The green fig tree

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Learn by Doing

Learn by doing. Not sure if you can break into the pharmaceutical industry? Spend six months interning at Pfizer making connections and see what happens. Curious whether marketing or product development is a better fit than what you currently do? If you work in a company where those functions exist, offer to help out for free. Whatever the situation, actions, not plan, generate lessons that help you test your hypotheses against reality. Actions help you discover where you want to go and how to get there.

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, The Startup of You

moving past planning to doing

There is a beautiful study where they gave half the people a lecture on the importance of getting a vaccination, and only 3 percent of the people went. They gave the other half the same lecture, but they also asked them to indicate on their calendar when they were going to go. In that group, 26 percent of the people went to get vaccinations. Not everybody wants to get vaccinated. But the idea is that we have intentions, and unless they get specified in a concrete way on the calendar, they’re unlikely to be carried out.

Dan Ariely speaking to Wired Magazine

seeing victory

A plank 12” wide laying on the floor would be easy to walk. Place the same plank between two ten story buildings and “walk the plank” is a different matter. You “see” yourself easily and safely walking the plank on the floor. You “see” yourself falling from the plank stretched between the buildings. Since the mind completes the picture you paint in it, your fears are quite real. Many times a golfer will knock a ball in the lake or hit it out of bounds and then stop back with the comment, “I know I was going to do that.” His mind painted a picture and his body completed the action. On the positive, side, the successful gofer knows that he must ‘see’ the ball going into the cup before he strokes it. A hitter in baseball sees the ball dropping in for a base hit before he swings at the ball, and the successful salesman sees the customer buying before he makes the calls. Michelangelo clearly saw the Mighty Moses in that block of marble before he struck the first blow.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

Setting Goals

Can you imagine Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, explaining how he was able to accomplish that feat? Suppose he explained he was just out walking around one day when he happened to find himself at the top of the tallest mountain in the world. Or the Chairman of the Board of General Motors explaining that he got his position because he just kept showing up for work and they just kept promoting him until one day he was Chairman of the Board. Ridiculous – of course – but no more ridiculous than your thinking you can accomplish anything significant without specific goals.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

pick a side

"There’s nothing I can do."  (Let’s look at our alternatives.)

"That’s just the way I am."  (I can choose a different approach)

"He makes me so mad."  (I control my own feelings)

"They won’t allow that."  (I can create an effective presentation)

"I have to do that."  (I will choose an appropriate response)

"I can’t."   (I choose)

"I must."  (I prefer)

"If only."  (I will)

A serious problem with reactive language is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People become reinforced in the paradigm that they are determined, and they produce evidence to support the belief. They feel out of control, not in charge of their life or their destiny. They blame outside forces--other people, circumstances, even the stars--for their own situation.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People


Holding people to the responsible course is not demeaning; it is affirming. Proactivity is part of human nature, and although the proactive muscles may be dormant, they are there. By respecting the proactive nature of other people, we provide them with at least one clear, undistorted reflection from the social mirror.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Expecting Initiative

Holding people to the responsible course is not demeaning; it is affirming. Proactivity is part of human nature, and although the proactive muscles may be dormant, they are there. By respective the proactive nature of other people, we provide them with at least one clear, undistorted reflection from the social mirror.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

taking action

It doesn’t matter if you have a genius IQ and a PhD in Quantum Physics, you can’t change anything or make any sort of real-world progress without taking action. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it. Knowledge and intelligence are both useless without action. It’s as simple as that.

Successful people know that a good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed someday. They don’t wait for the “right time” or the “right day” or the “right (impossible) circumstances”, because they know these reactions are based on a fear and nothing more. They take action here and now, today – because that’s where real progress happens.

Angel Chernoff

Don’t insist on knowing who you are before you begin the work

So many people get stuck on things like “being a writer” or “being an entrepreneur” and they never get around to getting things done because they’re too busy trying to figure out if their ontological state gives them permission to do the thing they want to do.

Forget about your state of being for a second. Forget about your identity for a moment. Just do something. If you’re interested in it right now, then that’s enough to try it out. You’ll find out the most valuable information about yourself not by naval gazing and analyzing your soul all day long, but by getting to know what the creative process actually feels like. 

Your sense of self will evolve and expand until the day you die. So you’ll be waiting around forever if you insist on knowing who you are before beginning the work you feel compelled to do in the moment.

Knowledge of self is the effect, not the cause of all these things.

TK Coleman, 5 Ways to Steal Like An Artist

Taking the Abuse

When someone stays in an abusive situation, there must be a measure comfort in that identity for the victim. The abused, in effect, says to themselves, "I know what to do when playing this role." To become someone different means acknowledging there is a choice--and with that realization comes the uncomfortable recognition of responsibility.

A victim may tell themselves, “At least in the abusive situation I know the old pain and its ways."  Moving toward change means stepping into the unknown. Fear can freeze the victim into making no decision, defaulting to the status quo, keeping the situation the same as it has always been.

Perhaps the abuse fits some part of how they have chosen to define themselves. To choose not to be abused means redefining the identity. In the end, some people would prefer to keep the painful but familiar abuse rather than entering a new kind of pain--one that accompanies building a new identity.

Victims who choose to no longer be victims take an heroic step. It's an empowering choice--and only those who have made a similar decision can fully grasp its breath and courage.

Stephen Goforth

Solving the problem is more important than blaming the cause

When you’re young, it’s easy to get into the blame game when things go wrong. Your alarm clock didn’t go off. Your computer crashed as you were typing the last sentence of that 10-page history paper. That professor didn’t like you. Then you grow up, and guess what? No one cares about your excuses, unavoidable as they might be. Be proactive. Get the job done. Worry about the rest later. 

Alex McDaniel

Life isn't like a train ride

For men and women who have accepted the reality of change, the need for endless learning and trying is a way of living, a way of thinking, a way of being awake and ready. Life isn’t a train ride where you choose your destination, pay your fare and settle back for a nap. It’s a cycle ride over uncertain terrain, which you in the driver’s seat, constantly correcting your balance and determining the direction of progress. It’s difficult, sometimes profoundly painful. But its better than napping through life.  

John Gardner, Self-Renewal

the progressive man retreats

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity