Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Ralph Waldo Emerson Guide to Going Where There is No Path and Leaving a Trail

I know who you are.

You’ve chosen to follow an uncommon road.
You’ve elected to pursue a perilous and uncertain course.
You’ve decided to go where there is no path and leave a trail.

Let me be the first person to say: Hell to the yes.

You are going to grow geometrically.
You are going to evolve exponentially.
You are going to learn comprehensively.

Pshht. Paths. Overrated.

But.

HERE’S WHAT SUCKS: You can’t navigate what isn’t there.

And after your initial excitement dies down, the nagging question will become, “Oh crap. If I’m the only person who’s ever gone this way before, how the hell will I get directions?”

ANSWER: You won’t.

Fortunately, I’ve accumulated a body of experience in this area. And I have some ideas I’d like to share with you that will be useful to your journey.

Emerson suggested we do not go where the path may lead, but instead go where there is no path and leave a trail. Here’s how to do it:
1. Success never comes unassisted. I’m not saying you need your hand held through life. But reaching out doesn’t make you a weakling or a failure.

If your world comes crashing down and you need to fly to Iowa for the weekend to have a good cry with your parents, do it.

If you feel like an abject failure, and you need a friend to sit with you for two hours of venting, do it.

Your peeps. Your crew. Your network of healing. Your expectation-free support structure. These are the people who help clear the trees along your untraveled path.

Let them. That’s why they’re there. The people who love you most want nothing more than the opportunity to come through and show you so.

Save islands for vacations. Ask for help early and often. Who do you know that would help you take the first steps down your path?

2. Mental torture isn’t worth it. The reality us: No matter how successful you become, you’ll always find ways to feel bad about yourself. You need to be okay with that. You need to not to be so hard on yourself.

Instead, change the way you attend to those feelings. Try greeting them with a welcoming, non-judgmental heart. And express gratitude for the opportunity to feel what you feel. It means you’re human and alive, and that’s a good thing.

Ultimately, you’ll find that if you experience these feelings without acting on them – and if you sit with these emotions and let yourself fully experience them – they can’t hurt you. They have no power over you. And that will make your walk down the uncertain path significantly less stressful.

Remember: When you go it alone, you mind is your basic means of survival. Attend to it compassionately and creatively. How do you mentally handicap yourself?

3. Go pro or go home. Going where there is no path requires commitment with both feet. And if you haven’t reached that point yet, allow me to describe it:

It’s that moment when you notice a deficit in yourself. When every minute that goes by, you feel more and more robbed of your true talent. When your spirit kneels bare handed. And when it becomes so existentially agonizing that you can’t take it anymore, you stop what you’re doing one day and say, “What the hell am I doing here?”

That’s when you jump.

That’s when you push all your chips to the middle of the table and say, “Screw it. I’m all in.”

Make no mistake: This will be the most liberating – and most terrifying – moment of your career. But it’s all part of the path. You have to go pro. You have to start showing up every day, no matter what, and risk exposing yourself to the judgment of the world.

Otherwise your amateurism will block your progress. You always sin when you deny yourself a purpose below your responsibilities. What’s preventing the world from taking you seriously?

4. Acquaint yourself with delayed gratification. The fewer footprints on your path, the more patience will be required to travel it. Fortunately, while hard work pays off – hard waiting pays millions.

And besides, it’s not like you’re idle. There’s a difference between sitting on your ass, playing video games, hoping your ship will come in – and hustling while you wait to extend the reach of your dock.

The first secret is to be patient with your mistakes. And you have to remember that a mistake ceases to be a mistake the moment you choose to learn from it. As Joseph Campbell reminds us, “Our treasures lie where we stumble.”

The second secret is to be patient with your profits. Personally, my company didn’t make money for the first three years. Knowing this would be the case; I worked nights and weekends parking cars at a local hotel to make ends meet. Hey: You do what you have to do. Even if that means crashing a few Beamers. Woops.

The final secret is to be patient with your progress. Look: I know you’re worried that you won’t be able to build on your current situation. But be careful not to get addicted to the sweet nectar of progress. You can’t start on next if you suck at now.

The good news is: While going where there is no path takes longer, at least the scenery is better. Remember to enjoy it. How patient are you willing to be, and how productively are you willing to work in the meantime?

5. You can’t aim one arrow at two targets. Focus is the mobilizing force. More than goals. More than plans. More than anything. Almost every client in my mentoring program – most of which have gone where there is no path – have experienced some kind of focusing challenge. And I tell them all the same thing:

“Focus is a function of punching yourself in the face.”

It’s true. For almost a decade I’ve had a sticky note on my desk that asks, “Is what you’re doing right now consistent with your number one goal?” And if it’s not, I don’t do it. Period. End of story. It’s confrontational but constructive. And I urge you to try this exercise in your own workspace to reinforce focus.

Also, keep one more thing in mind: Your focus will undoubtedly change over time. Especially since you’re traveling where there is no path. As such, what matters most is not the thing you’re focused on – but the unquestionable, laser-like focus you maintain on that thing until it’s time to pivot.

Remember: The dog who chases two rabbits doesn’t just go hungry – he looks stupid while starving. Are you a victim of your own lack of disorganization?

6. Enlist your rational faculty. “Sanity is highly overrated.” I believe that with all my heart. The challenge is striking a healthy balance between being out of your mind and being out of money.

This happens a lot to people who go where there is no path. Because the bottom line is: You can’t remove the teeth from the cruel bite of reality. When you’re broke, you’re broke.

A helpful mantra my family likes to say is, “You can’t eat like an elephant and shit like a bird.”

The funny thing is, I’ve been saying that for years. But it wasn’t until my business got audited that I had to stop talking this philosophy and start living it. Damn it. I hate it when that whole integrity things comes back to bite me in the ass.

The point is: You have to use your brain – especially the left side of it. Especially if you make significant financial investments to your endeavors. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said, “You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful.” How can you spend no money next year?

REMEMBER: Going where there is no path requires courage, consistency and clarity.

Yes, it’s guaranteed to be the hardest, longest and most uncertain way to travel.

But it’s also guaranteed to have the best scenery, the deepest learning and the richest rewards.

See you out there.

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* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

Never the same speech twice.

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