I remember when I was in my early twenties, heck, it was only a few birthdays ago (I’m 26 now). Flashback about five years and I was a fresh out of university nobody with a degree in business management that I just scraped a GPA 4 in (this is equivalent to a pass, in Australia Universities grades are 1-7, 4 being a pass, 7 being the best). I spent most of my university days lost. Half the time doing what I needed to get through my degree, the other half of the time indulging in whatever hobby took my interest. Throw in some tennis, a handful of casual jobs and lots and lots of glossy-eyed staring at the beautiful girls on campus and you had my life at university.
It’s not a period that I would want to go through again because it was full of growth experiences and as usual growth is painful. Girls, job interviews, difficult subjects, forced studying of materials I had no interest in whatsoever, failure and success made me generally uncomfortable and unsure of myself for a lot of the time. It all ended and I came out of it alive, perhaps a little jaded, a little bitter, and of course a whole lot lost. No doubt not that unusual for someone in their early twenties.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a period of life my life that I’m glad I went through, I needed to grow as a person. It wasn’t always comfortable but it taught me a lot and throughout that period my confidence slowly blossomed with each new experience. As I’ve grown past the confusing early twenties I’ve realised more and more how vital confidence is, how a person’s congruency with themself is the most important building block for a successful life.
Reading about, listening to and watching the most successful people, no matter what fields they are excelling in, makes you feel that these people are special. Something about them makes them different from everyone else and you may even go as far as ruling yourself out of achieving similar success because you believe that, for whatever reason, be it luck, genetics, personality or upbringing, something about really truly successful people makes them different from you. It’s as if these people are special and you can not be like them because you lack whatever magic ingredient they have.
To make yourself feel better and gain education you read books and study the materials written about the special people so you can emulate them and be special too. You read the habits of highly successful people. You follow goal setting guides, motivational mantras and build blocks to success. For some reason it doesn’t work for you, further cementing your opinion that really successful people are special and different and you can’t replicate that magic purely through study, self discipline and by following road maps. You just weren’t born to be successful, you were born to struggle.
In 1998 I had the luck and skill to qualify for the biggest event in the Magic: The Gathering (a strategy card game) calendar, the World Championships, that year played in Seattle, USA. I had played well, was lucky and made some smart choices at the Australian Nationals to land second place and a spot on the Australian World Championship team. By this time Magic had become a big deal, with three million dollars distributed as prizes each year (first place at the world Championships that year won $36,000 USD). The level of professionalism had increased greatly as a result and there were people playing the game competitively for a full time living. Magic even had superstars, players you read about in magazines, watched on ESPN and cheered for during live web coverage of the big events. In many ways a regular Magic player admired these superstars as special people, people that were very successful in life and possessed a gift or some form of unique talent, much like a young golfer might admire Tiger Woods or an entrepreneur might look at Richard Branson.
Olle Rade, a young guy from Sweden, enjoyed tremendous success at Magic, winning a Pro Tour and at that point with lifetime earnings well over $50,000 USD and he wasn’t even 20 yet. I really admired Olle. Then there was John Finkel, who back then was known as the best Magic player with well over $100,000 in career earnings. These guys were superstars, overachievers and in my mind sitting on a pedestal above everyone else.
Heading to Seattle I had my first chance to meet and play these superstars of Magic. I’m not one to gush over celebrities but sometimes you can’t help but feel a little in awe of people you’ve read about in the media. Since I knew so much about these famous players and they knew nothing about me I felt I wasn’t on equal terms, I wasn’t confident and in no way did I consider myself one of them.
By the end of the tournament I was exhausted. The little sleep I got didn’t help me play the best cards but the experience I gained was amazing. During the tournament I played Olle Rade and I beat him. It was just like any other match and he was quite upset by the end of it, celebrities don’t like losing either. I lost to some other big names and during our non-playing periods enjoyed getting to know many famous players.
