In high school, I focused on preparing for college. “Rounding out the resume” as my mom would say. In college, I focused on preparing for life. It was my Freshman year in 2009 and I had just witnessed a historical Presidential election, the start of a global recession, and a dwindling job market crushing the hopes and dreams of a generation. I decided early on that I wouldn’t waste one second looking for a job. I would create my own.
My preparation for life began in 2010 when I co-founded my first Internet startup. I failed miserably. No amount of contemplation prepares you for the realities of entrepreneurship. Failing didn’t stop me though. I went right back into my prototypical preparation mindset.
Back to the drawing board. “Prepare for tomorrow or stand by and watch your life fade away into a blur of mediocrity,” I repeated to myself daily. This became the anthem to my undergraduate career. I wasn’t in a basement doing keg-stands four nights a week in college. I refused to follow the crowd. I was building things. Creating my future. I was obsessively learning about technology, business, and the realities of building a company from scratch. I didn’t read about it in books either. I went out and learned in the real world. Flash forward four years later, and half of my graduating class is scrambling to figure out what to do while I’m blessed to be doing what I love on a daily basis. The benefits of thinking ahead and ignoring the crowd.
There’s a Kevin Spacey scene from the movie Casino Jack that emphasizes my attitude about mediocrity almost perfectly. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautifully performed movie scenes of all time.
The disease of the dull, a world of vanilla. No thanks, no chance.
The majority of the crowd lives in mediocrity. Following the crowd will inevitably lead to mediocrity in your own life. It’s that simple. The reality is most people settle in life. They give up on their dreams, their hopes, and their ambitions. In exchange they trade these things for security and safety, dedicating their talents to the pursuit of someone else’s dreams instead. While these people get defensive and deny surrender, it is all too often the case of sinking into mediocrity.
Personally I don’t want to look back on my life and say “wow that was really safe,” I want to look back and say “damn that was one hell of an adventure!” I find myself wondering about these things from time to time. Fear of mediocrity would often push me to live in a constant state of planning for the future, neglecting the bliss of present moments.
Talk about a paradox.
Having this type of planning vision has been instrumental to my success not only as an entrepreneur, but as a leader and CEO. I need to think ahead, be prepared for every scenario, and lead. The problem with this mindset is that it frequently transforms into a whirlpool of anxiety, overthinking, and more talking than execution. Preparedness has its place in the mind of every leader, but you can’t let your focus get stuck in a visionary whirlpool of the unknowable future.
To prevent this, after every great milestone or accomplishment I always take the time to do three things:
1. Thank God.
2. Exist in the bliss of the moment.
3. Reflect on the moment for the rest of the day.
Often times as leaders we neglect positive milestones and achievements. We are more focused on the next ten milestones and how we are going to achieve them. The corollary to this mindset is the leader who focuses too much on achievement. Reveling in success for weeks, months, or in some cases, years. Like anything else in life, this subtle balancing act is unique to each of us. Finding the proper equilibrium between living in the moment and planning ahead is no easy task. Too much planning and you won’t execute. Too much living in the moment and you’ll be sucked into complacency.
For me, taking the time to soak in the beauty of moments outside and inside of my professional career is crucial. This happens through meditation, yoga, and my writing. Find creative outlets and hobbies outside of your leadership responsibilities or risk being dragged down by your own visionary whirlpool.
This is where creative genius lies. This is where life is. This is beauty. Outside of the whirlpool. Here. Now. Just be sure to balance it.