“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” — Shel Silverstein
Have you ever felt like your dreams are bigger than you are?
Like wanting to travel to exotic places or become a millionaire or write a best-selling book? Dreams so grand, so distant, they seem like stars glittering and unreachable in the night.
And what of the small dreams? The everyday ones?
Like going back to school, falling in love, or landing a better paying job. Those things aren’t unreachable — people do it all the time — and yet … it still seems so difficult. Sure, you know it’s possible, theoretically, but with everything you’re dealing with, you can’t for the life of you see how it’s possible for you to do it. At least not right now.
Money, time, current responsibilities, past commitments — there are a gazillion obstacles standing in your way. The idea of dealing with all those things, of overcoming them, of finally getting into a position where you can do what you’ve always dreamed about … it seems nearly impossible. Not as distant as the stars, perhaps, but it would certainly be like walking on the moon.
The good news?
While I can’t say overcoming all those obstacles will be easy, it’s certainly possible. In many ways, I’m living proof.
Proof You Can Overcome Anything
I have a type of muscular dystrophy called SMA that slowly makes you weaker and weaker until you can’t move at all. In my early 20s, I lost the ability to move anything but my face, and I was totally dependent on welfare to survive. Even the simplest dreams like getting a job, taking a vacation, or renting my own apartment seemed as impossible as walking on the moon or circling the stars.
And yet … years later, I’ve accomplished each and every one of those things.
Not only did I get a job, but I used speech recognition software and a lip-operated mouse to start an online magazine that’s now worth millions of dollars.
Not only did I take a vacation, but I convinced my caregivers to help me travel across the United States and Mexico.
Not only did I rent my own apartment, but I could afford to live in luxury, a stone’s throw away from the ocean.
Was any of it easy? Simple? Fast?
Hell no. Building the life of my dreams was the scariest, most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
But I did it. Not through luck or genius or powerful connections, but by learning to use my brain in a way that few people do.
In this post, I’ll show you the exact method I used to make it all happen. Nothing for sale, and no “woo woo” stuff. This is the entire method, and it’s packed with actionable (albeit difficult) advice.
Let’s get started.
Step One: Reconstruct Reality
What? I told you this wasn’t going to be easy. 🙂
Most people in wheelchairs believe it’s impossible for them to get a job, travel, or support themselves. It’s not that they don’t want it — they are aching to do all those things — but no one they know has ever done it, everyone around them assumes they will never do it, and so any time hope starts to kindle inside them, they ruthlessly crush it because, in their world, it’s not realistic.
Switch to a reality where it is realistic.
For several years leading up to starting my own business, I ruthlessly eliminated anything that even suggested I was powerless and replaced it with concrete proof that I wasn’t. In other words, I deliberately “brainwashed” myself into believing I could do the impossible.
- I listened to podcasts and audiobooks that told stories of people accomplishing incredible things for 4-8 hours a day. The goal? Drown out the negative. Anytime I was around negative people or having negative thoughts, I would pop in the earbuds and listen. Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, biographies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Christopher Reeve. Hours every day, I listened to stories and motivational speakers suggesting I could do anything, and in time, I believed them.
- I refused to hang out with other disabled or impoverished people. Not because I thought I was “better” than them, but because they represented what I was, rather than what I wanted to become. To replace them, I found a real estate club I could join for only $100 per year, and I brazenly asked the top investors in the club if they would take me to lunch and answer my questions. Amused by the cocky kid in a wheelchair, they agreed, and suddenly I was spending 2-3 hours a day with millionaires. By the end of the year, I thought of myself as one of them, not because I was rich, but because I now spent more time with them than anyone else.
- I replaced all TV time with reading time. TV is full of stories of murder, betrayal, and pain. It’s riveting, but it also messes with your mind. Once I figured this out, I started going to the library every day instead of watching TV. After about a year, I finished every book of interest to me, so I switched to Barnes and Noble. I couldn’t afford the books, so I sat in the aisles and read them cover to cover, my caregivers turning the pages for me. Within a few years, I’d read hundreds of books on self-improvement, investing, philosophy, psychology, and diet. My brain became an encyclopedia of actionable, realistic ideas for making my life better.
