Regard the old man at the bar. He’s boisterous and jolly, a merry old fellow with ruddy cheeks. But, in quiet moments, there’s a wistful look in his eye that begs explanation. It’s the one that got away.
I’m not talking about the girl—she’s back home watching her stories. I’m talking about his Everest.
This old man, Greg, in particular, wanted to be a baseball player. He claims to’ve had the fastest pitch in all of Pennsylvania—you really should have seen it. His words, of course.
In between the brags and tall tales of his glorious youth, the subtext of his story reads a little different: “I don’t know why, but I didn’t stick with it. And I regret it every day of my life.” My words, not his, of course. But the look says it all. The eyes glaze over enough to look tearful. But it’s the gaze. He’s staring a million miles ahead. Or back. And he’s seeing all the things he just knows he could’ve done.
Another beer, he orders. Another beer. Ironically, the drink that lured him away from the game is his only consolation.
You’ll find Greg at the Stone Face Tavern in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But you’ll find Frank, and Cecil, and Henry, and Don, and Pete, and 50 million others at different bars across North America—all with different variants of the same sad story.
How do you avoid joining the sad-lonely-old-man club of America? you might be wondering. It’s pretty simple, actually. You just have to persist in your passion. On the road to your dream, never stop.
Here are five tips you can count on:
1-Stop Your Bad Habits
Greg had a little too much fun with the booze. It didn’t seem like a huge problem back then, but it was enough to make him regret the things he didn’t do. TV is my bane. I promise myself a little, and then I’ve squandered 5 hours; 5 hours that could’ve brought me closer to my goals as a writer. That’s why I don’t watch TV. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and watch my dream life slip away.
So name your bane—the one thing, obvious or subtle, that would keep you from persisting. Then cut it out of your life. Period.
2-Reassess your friendships
For every bad decision made, there’s an enabler friend. The more enabler friends you have, the greater your chances of making bad decisions that keep you from pursuing your dreams. So prune your friend list.
Keep the friends who challenge you to keep up with them. Keep the friends who call you out on your bullshit—like flakiness. Keep the friends you admire for their character. All the rest? Dump, dump, dump.
Friends are tricky because they seem so irreplaceable once you get to know them. But if they don’t inspire you to strive for greatness, you might find yourself kicking back beers with them forty years from now and regretting the life you didn’t live.
The friends who are worth having will be there when you need them. In the meantime, take this advice from George Washington:
“I’d rather be alone than in bad company.”
3-Marry the right one
Remember Greg’s ol’ lady, watching her stories at home? Behind beer, she’s the top reason he quit playing ball. She got jealous of the time he spent away from her. And she set an ultimatum—“Me, or baseball.”
He dropped the glove and bought a ring.
I’m not knocking marriage. But I’m suggesting you pick someone who will indefatigably support your wild-ass goals. Better yet, focus so intensely on your career that you find success before you find love. You won’t have as many distractions. And you’ll prevent the #1 cause of divorce—financial problems.
4-Stick to successful routines
A famous author once said that talent is as common as table salt; it’s hard work that’s rare. For Greg and so many other would be pros, they allowed their talent to inflate their egos, which kept them from being disciplined in their craft. Don’t make that heady mistake.
Instead, structure your days so that greatness becomes a habit. Devote equal parts of your time to learning, applying, and sharing. Remove the daily obstacles (facebook, email, etc) that would keep you from persisting in your goals.
Burnout—this work phenomenon can stop you cold in your tracks. Hard work is a virtue, no question. But there has to be a balance. And fun—just for fun’s sake, not connected to profit—is an essential part of the balance.
Some people think that a couple weeks on a cruise or in the Bahamas will be enough. But that’s just another symptom of imbalance: you shouldn’t need two weeks of bliss just to feel sane. Instead, strive to have fun every day. Schedule it. And try not to deny the impulses to do what you love.
I’ve heard that regret for the things you didn’t do is the most painful deathbed emotion. You can palliate that feeling with any number of distractions now…but what about forty years from now? When your story comes to an end, will you be proud to tell it?
Keep these five tips in mind. And never stop chasing your dreams.