Personal Development

The Art of Drawdown Periods

Inspiration is important. Your influences matter. But you also need time to process, reflect, and create your own connections before jumping into your next project. Whether that’s a book, startup, or scientific theory, the lesson holds true for artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists, alike.

Best-selling author, Ryan Holiday, refers to these as “drawdown periods.” In the months leading up to writing a new book, Holiday guards himself against new information with the potential to clutter this mind. Instead, he seeks a period of stillness where he’s able to distill information and settle his mind before jumping off and creating something new.

“For one of my books I gave myself a January 1 start date for the writing. Two months before, in November, I entered my drawdown period. No more reading or rereading. Just thinking. Long walks. Resting. Preparing.”
— Ryan Holiday

The danger of neglecting a drawdown period is failing to create a buffer where you’re able to discover and piece together your own thoughts on the subject. Instead, you’re just regurgitating the latest idea or concept you’ve heard, as if it’s your own. To be fair, this is human nature — we’re highly impressionable, social beings.

But creating a little more distance is a good thing. It provides additional perspective that you’re able to bring back to your work. Without this, you’re just facing an onslaught of information and distraction which can be difficult to make sense of.

Is your idea worth pursuing?

Above everything else, drawdown periods help inform whether or not an idea’s worth pursuing. The original source of “drawdown periods” — where Holiday borrowed the concept from — was military strategist, John Boyd. After he encountered a breakthrough or exciting new idea, he would spend weeks examining it, assessing its originality, and stress-testing it for problems. If it survived this period, he knew it was worth investing in.

The greater the endeavor, the more vital a drawdown period becomes. It’s important to act when inspiration strikes as it relates to the little things — an article, a small experiment, a new tactic. But the mountains — new books, startups, theories — are worth reflecting on before jumping in.

This helps create a natural filter for the things you’re not completely invested in. If the idea still resonates with you tomorrow, next week, next month, you might be on to something.

Tapering before the race

Far from killing inspiration, drawdown periods promote creativity. They allow you to find your voice and the guiding principle behind your next project. Without this, it’s impossible to sort through what’s your own.

Drawdown periods are the calm before the storm. If you set off scrambling without first setting your feet, you’re putting yourself behind from the start. While everyone loses their way at some point, it’s important to have a sense of your guiding principle — this initial footing — that you can return to along the way. And the best way to establish an early version of your guiding principle is by creating room to reflect before taking the leap.

Creative work is difficult enough, as is. Don’t make it more difficult by cluttering your mind at the start. Allow yourself time to breathe before setting off on your next pursuit.

It’s similar to tapering before a race. If you’re rested, you’ll be in better condition to handle the strenuous demands of the real race and guard yourself against burnout. In endurance sports, two days before a race, your metabolic fitness level is what it will be for the upcoming race. No matter how hard you train during those final 48 hours, you won’t see any benefits to your endurance in time for the race. Rest matters.

The value of tuning out

In 1902, Albert Einstein took a job at the Swiss patent office. The years he spent there could be considered the ultimate drawdown period. It was challenging enough to keep his mind engaged, but not enough to distract him from his more important focus on comprehending and redefining physics.

Three years later, Einstein published his paper, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” which outlines the special theory of relativity. Its contributions to the field of physics were profound. But one of the most astonishing things about the paper was that it had exactly zero footnotes or citations. It was like he reached the conclusions through years of pure thought, without listening to outside opinion.

While Einstein is an extreme example and a profound abstract thinker, the underlying lesson holds true. For originality and creativity, sometimes you need to allow yourself to tune out.

“If you’re constantly exposed to other people’s ideas, it can be tough to think up your own.”
— Jake Knapp + John Zeratsky

Deliberate or impulsive?

Drawdown periods aren’t an excuse to avoid getting started. You’re never going to be as prepared as you might like. Drawdown periods are more about giving yourself a moment of calm before the grind of creating something from nothing. New startups, books, and theories can take years, if not decades, to develop.

The difference between great artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists is the difference between drawdown periods and procrastination. Drawdown periods are deliberate. Procrastination is impulsive.

At a certain point, it helps to limit exposure and turn things back to yourself. Allow yourself to mull ideas, forge connections on your own terms, and see what comes out of it. It’s impossible to find your own voice if you’re bombarding yourself with other people’s ideas without giving yourself time to breathe.

