Today I’m going to be talking about the importance of pushing yourself in your business.
Not because of some desire for greater income or some other external reward.
But because of the person it makes you when you push yourself to be better … to take chances … to try new ideas and approaches … and to enjoy every last bit of the process—including falling down and scraping your knees.
The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts.
The late Neil Peart was the legendary drummer for the progressive rock band Rush. He joined the band in 1975 and continued through his death from cancer in 2020.
Neil is considered one of the best drummers in history, regardless of the genre.
I’ll never forget how blown away I was in 1986 when I really heard their music for the first time…
Huge influence on me (they say that whatever you’re really into at 14 or 15 will stay with you forever…)
After 30 years of playing the drums at a master level—and after 20 years with Rush—Neil was at the very top of his game. Again, one of the very best. No one disputed that.
Yet he did something unimaginable. He decided to take drum lessons from the jazz drummer Freddie Gruber.
- Neil wanted to reinvent his technique from the ground up
- Complete overhaul
Neil felt that after years of playing with click tracks in the background to keep him and the band right on tempo, his playing had become too “metronomic” in the bad sense. He was starting to feel stiff with his playing … and he knew he had to break out of that for the sake of his art.
I want you to imagine yourself in that situation. You’re more successful than you ever imagined yourself you’d be…
But Neil knew he had to push himself.
- He knew that success is not ALL found in your current state
- Success is about pursuing progressively more challenging goals
- It’s about pushing yourself as an artist; as a professional
And as scary as that might have been, Neil changed everything about his drumming. Something he’d been doing the same way since he was a young teenager.
When asked in an interview why he wanted to overhaul his technique, here’s what he said:
“After 40, 45 years of playing, I wanted to push myself and open up this whole new frontier. I’ve been able to do that as a lyricist and as a prose writer, and now as a drummer. You have to challenge your own limitations and your own expectations of yourself.
Neil felt that success is not an act. It’s not some sort of destination.
- Success is a habit.
- The pursuit of excellence is a journey, not a destination.
Neil’s reinvention of his art—or let’s just call it his “business”—is not unheard of.
Tiger Woods has changed his swing at least 3 times during his career.
Baseball pitchers have reinvented their pitch midcareer.
So have Olympic swimmers, weightlifters and even Olympic jumpers.
- Recently I read about Dick Fosbury, a young college athlete, who did something unfathomable at the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City. He jumped over the bar backwards—on his back.
- That’s how we all know the jump is made. But from 1890 to 1967 high jumpers went over the bar in a handful of ways, but always with the intent to jump and land on their feet. Everyone thought this was the safest way to do it. So no one tried anything differently.
- Until Fosbury in 1968. He reinvented his entire form and technique. And it worked like crazy. He shattered the previous Olympic record by clearing the bar at 7-4¼ and went on to win the 1968 Olympic gold medal.
- But it was so controversial, even Fosbury’s coach criticized the technique by claiming that it was ridiculous and would lead to fatal injury.
Here’s the thing. Over the past 3 years or so, I’ve found myself striving for comfort and safety.
I’ve reached a point in my business where I do very well for myself because I’ve gotten very good at what I do … and I add tremendous value to my clients—helping them generate massive breakthroughs in their businesses.
(I’m not ashamed to admit that. And frankly, neither should you, if you’re good at what you do.)
But with that level of performance I’ve also become comfortable.
I think that’s part of being human. We’re wired to conserve energy. To stay safe. And comfort is a part of that. We naturally seek comfort and safety.
And the more of it we get to enjoy, the more of it we want … and the harder it is to let go of it. And that’s what scares me!
Maybe you can relate.
- You spend years trying to get to a certain level (examples of life in your 20s)
- You get there and enjoy the rewards
- Sure, you might still go after bigger goals
- But the older you get, the less “dramatic” and risky the goals you go after
- And it’s so easy to justify that approach in the name of “I have a family. I have responsibilities…”
- But is that true? Or is that you lying to yourself?
We DON’T take big chances because we know the risks are higher. There’s a risk of serious loss in some cases—or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.
Of course, these things are all relative. I have a very good friend who’s absolutely terrified of the idea of self-employment. He would never do it. But I’m out there every day making a living on my own. There’s no Fortune 500 company behind me, supporting me with all kinds of resources. I’m out there taking risks every week, just like you are.
Yet I have my own set of fears about new levels of performance I could be going after… [why rock the boat? Why change what’s working so well?]
But here’s why it matters—because eventually you HAVE to admit to yourself that continually succeeding at your current level of comfort has big risks.
You may not realize it because your bank account looks great.
Your clients are happy.
You might even have more work than you can handle.
But staying comfortable can easily impact your psyche in a negative way. And that alone can have a negative impact on your work performance.
In his new book Be Your Future Self NOW, Dr. Benjamin Hardy explains that for certain mundane skills such as driving your car or tying your shoes, running on autopilot is a good thing. It frees up your mind to do other things.
But when it comes to developing skills, learning, improving your craft and boosting your performance, this kind of “skills automation” causes you to get stuck … and even slowly decline over time.
Hardy cites research showing that doctors who have been in practice for 20 years are usually less skilled than they were fresh out of medical school. Which sounds insane!
Why would this happen? Doctors get stuck in habitual ways of thinking and acting.
- They don’t update their models or their approaches for years
- Why? Comfort, safety…
Yet as Hardy explains, “Rather than having 20 years of experience, they often have 1 year of experience repeated 20 times…”
That’s such a powerful way of stating the issue here.
