By Chris Moore of Barbell Shrugged
One of the only true obstacles in my life has been expectation. It’s the worst kind of habit, rooted in belief, passion and emotion, the deep old fears and the shiny new worries.
Before you do anything else, drop the burden.
I used to carry all that around with me like a heavy yoke. When I would stumble upon on opportunity, often despite myself, I couldn’t help but see it from a low angle. The burden was enough to keep my head down. My limited mindset and ego kept me from the obvious solution for years and years.
If you want to move on then you’ve got to learn to let go, baby.
Focus on the learning part. The biggest mistake you could make is skipping over the trial and error phase. You’ve got to waste some time looking around desperately for your life’s passion, your true calling, whatever you want to call it. Or, you might get caught in a little black hole of your own design by over-investing in a single identity.
Fat boy. Meathead. Powerlifter. Team player. Corporate keyboard monkey. Would be scientist. On and on the story goes. The evidence of the past forms little piles all around me. It used to be a heartbreaking thing, really. I couldn’t help but be reminded all the time of the fruit I left on the vine, so to speak. I thought that I had invested too much into each path. Maybe I failed to let go in time.
You’ve probably felt that very same emotion, so you should know that it’s a common feeling. Also, it’s bullshit. You’re just picking up a skill. You need a little pain mixed in with the process to make the payoff sweeter. Trust me.
I’m super hard-headed and brash at times, so it took a lot of time. But even I began to see that enforcing a personal agenda wasn’t very wise. In fact, it was my largest shackle.
Here’s something that is very true – When you quit trying to be something all the time you can become what you’re supposed to be. It takes no grand plan or scheme. Instead, you sort of let your life unfold before you. If you time the steps right – unshackled, unburden and without delay – then you will be led onward and upward. As my buddy Christmas likes to say, you just might amaze yourself with the result.
Meeting Van Gogh
I’ve spent 5 family holidays in Amsterdam now. But oddly enough I’ve kept putting off a visit to one of the more popular destinations, the Van Gogh Museum.
I’m glad I did.
This time around conditions unfolded perfectly. I was able to make the visit with my entire Barbell Shrugged family. It was an incredibly inspirational experience, something that will likely drive many new creative efforts in the weeks and months ahead.
I came through the front door with only the common knowledge. Vincent was a creative genius that lost his mind, lopped off an ear in a delusional fit, then shot himself because he was such a tortured artist and all.
It’s very true, and very shallow. All the context and reality emerges when the work and intimate, tragic story are laid out before you in full, vivid detail. With every painting I felt like I was downloading a new point of view, the artists full intent.
This was an extraordinary experience.
It was surprising to learn that Van Gogh didn’t commit to art until he was in his late twenties, a late start that I can certainly identify with. Also, like me, he had started and “failed” at many things before he found a better path. Through his bouts of mental illness, the sadness, frustration, and shitty conditions, he just kept painting and expressing his creative vision.
I was struck by one fine detail of the exhibition. At the end of his furious decade of work, and near his own demise, Van Gogh was producing and average of one complete painting per day. One honest act of expression at a time, that’s what it took to create this legacy. He built an incredible skill that made his art impactful.
I couldn’t help but take notes. There are a few clear lessons I hope to take with me. Thanks to Vincent for the inspiration.
1. Silence doubts by doing
Everyone has to battle an inner critic. This voice is heavy, it sets your expectations low, it stands in your way, it reminds you of your history and limitations. But you don’t have to believe it.
Mr. Van Gogh said it best, “If you hear a voice within you saying, You are not a painter, then by all means paint – and that voice will be silenced.”
Do you want to be a great lifter, a writer, an entrepreneur, a world class coach, etc? Well, I believe that you can be what you want to be, what you’re called to be, you just must start and persist.
When the voice emerges, every time, silence it by doing.
2. Do not be a slave to models
Art is work and process, not magic.
You try and try until things start working smoothly. You refine and refine the method until you can do the damn thing without much thought. Call it an auto-pilot flow state. That’s cool, but it’s also the exact right time to take some risks.
Your method is not as important as the act of figuring out the method. That’s what counts.
As soon as you feel yourself settling too heavily into a routine, an approach, a method or philosophy, whatever, break it for a while. You’ll find there’s so much more to learn. There’s always more room for growth.
3. Exaggerate the essential
There’s a dead simple way to improve any work or effort – Focus more intent on the essential elements.
In Vincent’s paintings you might only see thick brush strokes and rough figures, plants and objects. But those rough elements capture all the action and emotion. If the other stuff doesn’t add to that expression, why bother with it? That method can be applied to anything to make it better.
To improve as an athlete, coach, writer, business man, teacher…Rank what you do from most critical to least. Every single step, movement, decision, action, every prescription and to do. If you don’t have to do it, don’t. Instead pour yourself entirely into what matters most. I think you’ll be amazed at the progress.
You’ll probably also be more happy with time to spare.
4. Patience reigns over impulse
Do not go looking for grand discoveries or revelations. That’s a time trap, man.
Look, I don’t think you’re going to find happiness, success or contentment at the end of a move, or in the next gig or wild gamble. Nothing worth keeping happens all at once. You don’t want it easy.
Greatness comes with the simplest means. Every day, even if it’s in a very small way, express yourself! Take your small steps. Don’t hold back and never delay. Keep it up for a while and who knows what you’ll become.
5. Admire more often
The natural tendency for many folks is to get uncomfortable, or maybe even a bit jealous when we see someone better, more talented, stronger, more athletic, all that. It’s a reflexive response, one that we can and should break.
The key to opening up your mindset and achieving more is not found in comparing and contrasting yourself with others. You actually get there by closely studying and admiring the work of those who are better than you are.
Do it more often.
Play very close attention to the work of your colleagues and mentors. Study every detail, in great appreciation, and soon your own standards will rise. You can’t help but improve under those conditions.
So far, so good
I try to keep my beliefs and expectations to a minimum. So far it’s working out alright. I’m getting better and better of letting go of what was, and in return life continues to unfold in amazing and completely unanticipated ways.
It’s never easy, but the skill is coming. It’ll come for you too, baby. Just keep your head up and your feet moving.