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Consistency

March 15, 2016 — by Matt

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Get ready for a bombshell…

There is no one secret to success.

Shocker, I know.

And even though we all intuitively know this, it still feels good to believe that there’s only one small change between our current situation and a slingshot to blissful achievement.

I’ve come to learn that it doesn’t work like that. There are, however, a few not-so-secret tenants you’ll often hear. You know the usual suspects – perseverance, focus, networking, execution, luck, a really eye-catching business card, strategic eyebrow waggling – and each (most) of them can certainly help contribute to success.

One of the most important is consistency. And for me (and I suspect many others), it’s importance is often overlooked.

Why is consistency important?

Consistency is incredibly important for making progress. The likelihood of one meeting, one business proposal, one article submission, or one afternoon of working on your passion translating to some big success is very slim. The likelihood of repeated, concerted effort producing small, consistent progress that adds up, however, is very high.

Consistency is also like practice – by building a consistent habit, we’re likely to learn more and improve faster. James Clear, one of my favorite writers on the topic of building habits, penned this article which includes a few great examples of how consistent effort increases your chances of reaching your targets.

Finally, doing something consistently can define you. If you want to be a writer, sit down and write… a lot. If you fancy yourself a musician, you had better be making music consistently. And it doesn’t just apply to productive habits. You might not want to admit it, but if you smoke every day, guess what – you’re a smoker. Batman said it in a really gravely voice – “It’s what you do that defines you” – but he wasn’t the first to realize that consistent habit makes you who you are. The ancient Greeks had it figured out ages ago.

We-Repeatedly-Do-Excellence
Consistency in fonts, apparently, not as important.

Our problem with consistency

Yes, staying consistent in our habits is super important and beneficial. But that shit is also HARD. Like, really hard.

First, starting a new habit is always difficult. Doing one thing once is really easy – doing it repeatedly isn’t.

Consistency also requires an acceptance of both failure and of non-perfect work. Doing something over and over is likely to produce varying results – if you write a new blog post every week, for example, you’re likely to have some duds. That’s OK – and in fact will make you better at your craft through repetition, learning, and adjustment. But we’re so petrified of failure that we forgo consistent output in favor of “perfectionism” – a codeword that often means being too scared to finish something, share it, and move onto the next thing.

perfectionism meme

Finally, consistency take patience. We all want instant results. It’s the reason why people go so hard on their new year’s resolutions and then give them up in frustration a few weeks later. Meaningful change happens in small doses over time. Most people either simply don’t have the patience, or they set their expectations for instant results so high that the frustration of not meeting them makes them give up.

fuck this

There is no such thing as “overnight success”

The fact is that we love overnight success stories, but in almost every case it’s a myth. This article includes some great examples, but one of my favorite examples concerns the cast of the FX show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.

charlie day

If you follow the show, you’ve probably heard the story that the main cast of the show decided to write their own pilot, filmed it for $200, and then successfully pitched it to FX. It sounds so easy, anyone could do it – and in a bubble, it seems like an overnight success off of a single idea.

But all the members of the cast had been grinding for YEARS – working on their writing and acting, going to audition after audition, facing rejection and failure. It was their consistency, coupled with opportunity and a belief in themselves, that set the stage for their eventual success.


This is a long video, but just watch the last 45 seconds for some real gold. Charlie Day speaks to Rob McElhenney’s near-constant failure – failure that, without perseverance and consistency, might have caused him to quit before getting his big opportunity.

And that’s the other salient point – consistency is often difficult because it feels like we’re putting in tons of work but going nowhere. Even months after starting this blog, I don’t feel like I’m making any progress. But staying consistent not only keeps us moving forward, it also keeps us in a position to take advantage of opportunities that arise. If we’re consistently working on our passions, when something great does present itself, we’re ready to tackle it.

Here’s my plan

Consistency isn’t easy – so it’s best tackled one task or habit at a time. I’m going to start by getting more consistent about posting here.

If you’ve followed this blog, you may have noticed I post on a wildly inconsistent schedule. I’ve posted on every day of the week for no rhyme or reason. Sometimes I post twice a week, sometimes I completely miss a week. Sometimes I’m scrambling to finish an article, sometimes I have a couple backlogged. It’s a crapshoot.

So my habit, publicly stated here, is to post a new article on this blog every Tuesday – without fail. Here’s why I’m choosing this habit:

  • It’s public and I’ll be held accountable. If it doesn’t happen, you all will notice – and I hope you’ll call me out.
  • It’s results-oriented. It requires I actually produce something, so it’s very easy to judge success or failure. Just saying “write every day” could mean writing one word, or writing garbage, while making the habit a posting schedule means the work has to be meaningful.
  • It’s a keystone habit. Following this habit will force me to follow other habits – like writing consistently and managing my time well enough to ensure the writing gets done.

So look for an article every Tuesday (with the option for a “bonus” article on Fridays as I see fit). And if you don’t see one you can send a swarm of highly trained assassin sparrows to peck my eyes out.

What are you working on?