Drawdown periods offer a temporary refrain when you’re able to step back and see the terrain. This allows you a chance to appreciate the interconnected whole and create connections or bridge ideas that you might have otherwise missed. The more perspective you can build, the better you’ll be for it. And the same goes for your craft.

As a smart creative, drawdown periods are essential. Give yourself time to prepare, rest, and reflect before your next endeavor. You’ll need every ounce of energy you have if you want to get your thinking clean and bring the best version of an idea to life.

The Reality of Failing to Rise to the Occasion

What you don’t see when you look at the synopsis of great people’s lives are the times they fell short. From the outside, it looks like they operated with invincibility, rising up at each pivotal moment. When the stakes were at their highest, there was no stumble.

But when you dig into the details, there’s no one who has actually achieved this. Top performers assume more risk than others. They’re on the frontier, operating at the edge of their current abilities. If anything, this means failure is even more prevalent.

Failing to rise to the occasion

The truth is, there will be moments when you fail to rise to the occasion. You’re not always going to make the right decisions or act exactly how you imagined. And since perfection is impossible, what matters most is the ability to bounce back.

Even Warren Buffett had moments when he failed to follow through early in his life. At the beginning of his career, Buffett was terrified of public speaking. And while you might imagine that someone like Buffett stepped up, put himself through deliberate practice, and overcame the fear in one fell swoop — reality was much different.

In a widely-told story, at the beginning of his career, Buffett enrolled in a Dale Carnegie speaking course to improve his skills. But few sources include the fact that he quit the first time around. He was afraid of being called upon to speak so he dropped out of the class. It was only the second time around that he built the courage to follow through. Now Buffett credits this as the best $100 investment he’s ever made.

The ability to bounce back

Anyone can lecture you about decisions you should make, habits you should build, systems you should create. But the most successful people aren’t flawless in their decision making. They just have a remarkable ability to bounce back.

The greatest artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists take the misfortune in stride, turning obstacles on their end and using them as an opportunity to improve their craft. They embrace mistakes and capitalize on them, ensuring they never happen again. And that’s the real difference in top performers — they stumble, but they rarely repeat mistakes.

Whether you’re struggling against your internal limits — uncertainty, doubt, fear — or you’re facing external challenges, you’re going to have bad days. What matters is the ability to reflect, learn, and find the courage to start fresh the next day.

Awareness can go a long way when it comes to navigating failure and being kinder to yourself. It’s okay to hold yourself to your own high expectations, but expecting perfection will often lead you over the edge. Life is as much about resourcefulness and how you respond to challenging situations as it is carefully plotting a long-term strategy. You need both.

Professionals know this space well and embrace mistakes as learning cues. They learn from them, but they don’t obsess over them. Amateurs expect perfection and crumble when they fail to meet their own lofty expectations.

Failure is about reach

The goal is never failure itself. It’s the expansion of your reach and the rate of personal growth. That means pursuing opportunities where failure is a potential outcome. Not limiting yourself to situations where success and participation trophies are guaranteed outcomes.

If you’re willing to risk failure, you’ll take more chances and reach further beyond your current ability level. And this is the fastest way to learn and create more opportunities for accelerated growth. Take calculated risks.

There will be times that you surprise yourself. But there will also be times you fail to rise to the occasion. In those moments, what matters is your resilience and resourcefulness. The lean product mindset applies as well here as anywhere else. Build, measure, learn. Repeat.

Lessons from an Introvert: How to Push Your Limits and Overcome Uncertainty

If you want to achieve any sort of growth in life, you’re going to have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Experimentation is the fastest path towards experiences that allow you to learn, develop, and push your limits. Whether new skills, tactics, or techniques – growth comes from change.

But it’s easier said than done, especially for introverts. My perfect day is designed around routine, which helps build discipline and focus. I reserve high productivity times of the day for reading, writing, and creating. Although it’s challenging work, it’s a familiar challenge. It doesn’t generate the same type of discomfort for me as something like public speaking or learning a new skill.

If I’m not careful, it’s easy for me to settle into my comfort zone and ignore uncomfortable opportunities for growth that fall outside of my norm. I have a tendency to take discipline past the golden mean and become too rigid, losing flexibility in my day-to-day. To combat this, I have to disrupt my routine on occasion to make sure I’m still focused on the right things and challenging myself in new ways.

