How many times does it take, really?
By: NICOLAS COLE
How many times does it take to learn the same lesson?
Life is not a checklist. It is a practice. The thing with knowledge is that it can decay if left ignored–and that goes for anything. Just because you did it once does not mean it won’t happen again. Or just because you were once great at something does not mean you will forever be great at it. Everything in life takes practice.
Some of the hardest life lessons repeat themselves over and over again, and it’s on each and every one of us to be reflective enough to witness them happening in the moment–so that this time around, a different decision can be made.
1. The “Easy” Road Ends Up Being More Difficult
This is probably one of the earliest “big” lessons we learn.
When something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Handouts don’t happen. Free things aren’t really free. As one of my mentors would say, “If you tell me quick and easy, I think long and difficult.”
The reason a path looks “easy” is because it hides its difficulties in plain sight. And you choose the easy road because you did not take the time to really understand what it was you were looking at.
Sometimes we do this by accident; sometimes we do it on purpose (despite all the red flags we may or may not want to acknowledge).
But regardless, the lesson is one we all have to learn time and time again–the “easy” road is rarely easy. In fact, it usually ends up being more difficult than if you had just done things the right way from the beginning.
2. The Roller Coaster of Love Needs a Speed Limit
A lot of people have trouble with this one.
You know those relationships that start out going a million miles an hour? The ones where you stay locked into each other’s eyes? The ones where you start talking about spending your whole lives together after only three months? Those loves are hot, and fiery, and full of passion. They’re also usually the first to go crashing into a wall and exploding into a million pieces.
Love is a roller coaster–and it’s supposed to be. But one of the hardest lessons to learn is how to apply brakes to that roller coaster. You need to know when to speed up and when to slow down. When to go all in and when to pull back and take things slow.
Because the truth is, without at least some brakes on that train, it’s going to go faster, and faster, and faster, and you’re going to skip all the little things you needed to learn and acknowledge about each other along the way. And by the time those things matter, it will be too late.
3. Small, Daily Habits Are More Important Than Big, Infrequent Home Runs
Anyone can talk the talk. Not many people can walk the walk.
A terrible habit quite a few people fall into is believing that “one day” it’ll all come together. What does that even mean, “one day”?
What are you going to do, wake up and find yourself in a $5-million mansion with two Ferraris parked outside? What, is it just going to “appear” out of nowhere?
“One day” is today. “One day” is right now. You’re not going to “be patient one day.” You’re going to be patient NOW. You’re not going to “start doing things differently one day.” You’re going to start doing things differently NOW. You’re not going to “finally make it work one day.” You’re going to make it work right NOW.
Big leaps happen by adding lots of tiny steps up over a long period of time. If you think you can skip that process, you’re wrong.
Whatever it is you want to become, become that to the best of your ability right now. Whatever it is you want to do, do that to the best of your ability right now. In weightlifting we would call this “training until failure.”
Every day, everything you do, train until failure.
4. Self-Knowledge Is Worth More Than Personal Achievement
Such a difficult lesson, and one that must be practiced diligently throughout the entirety of one’s life; the difference between contentment and achievement.
You can immediately tell when you meet someone which category they fall into. They either emit a genuine confidence to pursue their goals for self-exploration, or they emit an ego-based confidence rooted in personal achievement. I’m not telling you to not set goals and achieve them. I’m asking you to be aware of where your sense of self-worth comes from.
If you pursue things in the name of personal achievement, you will never be fulfilled–and I say this from experience. True fulfillment is calm, and motivated only by creative freedom–a desire to further understand yourself and your craft. Personal achievement is fleeting. And so, in order to both “achieve” externally and find a sense of fulfillment and happiness, you have to keep a close eye on which is which.
Otherwise, do you know what’s going to happen?
You’re going to climb that big mountain in front of you, grind your face off to reach the top, and before you’ve even taken in one single deep breath and enjoyed the view, you’ll notice the next mountain and think, “Oh, actually I haven’t achieved anything–I must need to climb that mountain, too!”
5. You Are a Direct Reflection of the People You Spend the Most Time With
Oh boy, such a difficult lesson to learn–and a crucial one to practice through every chapter of your life.
The people around you are your mirrors. They are the ones who allow you to see aspects of yourself–and vice versa. If you spend time with people who mirror your own insecurities, or fears, or judgments, then you’re going to see those traits every single day and begin to believe in them. They will be reinforced in you to the point where you decide that is “who you are.”
On the flip side, if you spend time with people who challenge your fears, your insecurities, and the parts of you that need “work,” you will inevitably change. You will soak up and inherit different traits.
Better or more positive traits.
Deliberately choosing the people around you is how you can sculpt yourself. You want confidence? Hang around confident people. You want to learn self-awareness? Hang around self-aware people. You want to learn any skill, any craft? Hang around people who practice those things and do them well.
The challenge with this is knowing when to walk away. Sometimes people come into our lives at a crucial time because something in us wants to learn–and they too want to learn something from us, and so a mutual friendship begins to form. But every relationship is a path, and knowing when it is time to move on to the next one (whether that means staying friends or walking away completely) is where most people struggle. You have to be exceedingly deliberate with how you spend your time, and with whom.
6. You Cannot Stay the Same Forever–and Trying to Will Hurt You
Most people want and look for security. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The difficult lesson is knowing the value of change. “Change is inevitable.” When we speak this cliché, it’s insinuated to be a bad thing. We fear change. We have to keep a close eye, otherwise “change” will creep up on us.
I challenge you to seek out change. I challenge you to welcome change with open arms.
Think about it like a workout routine. If you go into the gym and do the same exercises every day, over and over again, eventually they won’t become difficult anymore. Your body will get used to them, and your growth rate will plateau. You will become “comfortable.”
And then, at some point, that comfort will begin to work against you–because the truth is, you need change in order to continue moving forward.
Instead of waiting for change to find you, go out and find it. Look for the little signs when you are beginning to plateau, in any way, and change up your routine deliberately. Be on the offensive. Stay one step ahead of yourself. Whether it’s your craft, or your job, or your relationship, or your health, look for change. Look for ways to keep it fresh, to make your mind and body work, to do what feels “unfamiliar.”
All growth occurs in change.
7. The “Tiny Voice” in You Always Knows Which Way to Go
And finally, the hard task of listening to that “tiny voice” inside.
Should you take the raise or move jobs? Should you stay in the relationship or move on? Should you do what you love or do what other people want you to do? All of these hypotheticals have two sides: what you feel like you should do, and what that “tiny voice” inside genuinely wants you to do.
We can all hear that little voice. We know what it sounds like. We can recognize when it raises its hand to speak. And yet, so often we struggle to actually follow through and heed its direction.
Because there is a much louder voice that bombards us with big promises and shiny objects and glorified achievements. We let our ego get in the way, when deep down we know what it is we truly want.
The reason why this is such a challenge for people to learn and accept–and why it often times takes a lifetime–is because the ego always promises safety. The ego promises avoidance of hurt, it promises instant gratification, and it promises acceptance. That’s why we take the corporate gig instead of traveling the world, or we write someone else’s book instead of writing our own. The ego’s road isn’t vulnerable, or scary. It’s nice, safe, and secure.
The problem is that, sometime down the road, usually in a moment of quiet, that “tiny voice” will raise its hand again and ask to be heard. And the more you ignore it, the more it will rumble beneath the surface. This, I believe, is one of the big contributing factors to the infamous “mid-life crisis.” How else could you possibly wake up and question every aspect of your life?
There would be no crisis at all.
Honor yourself. Listen to that “tiny voice.” Trust it.
Your heart will never guide you wrong.