What’s the one habit you’re going to work on to build consistency? Let us know in the comments!

Weekend Reads

Fear is real, but conquerable! (Weekend Reads)

February 19, 2016 — by Matt

I think a lot about fear. What if I wasn’t afraid to quit my job or of not having enough money to survive? Does fear affect my ability to finish projects, or take risks? How can I overcome the fear of x, y, or z?

I guess I’m not alone. I’ve stumbled upon a few articles recently that tackle the topic of fear. If you’re dreading the future or you feel like fear is holding you back from being great, use these as reminders that we all face fears, and they’re all surmountable.

I AM AFRAID ALL OF THE TIME

The beginning of this article is almost comforting. Entrepreneur and writer James Altucher lists out a few of his top fears that probably sound strangely familiar to your own. It might be a tactic to disarm the reader and inspire empathy, but dammit it works. I felt better about my own fears after reading it.

The rest of the article launches into techniques James uses to overcome fear. His “themes over goals” sounds a lot like my identity based personal pillars, so you know I’m in. And although a lot of the others seem fairly obvious, they’re still good reminders that we have strategies to squelch our fear and really achieve.

THE THIN LINE BETWEEN STAYING UNCOMFORTABLE AND CREATING FEAR

This 99u article by Stephanie Kaptein identifies the potential problem with the timeless advice of “stepping outside your comfort zone” to gain inspiration – that going too far out of the zone can backfire, making us too afraid to go on. Knowing where the line between motivating discomfort and paralyzing fear lies is important if we want to avoid self-sabotage.

I really like this article. It recognizes that fear is a real thing that can hamstring our resolve and our creative process, rather than ignoring it and believing ourselves to be impervious to its effects. Strategically evaluating where we are in relation to that line is an important self-check that will keep us moving forward.

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Have a great weekend, and keep conquering your fears!

BalanceCreativityExplorationHealthTravel

My 2015 Annual Review

January 5, 2016 — by Matt

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2015 has ended, and 2016 is but a few days old. Ah, what a bittersweet moment.
Not really. I’ve never put much importance on the changing of the year. New Years Eve celebrations are typically overrated, as are traditional resolutions. I write the date wrong for a month or two after before my brain finally registers the new year, and life goes on.
But this year I decided to use this time to retrospect on what did and didn’t go well in the past year with the goal of setting myself up for an even better 2016. My hope is that evaluating where I’ve been will help focus where I’m going, and identifying areas in which I could have done better will help me conquer similar obstacles much better in the future.
So without further ado, my 2015 Annual Review!

A Year In Review

2015 was a year of discovery and foundation-building. Much of what I hoped to accomplish didn’t happen, but I built a stable framework to make meaningful change, more so than I have in any other year. I learned a lot about what drives me, how I work best, and where I have room to improve. The stage feels set for a great 2016.

What Went Well

This is my favorite part of the exercise. I’m typically overly-self critical and compiling this list reminded me of all my victories. It was incredibly motivating!

Travel

I rang in 2015 on a beach in southern Thailand, 1/4 of the way through a life changing solo adventure. My Thailand trip taught me so much about my resilience, what I could do without, and was a major factor in convincing me to finally start this blog. I’ll write more about this trip’s lessons in future posts.
Beach in Krabi, Thailand
A beautiful sunset on Ao Nang beach in Krabi, Thailand
Travel the rest of the year was sparse, but very rewarding. In June my girlfriend and I spent time in Puerto Rico, exploring Old San Juan, the beaches, and the rest of the island. In August, I traveled to Montreal with a crew of buddies for our second Osheaga Music Festival, which was a blast. September rid me of my multi-year aversion to camping through mountain climbing, hiking, and the most beautiful views of the coast of Maine and the untainted night sky I’ve ever seen. I traveled a decent amount for work too, but nothing super noteworthy. So although overall travel was on the light side, the trips I took were fun, reflective, focusing, and in the case of Thailand, life-changing. And I’ve already got my first trip of 2016 booked – Cartagena, Colombia in late January!

 

Art and Music

2015 was the year I ramped up my DJ skills. Although I didn’t DJ any major events, I got comfortable behind the decks and at parties, logged some serious hours, and dropped 3 DJ mixes on SoundCloudFumesco and I produced and released a fun dance track at the beginning of the year. I also made two radio appearances thanks to Uncle Sam at LFOD Radio and performed on stage once as well.
I tried my hand at video production and editing in 2015, putting together a promo video for Bad Decisions Collective and a Jake and Amir spoof. Although it was fun to do, it’s something I’ll likely outsource in the future. Speaking of Bad Decisions Collective, we set the stage for some fantastic events and music for early 2016 which I’m excited to see through.
Finally, I started painting again. Although it’s definitely a side hobby, I’d like to use painting as a change-of-pace activity when I hit a wall with Writing or Music, instead of turning to Netflix.

Writing

I launched this site, Boring Grownups, in July. An idea that had been on the back-burner for too long, I finally bit the bullet, finished the site design, and posted my first few articles. Although I didn’t post every week, I’ve posted a stream of content so far and sparked some great discussions with friends are readers. I hope to do even better in 2016. And I got my first article published on another blog!