A few weeks ago, after months of deliberation, I shadowed an acting class. I wasn’t sure what to expect–it took everything in me just to show up. I have no desire to be an actor and there’s no hidden talent buried within me. In fact, the thought of acting makes me want to curl up and die. So what was I doing there?

My primary motivation was using it as an experiment to improve my public speaking skills. I came across the idea over coffee with a friend and fellow writer, Lily Hansen. She told me how her background in acting helped improve her stage presence and presentation skills. It was an interesting angle that I thought worth testing out.

The fact remained, I was nervous and in no way looking forward to the class. But I followed through because it aligned with an area of my life that I wanted to improve. The acting class was a vote for my desired identity – not as an actor, but as a stronger communicator and storyteller. I looked at it as an opportunity to arm myself with techniques to build greater comfort presenting in front of an audience.

Everyone’s different, but as an introvert, the question remains – when the stakes are at their highest, how do you take the leap and overcome uncertainty? This is how I’ve learned to navigate that anxiety.

Escaping the narrative

It’s important to know your tendencies. Understanding introversion and extroversion is an important part of self-discovery and awareness. It can help you discover where you gain energy and where your limits are. If you know which way you lean, you’ll know yourself better – when to push and when to ease off.

But keep in mind, it’s a spectrum. There’s a difference between awareness and over-identifying. Humans are incredibly complex. Neatly defined categories are only enticing because they’re easy and allow you to avoid navigating the gray area that defines most of life.

Don’t lock yourself into some narrative you can’t escape. Otherwise, it becomes an excuse to avoid uncomfortable situations. The same goes for extroversion–discomfort means different things to different people. If you want to avoid it, you can find plenty of familiar excuses within your comfort zone.

The power of ”who cares?”

Once you’ve escaped the narrative, it’s about taking the leap. Whether a presentation, high-stakes situation, or looking ridiculous when you’re learning a new skill, how do you take the first step?

When Shaun White, legendary snowboarder and three-time Olympic gold medalist, is at the top of an important run, the last thing he tells himself before he goes off is “who cares.” He doesn’t psych himself up or blast Eminem. He knows he’s put in the preparation. At that point, what happens, happens.

You don’t take new risks or perform your best by fueling your nerves. The who cares mindset isn’t about apathy, it’s about a state of relaxed concentration. This is where you do your best work. It’s a strangely empowering self-talk that helps navigate fears of judgment, failure, or general anxiety about drawing attention to yourself.

When I’m about to do something new or uncomfortable, this mindset provides a moment of calm before the storm. I know I’ll probably look like an idiot (the acting class), but if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that most people are too preoccupied with themselves to remember you tomorrow. You’re the only one still thinking about it.

Swim lessons and my life’s finest moments

At twenty-two, after graduating college, I decided to take swim lessons to learn proper technique. I was just getting into triathlons, which necessitate swimming with efficiency unless you want to smuggle in water wings. So I signed up for a month of private lessons at the Vanderbilt aquatics center.

I was prepared to look like a dumbass, but it surpassed even my expectations. The aquatics staff was so accustomed to elementary children signing up for these lessons that they ignored the form I filled out. To their surprise, a grown man, fifteen years older than every other person in the pool, wandered in for lessons.

With seven-year-olds in the lanes to either side, I started my lessons. The instructor (also younger than me) had to come up with a plan on the fly – diving for pool rings in the deep end wasn’t going to cut it. To make matters worse, I couldn’t make it down and back without flailing for air. Overall, these were some of the finest moments of my life.

But the who cares mindset helped me get over my ego and commit to learning proper technique. I looked like a complete noob for the first week, and I was. But with practice and time, I improved. Eight years later, I’m still swimming every week.

I reminded myself of this experience in my anticipation leading up to the acting class. Many of life’s most rewarding experiences happen once you let go of your fear of looking like an idiot. Don’t let your ego hold you back. These people aren’t going to remember you. Show up eager to learn and follow through on what you came to do.

Handling nerves in the moment

Almost always, I find that once I jump off and settle in, my nerves calm. But there are still moments when I get nervous in the middle of a challenging situation or new experience. When that happens, instead of amplifying my focus on myself and fueling my nerves, I shift my attention to externals.

In presentations or high-profile meetings, for example, I focus on non-verbals in the audience or the talking points of other people in the room. This helps keep me from spiraling or thinking ten lines ahead. By focusing outside of myself, I’m able to bring my attention back to the room, settle into the moment, and trust myself.

