One of the hardest parts about pursuing a goal is doubt.
It’s getting through the bad days, days of discouragement where you’d rather stay in bed. It’s this constant balancing between “I’m really onto something” and “I’m never going to make it.” And it never changes, right up until the goal is complete.
In these times, I look to others for inspiration. I specifically seek out stories of success, rather than think about my possible failure. I find it reassuring to know that these athletes and comedians and CEOs — they also struggled. And that even they deal with the day-to-day battle of “I can” v. “I can’t.”
Most helpful are the good ideas that came out of that struggle. They’ve been there and offer up their tools. Here are three of my favorites.
(1) Steve Harvey: Your Today Vehicle
“You do not have to bog down your journey by trying to find a vehicle that will get you all the way to your final destination,” wrote Steve Harvey in his book, Act Like A Success. “Simply attach yourself to a vehicle that gets your gift in motion.”
Harvey thinks about goal pursuit as constantly getting in and then trading in various vehicles. You take one for a while, and then you graduate to the next. Maybe first you’re on the subway. When you get good at that, you’re ready for an Uber. Master that, and you’re ready to lease a Mazda.
“My first endeavor was free amateur night,” Harvey says. At the time, Harvey still worked as an insurance salesman, was married with a kid and very little money. But when he won that amateur night, he quit his job. Obviously, Harvey knew amateur night wasn’t going to pay the bills, but he thought he could use that to get the next, better paying gig. And it did.
“My next trip was a paying gig for $25 per night, ” he wrote. He took that vehicle around for a year or two, until he became a feature act in small clubs. That allowed him the exposure to be a national headliner, which brought the opportunity hosting Showtime at the Apollo. And that Apollo TV time led to where he is today— distracting me with hilarious clips from Family Feud. He just kept trading up.
The key distinction is a perspective that Harvey calls your “today vehicle.” If you’re viewing your entry level job or first music gig by itself, it can be discouraging. You have little money and little influence. But if the entire time you think of that job in the context of a longer game, a series of trade-ups and upgrades, from entry to manager to director to VP, say, you stop thinking of it as an embarrassing end, and more as a necessary means. A useful step towards your future.
Harvey saw amateur night as stepping stone in a larger context. And it led to the top of that larger context.
The Good Idea: “Are you so busy looking for the luxury vehicle now that your budget gift can’t afford?” Harvey asks. “Begin now, where you are. What vehicle can you attach yourself to?”
Remember, it’s just the first ride.[I wrote more on Harvey’s book here]
(2) Alexi Pappas: The Rule of Thirds
Alexi Pappas is an Olympian, a filmmaker, actor and author. But she didn’t get there without many days and weeks of doubt along the way. There were times, as a Pappas says in her book, Bravey, that she’d have really bad days, and questioned whether she could perform at the highest level.
That’s where Alexi’s coach, Ian Dobson came in. Coach D taught her a rule that completely changed her perspective. According to Pappas, “the best advice I’ve every received.”
“Whenever you’re chasing a big dream,” Coach told her, “you’re supposed to feel good a third of the time, okay a third of the time, and crappy a third of the time….If you feel too good all of the time, you’re not pushing yourself enough, and if you feel too fatigued, you might need to reevaluate.”
It’s called the Rule of Thirds.
“On the good days, you grow your confidence,” Pappas said. “On the crappy days you grow your patience, courage, and resilience to stay on.”
It’s not a change in action, Pappas points out, but a change in mindset.
The good idea: the bad days are part of it. Expect them. Accept them. As long as there are also some good days, you’re making progress.
(3) Will Smith: How To Build A Wall
Yes, I know Big Willy made a big mistake at the Oscars. It was a bad moment, and I was disappointed to see it (as I wrote about here). But don’t let that stop you from learning how a broke kid from west Philadelphia (born and raised) rose to the top of multiple industries—music, TV, movies.
And it all starts with building a wall.
When Will was 11, his dad wanted to teach him and his brother Harry a lesson in hard work. So he made them build a 240 square foot wall in front of his shop— with their bare hands.
“Every day for nearly a year, my brother and I would go to my father’s shop after school to work on that wall. We dug the footing, mixed the mortar, and carried buckets,” Will wrote in his memoir. “I was certain I was going to die still mixing concrete.”
One day, they were discouraged, complaining, even mad. “Why’d we have to build a wall for anyway? This is impossible. It’s never going to get done.” But their dad overheard them, stopped was he was doing, and grabbed the brick out of Will’s hand.
“Stop thinking about the damn wall!” Will’s dad said. “There is no wall. There are only bricks. Your job is to lay this brick perfectly. Then move on to the next brick…then the next one. Don’t be worrying about no wall. Your only concern is one brick.”
When he focused on the wall, Will said, the job felt impossible. But when he changed his focus to one brick, things got easier. And he eventually applied that to his career.
“The secret to my success is as boring as it is unsurprising: you show up and you lay another brick. Pissed off? Lay another brick. Bad opening weekend? Lay another brick….No matter what you’re going through, there is always another brick sitting right ther in front of you, waiting to be laid.
The only question is, are you going to get up and lay it?”
The Good Idea: when you’re pursuing a big goal, it can feel abstract, and that abstractness can make it intimidating. That’s supposed to happen. That’s how you know it’s big. Once you decide to do it, however, stop thinking about the abstract goal, and start thinking concrete, small, day-to-day steps. Stop thinking wall, start thinking bricks. What brick can you lay today?
The Good Summary
Goals— the right goals— are hard. They are a little more than you might be able to do right at this moment. So how to you deal with the day-to-day discouragement on the way to achieving them?
- First, get in your Today Vehicle.’You don’t need to be in the job of your dreams right now. Find a today car— one you can get in right now or soon, that can get you going the path. The important thing is to get moving. Trade up enough, and maybe one day I’ll be watching your Family Feud clips.
- Second, listen to the Rule of Thirds. Every few days, maybe a lot of days in a row, you’re going to feel like you can’t do it. Don’t worry, that’s part of it. Expect that- it even happens to Olympians like Pappas. If you’re having zero success, you may want to revaluate. But as long as you’re having some good days– days when you feel you can do it– you’re on the right tack.
- Third, don’t build a wall, lay one brick. Start with a big idea, yes. But then break it up into day-to-day components— Will’s bricks. Something you can do in a day, in an hour. A book is a wall, sentences and pages are bricks. Improving your health is a wall. Each meal, each jog, each good night sleep- those are bricks. Just lay bricks and, eventually, you might find yourself standing in front of house.