Getting Serious

This newsletter was written by Steve Pavlina, sent on April 30, 2010. It’s re-published here for achival purposes, with permission.

When I worked as a computer game developer, I was involved in a trade association called the Association of Shareware Professionals. For a couple years, I served as Vice President and President of that group.

Serving in those roles allowed me to get to know many dozens of independent software developers. Over the years I witnessed a very powerful metamorphosis that some of these developers went through.

The transformation went something like this…

Say we have a developer named John. John has a day job and develops software on the side as a hobby. He’s been doing this for years. He usually earns an extra $10-20,000 per year from his software business. His day job pays about $60K per year. John is content about this situation.

Fast forward 2-3 years. John no longer has a day job. This year he’s on track to earn $250,000 from his software business.

That’s a pretty big shift, wouldn’t you say? What happened?

Here’s what happened: John finally decided to get serious.

John had an epiphany. He had known for years that he was capable of a much higher level of performance, and he decided he’d had enough of just “getting by.” He felt ready to push himself to a new level, specifically with respect to his business.

John was a smart guy. He had many ideas for what he “should” be doing, but he never seemed to get around to implementing them. He spent most of his software development time on low-priority tasks. With his cushy day job, life had gotten pretty easy for him. He didn’t have to work too hard to make ends meet.

But deep down John was unsatisfied with his life. He always dreamed of what he might accomplish if he committed himself to doing his very best. He was smart enough that he was always able to get by on a fractional effort. His best performance was never essential.

The best way to describe John’s transformation is that he woke up to a higher level of maturity. He was no longer willing to settle for weakness. He felt it was time to push himself to excel. Otherwise he’d always wonder what might have been. He’d go to his grave filled with regrets.

After John had this epiphany, he started taking his business a lot more seriously. He started treating it like a real business instead of a side hobby. One by one he tackled all those “shoulds” that had been clogging his mind for years. He sat down and dumped those ideas onto his computer, sifted through them, and prioritized them.

John set new goals for his sales and income. He made an action plan to achieve those goals. And he began working much harder — and smarter.

John was most miffed about his personal productivity — it was in the dumps. He committed himself to spending his work time doing real work of consequence instead of just spinning his wheels. He held himself accountable for producing measurable results.

John redesigned his software products to be more marketable. He studied marketing and sales techniques. He got his accounting in good order. He started networking with other developers who were outselling him, and he learned from them. John took action on what he learned.

John now manages his business like a business. He runs it like a businessman, not a hobbyist. He approaches his business as a serious venture, not a pet project on the side.

John developed a greater respect for sales. He grew tired of developing software that hardly anyone used. He started focusing on creating software products that provide real value to people instead of just coding up what he thought might be fun to develop.

John graduated from the business boyhood phase and began to embark on the business manhood phase.

This pattern applies to women as well as to men, whereby a woman sheds the girlhood phase of business and enters the womanhood phase.

I witnessed a number of developers transform themselves in this manner. John is no one specific; he is merely an archetype.

I’ve also observed similar transformations in employees. At some point they snap and commit themselves to getting serious about their career development.

What phase are you in right now? Are you in the boy/girlhood phase of your life, or are you in the man/womanhood phase?

Do you treat your career path as just a job? Do you do just enough to get by? Do you easily succumb to distractions? Do you often make excuses for low performance? Would you feel disappointed (or even disgusted) if you continued to perform at the same level of effort for another 20 years?

Or are you committed to doing your best? Do you end your workdays feeling spent, knowing you put in a strong showing? Would you feel good about continuing your work habits for another 20 years? Can you look back on the past month feeling proud of what you accomplished?

Getting serious is a decision. Sometimes there’s an external catalyst for that decision, but that isn’t always present. Quite often the person simply says to him/herself, “It’s time. I’m ready to get serious about this.”

Sometimes the motivation for making that decision comes from wanting the benefits. The person decides it’s time to start earning six figures a year instead of five, or they want to do something more impactful, or they want to feel good about their performance at the end of each day.

Other times the motivation comes from moving away from the past. The person gets fed up with earning small sums of money, or they’re sick of looking back on each day with regret, or they’re tired of dealing with a messy desk.

You could say that the decision itself is an instant transformation. It can feel like a pop or a snap to a higher level of being. A lot of history might contribute to the decision, but the actual moment of decision can happen fast.

After the decision is made, much patience is required. It takes a long time to adjust course. The consequences of immature living must still be dealt with. There are messes to clean up and old problems to solve. This process can be a lot of work, but it also produces results. Eventually the person cleans up the past and feels free to embrace a more mature existence going forward.

To reach a higher level of maturity, at some point you must bite the bullet and deal with the accumulated consequences of immature living. This may include debt that was unwisely acquired, a regrettable job situation, a messy home, an overweight body, and more. But little by little, you can clean up the messes.

Ask yourself: What would a serious, mature, high performer do in this situation?

Such a person would acknowledge and accept the consequences of the past and do his/her best to clean up past messes, so s/he could graduate to a whole new level of living.

Many past mistakes can be corrected when you finally get serious. More money can be earned. Bills and debt can be paid off. Desks, closets, and garages can be cleaned and organized. Junk can be donated. Low-quality items can be replaced with high-quality ones. Disempowering relationships can be ended. Excess fat can be shed and physical fitness regained.

Whatever is weak can be made strong.

Eating to excess is immature. Abusing nicotine and alcohol is immature. Overspending is immature. Paying late fees is immature. Doing uninspired work is immature. Settling for weak performance is immature. Having a cluttered home or workspace is immature.

Embracing one’s maturity can seem like something to avoid. Will it be less fun? Will your childhood somehow be lost?

In the long run, embracing maturity makes life much easier. It’s easier to maintain good physical health than to deal with the consequences of poor health. It’s easier to enjoy financial abundance than to deal with the consequences of scarcity. It’s easier to work hard and go to bed feeling proud of your performance than to deal with the consequences of laziness and procrastination. It’s easier to work at a neat desk and live in a clean home than to deal with the stress of clutter. It’s easier to see a bright future ahead of you than a dim one.

It’s easier to deal with the consequences of maturity than it is to deal with the consequences of immaturity.

Many people fear maturity, but it would make more sense to fear the opposite. Maturity does not represent the death of one’s childhood. Maturity is a rebirth into a more intelligent — and more powerful — phase of existence.

When you embrace your maturity, the child-like problems in your life eventually recede. You become strong enough to overcome them. Problems like obesity, burdensome debt, and clutter get resolved. Once you shed these problems, you gain the privilege of tackling much more worthy challenges.

If you feel that child-like challenges are worthy of you, you aren’t yet ready to live as an adult. You’re ready to be an adult when you look at problems like a body that’s too fat, a wallet that’s too thin, or a desk that’s too messy and exclaim, “This problem is beneath me. I shouldn’t even have to deal with this. I’m smarter than this.”

Are you smarter than this? Are you ready to get serious?


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