The All Blacks, New Zealand’s most successful rugby team, have a similar technique they use to bring themselves back to the match and avoid allowing the magnitude of the moment to overcome them. They use breathing techniques to put themselves in a clear, calm state. Then they anchor that state to a specific physical action – scrunching their toes, stamping their feet, or throwing water over their heads. This helps bring them back to the situation at hand and a relaxed state of concentration.

If you get too far ahead in what you’re trying to say or do, you’ll only compound the issue. Instead, come back to now. Project and focus more of your attention outside of yourself. It might be the opposite of your initial instinct to turn within, but it’s far more effective.

Jump when others retreat

If you want to become the best version of yourself, you’re going to have to put yourself out there. Growth comes from pushing your limits, experimenting with different approaches, and learning new skills. The greater tolerance you build for discomfort, the further the reaches of your comfort zone will extend. But this is a lifelong effort.

If you build self-awareness and maintain perspective leading up to, and during, the moment, you’ll be well on your way. Avoid over-identifying, be willing to look like an idiot, and avoid projecting too far into the future. This is how you get out of your own head, take risks, and jump when others retreat to familiar surroundings. It’s here where some of life's most valuable experiences are found.

30 Lessons for Living at Your Best by 30

Behind almost everything I’ve done in my 20s there’s been a single motivating factor–discovering what it means to live well. By living well I don’t mean extravagantly. I mean determining what I want out of life, living in a way that aligns with those values and principles, and learning in everything I do. In other words, striving to be the best version of myself.

While there will be inevitable ups and downs, no matter where you are, you want to be able to step back and see a clear upward trajectory which tracks the course of your life.

The best way to ensure this is by learning from your failures, putting in the work, and aspiring to be at your best. There will be days, weeks, even months, when things might seem to stagnate or head in the opposite direction, but you need the mental toughness to adapt and push yourself towards progress, as defined by you.

With my 30th birthday in sight, I’ve narrowed in on a few hard-fought, as well as mind-numbingly simple lessons, which have helped me establish a sense of this trajectory. I don’t presume to have all the answers. These are just the lessons that have resonated strongest with me over the past decade. Remember, there’s no “right” path, but I hope these prove useful as you find your own way.

1. Get the essentials down first

If you expect to feel good and achieve anything in your life, you need to prioritize sleep, exercise and eating well. These are the non-negotiables. You can’t neglect yourself and expect to function at a high level. This is foundational to everything else on this list.

2. Limit the number of do-overs

Don’t underestimate the power of avoiding dumb decisions. Most of the trouble that people run into is self-inflicted. There are enough obstacles ahead of you as is, don’t create extra work for yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to be brilliant in every decision you make, just avoid the big mistakes. Focus on making well-rounded, rational decisions each day, and allow compound interest to run its course.

3. There is no way things are “supposed to be”

The sooner you give up an imagined reality, the better you’ll be able to negotiate the way forward. Close the gap by differentiating between internal and external expectations and assigning each their proper weight. Prioritizing internal expectations is the path towards gratitude and self-sufficiency. External expectations introduce dependencies. Don’t place a premium on things you can’t affect.

4. Create more, consume less

What you consume doesn’t make you unique. The fact that you’re a fan of the Golden State Warriors, listen to Ed Sheeran, watch Game of Thrones, and only buy Apple products, are not unique identifiers. What you create and what you’re putting out into the world is what defines you.

5. Life is a single player game

You can’t expect to retain your sanity if you insist on comparing yourself to people heading in an entirely different direction. Measure you against you.

6. There is no substitute for true resourcefulness

One of the biggest obstacles I faced when I took my first job out of college was my inability to handle ambiguity and uncertainty. The predictability of the curriculum and instruction in school won’t do you any favors here. As it turns out, life is far more about resourcefulness than a checklist of prescribed actions. You must learn to adapt, teach yourself, and create your own momentum. There is no blueprint to walk you through every step of your life.

7. Put in the self-work

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it. Your 20s should be a decade primarily dedicated to yourself so you can figure your shit out. Before you enter into any relationship or realize any of your aspirations–if you don’t want them to go up in flames–you need to be self-aware and self-sufficient.