By the end of the week I had completely changed as a Magic player. Despite not performing well I left Seattle with confidence in myself as a player and a new perspective on celebrities. Every superstar Magic player I met was no different from me. Sure some had natural talents that I didn’t, perhaps strong mathematical abilities, but I had strengths in other areas. Magic being a game of skill rewards those that practice and study, luck and natural ability play a part, but in the end it’s people playing people and Magic stars were stars because they had done two things – they worked really hard at what they did because they loved it and they had experience from winning and loosing a lot of matches.
If the Yaro of now sat down with myself at 21 and tried to explain the secret to becoming confident and attaining success I probably would have a lot of trouble getting through to him. It’s hard to be a believer without experience and in hindsight faith is a lot easier, but I’ll do my best to help along all those other people struggling to have faith in themself.
There is only one thing you need to understand, and in fact this is more a faith based decision about your future more than it is a tangible truth if you are young and/or inexperienced.
If you don’t have experience, you are young and just starting out in life, you don’t have a history of events to draw conclusions from. Books, videos, podcasts and education in general are a good starting point but you will never have success, you will never get true confidence in yourself without experience, without taking actions and learning from the outcomes.
The beauty of experience is that it comes from both success and failure. While one makes you feel great and the other makes you feel lousy, the end result is still experience and a new framework of perception you can apply to your future life. This is what experience is. This is what you draw on to create success and this is the essence of your personal congruency.
In many ways I’m very successful right now. In many other ways I’m far from it. I’m not a millionaire, in fact I have very few assets at all. For now lets avoid a discussion of the determinants of life success and I’ll simply state that I have a hell of a lot more I want to achieve and I bet you do too.
Each setback in my life was usually brought upon by a lack of patience, a desire to become something else and achieve something quickly (life’s version of the get rich quick scheme). During the major catastrophes in life I accused the world of the usual atrocities, that life was singling me out to suffer, that I had somehow been selected as a victim and that it just wasn’t fair. Each new painful experience in life brings about similar feelings and despite my intellectual understanding of reality it doesn’t make the pain less painful.
Your ability to bounce back, to turn the frown upside down, to leverage failure to create success and find opportunities in the remnants of breakdown is a lifeskill of tremendous value. Don’t let your feelings of confusion and loss make you depressed. Leaving school, finishing university or quitting (or being fired from) a job are opportunities that you rarely get in life. These are powerful turning point moments that in most people’s lives only happen rarely. Major change is not a common occurrence for a typical human being so relish the opportunity when it comes along, don’t drown in your supposed lack of identity.
If you are not sure what to do with your life dip your fingers into as many activities as you can and follow those that make you happy (and no doubt will probably make you money too). Use skills to build assets, don’t trade labour for money because it’s not a good long term strategy. Trade your labour today for asset building for tomorrow and start building passive income supports. It will be hard work and it might seem that for many years and months that you are making nothing (I know I feel like that sometimes), but your future self will thank you for it in the years to come.
An empty slate should not make you sad, it’s just space that’s ready to be filled with your energy and ideas as you test yourself to see what works and makes you happy. Have faith in the power of experience to create personal congruency. Remember that other people are just like you, even the most famous, most successful people. They are not superheros blessed with magic powers. They simply choose to fill their lives with experiences, they grew from failures and successes and eagerly jump into new activities with vigour and passion. They have confidence because they can refer back to the outcomes of events in their lives, they know how to deal with situations so they are not afraid to try. Life rewards those people that take action, who don’t follow the crowd but rather follow their passions.
Remember too that life is not quick. It’s a long ride. You want it to be that way right. Why be so eager to achieve certain things by tomorrow? What are you trying to become so quickly that you are creating frustration and stress today. Persist in the activities that you have motivation to work on over and over again, and not just for weeks, but for months and years. Become good at them and then great at them. These are the skills you will develop because you enjoy them. Eventually they will become your special talents that set you apart and you will be surprised how suddenly others look at you as if you are gifted.