How To Move From Stuck To Unstoppable In Four Steps
There's a near 100 percent chance that whoever you are, you're not living the exact life you'd like. And I'd like to tell you, that's not only okay, but it's precisely where you need to be to figure out what you want to do with the next stage of your life. Heralded as one of the greatest rappers of this generation, you'd think J Cole would have a sense of comfort and contentment. Yet J Cole feels like he's constantly in a state of flux. The chase to remain relevant in an industry ripe with archaic rules of engagement is a good ol' game of cat and mouse that I'm sure you can relate to.
There's a guilt associated with not knowing what you want to do or feeling like you're in a rut, because it gives you that sinking feeling that you're stuck with the cards you were dealt. You're conditioned to seeing and believing that there are a set of rules (in nearly every walk of life) that are etched in stone and carry the same weight as a tablet brought forth from the heavens by Moses.
Want to have a seat amongst the successful? Follow the rules with absolute blind faith and you too shall be rewarded. But really, where does that leave you?
You start questioning your own sense of worth, talent and ability as you compare yourself against others who are scrambling for an opportunity to hit the dream roll in a game of snakes and ladders. Hoping the next move lets them scurry up the ladder and leave you in their dust. There's often no rhyme or reason as to why some people move up the ladder and others move a spot at a time. What makes each of these moments more painful than the last is the vomit-inducing feeling that this pain will last forever.
Sasha Dichter, CIO of Acumen – a company that tackles poverty by investing in sustainable businesses, leaders and ideas – is one of those innovators who cast aside the rules and made his own playbook. He introduced me to The Forever Problem, the feeling that whatever is happening to us right at this moment is real, true, and permanent. As he describes it, "The Forever Problem often stands in the way of changes we want to make in our lives. Nearly all worthwhile change starts with discomfort, and we mistake temporary hardship – a jolt of fear, a sense of clumsiness when we try a new approach, a bit of shame when the new thing doesn’t quite work – for something permanent. We over-ascribe meaning to these missteps, thinking they represent something other than 'this moment, right now, which is fleeting,' and we ultimately give up."
In an intimate interview with GQ, writer Allison Davis paints an enlightening portrayal of how artist J Cole continually has to reinvent himself to escape the forever problem. J Cole early in his career "tried stardom the conventional way, retreated, retooled, and then achieved real success by trying it again." These moments could easily be chalked up as failures or missteps. But they also give us the opportunity to see life from a new perspective. Treat these moments like rumble strips on a highway. They're simply signalling you to pull yourself back in line with what matters most to you.
As J Cole sees it, "I've reached a point in my life, where I'm like, how long am I gonna be doing this for? I'm starting to realize like, oh shit - let's say I stopped this year. I would feel like I missed out on certain experiences, you know? Working with certain artists, being more collaborative, making friends out of peers, making certain memories that I feel like if I don't I'm gonna regret it one day." He saw what comes from stepping out of your comfort zone, memories created from experiences worth remembering.
At any point, you can toss your cards and choose a new hand based on where you're at in your life. As much as it feels like it, you're not stuck in a forever problem, your thinking is.
Step 1 - The Shuffle
The first thing to do is to give yourself some space to breathe. Be compassionate with the fact that there's probably an element of pain with what you're wanting to leave behind. Be it a crappy relationship, a job you're sick of doing or coming to grips with the realization that you're having a bit of a mid-life crisis. Like your Uncle Terry who left his job to invest his inheritance in what he describes as an untapped gold mine, cat walking for busy professionals.
This is called the shuffle stage. It's a period of stepping back from what's not working in life. Your sole purpose is to reflect on what about your current life is leaving you unsatisfied. It's your chance to dive into your core values and decide (perhaps for the first time in your life) what's most important to you.
For Cole, "He realized he'd lost touch with who he was: Jermaine Cole from Fayetteville, who'd always wanted to make music... Now he was depressed, and the confidence he'd always had was shaken." This transition period allowed Cole to "...pause, relax a little, turn inward, and figure out how to change everything he was doing."
Show yourself the same patience you'd give someone learning to read. You can't act on what you don't yet understand. It will feel like you've lost control of your life, but these are the moments that provide the biggest growth. If you're not in a rush to escape the discomfort of sitting in the unknown, you will avoid the fate of your Uncle Terry. As you begin to explore, uncover and connect with what's important to you, you can start forming a plan.
Step 2 - The Deal
This is when you're ready to be dealt a new hand. It's taking everything you discovered when you turned inward and deciding how to change what wasn't working. You're taking action with a level of clarity to what you're working towards. You might still feel a little reluctant at first, but it's a commitment to taking one step at a time. It's about trusting yourself and the path you've chosen forward.
Cole rented a house in L.A. and "recorded 2014 Forest Hills Drive, an album that was a reaction to everything he disliked about making the first two albums really. He didn't record a single, he didn't have any features, he hosted a listening event for fans at his childhood home, revealing the address the day of. He was risking a ton to do it his way and was pretty sure it might be the last album he ever made, but it turned out to be bigger than anybody expected."
Step 3 - Play The Game
When you decide to play the game with your new hand, your path forward can lead to success as it did for Cole. But it can also be the setting for disappointments, setbacks and new challenges. But if you've taken the time to sit in the unknown, you now know your values and what's most important to you in life. You'll never have to start from scratch again.
Cole had no idea if that move would be his winning hand. Why it worked was because his focus was on getting back to simplicity. It lets you step out of the need for external validation. Your sense of fulfillment comes from your alignment of having a purpose to what you're doing. It comes from having an open mind of where you're at. No one knows what they're doing, as Cole eluded to when he said: "I don't even know how this shit works all the way anymore, the game, and if I don't know, I've got to learn."
There's a point where you have to let go of having absolute certainty before you make your move. Uncle Terry had one thing right, the desire to leap. Let's just hope he reads the rest of the piece because he's now at the fourth and final stage of making a change.
Step 4 - The Toss In
Sometimes life will serve you a heaping plate of failure, drizzled in syrup that sticks to your negative thoughts like gorilla glue. And other times you'll ride high on success, forgetting none of these stages ever last forever. You'll constantly be in a state of flux. The sense of certainty and calmness you're chasing comes from being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Either way, this is a game where you get to make your own rules and experiment. But remember the words of author Thomas Berger, "The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge." What can you learn from your success, but more importantly, what can you learn from your failures? How have you grown from this?
It's normal to go through a rollercoaster of emotions. As much it may feel like you're starting over, you have the experience of each past ride, and life is all about taking another ride. Philosopher Elbert Hubbard distilled this thought down to a perfect simplistic directive. “The happiness of this life depends less on what befalls you than the way in which you take it.”
Solving problems gives you confidence that you can solve more problems. You don't develop confidence in a vacuum. You develop it by exposing yourself to things outside of your comfort zone as J Cole did. The experience that comes from pushing the toe-edge past the comfort line is how you build unstoppable confidence. Too often, we quit and assume that this is our inescapable future. But really, like any discomfort, it's never a forever problem, it's a problem with our perspective.