Career

2015 was a big year for my “9 to 5” career of Software Product Manager. In the late summer, I was part of the group that helped orchestrate the acquisition of my company, performing due diligence, giving demos, and traveling across the country to ensure the deal went through. It was a great experience filled with lessons that will be invaluable no matter my future path.
And in October, I finally made the move from that company to a new company in Boston. The commute to to my job in the suburbs north of Boston had been difficult for over a year and I finally kicked myself in the ass got over my fear, and made the move. Not only that, it’s with a startup doing some super exciting stuff, and I’m already learning a ton.

Financial

Although I hoped to do a better job saving this year, I did nearly eliminate my credit card debt, lifting a huge weight from my shoulders. I still have a little way to go with debt in general (car payments etc.) but I didn’t realize how much progress I had made until I saw my debt turndown from Jan 1 2015 until now.

Social/Relationships

This is an important category that I sometimes struggle with – I love my solitude and sometimes get lost in my introverted tendencies because they often spark my creativity. Throughout 2015 I tried to form deeper relationships with many of the important people in my life. Although I didn’t do great in some areas (see below) I did connect with many friends on a deeper level, had some great conversations, and fostered some important relationships.
Most importantly, I started a wonderful relationship with a beautiful, intelligent, creative spirit. I’m so excited to see where our relationship goes as we continue to grow together.

What Didn’t Go Well

Despite the growth, there were a few areas of stagnation and some to which I just didn’t pay enough attention. In the moment these may seem like failures, but the purpose of this exercise is to reflect on them, make peace with them, and then learn from them so 2016 can be even better.

Art and Music

Despite DJing a bit more last year, I didn’t make and release a whole lot of new music. I found myself distracted, starting many projects but finishing very few. I fell victim to the “Resistance” Steven Pressfield wrote of in The War of Art. It took me a long time to recognize it and even longer to push through it, and as such my creative output stagnated in 2015.
I also could have better taken advantage of my network – something I’ve never been good at. I must remember that there’s making art, there’s getting it out there, and that both benefit from involving others in the process. I don’t have to do everything myself for it to be authentic. I’m vowing to get better about collaboration and asking for help and advice in 2016. I’ll be writing more about this struggle in an upcoming article.

Health

2015 was probably my least-in-shape year in a long time. I could point to a lot of factors – an extended commute, a brutal, snowed-in winter, conflicting priorities, or just plain laziness – but I hit the gym with far less frequency than I’d like. Since physical health improves mental health (and vice-versa), it’s time to get back on the grind.

Finance

I made a significant dent in my credit card debt but my saving was sub-par. Automated transfers to my savings will help, as will cutting out my commute and gas prices. But I’m not yet at the level of non-retirement savings I’d hoped, and will auto-pay myself more each paycheck in 2016.
My biggest financial hit this year was having to buy a new car. I was vehemently opposed to owning a car a couple of years ago and was forced to buy one when my company moved out of Boston. So when the Boston winter and generally poor maintenance required me to trade it in for another, newer model earlier in 2015, I was not a happy camper. More debt, larger monthly payments, and the ache in my heart of making what I considered a goal-divergent mistake AGAIN was a tough pill to swallow. But on a positive note, that same ache helped me get over my fear of leaving that job, and I’m looking forward to being carless again soon.

Travel

As I mentioned above, although the trips I did take were very meaningful, my travel schedule was a light in 2015. What with work, job search, and paying down debt, my priorities skewed toward staying home. Although my 3-years-ago self my have expected me to be location-independent and traveling the world at this point, in reality I don’t consider this an actual loss. I’m working on building a life in which that level of travel and true location-independence is sustainable. Work I put in now will make those things a part of my life for the long run.

Social and Lifestyle

I’ve had issues balancing work and social life in the past, and this year was no different. I romanticize the notion of becoming a recluse in a cabin in the woods somewhere for months on end making art, but too often I do the former without the output of the latter. I’m getting better at recognizing this and I’m working harder on finding a balance between going ass-to-chair to make art, and living a life worth making art about.
Due to time constraints I also had to end a long-stranding volunteer activity I had been participating in for years before. It was sad to call it quits as it was very rewarding, but as I work to find more balance in my energies I know I’ll find something similar.

The Next Step

So… that’s my year in review. Even as I type of this list I’m reminded that small measures of progress are possible all the time – and that these measures add up to big change. Even though I set a grand vision for myself, I have to remember not to be discouraged by its enormity, and to make consistent small steps toward. With the right focus, a year’s worth of small changes can result in a major shift.
And that’s the aim for 2016. In my next post, I’ll outline some of this years’ goals and how I’m treating them as guideposts on a journey rather than destinations themselves.
Have you done an annual review? If so, I’d love to read it and share notes! If it’s online, leave a link to it in the comments. If you’ve done it informally and want to share anything, please do. We get stronger when we share ideas and I’m excited for all of us to get stronger in 2016.
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