Complacency, Competence, and Wondering What’s Next

What next

In the past 24 hours a question has been swirling around in my head, haunting me, begging to be answered. It’s a question I’ve been faced with many, many times before and it’s the question that has driven me to where I am today.

It’s a repeating pattern to be faced with this question the immediate days following a marathon. For months I prepare myself, mentally and physically, for the challenge of running 26.2 miles. I stay true to a training schedule. I watch what I eat. I count down the days. Then, the day finally arrives, and just a few short hours later, the medal hanging from my neck, it’s over. And time after time I’m left asking myself:

“What’s next?”

I’m deathly afraid of complacency. I’d argue that apathy is universally one of our biggest fears. Why? Because apathy is easy. Complacency is comfortable. Settling into a routine is safe.

For the past 4 years I’ve spent every single day of my life battling complacency. Pushing myself to learn, try, and do more. It’s led me to building a successful business for myself and my team. It’s led me to paying off all of my debt. It’s afforded my wife and I the ability to travel to new and exciting places. It’s led me to run four full and two half marathons in the past 12 months. And yet, here I am, once again asking, “What’s next?”

I’ve been asking myself this question about my business, too. More than three years of hard work and hustle has led me to where I am – where we are – today. No doubt I’m in an amazing place, but I can’t help but catch the whiff of complacency creeping in. I’m afraid of getting comfortable. I’m afraid I’m not paying enough attention to where I want to be because I’m so focused on where I am.

It’s easy to fall in love with competence.

Seth Godin recently wrote the following:

“As we get more experienced, we get better, more competent, more able to do our thing. And it’s easy to fall in love with that competence, to appreciate it and protect it. The pitfall? We close ourselves off from possibility. Possibility, innovation, art–these are endeavors that not only bring the whiff of failure, they also require us to do something we’re not proven to be good at. After all, if we were so good at it that the outcome was assured, there’d be no sense of possibility. We often stop surprising ourselves (and the market) not because we’re no good anymore, but because we are good. So good that we avoid opportunities that bring possibility.”

I find myself in a position, today, of feeling extremely competent in what I do. But like a child who holds on to his favorite blanky, I find myself clinging to my competence and ignoring possibility. Because competence – and complacency – is safe – is known – is comfortable.

Start with why.

As I look and we look inward and attempt to answer, “What’s next?” in our own lives, it must start with one simple and very important question: “Why?”

Why does running a marathon matter? Why does building a business matter? Why does writing a book matter? Why do you do…whatever it is you do? Why does it matter to you?

But even more important than understanding your why is loving your why. 

What we’re faced with, every single day, as Sarah Bray so aptly put recently, is the idea what nobody cares. That you work tirelessly to build something only to be met with half-hearted congratulations. We’re faced with indifference, even from the people closest to us.

When you marry someone, you expect them to be wildly excited about everything you do – but they won’t be. When you hire folks and build a company, you expect all of your colleagues to fall in love with every brilliant idea you present. They won’t. Expect your family to support every decision you make? Keep dreaming.

And to come full circle, this can and will lead you back to complacency and competence – doing what you know instead of doing what you love because you get the feeling that no one gives a damn.

You must create a lifestyle – build an empire – for yourself – that you love.

To quote Seth Godin once more:

“The problem isn’t that it’s impossible to pick yourself. The problem is that it’s frightening to pick yourself. It’s far easier to put your future into someone else’s hands than it is to slog your way forward, owning the results as you go.”

You must create a lifestyle for yourself that you love. This idea, and this alone, is what will keep you motivated toward discovering what’s possible – for yourself. It’s also the key to surrounding yourself with the support and excitement of others.

Love is contagious. Love is the passion that drives you out of complacency – out of competence – and answers the question, “What’s next?”

Four years ago I quit my first job out of college and moved to Chicago with my wife. What I wrote the week leading up to what was, at the time, the boldest leap of faith I’d taken in my life, is the perfect summation to my thoughts today:

“I wish I had a noble conclusion – some eloquent parting words to sum it all up. But if there is one thing all of you can take away from this, one ‘moral’ to my story, it’s have faith in yourself. Believe in yourself and what you want to do. Only YOU can say what’s best for you. We all have passions that go unrealized because we’re afraid to leave our comfort zones. We’re afraid that we might fail. And you know, you very well might. I’m stepping outside the box and making myself vulnerable. Odds are, it won’t all go according to plan – but I have faith, and that faith is supported because I know I’m giving it my all.”

At the end of the day, is there anything truly more important than trying? Is there anything more important than simply giving it your all?

What’s next?

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