Everybody’s a goddamn life coach these days.
Every time we log on to one of our 15 social media accounts we see the bullsh*t memes and article shares inundating our newsfeeds.
“Seven Steps to Becoming a Happier Person,” “15 Habits of Incredibly Happy People,” “10 Reasons You’re Still Not Happy.” The author of that last one should tack “Hey Dummy” or something on there to make his obvious superiority to the rest of us crystal clear.
“Defining Your Happiness Will Make You Unhappy.” Huh? Is this guy high? Words strung together in succession do not a coherent sentence make.
Here’s my favorite: “Do You Know Why Your Dog is Happier than You?” Yep, sure do. That motherf*cker can’t read this bullsh*t.
If we really want to be happy, we’re going to have to stop listening to all of this crap and start doing one simple thing—drumroll please…
Emphasize follow through over success.
I’ll share a few examples from my life as a firsthand case study of how follow through can positively impact all our lives.
Years ago, I wanted to pass the bar exam. I didn’t give a damn about actually practicing law. The thought of that sounded miserable. But 11 years after finishing law school, I needed closure, and I didn’t care how many people told me it had been too long and I’d never pass. I bought the books, took the course, and completed over 1,000 practice questions that summer. The naysayers were wrong. I passed.
I wanted to write, even though I was apprehensive about putting myself out there and being subject to scrutiny. Pushing fear aside, I set a modest word count goal and began.
I started with strength training articles, since I had built a body of knowledge in that area from many years of competitive powerlifting. Over time, I branched out to different topics like grief coping and social issues. Recently, I’ve devolved all the way to whatever this is.
I even co-authored a book on strength training. I had many doubts during the two years it took to finish the book and nearly shelved the project several times. Though sales haven’t landed me on any bestseller lists, finishing it was one of my life’s most satisfying accomplishments. More on that later.
I wrote a children’s picture book and convinced myself that it was good enough for publication. I had no basis whatsoever for this conclusion. I didn’t know the first thing about the market for children’s literature or where to begin shopping it. Hell, I hadn’t even read a children’s book since, well—childhood.
None of that mattered one iota. I couldn’t have cared less about anyone’s opinion. I wouldn’t have batted an eye if Dr. Seuss himself had read it and said it sucked. I’d have just dismissed him as some old fool—a rhyming savant who couldn’t possibly know anything else. I was ramrodding this thing through to publication come hell or high water.
Recently, I started a T-shirt business. Holy crap, I’ve sold two stinking shirts, and I think my mom bought one anonymously online. Just like with the children’s book, I’m unwavering in my belief that this is a good idea that will sell once I get it in front of the right audience.
In the interest of keeping it real, I do want to touch on a counterpoint. From time to time, I see someone wasting years on some pipe dream for which he or she obviously not suited. Whether it’s some 30-year-old waiting for his big major league baseball break, despite the fact he can’t hit a curve ball in the church softball league, or an aspiring pro wrestler who lives in a van down by the river and doesn’t know a single promoter, there comes a time when a reality check can save a person from further self-inflicted misery chasing a dream whose time has passed—or never was.
In my observation, however, the vast majority of people give up too soon rather than too late. I’ve made this mistake as well. Sure, I just rattled off several projects I followed through on, but there are others I should have completed and didn’t because of laziness, or fear, or some other excuse I used to sabotage my own happiness.
Things get hard. We encounter a few obstacles. We quit. We have no real idea whether we were headed for success or failure or something in between, because we didn’t see it through far enough to get a real answer.
When I get it right, I’m controlling the only thing I can control: my effort. I can’t control outcomes, so I try not to worry about them. Put another way, I make the process more important than the result.
That can be hard at times. We do want to be successful with our enterprises. Success validates their worthiness. That way of thinking is also often counter to happiness, especially when a project’s outcome doesn’t quite meet our expectations.
Back to the strength training book I wrote, since that’s where I think I turned the corner on my thinking about happiness. As I was writing it, I often pictured it selling pretty well, at least to the niche audience for which it was intended. I figured those sales would lead to other opportunities in the strength and conditioning field.
Though that hasn’t really materialized, results haven’t been all dismal. Over 50 satisfied customers have posted positive reviews on Amazon’s sales page that serve as an endorsement of my work. I also receive modest quarterly royalty checks that will continue to trickle in for several years.
More importantly, when I really took a hard look at how I feel about writing the book, I realized I have an incredible sense of peace and contentment with my accomplishment. The fact that my work hasn’t been widely recognized makes me no less proud of the quality of the final product and the effort I put into creating it. Dare I say, I’m happy I can check “write a book” off my bucket list.
The same goes for the other projects I rattled off. They might not be very important to many other people—none of them changed the world or saved lives—but being able to say I finished them is important to me.
And, not to get too touchy-feely, but outside of sports where final scores determine winners and losers, maybe the definition of winning is open to interpretation. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective.
If I define winning strictly in terms of sales or financial reward or even popularity, then clearly I’ve lost so far. If I define it in terms of some of these other important measures of life satisfaction, mainly the sense of accomplishment that comes from following through, then all of a sudden I’m winning handily.
Every single one of these projects is something I came up with on my own and deemed important. Not one of them was an assignment a boss handed me. As we’re considering follow through and its critical role in the happiness equation, we should also remember that.
I’ve had plenty of tasks handed to me in my lifetime. I finished those, too. I had to if I wanted a paycheck. I just don’t remember them.
While some of them didn’t make me unhappy, they didn’t contribute much to my happiness either. They were someone else’s agenda. We’re just not likely to get the same satisfaction from following through on yet another TPS report (anybody remember Office Space?), even if it’s the best TPS report ever produced.
I may have sounded like I was chastising people for being quitters, but there’s more to following through than just gritting your teeth and grinding. That children’s book I wrote is particularly personal for me. It’s about a six-year-old daughter I lost to illness. I was getting that published if I had to do it myself. It was non-negotiable.
When we find something we care about enough that we’re willing to sacrifice to accomplish it, spending money and time on it becomes much more bearable. If we have to bleed a little, then we bleed.
Finding these passions is the hard part of this little happiness prescription. It requires soul searching and reflection.
Defining our successes by following through on them until the end, not by the amount of money we make or how popular we become, is key to happiness. When we’re true to our hearts’ desires, a measure of happiness will find us.
Author: Chuck Miller
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
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