Of all the things that allow someone to successfully pursue their passion and dreams, discipline is the most underrated. We talk a lot about talent and enthusiasm, and debate the role of luck. Those are all important. But there are a lot of people making their ideal life happen without as much natural talent as the next person. The reason for that is simple: they understand the value of discipline. They know that talent and enthusiasm get you started, but discipline gets you to the finish line. It's the ability to take continuous action in accordance with a plan and the ability to navigate distractions along the way. And where obstacles can’t be tackled quickly, the successful person patiently confronts them while keeping the bigger goal in mind.
I have learned both from my own experience and that of those around me that there are four types of people that let their lack of discipline get in the way of securing the life of their dreams. Let me briefly introduce you to each.
The Serial Project Starter (SPS)
Every day brings new opportunities – both to change the world and to change how many zeroes are in his or her bank account. S/he knows how to take the initiative, but that’s where it stops. The SPS brings winning ideas to the table, gets them off the ground, then leaves them suspended there until they get eaten by Stephen King’s Langoliers. If you were to look at his or her project list from the last year, at least 85% of the items would be “in progress” and started within a month of each other. Whenever you check in with the Serial Project Starter, they’re excited about a new idea. And because you know the drill, you don’t even bother to ask them about the older one(s) because you know they’re incomplete.
Solution: If you’re doing 20 things, it’s tough to truly be a master of one. Try listing all your passion projects in a spreadsheet. Maybe you want to write a book and become a bestselling author. Maybe you’d like to be competing in Rio in 2016. Whatever the case, get all these projects and lofty goals on paper, then rank them in order of importance and what you could see yourself committing to for years. Use a 1, 2, 3 system. 1 being the highest priority and 3 being the lowest. Get rid of the 3’s and 2’s, then rerank the 1’s and repeat the exercise. Whatever emerges at the top of your list is what you need to focus on. Put everything else aside and make it happen!
The Professional Dreamer
He or she could paint a vivid picture of the items they’d like to knock off life’s checklist. They know what they’re going to do some day, where and who they’re going to be some day, and how awesome it’ll be to get there some day. The problem? They have no plan in place to bring their dreams to fruition.
Solution: Commit those dreams to paper. Map out an exhaustive plan of all the steps it will take to achieve each. Think about if you're willing to do what's necessary to bring that passion to fruition. If it doesn't align with your personal values and excite you into action, then it probably isn't worth your time. Leave it in your sleep. So get out of bed and get those thoughts out of your head and into a document or notepad! Once you’ve done this, you can paint a picture of the finish line. Something tells me you’ll love creating a vision board.
Mr. or Ms. That-Looks-Cool!
Adventurous and prone to adopting trends before they’re trendy, Mr. or Mrs. That-Looks-Cool has an ever-growing list of hobbies and interests. He or she sees a friend learning about the latest basket-weaving technology and then wants to basket-weave in his or her spare time. Another friend takes cooking classes, so now he or she wants to take cooking classes. Mr. or Mrs. That-Looks-Cool also signs up for services he or she doesn’t need and attends events that bring them minimal value because they’re considered cool. An example would be attending a concert just because everybody else is even though they have no interest in the artist, while a writer’s workshop is going on…but this person wants to be a writer. The focus on the cool makes it tough to focus on the goals.
Solution: I’m not saying you shouldn’t like or do cool things, but you need to consider how spending your time or money allows you to pursue your passion. If you want to truly be great at something, you’ll have to make sacrifices. That’ll include missing events, passing on new hobbies and saying no to product and services that will eat away at your time and money, but not add value in pursuit of your passion. Stop striving for cool. Starting striving for focus.
The Habitual Lane Switcher (HLS)
With the capriciousness of the Serial Project Starter, the vivid imagery of the Professional Dreamer, and the trendiness of Mr. or Ms. That-Looks-Cool, the Habitual Lane Switcher can’t stay on their path because they’re always traveling on someone else’s. Their definition of success changes with the next man or woman’s accomplishment. And because they’ve forgone their passion to pursue another person’s definition of success, they’re all over the road weaving from lane to lane unable to reach their destination. Social media is their weakness because they feel everybody else is winning but them, so they try to do what everybody else is doing.
Solution: As my mentor said to me, do you. Your vision is your vision. Your journey is your journey. The people whose lives you’re chasing understand the value of discipline. They didn’t get their overnight. They got there by being up all night for many nights working on turning their dreams and passions into reality. Don’t look at other people’s lives until you’ve looked at yours first. Once you do this and commit to your end goal, you can see who’s around you and figure out how they can help you get to your determined destination quicker. That’s why I have a mentor. That’s why I look for models of success that relate to what I’ve already laid out for myself.
I'm sure you know someone that matches each of these types. More than likely, you are one of them. Maybe even all of them! Whatever the case, make discipline your priority. If you're not moving toward your passion, you are moving away from the best days of your life.
Rich Jones is a Pathfinder for Professionals with a knack for helping the wayward determine the next steps of their careers. He’s also a certified professional in Human Resources with for-profit and non-profit recruiting experience. Check Rich out on his career blog. I Am Rich Jones.