? This week?
If you’re like my 25-year-old self, the answer is probably zero.
A few years back, I dreamed about freedom. I wanted to travel the world without worrying about money.
I dreamed about what life would be like if I could just pick up and go. I’d be on a beach somewhere, propping my laptop against my knees, sipping umbrella drinks and raking in mad scrilla, bro.1
And at that time in my life, there was very little keeping me from doing exactly that. I worked from wherever my laptop was, and while I wasn’t making an exorbitant amount of money, I was getting by.
Yet years crept by, and nothing happened.
I kept wishing for a different life, and I continued taking no steps to get where I wanted.
“It’s not the right time,” I’d tell myself. “I need to build up my emergency fund and work on systems at my company so that I can travel stress-free.”
“What if I couldn’t get on the internet? My business would fall apart.”
“I’m not sure how it works to travel to foreign countries. What if I end up getting deported?”
I could rattle off all sorts of reasons that the timing was wrong, or that I wasn’t ready to make a move yet.
“I’m going to do it,” I promised myself, “but I can’t right now. I have to consider The Future, right?”
All of these reasons were valid, to some extent. I didn’t have a big emergency fund. I wasn’t sure what would happen to my business if I couldn’t get online. And I certainly didn’t know how travel visas work.
For anything we want to do that’s bigger than buying new shoes, there will likely be a perfectly reasonable argument for why we shouldn’t do it.
I was very right to want to establish an emergency fund before I left. But the proper solution wasn’t to just put off travel — I should have been actively working to build up my emergency fund faster.
I could have spent a half hour on Google to find destinations with dependable wifi. Another hour to read through the basics of travel visas.
But I didn’t. I just held up my reasons to put off traveling as a shield against, y’know, doing stuff.
When we meet challenges, a reason becomes an excuse as soon as we’re not actively working to overcome the challenge.
If we’re just stating a reason and doing nothing, we’re making excuses. And excuses, as we all know, are the fastest way to ensure you end up bitter and unfulfilled.
Because no one wants to end up bitter and unfulfilled, let’s talk about how to overcome our excuses so we can not only make the things we want possible, but actually start making progress on our goals.
If your excuses come from an actual conflict of interest — my desire to travel and my desire to have a healthy emergency fund, for example — then it becomes necessary to weigh our priorities and make choices that either bring our goals inline with each other, or allows us to come to terms with letting one goal go in favor of another.
If it’s possible, try to find a way to bring your goals inline with each other. This is obviously the best course of action, because it allows you to have everything you want.
I want to have both a life full of travel and a fully-funded emergency account. Traveling without the savings is a conflict of interest, so I need to bring those goals inline.
If, for example, I want to have $10,000 in the bank to give me a few months of living expenses if I were to hit unexpected financial trouble, I need to solve this problem before I can travel.
So I need to start saving aggressively. I’ll put any unexpected income — tax returns, bonuses at work, or any other money that comes in — straight into savings.
I can also take on an extra project to create extra cash, which could be a part-time job, writing tutorials for a site that pays, or anything that can be done in spare time.
Finally, I need to pay myself first to make damn sure I’m actually building my emergency fund each paycheck.
When the emergency account is funded, there’s no longer a conflict of interest, and I’m free to start traveling — assuming I haven’t made other excuses.
There’s always a chance that some goals are just not going to work together.
If I want to be a chef at a five-star restaurant, I’m going to face a big challenge if I also want to chase the permanent travel lifestyle.2
If that’s the case, you have to make a decision about which goal will bring you the most happiness, and either let the other goal go, or put it on a list to be revisited once you’ve completed the higher-priority goal.
If you’re not in a situation where your goals are conflicting, but you’re still making excuses not to chase your goals, I’ve got bad news: you’re either a coward or a slacker.
A lack of action with no real obstacles usually boils down to one of two things: fear or laziness.
Most excuses come down to fear.
Take mine, for example: “I don’t know how foreign travel works.”
That was my fear of an unknown system. I was afraid I’d get it wrong and end up in trouble.