Day by day, month by month, year by year, my conception of “realistic” began to stretch, and I saw the world entirely differently. Not just because of positive thinking, but because I had replaced everything in my reality that suggested anything less.
You can’t think your way out of a crappy life. The only way out is to construct a world where incredible things aren’t impossible; they are expected, even commonplace. Then you must live in that world, spending more time there than you do in the current one.
In time, it will change you. Your thoughts, beliefs, and actions will begin to reflect the world you constructed, rather than the world you live in. Bit by bit, you will become a different person, a better version of yourself, someone capable of achieving things the old you couldn’t.
And that’s when you’re ready to discover “the price.”
Step Two: Pay the Price
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re in a magical store.
Everywhere you look, there’s something you deeply desire. Experiences, material possessions, even other people — they are all for sale.
None of the price tags have a dollar figure on them. Instead, they list the sacrifices you must make to “buy” them.
Want to become a successful entrepreneur?
You can “buy” it for the price of 10-20 years where you teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, sleep for only 4-6 hours a night, listen to everyone calling you a fool, and struggle in silence against your fears and anxiety, burdened with the knowledge that you can never reveal to your employees or investors how scared you are, because they depend on you to give them confidence.
“Gah, that’s terrible,” you say. “The price is too high.”
So, you reach over to a more reasonable one: a family who loves you.
You can “buy” it for the price of 30-50 years where you put their needs ahead of your own, worry about their safety, take jobs that pay well instead of ones that fulfill you, fight traffic on the way to work for an hour every day because you live in the suburbs, ignore every member of the opposite sex who attracts you, and die with the secret, quiet question of what your life would’ve been like if you had chosen to stay single and pursue your passions instead.
“Umm … this store sucks,” you say. And indeed it does, but the terrible truth is it’s totally real.
Most people go through life under the illusion that they can get everything they want without sacrificing anything they already have. A better job, time to travel, a healthy body — we want it all, but only if it’s painless, simple, and effortless.
Life doesn’t work that way. Everything you want comes at a price, and your ability to obtain it depends on two things:
- Your awareness of the sacrifices you’ll have to make
- Your willingness to make those sacrifices
An example to illustrate:
When I decided to become an entrepreneur, I bought the biographies of Michael Dell, Richard Branson, and dozens of others. As I read through their stories, I paid special attention to what they had to give up to get to where they are.
I didn’t care about the rewards. I didn’t care about the little tips and strategies they used. I cared about the sacrifices.
After reading the books, I made a gigantic list of them, and then I asked myself, “Are you willing to make the sacrifices to become a successful entrepreneur?” At first, I wasn’t sure. The price seemed awfully high, and let’s be honest: sometimes you pay the price, and you still don’t get the result. It was frightening, depressing, enough to make me reconsider.
Ultimately, though, I decided to go for it. I committed to a 10-20 year roller coaster ride, put all other commitments on the back burner, and started working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, dedicating myself to my company, heart, mind, and soul.
How about you?
What do you want in life? What sacrifices must you make to get those things? Are you really, truly willing to pay the price?
These are the questions you have to answer. Once you do, you’re ready for the last and most difficult step…
Step Three: Put a Gun to Your Head
“Raymond, you are going to die.”
He kneels behind a convenience store, Tyler Durden holding a gun a foot from his head. Raymond begins crying, whimpering softly as Tyler flips through his wallet.
“An expired community college student ID,” Tyler says. “What did you study, Raymond?”
“Stuff? Were the mid-terms hard? I asked you what you studied!”
Tyler puts the gun to the back of his skull. “What did you want to be?”
“A veterinarian! Animals and stuff.”
“And stuff, yeah I got that. That means you have to get more schooling.”
“Too much school,” Raymond sobs.
“Would you rather be dead? Would you rather die? Here, on your knees in the back of a convenience store?”
“No, please no!”
Tyler lowers his gun, takes out Raymond’s license, and throws the wallet in front of him. “I’m keeping your license. I’m gonna check in on you. I know where you live. If you’re not on your way to becoming a veterinarian in six weeks, you will be dead. Now run on home.”
Raymond scrambles away from him, running into the night. Tyler smiles. “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life,” he says.
And it’s true.
It’s not just a scene from a movie (Fight Club, in this case). It’s actually the final secret to success.
