Updated: Nov 4
While this whole life coaching business feels very new and exciting right now, I have to admit that it’s built on a lot of trial and error. For years I’ve been trying to find a way to be happier and to make a living rather than making a paycheck. One stop along the way was an attempt to be a traveling, writing vagabond. I sold my worldly possessions and set out to travel the country by motorcycle with the hopes of earning my living as a freelance writer. The idea was a total flop and I was broke, depressed, and crashing at my mom’s house in a matter of months. Luckily I took my own advice (See number 4 below) and am trying again to influence humans to be better.
Despite the failures, there were things that emerged from that experiment that I remain pretty proud of, one of them being a piece of writing I did for an online magazine called Thought Catalog. At the time I was trying to stir up kids at the university where I worked who were going into insane amounts of debt so they could essentially spend four years in a drunken stupor trying to avoid being adults. I wanted to give them an idea of some simple things they could do to actually make use of the incredible opportunity that is higher education. My scope is a little broader now - I’m hoping you can take better advantage of the opportunity that is your life - so I’ve edited it in hopes that it might have a little wisdom in it for you. I hope it’s worth the read.
With that, I give you the [updated] 10 commandments of Being Awesome:
1. Be a dork.
A person who confidently and assertively loves Dungeons & Dragons is always cooler than a person who keeps up with trends and spends all of their energy in an effort to look cool. Some of the most accomplished and respectable people are, in their heart of hearts, nerds that don’t give a shit if you call them nerds. Steve Jobs, George RR Martin, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elon Musk, and Lady fucking Gaga are all dorks. Imagine if they called that a bad thing and allowed themselves to stop what they were doing to seem cooler. Pay close attention to the people who you admire for doing extraordinary things. They are only able to do those things by breaking the boundaries of what is deemed as “normal.”
2. Say YES to new things.
Doing new things and being an outsider is hard. Do it anyway. If you introduce yourself to a new person you might feel embarrassed. Do it anyway. I've turned down hundreds of opportunities in my life because I was afraid of being uncomfortable and I’ve ended up missing the boat entirely. If you’re going to be excellent you have to know who you are and what you offer. If you want to know who you are and what you offer, you have to first figure out what you don’t want to spend your time on vs. the things that set your soul on fire. If you truly want to know what makes you shine, you have to try EVERYTHING you get access to. That all starts by saying Yes (within reason kids).
3. Don’t take criticism personally.
Someone’s grandmother once told me that what people say about me is none of my business. She was right, the nasty shit people say about others really has a lot more to do with them than it does anyone else. The truth is that everyone who has ever impacted the world was once laughed at and told what they wanted to do was silly or impossible. When someone says something is impossible, they mean it’s impossible for them. If you have a vision, break their rules. Break them often and don’t feel guilty.
4. Embrace failure.
Everything good comes from a willingness to fail and potentially be hurt by that failure. What’s important to understand that failing does not make a failure. The mark of an actual failure is self-destruction in the face of bad outcomes. Successful people, on the other hand, go back to the drawing board with the lessons they’ve learned and attempt to move forward. Every incredible person I’ve ever met has failed numerous times. They’ve failed in ways that would humiliate me. The interesting thing is that you’d never know it. Instead of whining about it on Facebook, they went back in the lab and reformatted their ideas.
5. Drink less.
And smoke less weed. And while we’re on this topic, you probably shouldn’t mess with meth at all. Sure you have to be social and casual beers are a fun part of that. I’ll admit that many of my best ideas over the last decade were dreamed up over beers and bullshit. I’ll even concede that going out and getting annihilated once in a blue moon is your right as an American. However, I’ve never met anyone who talks about getting wasted all week and lives an excellent life at the same time. This one is hard. Our culture is obsessed with a thing called experiential avoidance. We’re not good at feeling unpleasant things, being bored, being uncomfortable, being left with our thoughts and so we find a million ways to go somewhere else. You can do that, but you have to know that your greatness (and mine) lives inside of those bored, unpleasant, terrifying moments. We need to work toward a life where we don’t rely on non-reality to get through the day if we’re going to be who we’re meant to be. It starts by drinking a little less, smoking less weed, and I can’t stress this enough - no meth.
