Nine Steps to Moving Forward with Your Dreams
1. Action is Cheaper than Planning
Do you know why the Wright Bros. beat out all the mega-corporations they were competing with in the race to taking the first flight? Action.
Robert Greene explains in Mastery that the Wright Bros. had a tight budget and were forced to make small, cheap tweaks to each model. They would fly a plane, crash it, tweak it, and fly it again quickly. The corporations had budgets that allowed them to go back to the drawing board (i.e. abstraction) with each failure. They spent a ton of money and time on each redesign.
The Wright Bros. had a hundred test flights in the time it took these big corporations to complete a handful. Every test flight taught lessons – the one who failed fastest gathered the most information. The key is to make the tests cheap and quickly make small improvements.
This applies to everything. Especially your life.
Planning has paralyzed me time and again. I was taught to always have a plan before taking action.
Most of the time, planning is procrastination. It’s based on theory. It’s going to be wrong.
Plans are useless without action.
2. Action Allows Emergence
Taking action creates possibilities that didn’t exist before.
We always look out at our future from the place we’re standing. Yet we forget that this is only one spot.
Imagine walking in New York City. All you can see are skyscrapers, neurotic humans, and taxis. You turn down the next street and you’re looking out into the trees of Central Park.
A completely new possibility has emerged.
If you’re obese then you probably don’t see a possible future where you’re fit. But, after three months of working out and eating well there will be a possible future of physical fitness that didn’t exist before.
These possibilities seem to “come out of nowhere” but they actually come out of action.
If you’ve only failed then it’s impossible to see the possibility of success. The trick is to keep trying. That next step might be the key to a better future — you just can’t see around the corner yet.
3. Inaction is Scarier
Inaction tempts us because it’s slow.
We don’t consider refusing to choose to be a choice. We think we’re safe if we don’t expose ourselves to failure. We don’t appreciate the consequences of inaction because they are slow, chronic, and less obvious. That’s what makes them worse.
You don’t get to escape pain. The pain that comes with action is acute, gives you scars, and makes you grow.
The pain that comes from inaction is low-grade, makes you soft, and makes you decay.
4. Motivation Follows Action
I don’t feel like working out until I’ve been at the gym for 15 minutes. I’m too tired to have sex until we’ve started. I don’t want to go to the party until I’m there.
Motivation (and passion) will follow you if you have the balls to go without them.
5. Action is an Existential Answer
I’m a professional when it comes to existential crises. I’ve spent a large portion of my life in “what is the meaning of my life?” mode. I’ve come up with a lot of clever answers. Some of them even felt original.
The only one that ever really works is disappointingly simple: do something.
The meaning of my life cannot be summed up in a pithy quote or even the most complete philosophy.
It is impossible to give yourself a satisfying purpose in the abstract.
It is only in the flow of action that life can make sense. There are no abstract ideals there, just life.
6. Action Creates Courage
“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.” -Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath
Every time I sit on my ass and do nothing to promote Fire Heart Adventures, I become terrified of my impending failure. Every time I sit down and create content, develop a new adventure, or go into the wilderness to search out new destinations for myself and my student, I think “This venture cannot lose”.
7. Action Beats the Odds
“Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy but where are they.” –Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans
The perfect plan doesn’t exist.
The great Warren Buffett biography The Snowball shows that Buffett had no grand plan when he was younger. He just knew that he wanted to make a lot of money. There was no early master plan, just a powerful urge and the willingness to take opportunities as they came.
You don’t need to know if it will work (you probably can’t know), you need to try and find out.
Your obstacles are yours to face. It doesn’t matter how they compare to the obstacles in history or those of your peers. It’s a waste of time to consider anything except how you will overcome them.
8. Action Makes You Humble
Teenagers think they know everything because they haven’t tested their mettle. They don’t know anything and so they feel like they know everything. They are just beginning to learn about theories and possibilities. They haven’t done anything so they feel like they can do anything.
After the young realize they can’t do everything they become disillusioned. They stop trying anything. They fall into inaction. This is why most adults end up so dull. They don’t do anything because it’s probably going to fail. They mistook early failures for a sign that they should stop trying.
That’s why they’re bored, depressed, and lethargic.
Instead, our failures should strengthen us. We should recognize that failures are how we learn and grow.
Just ask, “What would Leonidas think?”
9. Action Isn’t Petty
Action isn’t concerned with opinions, it’s dedicated to reality.
Action doesn’t leave room for gossip.
Action couldn’t be small if it tried.