Before I start, I wanted to sincerely thank all the truth-tellers in my life.
On my last birthday, I asked my friends to give me the gift of feedback.
One of them was Bhargee, whose honesty precipitated this major realization.
Here’s what he said:
As long as I’ve known you, you’ve managed to be conventionally successful without working very hard. When I stayed with you, I was struck at how, given your situation (quit job to start a business), you were not working as hard as I would have expected. Of all the people I know, you have the greatest chance of achieving success in this laid back way, but I have misgivings about whether the success you desire can be achieved like this. I could be wrong, but at least consider the fact that you may not be working hard enough to achieve the kind of success you want.
Ok, let’s dive in!
A bitter realization
April was an incredible month. Coming off the heels of an existential crisis, I climbed out of a rut and was locked in with my priorities. However, I didn’t do a great job carrying the momentum the next month.
May wasn’t a complete backslide, but it was a slight regression. That sums up my typical pattern: two steps forward, one step back.
Upon further reflection, it dawned on me: I have a tendency to get complacent. And it’s about time that I address it.
An unintentional handicap
I’ve dealt with complacency my entire life. Through school, college and work I always did the bare minimum to succeed. Once I achieved it, I would take my foot off the gas.
I never thought much of it because I always excelled. I was valedictorian in the best co-ed boarding school in India, had a 4.0 GPA in a top 5 CS program in the US and was the youngest promotion on my team at Google.
Quite the pedigree, right? I’m sure it even sounds like a humblebrag. Trust me, it isn’t. The point is that my accolades masked the underlying problem: I was unknowingly handicapping myself.
Let me explain.
No work ethic
First, I never built a strong work ethic. I didn’t have to. Everything just came naturally to me. I got great results without having to put much effort in. Coasting was my default mode.
This was wonderful in the short-term. I had the time to form life-long relationships and memorable experiences.
It cost me in the long run, though. I didn’t have the ability to grind it out when life demanded more from me. I was limited by my natural talents; I could only ever go as far as they allowed.
Reliant on structure
Second, I never learned to motivate myself or take initiative. I always played by the rules that others defined for me. That’s how school and jobs work - they reward conformity and compliance. Be a good worker bee and do what you’re told. If you do it well, you’ll succeed. And I did.
As a result, I became overly reliant on structure. In its absence, I was a fish out of water - unable to navigate ambiguity on my own.
Afraid to fail
Third, I never developed an appetite for risk. Since I had only ever tasted success, I didn’t know what failure felt like. This warped my sense of reality. I formed a certain self-image, that I was a winner. Invincible. Everything fed into it - my accomplishments, how others perceived me and, in part, my own ego.
Over time, this identity became entrenched. I grew attached to it. Soon, my priority became to protect it rather than to grow. I didn’t want to risk failing and blemish my record.
I noticed this for the first time during college. I didn’t push myself. I took a few extra classes, but not as many as I could have. I chose to protect my perfect GPA instead of learning more.
It’s the same reason I took so long to leave Google. I was comfortable and didn’t want to push my luck. The cost was too high. Failure wouldn’t just be an isolated event; it would challenge my entire self-image.
Scratching the itch
Fortunately or unfortunately, I had the itch to do something bigger. I wasn’t living up to my potential and it was gnawing at me.
I knew I was capable of more. I had coasted my whole life to great results. What could I achieve if I really applied myself?
So, I pulled the trigger. I decided to quit Google and craft an intentional life.
Deep down, I knew this would be an uphill battle. But, I was afraid to admit it to myself at the time. A part of me hoped that I could take it easy and success would fall into my lap, as it usually did.
For a while, I gave into this wishful thinking. I believed I could simply swap out my job for my business and go about my old ways.
I continued to make time for relationships, experiences and healthy habits.
I worked too, but I didn’t push myself to do 100%. I would often get distracted or slack off. Remember, this was second nature for me. I never had to deal with the consequences before, so I figured everything would still work out.
Hitting a wall
It was only recently that I realized the harsh truth: I had hit a wall. The complacency was holding me back. My natural talent had carried me this far, but it wasn’t going to cut it anymore. In order to make it on this path, I need to level up.
Entrepreneurship is a whole different ball game than having a job. It requires a unique set of skills that my past hadn’t prepared me for.
It’s demanding. At a job, you can afford to coast as long as you meet or exceed expectations. If you slack off at your own venture, you’re only doing a disservice to yourself. But, I never got to build a strong work ethic.
It’s unstructured. At a job, you have external accountability. Others tell you exactly what to do and you just have to do it. As an entrepreneur, you have to push yourself. But, I never learned how to motivate myself.
It’s humbling. At a job, success is predictable. It’s the safe option - there’s a standard career progression. Building a business is a more circuitous path. You have to be able to stomach the ups and downs. But, I never developed a risk appetite. I was afraid to fail.
Working as intended
This was a bitter pill to swallow. Still, it was a long time coming. Deep down, I was always aware of the problem. I just didn’t have the courage to face it.
In a way, it’s working as intended. I knew I would have to overcome my complacency one day. Quitting my job was a step in that direction. I threw myself into the deep end with no option but to survive.
Whether you call it confidence or ego, I have conviction that I’ll make it out stronger than ever. I’m determined to fight through the problem and finally put it behind me. It’s held me back from too much. I’m excited to see what I can achieve without the handicap.
Shifting the scales
I don’t entirely regret how I spent my time.
Your twenties are the best time to invest in all areas of your life - establishing your career, forming life-long relationships, collecting novel experiences and building a healthy foundation.
I did all of that in spades, especially after quitting. And I’m glad I did. I already look back at it fondly.
However, I was slightly off balance. I over-indexed on the non-career priorities because they were easy and fulfilling.
This came at a significant opportunity cost: focusing on the business. I realized that if I kept playing the short game, I wouldn’t be able to craft the life that I want in the long run.
It doesn’t mean that my career is my only priority now. I just have to tip the scales in its favor. Going forward, I’ll need to be more discerning about how I spend my time.
For example, I wasted a lot of time on “junk” leisure. Think doomscrolling on Reddit, binging YouTube or consuming unnecessary content. I could get away with that at a job, but now it has to go. It’s holding me back from the life I want to lead.
Give it your 100%
Finding the right balance will be a process of trial and error. I usually only know in hindsight whether I spent my time well.
So, I’m going to ask myself a simple question every day: “did I give today my 100%?”
If the answer is no (which it invariably will be), I’ll list out the reasons. This will help me internalize it and fine-tune my instincts. Over time, I’ll learn to detect these issues in advance and prevent them.
This actually aligns with the core philosophy behind Habit Gym: take the L. Take the loss. Take the lesson. Fight through the problem and eventually you’ll converge towards your desired outcome: success.
This post took redacted minutes to write.
P.S: You can find more of my thoughts on Twitter @_suketk.