For the past three years, I’ve been chasing the same vision: sustaining an entire human life with nothing but a laptop and an internet connection.
Work anytime, anywhere. No boss, no boundaries. All expenses and safety paranoia considered, that adds up to a $10,000/month goal. If you asked me how to accomplish such a goal, I would give you a simple, rational answer:
- Find a way — any way — to make $10,000 in a single month online.
- See if you like it.
- If you don’t, adjust until you do.
I knew that answer three years ago. But when I look back on my past choices, that’s not what I see.
I see a young man who’s passionate and motivated, but whose hotheaded ambition often dissipates into thin air. His heart is in the right place, but his thinking is erratic. And so after three years of hard work, he yet has to make $10,000 in a single month.
I learned a lot, but I could have reached my goal a long time ago. Why is that?
For one, I dealt with a lot of crises. Most of which were fickle, because I made them up entirely. The breakup with the girl I was never meant to be with. The artificial overwhelm I forced upon myself. The routines I used to paint myself into a corner. Collapse was always imminent, but rarely necessary.
We all do this. The old adage is old for a reason:
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
― Mark Twain
But beyond an opportunity to examine your own capacity for imaginary drama, there lies a lesson. A lesson about the double-edged nature of imagination itself.
Adversity is real. A loved one dies. The global economy tanks. Your thrift shop is foreclosed. Imagination is our greatest shield against it. A springboard we can use to recover from any setback.
It’s the backbone of humankind’s accomplishments. The Dark Ages made way for the Renaissance. The European Union emerged from the ashes of WWII. All because people imagined something better.
Necessity is the mother of invention. We all face different necessities at different times, and so we all imagine different solutions. It’s this collective, creative power that civilization is built upon. And it’s nothing shy of awe-inspiring.
At the same time, when we leave necessity behind, we begin to overindulge in our imagination. Soon, it bears poisonous fruit. What if our hard-earned prosperity was taken from us? How could that happen? And off we go, into the dark corners of our mind.
The path ahead may still be clear, but our vision isn’t. We get busy preserving the status quo from imaginary demons. We fight windmills while treading water. Life happens, we say. And it does. But just as often, we happen to ourselves.
We dream up a crisis for a lack of drama, not a lack of real-world problems. We get hung up on past adversity instead of focusing on future aspirations. Because we let go of the reigns. And our imagination darts way too far across the finish line. Right into the wrong direction.
Imaginary problems are a fairly obvious inhibitor of growth. It’s easy to see how they interfere with our goals. But there’s a second, more subtle way I sabotaged myself in my quest for independence. And it’s also an outgrowth of imagination.
Ideas. I love ideas. I love having them. I love chasing them. But I’ve reached a point where new ideas often do more damage than good. I think many of us have.
I was always a dreamer. I built my own Lego creations, I made my own video games and I could fill books with business ideas. And for years, dreaming was all I did. When I finally set out to take action, I thought this excess creativity would subside.
I now realize I was wrong. It got worse. I didn’t just think of solutions to problems that were not there, I would now also go out and build them. That’s how I’ve wasted a lot of time.
Saying “no” to my own, possibly good ideas is the hardest “no” I’ve ever had to practice. And I needn’t even say a word. We like to think we’re clever in our ability to spot opportunity. The excitement tricks us.
How many of your ideas are actual shortcuts to the same goal? How many are really just detours? We can never truly know, but deep down, inexplicably, we still do.
New paths are tempting. Before long, momentum fades all the same. Yet, it’s enough to abandon our efforts in forging the opportunities we need along the path we’ve chosen in favor of the ones we drew out of our own hat.
All it takes is a new idea. A spark of imagination. And off we go. Into the wrong direction, once again.
I may have lost a lot of time running from my imagination’s dark conjectures, but it pales in comparison to the fuel I’ve burned chasing its illusionary treasure.
Ideas are our fear of success’s prettiest cloak. We know what to do. What’d get us there — there being different for each of us. But we change course to follow the sun instead.
“I know every single step I have to take to get to $10,000/month.”
I said that at the kitchen table yesterday. Mostly to myself. As if that’d somehow cement it in reality.
“Now all I have to do is remember to take them.”
Looking back as clearly and honestly as I can, I see no good reason as to why I haven’t so far. Only a real one: I sabotaged myself. I chased ideas and conjured crises for no cause other than stalling my own progress.
We like to think we’re the captain of our own ship. Often, it’s imagination that is actually at the wheel, steering right towards the iceberg of self-sabotage.
But if we take control for just a second, we can at least think of a question:
How is your imagination ruining your course today?