6. Give everyone a chance.
Alan Watts once said that every in-group of nice people find themselves needing an out-group of nasty people to say nasty things about so everyone knows that they belong with the good guys. We all fall into this trap and we need to climb out immediately. Over the years I’ve noticed something interesting about the people I consider to be excellent — they hang out with everyone and they don’t take pleasure in talking shit about others. They have the oddest friends and they love them all. This gives them access to all sorts of strange worlds and social circles. Best friends come from strange and unexpected places so try not to judge anyone before you get to know them. More importantly, when you try to see the positives in other people instead of judging them harshly, the voice that thinks other people are judging YOU harshly tends to shut up. This is something we could all use right now.
7. Stop listening to grownups.
At some point you know more about you than your parents do. I can tell you from experience that when you’re about to do something really incredible, your parents are going to try to talk you out of it. They do that because they’ve had to stop your stupid ass from sticking your finger in an electrical socket from the moment you could walk. They’re trained to think you’re going to do the wrong thing because, let’s face it, you’ve done that thing a lot and their meddling has saved your fragile ignorant life. The problem starts when we're old enough to know better. Just when we think we’re grown, we leave their house and find teachers, bosses, and significant others who continue the message of “please don’t hurt yourself. Please don’t embarrass me.” We continue seeking approval from people we’ve deemed smarter or more trustworthy than we are and we spend our lives trying to live up to some imaginary standard. If you’re reading this, you might be a grownup (and maybe you don’t even know it). Being a grown up means means that YOUR decisions are actually worth pursuing. No one can tell you when that is. You just have to know. Don’t wait for a diploma or a job or a husband or a child to prove to yourself that you’re capable of making decisions. Do something. Really, do ANYTHING. As my new favorite saying goes, take committed action, for the road to happiness is paved with squirrels who could not decide.
8. Help others instead of yourself.
This one is simple math. If you feed yourself, your stomach gets filled. Let’s call that 1 thing - One thing happens. If you feed your neighbor, you fill their stomach AND you get to feel like your life has meaning outside of yourself AND that person feels gratitude that someone has acknowledged their needs and existence. That’s three things. That’s a net positive of two things. So, if you stick with my questionable math here, you and your neighbor eating tv dinners alone is two people eating. You feeding your neighbor and your neighbor feeding you is two people eating, two people feeling purpose and two people having their existence acknowledged. That’s 6 things! Oh, and let’s not forget that you’ve just started building a community - a community that will pick you up on the days when you are completely out of gas. So add that on the pile. When you help others you multiply the outcome of your efforts and, probably more importantly, you become more willing to accept help. When you are willing to accept help you are reminded that you are worthwhile which is the gas for making a big impact on the world. This whole process starts with reaching out to someone else and giving them something.
9. Don’t stop learning.
Most people stop learning halfway through high school, get excited for a minute in college and then give up and start jumping through hoops again. The cessation of learning comes hand in hand with an attitude of narcissism and self-centeredness that is not compatible with doing any kind of good in the world. After all, the only reason to stop learning is because we know better than others and have no more room to grow. Narcissism. Ridiculous narcissism. To continue learning, on the other hand, is to be open to the infinite wonder of the world, to hold an attitude of curiosity, to accept the potential failure found over new horizons, and to see the potential genius in those around us. To be willing to learn is to be willing to say, “I don’t know”. To be willing to say, “I don’t know” is to be open to the endless possibility of your life.
10. Life starts today.
Above all else, you need to realize that you’re already the person you hope to become. Stop waiting. You might be 15 years old and you might be 70. Life starts today. Waiting for some day to come when someone else gives you a permission slip to live is a sure-fire one-way ticket to Sucksville. In Sucksville, you spend your whole life doing a job you hate, drinking too much on the weekends, and watching TV while you wait for someone to finally notice what a genius you are. Then one day before you get around to learning that second language or writing that novel, you drop dead. I do not advise this.
I know I got a little morbid with that Sucksville thing but you really don’t have much to worry about if you’re willing to put some effort into your life. This stuff is easy. Being awesome doesn’t depend on your upbringing, or the amount of money you have, or what you’re good at. All you need to do is make the decision to behave in a manner that is more awesome. Saying yes is only a little different than saying no. Drinking less is just drinking less. It’s easy. If you can figure out how to stop listening to the voice in your head that is terrified of the unknown and instead say, “Fuck it, from now I’m gonna be awesome,” then you’ll be on your way to kicking ass in no time. I can actually guarantee that.