I always advise people to leave themselves time for self-improvement.
What I mean by this is that whether you’re a 9-5’er or a freelancer, you want to have time set aside to learn new things.
This is because if your skills remain the same while your industry improves, you get left behind.
It’s also because you can’t change directions if all of your time is spent going in your current direction.
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel stagnant, or if not that, you feel like your current situation is hindering your ability to move forward, the solution may be to step backward instead of trying to maintain what you currently have going on and add to it.
Progress & Self-Improvement
All the people I know (and it’s quite a few people) that have been successful with “startup” companies (basically, a concept they came up with and worked on until it became a business that they were paid to work on, and/or they eventually sold to someone else for big money) did it by working “after work”. They had 9-5 jobs and then instead of having leisure time, they worked on their startups after working all day to get the money to sustain their existences.
Eventually, they got to the point where they were making enough money from their startup (usually via investors who saw the potential in what they were doing and gave them money in exchange for part-ownership in their company, and sometimes through paying clients) that they could quit their “day job” and work full-time on the startup.
This didn’t mean they worked any less than they did before. It means that they had an extra 8-9 hours per day to devote to the vision they had for their company.
My favorite story about that kind of dedication is that I stumbled drunk out of a NYC bar at 3am with some startup friends, and one of them hopped on the phone, found out there was an issue with a client, and started contacting his employees to make sure the situation was rectified ASAP.
I was like :O
At the time, I couldn’t imagine working after 7pm, much less 3 in the morning, much less after hours of having a good time with friends and getting buzzed. However, my friend’s focus was on the business, so as long as he was awake, that’s what he was going to concentrate on. This had good and bad ramifications, but that’s a different topic.
My point is that in order to move ahead, something had to be sacrificed. In the case of startup people, free time, leisure time, whatever, is sacrificed for more time to work. In other cases, you might want more time to learn, such as if you’re a video editor and a new version of the software you use is released. You might want to spend time learning the new functions and possibilities.
My first career was computer programming, as I graduated from MIT with my Management Information Systems degree. (alum.MIT.edu/www/billcammack)
I quit that because I was bored.
I was getting money, waking up and getting more money. Basically, the movie Groundhog Day, with nothing ever changing and no end in sight. *YAWN*. Not interested.
After I quit, I eventually found myself making music videos with equipment I bought for my home computer, and decided that since that was something that I liked to do, I would make that my career.
I was able to make that change because I wasn’t stuck or trapped into being a computer programmer by living at the bleeding edge of my means.
What I mean by that is that I’ve never lived “check to check”.. I’ve never been in any danger of ever running out of money.
Therefore, if I’m doing something for money that I don’t want to do anymore, I stop.
I have enough coasting time to decide on my new direction at my own leisure.
For example.. As a freelance video editor, I would run into other freelancers I knew when we were both assigned to the same company or network. When I asked them what they were up to, I would find out that they were permalancing = They don’t work for one company, they work for themselves, but their time is solidly booked for the next several months as if they DID work for one company.
This is lovely if your goal in life is to get money. It isn’t lovely if your goal in life is to do what you feel like doing when you feel like doing it.
One friend of mine was talking about how he was adding a shed to his house and blah blah his wife and several kids blah blah and he looked entirely miserable, as even though we get paid well to do what we do, he *HAD* to keep doing it or else his entire lifestyle was going to fail.
No such thing for him as taking a month off. No such thing for him as changing directions. Even without being stuck in a 9-5, he had stuck himself into a “freelance” life that depended on him running incessantly in the same direction.
One of the benefits of this for me is that when new software is released, I have time to practice with it and learn how to be good enough with it to charge people money to hire me and know that I’m going to succeed and do well with their project.
What this means is that the stuck freelancer can’t accept work that I can accept, because they don’t have the improved skill to do what I do and they don’t have the free time in their schedule to do what I do.
In fact, I met someone whose editing facility I had worked at years before when I was hired to do a certain freelance editing job… We recognized each other’s names, and his question to me was “What are you doing here? o_O”. I said “editing.”, which was obvious to me, because that’s what I used to do and that’s what I do now. However, he was sitting in a cubicle and had nothing to do with the editing of that company’s videos.
I’m not knocking that, and I have no idea how that happened. That may be a way better job for him than editing, and he may be perfectly satisfied with it. What I’m saying is that by staying off of the bleeding edge of my means, I’ve allowed myself the extra time that I can apply to changing directions and remaining relevant in an ever-changing industry while the next man went from being an owner to an employee, and while having probably the same type of skills that I have, being passed over for the job we used to both do in the past because I’m still doing it in the present.