Years ago, I was just barely scraping by on Medicaid, the economy was in the toilet, and two terrible things happened at once:
- Medicaid sent me a letter in the mail telling me they were canceling my healthcare, removing not only my insurance but also taking away the nurses who took care of me every day.
- The company my mother was working for went belly up, and she got laid off. No severance package, no notice, just “We’re shutting down. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
Suddenly, our situation consisted of an unemployed mom taking care of a severely disabled son with multiple conditions that would almost certainly kill him if he didn’t receive medical care, and we had no health insurance or money to pay doctors.
I called Medicaid, explaining the severity of the situation. The caseworker paused, thinking. “If it’s really that bad, the best thing for you would be to move into a nursing home until your mother can find employment. We can pay for that if you like.”
I just stared at the phone. Then I hung up.
A few weeks later, we packed everything we owned into our minivan and drove over 2,000 miles to Mexico where healthcare was cheaper. Not because we wanted to, not because it was some brilliant plan, but because it was the only way to survive.
Years later, people think it’s incredible. They ask, “How did you find the courage to do that?”
Every time I hear that question, it makes me want to laugh hysterically. The only alternative was to move into a freaking nursing home. Do you know what happens to people in government-supported nursing homes? They die. Fast. Sometimes it’s because they’re sick, but the real reason is those kinds of nursing homes are the worst imaginable place to live, and they die just so they don’t have to stay there anymore.
For me, the situation was quite literally life and death. I had a gun to my head, and I did the only thing I could think of to survive.
The moral of the story?
Most people think it’s a tale of courage and persistence, a feel-good story of a young man and his mom who overcame the odds, and I suppose it is, but it’s also a testament to the astonishing, almost limitless power of having a gun to your head.
If you know what you need to do, and you’re struggling to make yourself do it, you might think, “Oh, it’s because I suck. I don’t have the self-discipline of people like Jon.” Wrong! It’s because you don’t have a gun to your head forcing you to take action whether you like it or not.
It sounds crazy, but put a gun to your head. Deliberately.
Now, let me be clear: I’m not talking about a real gun. Under no circumstances should you have somebody shoot you if you fail to achieve your goals.
Not because it wouldn’t work, but because there are less severe options. A few examples:
- If you’re struggling to lose weight, take a few naked pictures of yourself, give them to somebody you trust and tell them to post them on Facebook in front of everyone you know if you haven’t lost 20 pounds within three months.
- If you’re struggling to find the courage to start your own freelance writing business, write an email resigning from your job, and then use a service like Letter Me Later to automatically send the email six months from now.
- If you’re struggling to quit smoking, write a check for $1,000+, give it to a service like Stickk, and commit yourself to quitting within 60 days, or you lose the money.
“But Jon,” you moan. “I could never do that! It’s crazy!”
If that sounds crazy to you, then you don’t want it bad enough. Accept that about yourself, and go back to step two, choosing a different objective you really do care about.
Because this is certain…
The only way to succeed is if the pain of doing something is less than the pain of doing nothing. You must, therefore, increase the pain of doing nothing.
If you’ve tried and failed and tried and failed, and yet you still believe you have the self-discipline to accomplish your goals without any stakes, you are lying to yourself. You need to accept that you lack self-discipline, and build an environment that forces you to succeed anyway.
Is it scary? Risky? Painful? Potentially disastrous?
Yes! But that’s why it’s powerful.
And that leads us to one final lesson before I close for today…
Embrace the Smallness
What do all the steps in this process have in common?
None of them require you to grow.
They lead to growth. No question about that.
But they each allow you to take that first, scary step without changing anything about yourself.
And that’s key.
If you have big goals, you might feel like you need to grow before you can ever attempt them. You need more self-discipline, more energy, more knowledge, more experience.
More, more, more, more, more…
But that’s wrong.
Instead of expecting yourself to be more than you are, instead of fighting that feeling of smallness, embrace it. Accept that you are small, and then envision a world where it doesn’t matter.
A world where ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things. A world where you can have anything you want simply by agreeing to pay the price. A world where you can achieve anything you imagine without super human self-discipline.
It’s not a fairytale. It’s the world we live in.
You just have to open your eyes to it.
So open up, dear one. See the world the way it really is.
And then realize you have everything — and I mean everything — you need to succeed.
Right freaking now.