The One Thing You Need To Do To Succeed

Get to Work

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I’ll bet there’s something in your life you deeply want to do but you’re afraid you can’t.

Or afraid you’ll fail.

Or you don’t know where you’ll find the time.

Or you’re afraid people will laugh at you. And they may.

Or you’re afraid you’re just dreaming and being stupid.

Or you’re afraid you’ll do it and nothing will come of it. That’s a possibility.

And so day after day, year after year, you keep suppressing whatever that thing is you are called to, the thing that really lights your fire, the thing you would do if there were absolutely no obstacles, nothing standing in your way, and if you had utter and complete confidence in yourself.

Only no one has ever done anything worthwhile under those conditions.

You get married with a leap of faith.

You have children with a leap of faith.

You write a book with a leap of faith.

You record an album with a leap of faith.

You go back to school with a leap of faith.

You start learning to run with a leap of faith.

You started your first “grown-up” job with a leap of faith.

In fact, when you were a kid and looking for your first job ever, you were scared to death, remember? You did that only with a leap of faith.

If you wait until there are no obstacles, until nothing stands in your way, until you have what feels like “enough” confidence, you’re never going to do whatever that thing is.

You’re really not.

Can I get personal for a moment?

How bad is my own lack of confidence in life? How sure am I, moment by moment, that I’m never going to really amount to anything?

Almost positive. Really. I’m almost positive I can’t do whatever it is I want to do.

It’s so bad for me that, even as I have returned to work this week after a few down-weeks since the death of my cousin and my travel south for her funeral, something whispers in my ear, “You aren’t going to be able to do this. You’re not any good. You can’t possibly find where you left off, get caught up, and continue on with what you were doing.”

Yes. I hear this voice even regarding ministry — a job I have done for 20 years and know like the back of my hand. I feel almost positive I “can’t” do it.

Ministry is endlessly creative work, and in all creative work you face resistance by some part of you that is afraid to see you succeed.

There is only one way you get past this resistance, this certainty that you “can’t” do it, which is by simply getting on with your work, in spite of whatever the voice is telling you.

Every bit of success I’ve ever had in my life has come over the top of this ominous voice that constantly whispers, “C’mon, you’re kidding yourself. You can’t do this and you know it. Don’t even try — everyone’s going to think you’re stupid.”

Or, worse yet, if you really attempt whatever this thing is, your secret will be out of the bag. You know, the one you’ve tried so hard to keep hidden for so long — that you really are incompetent and stupid and you really aren’t worthy of love or respect. That you’re an imposter, and with this next failure everyone will know you’ve never deserved any respect anyone has ever given you.

This voice has nagged at me constantly through everything I have ever accomplished. And I do mean everything.

Yet I have a life to live, and I don’t want to live according to my fears. If I did, I’d still be picking up garbage at Windsor Place Apartments.

So I get down to work. That’s what you do in the face of resistance.

Getting down to work is a way of saying, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I can’t really do this. But I’m going to work as if I can and see what happens.” And so far, day after day, the voice has been wrong. Wrong every step of the way.

  • I couldn’t stay married and I did
  • I couldn’t learn to live with MS, and I did
  • I couldn’t get my Bachelor’s degree and I did
  • I couldn’t be a good father, and I am
  • I couldn’t find a way through anxiety and depression, and I did
  • I couldn’t start my own church, and I did
  • I couldn’t run a 5k, and I did
  • I couldn’t be a good counselor, and I am
  • I couldn’t be a good professor, and I am
  • I couldn’t write a book, and I did
  • I couldn’t get it published, and I will

These are all things I thought at the time were simply not possible for me. And for each one of them, I had a big list of excuses, what I called at the time “reasons why.”

I was fond of this list. It kept me out of the danger zone so I never had to confront my fears and sit down and actually start doing what I “knew” I “could not” do.

There’s something right now, something besides getting caught up at work, that I “can’t” do.

Right now what I “can’t” do is take the GRE, get into this doctoral program, and earn my Ph.D.

But since I’ve never been able to do anything I’ve done, and have always done it anyway, I’ll assume that I can also do this thing that the voice keeps telling me I can’t do.

Have you picked up on it? That’s the answer. That’s the one thing you need to do to succeed:

Get to work. Stop listening to the voice that says you can’t. Don’t argue with it, that will only empower it. Just ignore it and get going.

If you just read that sentence and your mind just started generating reasons why it’s different for you, why you’re an exception, why you really can’t do this thing, you’re seeing resistance in action. Ignore it and get to work.

What are you being told by your own dark self you cannot do? Whatever that thing is, I can almost promise you that’s where your greatest impact probably lies.

Don’t ever think that hearing this voice makes you a failure. Everyone hears it. What makes you a failure is listening to it and not getting down to your work, waiting for confidence that will never come, for all obstacles to be cleared away, which will never happen, for guarantees of success you will never get.

None of that will ever happen. You will create the greatest work in your life not once you overcome all of these obstacles and “get confident,” but when you stop giving obstacles and lack of confidence the power to impede your progress.

So get to work.

Start today.

Action Steps: Make your own list of things you never thought you could do, only you did them. What excuses did you have? What’s so special about the excuses you’re using now to avoid what you want to do today? 

NOTE: In the writing of this post I drew heavily from the work of Steven Pressfield’s books The War of Art and Do the Work. I cannot recommend them highly enough if you want to go further with these ideas. But don’t think reading them will get you the confidence you’ll need, don’t put off getting going until you read them. Get to work now, and read them as you’re making progress. As profound as these books are, that’s the heart of what they’ll tell you.

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