This is a big problem for self-employed professionals. And the more successful you become, the bigger the risk you run of ending up in a rut!
- A rut that might not seem like a big deal right now because you’re earning great money. So you associate the current state of your pocketbook with your current level of skill.
- But the truth is that your skills and income are—to a great degree—out of phase.
- Your skills and capabilities are slowly being left behind … but your income hasn’t caught up to that… yet! It’s coming, you just don’t see it right now.
- And when it does, it will be time to pay the piper
- That’s when you have to scramble like crazy to catch up
Let me be clear about something. When I talk about the dangers of staying too comfortable for too long, I’m not saying you should work HARDER.
Yes, hard work is often part of this. But that’s not the point here. I’m not suggesting that you working harder and longer hours. And I’m not trying to shame anyone (including myself) for wanting to enjoy greater work/life balance.
I want to enjoy a great lifestyle. I don’t want to work crazy hours. I don’t necessarily want to work like I did 20 or 30 years ago when I was hustling like crazy to try and get ahead.
What I’m suggesting here is way more subtle than that. And I hope the message doesn’t get lost or misinterpreted. I’m talking about changing things up. Trying new things. Innovating in your own business.
For example, maybe you haven’t caught up to things such as:
- New types of projects that are gaining momentum
- New business models such as selling strategy and planning as a standalone service … or offering clients “writing training” for their marketing staff or other departments that need to improve their written communications
- New delivery models or business structures—such as scaling up your operation with either support staff and/or other writers
- New target markets that align well with your experience and skillset (coaching client [Laura MacPherson] bravely went after healthcare…)
- New and different ways to work with your clients.
- Charging more for your value and focusing less on time and deliverables when quoting fees
- Starting a new side hustle that will challenge you
I’m not saying you have to do all those things. Or even any one of them.
- What I’m saying is that staying put where you are because you seem to be doing well will NOT guarantee you success in the future
How can you know if you’re truly pushing yourself to reach a new, worthwhile endeavor?
The “litmus test” comes from Steven Pressfield in his wonderful little book, The War of Art.
Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually.
So if you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Theresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to launch a career in telemarketing … relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.
Translation? If you have to fight resistance in pursuit of your goals, every day and every week, you’re on the right track.
The Resistance is a signal that your goals are worthwhile. So keep doing what you’re doing. Take the resistance as a sign that you’re moving in the right direction—you’re growing and improving your business and yourself.
This is hard for me to accept. I’m a pragmatist!
- But I have to admit that it’s true
- Even if the idea of stretching myself sounds completely uncomfortable
Going back to Benjamin Hardy, In his book he quotes Dr. Anders Ericsson, an expert on the subject of deliberate practice and expert performance who says, “The experts deliberately construct and seek out training situations to attain desired goals that exceed their current level of reliable performance.”
And that’s the key, isn’t it? We each have current levels of reliable performance. We know what we can reasonably expect in terms of income, for example, from that level of performance.
When we’re not happy with the results, we work deliberately to raise our skills and capabilities. But when we’re generally happy with the results … that’s when we risk getting stuck in a rut.
And look … I can understand that concept intellectually. I get it. But in order for me to take meaningful action that will effect change in my business, I need to understand this risk emotionally.
And in one of the chapters, Hardy gave me exactly what I needed when he framed the issue a different way.
He said… “If you want to become your desired Future Self, play at his level as quickly as possible. Commit at the level of your Future Self. Adapt at the level of your Future Self. Your current self is clearly not there yet, and will therefore need serious training, humility and feedback.”
Here’s the thing. We may be happy and comfortable with where we are today. That’s a good thing. But there’s a future version of us who would absolutely LOVE to send us a message from the future.
That Future Self is wiser. They’ve experienced much more of life. And they KNOW things we don’t know.
They’re a very different person than your present self.
So … based on what I’ve shared with you today … what would YOUR Future Self tell you if he or she could call you right now and give you about 5 minutes’ worth of advice?
I bet that, among other things, they would tell you to push yourself. To take bigger risks. To innovate. Try new things. New approaches. New ideas. And see where they go!
Would all these things work? Of course not! In fact, most of them might fail.
But you know what? I’d rather fail at trying and learning things that are beyond my current level of skill and expertise than to ONLY succeed at what I find easy and comfortable.
Or as Hardy puts it, “Failing as your Future Self is better than succeeding as your Current Self.”
So here’s the commitment I know I need to make to myself—and it’s a commitment that, honestly, scares me! à If an idea gets me super excited BUT it sounds outside my reach (even scary or terrifying), that’s exactly what I should go after.
I don’t know how all of this sits with you. But my hope is that it at least inspires you to think about comfort and safety a little differently. Yes, comfort and safety are wonderful. But I don’t believe we should seek them at all costs.
By the way… whenever you’re ready, here are 3 ways I can help you grow your freelance business:
1. Grab a free copy of my book.
It’s called Earn More in Less Time: The Proven Mindset, Strategies and Actions to Prosper as a Freelance Writer. The title says it all. 😉 — Click Here
2. Join my implementation program and be a case study.
I’m putting together a new implementation group this month. If you’re earning $5k+/month (or the part-time equivalent) from your freelance business … and you’d like to grow your income quickly with better clients … just email me at [email protected]
3. Work with me privately.
If you’re a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time, with less stress, I might be able to help you get there faster than you think. Just email me at [email protected] and put “Breakthrough” in the subject line, and I’ll get back to you with more details.