Life isn’t easy. We all know that. It has a way of kicking us in the teeth when we’re smiling. But sometimes we’re too easy on ourselves. Sometimes we need to hear the hard and ugly truth of why our lives are stagnant and unproductive. Sometimes we need to be brutally honest with ourselves as to why we aren’t doing anything amazing with our lives.
I’m not talking about things that we can’t control, like what socioeconomic class we were born into, or what 1st 2nd or 3rd world country we were born in. I’m talking about the things that we can control, like our overall attitude toward life, and our sense of motivation. Here, then, are seven reasons why you may be failing to be extraordinary.
1) Because you’re afraid of failing
“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” –Helen Keller
Ironic, isn’t it? That number one on this list of failing to be extraordinary is that you’re afraid of failure. It’s true though. Why is this? Because when you’re afraid of failing you never truly begin. When you’re worried about how well you’re going to do something that you’ve never done before, you tend to not try at all because it is so daunting a task to begin with. But there is a way to flip the tables on this psychological dynamic: make the goal to fail as fast as possible and then learn from your mistakes.
Keep doing it over and over again. With enough practice you will be able to fall flat on your face and jump back to your feet without even blinking. And the next time you try, you will be that much stronger and wiser. You may fail again, but so what. Keep repeating the cycle, over and over. Bite off more than you can chew, and then learn why and how it was more than you could chew. Then go back and bite off some more. With enough courage and determination, you might just have the capacity to become extraordinary.
2) Because you’re too busy being obedient
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” – Aldous Huxley
Because you don’t question authority nearly enough, which should be always. Because you are too busy sitting on your ass taking orders like a good little armchair quarterback to do anything worthwhile with your life. Get out of that La-Z-Boy chair and question what you’re being told: by the TV, by news, by your parents, by teachers, by your chain of command, even by me and this article.
And especially question yourself. Question your internal authority figure to its absolute roots, and then question those roots until all that’s left is a pile of unanswerable questions. Then you’ll finally be getting somewhere. What if it’s all a lie? How many extraordinary people do you think became extraordinary by following the crowd, or by obeying obsolete orders, or by fawning to parochial commands? That’s right, zero! Rise up! Become a freedom unto yourself. Then, you might just have the capacity to do something extraordinary with your life.
3) Because you lack imagination
“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” – Bertolt Brecht
This is a big one. Most of us are so entranced by the “way things are” and so dumbed-down by corporate media and intrusive advertising that our imaginations have been dulled-down to almost nil. Nobody does anything amazing with their lives without being imaginative and creative. Nobody! Doing something extraordinary requires extraordinary thinking. It requires, not only thinking outside the box, but demolishing the box and then creating something new out of the destruction.
It requires shattering mental paradigms and then sticking the shattered pieces back together in a way that makes people’s jaws drop to the floor. It requires pushing envelopes until your fingers are bleeding from so many paper cuts that you’re able to use the blood to write “Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed” (Banksy) on the plate glass window. Wake up! Use the key of your imagination to unlock the Creative Gatekeeper’s door, and then you might discover the capacity to do something amazing with your life.
Do you think Einstein gave two blue shits what the scientific status quo thought about him? What about Jesus? Do you think he was worried about what the Jewish orthodoxy thought about his unorthodox, rebel-rousing philosophy? Or Martin Luther King Jr., do you think he cared what people thought about his going to jail 40 different times for social justice? What about Gandhi? What about Thoreau? What about Edward Snowden and Malala Yousafzai?
They didn’t worry too much about what people thought about them, they just worried enough to get the job done. And so should you. Pull your head out of the status quo noose. Part the raging sea of their negativity like Moses parting the Red Sea. If you can do that, then you might gain the capacity to accomplish something extraordinary.
5) Because you’re letting cognitive dissonance get the best of you
“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” –Deepak Chopra
Your worldview is a terribly precious thing. You’re like Shmegol from Lord of the Rings, clinging to it like a deranged immature child. Cognitive dissonance is a peculiar psychological predicament that is also a double-edged sword. On the one side it keeps you safe and secure in your perception of reality. On the other hand it prevents you from accepting a new worldview that may be healthier than the one you’ve been clinging to.
But, in order to become someone who has the ability to achieve greatness you have to be able to maintain a precarious balancing act between the two sides, pushing yourself to empathize with other people’s worldview, while also trying to stretch your own worldview like one would stretch a comfort zone, all without going crazy along the way. It’s tricky, and there are cognitive biases galore. But if you can master your cognitive dissonance, or at least become aware of how it affects your perception, you might yet gain the capacity to do something amazing.
6) Because you don’t read enough
“You want weapons? Go to a library. Books are the best weapons in the world.” –Doctor Who
This is another big one. The only way you can penetrate the minds of those extraordinary souls who came before you is to read. Reading a book by an amazing author is like standing on the shoulders of giants and seeing even further than they did. If you have only ever read one book, and you refuse to read anything else that might stretch your mind, then you doom yourself to ignorance and one-right-way thinking that will prevent you from ever being able to do something amazing with your life.
Don’t let this happen to you. Go to the bookstore, buy a cup of coffee, grab two or three books off the shelf, curl up into a comfy chair, and lose yourself in the mind of another person. See the world from their unique perspective. It will help you become more emphatic and compassionate, while also helping you with cognitive dissonance. Don’t let yourself become a victim of the now common cliche: you can lead a horse too water, but you can’t make him drink.
7) Because you worry too much about money
“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” –Confucius
This is probably the biggest blocker to your greatness that there is. You want to know why your life is stagnant and not going anywhere? Because you have devoted yourself to a daily grind that does nothing more than pay for crap that you don’t need, while keeping you helplessly dependent upon an unsustainable system. You’re a wage-slave, nothing more. You’re a corporate cog, grinding your life away so that some boss, CEO, or master can sit on his fat-ass and eat caviar out of a million-dollar dish while you’re using food stamps to buy almost-expired bread made by Monsanto.
Worrying about money is your jail cell. Worrying about paying next month’s rent is the psycho-social snare dragging you from month to month, year to year, decade to decade, until you’re lying on your death bed wondering what happened to your life, asking yourself, “Why didn’t I travel more? Why didn’t I read more? Why didn’t I paint more? Why didn’t I write more poetry? Why didn’t I take more risks? Why did I listen to everybody else about how I should live my life? Why wasn’t I able to do something amazing with my life?” And the only answer you can come up with is: because I was too worried about making money.
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