I’ve been known to do things on my own terms. It’s been a lifelong thing, and I like to think that a small part of that is genetics. My grandparents were stubborn, and entrepreneurial. There’s no shortage of creative thinking in my family, and my relatives have always prided themselves on doing things on their own terms, too. So, I’m a strong believer that if you come from that kind of lineage, there’s a good chance you’ll espouse the same kind of determination as your elders did.
But, things were never handed to me. Nobody, not even my relatives, nor my parents, sat me down after I (barely) graduated high school, and told me how to survive. Nobody gave me money, I didn’t get an inheretance, and the only educational credential I have on paper is a grade twelve high school diploma. (Ok, I did ONE computer certification and my parents helped pay for that, but the point is, it’s peanuts.)
Throughout the years, people have asked me a question that I haven’t really been able to answer: “How?”. How did I manage to be so well connected, how did I manage to always have a stable, and well-paying job, how did I manage to do so much in so little time. I’ll tell you one thing I do know for sure: it ain’t smarts – it’s habits. And, unlike the bullshit you’d read in these pop culture business books that take up ad space in your FB feed, the set of habits that you adopt for success today, aren’t the same habits that you’ll have to adopt later on. Things aren’t black or white, they’re grey.
I can’t possibly answer the question, “how?” without going into a long-winded explanation of what worked at any given time. Here’s what I can confirm though, the habits that I’ve had to adopt to do well have always run against whatever habits were being preached at the time. Anything I did was always unpopular. And I think that’s a bit of a telltale sign of what it really takes to go against the grain.
For example, years ago, I was told by EVERYONE that I’d never be hired if I didn’t have a degree. I’d be stuck at minimum wage level jobs for the rest of my life. I’d be a failure. Meanwhile, I watched tv. I knew that in the U.S., tech nerds were getting paid good money AND a bonus, just for being adept at tech. I knew it was possible. So, I went into tech.
Later on, in photography, EVERYONE was saying I’d need to get studio lights, and extra lenses, and that I should (again) go to school. Trust me, I considered it. But, when I looked at graduating portfolios for photography students, and then I saw that they all looked the same, I was like, nope. I also considered renting a studio, or buying lights. And then I realized, I didn’t need it. There’s the convential art world. And, then, there’s art that you do because IT’S THE ART YOU WANT TO DO.
During that time, EVERYONE was also telling me that I shouldn’t be so open online. I shouldn’t be so vulnerable, I shouldn’t share my thoughts and feelings with the world. “No one in the industry likes that.” Guess how I grew my contacts? Online, and especially through Facebook. I made contacts, internationally, by simply being myself, faults and all. I reached out to famous people. I wrote letters to book authors that I loved. I sent messages to people I didn’t know because I wanted to know them. It turns out that being fake is popular, but it isn’t as rewarding as it’s made out to be.
Nowadays, the big push is to be political, which is kind of hilarious because back in the 90’s, when I hit my political peak, it was thought of as abhorent. If you were political, you were an outcast. See how things change with time? And, why would it be popular, all of a sudden, to be political? It feels like, to me, it serves more as a means to distract, and to participate in a values-driven contest, than to effect real change. I say this as a former hardcore political activist. Something just ain’t right about this new societal and cultural pressure to conform. Personally, I find it offputting. I escaped the Church and schooling for a reason.
So, the habits you have to have today to succeed might include rejecting the pressure to conform, so that you can spend your time and energy on that thing that you love. Whether it’s learning how to code, working on a new business idea, writing a new song. In order to do it with full clarity, you almost have to take a step back and isolate yourself from the noise. You can align your work in any way you see fit, of course. But, just like it’s useless to be a non-conformist just for the sake of it, aligning your work to conform out of fear of not conforming is just as useless.
The kinds of habits I’ve had to develop to thrive, these days, would be considered selfish, and individualistic because they involve shutting out a part of the world that’s participating in stuff that I just see as a big distraction. And to be quite frank, I don’t give a fuck. What I’m trying to tell you is that whenever EVERYONE is telling you how to do something, it should raise a red flag. Because the people who thrive, especially against all odds, aren’t always doing things the “right” way. Because there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong”. There’s just “doing”.
Do what you want to do. Anything else is just distraction, whether that’s online drama, or peer pressure. So, if you want to know what my latest, most helpful habit has been these days, it’s this: I disconnect. It’s entire days without even looking at social media, short of uploading a picture from my weekend. Whereas in the past, I lived online, I live in the ‘real life’ now. Things changed, the online space has changed. If you don’t adapt, you get taken in.
It’s never been about smarts. It’s never been a problem of lack of opportunity. It’s got everything to do with how you design your life, and your habits. Do your own thing, because trust me, ten years down the road, the “everyones” will have forgotten about you.