Never mind that it’s pretty easy to figure out how travel visas work; at the time I was perfectly happy to just be afraid and do nothing.
So much of what holds us back is fear of failure.
I didn’t ask people for help because I was afraid they wouldn’t be willing to give me a hand. I let amazing women walk away without asking for a date because I was afraid they’d turn me down.
This cheated me in two ways: first, I let a chance go by because I was afraid of blowing my chance;3 and second, I robbed myself of an opportunity to face my fears and realize they’re not actually as scary as I thought.
Even if they had turned me down, I’d have learned that failure doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as my imagination tells me it will. In fact, almost everything I’ve tried that didn’t work as I’d hoped felt less like abject failure and more like a minor setback with a major life lesson.
I’m a bad dancer. As a result, I rarely — if ever — dance in public.
Not because I don’t enjoy writhing awkwardly when a song I like comes on. If you could see me when I’m alone, you’d know that’s absolutely not true.
I don’t dance because I’m afraid that other people will think I’m a bad dancer and that I’m making a fool of myself.
This, really, is another incarnation of the fear of failure. It’s just the sillier version.
I learned this by watching Rog Law at Roman’s wedding. He spent the whole night on the dance floor, and barely any of what he was doing would be considered dancing in the strict sense of the word — it was more of a spastic, undulating, slow-motion seizure.
If I had danced, it would have been slightly worse than what Rog was doing, and I would have been mortified that everyone around me was feeling sharp pangs of second-hand embarrassment.
But Rog didn’t care if he looked foolish. In fact, I think he was counting on looking foolish.
And everyone loved it. He was the life of the party.
Looking foolish is a stupid thing to worry about. So stop it.
Excuses that aren’t fear-based come from laziness.
We wait for inspiration. We wait for someone to do it for us. We wait until the chance has passed, then we can talk about how much we wish we could have done it, if only…
Often, just a little bit of extra information would remove any hesitation we have about pursuing our goals.
Less than an hour spent researching internet speeds in countries around the world4 could have removed my fear about staying connected while traveling, but I was too lazy to do the research.
Filling in gaps in our knowledge has never been easier than it is today. You have a fucking magic box in your pocket that can answer all of your questions. It’s voice-activated; you don’t even have to type, for chrissakes.
So where’s the reluctance to learn? Why is the inclination to refresh our Twitter feeds instead of reading about things we know we’re interested in?
Think about that the next time you catch yourself absentmindedly flipping through photos you’ve already seen on Instagram. Could you be using that few minutes to gather information that would get you closer to your goals?
There’s this fascinating bit of research that I always try to keep in mind when I’m making decisions.
We tend to crumple under the weight of choices. Donald A. Redelmeier and Eldar Shafir proved this with a simple experiment: they asked people to choose between a boring option and something interesting.5
Seems obvious, right? Of course we would all take the interesting option.
In half the cases, they gave one boring default option (go to the library and study) and one interesting option (see an author you like speak). In the other half, they gave one boring default option and two interesting options: see the author speak, or watch a screening of a film you want to see.
By adding a second appealing option, twice as many people chose to do the default, boring thing. What the actual fuck is going on when two good options lead people to choose the least appealing thing?
This points to a surprising insight into human nature: because there are so many ways to be awesome, people are highly likely to get overwhelmed and choose to stay mediocre.
Don’t fall into this trap. Sure, things are okay right now, but if you have big dreams, never let yourself do nothing because your life’s “not so bad now.”
If you gave up your dreams because trying is uncomfortable, then fuck you; your life sucks.
We all have dreams. And we all fantasize about the things we wish we could do, or that we’d rather be doing.
My 25-year-old self was happy to put off dreams because he was scared, lazy, and unmotivated to really go out and affect change in his life.
And that’s the difference between me and him.
I’m writing this post from Paris, France, about 130 days into a permanent remote working adventure — the thing I dreamed about years ago.
Nothing really changed in my life between being 25 and now. I just decided to stop making excuses and start making shit happen.