Having said all that, it’s still possible to find yourself in a situation where you can’t move forward.
It’s possible to put so much on your plate that it works as far as your maintaining your current lifestyle, but all roads to an improved lifestyle are blocked because you can’t spare the time, energy, and/or mental processing power to figure out your new direction while you’re doing all the things you’re currently doing.
This is where (if you’re interested in self-improvement at all), Selective Neglect comes in.
I learned about Selective Neglect in college. 🙂 haha
Basically, what it means is that in order to do better at some things, you need to neglect other things, because you are currently operating at your maximum capability.
So let’s say you have a Calculus test coming up, but you have a Chemistry class today.. You skip Chem so you don’t have to waste that time and you can allocate it to studying for Calc, which is currently more important.
You can get the notes for Chem from a friend of yours who actually went today. You can read them AFTER your Calc test and before the next Chem test.
By juggling that time, you have made yourself more efficient where it counts, such as Scottie diverting the power from the dilithium crystals to the impulse engines, which saves everyone’s lives.
This same principle is how people get ahead in life. It isn’t pot luck. It isn’t chance or fortune. They’re deliberately neglecting something in order to apply more focus and energy to something else.
In my case, I had recently set my life up to have a lot of time for dealing with other people’s business and personal problems.
Everything in my life was going smoothly and on-schedule, so I had a lot of time to donate to other people’s self-improvement.
When it was time for me to make forward strides, I wasn’t initially able to because I was incessantly interrupted by what other people wanted or (thought they) needed.
In fact, a close homegirl of mine, whom I’ll call SA, accused me of being ADDICTED to the situation.
In fact, I wasn’t addicted to it at all. However, her pointing out the situation made me focus on what was impeding my forward progress.
I was spending the time that I should have been using to improve myself on improving other people’s lives.
That’s valiant and all, but at the end of the day, I end up as the same person I was before.
That’s fine when you’re comfortable with whom you used to be.
It isn’t fine when you get back on that self-improvement track and you’re the type of person that reinvents him/herself at will.
By selectively neglecting computer programming (by quitting), I ultimately became a video editor.
By selectively neglecting video editing (by studying), I ultimately learned how to make records.
In order to move forward again, something had to be displaced. That “something” was paying attention to what other people wanted and thought they needed, as well as the ensuing conversations surrounding those issues.
There was no way to continue doing that and simultaneously improve myself, just like there’s no way to build a shed for your house and feed your wife and three kids while you switch from being a freelance video editor to a rodeo rider.
So the dilithium crystals were diverted to my own self-improvement. When I’m done with that, I’ll reallocate time to helping other people reach their goals.
First things First, however. I have to be satisfied with myself before I can give a damn about how someone else is progressing in their lives (of course, barring the people whom I’m closely connected to and will always sacrifice my own happiness for).
Improve Yourself And Then Others
In order to move forward, you may need to step backward.
You may have entrenched yourself into a lifestyle that prevents you from progressing any further.
The answer to that might not be more coffee or more energy drinks or whatever substances allow you to squeeze more hours into a day than you currently have.
The answer might be to take an inventory of what you’re currently doing and decide what you can neglect which will open up the time you are already spending so that some of it can be allocated to self-improvement.
The sooner you get yourself where you want to be, the sooner you can figure out how to contribute to other people’s lives. Blocking yourself from doing that isn’t helping anybody because you remain the same person with the same abilities and when you look back on your year, you’re going to realize that you wasted your opportunity to bring more to the table than you previously did.
Even if you want to remain in the same career, there may be aspects of it that you aren’t proficient in yet that if you studied those things would put you in a much better position to get that raise or promotion instead of your coworker.
Skip an hour of going to the bar or playing poker with your friends or sitting in the bathroom avoiding your girlfriend and stay at work learning something to improve yourself. Learn aspects of what your boss does. Learn aspects of what your coworkers do. Learn whatever it takes to give yourself a competitive advantage.
We all have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of mental processing power.
If you’re having trouble figuring out “Where do I go from here? \o/”, consider removing some things from your daily routine instead of adding more.
Leave me a comment and let me know what you think. Is forward always the way to go, or is a period of reflection and reassessment of use to you in your progress through life?