8. Directions in life are mutually exclusive

For the first half of my 20s I wanted to be everything, so I was unable to commit to anything. But the earlier you cross the irrelevant off your list, the faster you’ll be able to make meaningful progress and give your complete attention to the things you can’t live without. If you’re unsure where to start, try this exercise from Warren Buffett and double down on those things.

9. JOMO (joy of missing out) > FOMO (fear of missing out)

“FOMO” is another way of saying you’re incapable of prioritizing–you want to be everything and everywhere, which is an impossibility. Once you’ve figured out what’s important to you, passing on unnecessary obligations or engagements which you’re not invested in will be a source of great satisfaction.

10. What you walk away from defines you as much as the things you stick out

Whenever you encounter a moment of self-doubt or the urge to quit, ask yourself, do you feel like quitting because it’s difficult? Or do you feel like quitting because it contradicts your character, values, or priorities? The former means you should stick it out, the latter means it’s time to call it quits.

11. Growth is nonlinear

As Nassim Taleb explains in Fooled by Randomness, nonlinear relationships are the rule, not the exception. We mistakingly believe that if two variables are causally linked, a steady input in one should result in a positive linear progression in the other. Life doesn’t work that way. You can’t always expect visible progress when comparing one day to the next. You might have to dedicate years to your craft before something clicks. Remember, it’s your overall trajectory that matters, not the noise you encounter on a daily basis. The shorter the time frame, the more variance there will be–focus on the big picture.

12. Figure out what you can sustain indefinitely

That’s what it’s going take to set yourself apart. Most people drop off at the first sign of adversity or boredom, outlast them.

13. Leverage compound interest

The power of compound interest applies to almost everything in life, not just financial investments. For most hard-working, talented people it’s just a matter of time. Years of consistently showing up, learning, and dedicating time to your craft will pay dividends. The power of small, calculated decisions, habits, and behaviors grows exponentially over time.

14. Physical endurance builds mental endurance

Most people live in fear of the slightest discomfort or inconvenience. If you’re able to practice consistently pushing yourself to the point of discomfort and sustaining at that level, you begin to build resilience. In this regard, physical endurance translates into mental toughness.

15. Lasting comfort is found by embracing discomfort

Intermittent periods of discomfort prepare you to handle a wider range of potential scenarios. This helps you expand the confines of your current comfort zone and, ultimately, experience less discomfort than those who cling to convenience and familiarity. The latter find themselves in positions of considerable vulnerability–rigid and unable to adapt. This is the paradox of comfort.

16. Stillness is the best lesson traveling will teach you

I was an insatiable traveler for most of my 20s, visiting 25 countries and four continents. The only thing I’ve found more fulfilling than travel is learning to be still and content at home. Travel, go see the world, live somewhere new–otherwise, you’ll regret it later on. But this should lay the foundation for you to find peace in your future immediate surroundings. And this is the real value of experiences gained from travel–they help you build a broader perspective and a stronger sense of identity and appreciation at home. There’s nothing more fulfilling than the sense of gratitude that comes from moments when you’re content right with being right where you are.

17. Get a dog

Very few things have had a more profound, positive impact on my life. Presence, patience, empathy, joy–a dog will remind you of these values every single day.

18. Read like your life depends on it

To quote Naval Ravikant, once, “The genuine love for reading itself, when cultivated, is a superpower. The means of learning are abundant–it’s the desire to learn that is scarce. Cultivate that desire by reading what you want.” And twice, “Reading science, math, and philosophy one hour per day will likely put you at the upper echelon of human success within seven years.” The power of compound interest applies as much to reading and building better mental models as anything else.

19. No one alive has all the right answers

Avoid the urge to overidentify and reach for absolutes. Learn to live in the gray area. That’s what separates lifelong learners from pretenders.

20. General advice > specific advice

You will encounter mentors who want to prescribe specific advice. For the most part, it’s ineffective, because there is no single path to success. You will never be able to replicate the lives of those you admire. But you can examine the systems and mental models that give them their edge. This is where you’ll find the truly valuable lessons that you can apply to your own life, direction, and decision making.

21. Avoid ideologies at all costs

As Charlie Munger suggests, “Heavy ideology is one of the most extreme distorters of human cognition.” There’s no better way to impair your own rationality and decision making. Ideologies will drive you towards confirmation bias and close-mindedness.

22. Legacy is a mirage

If you have any sense of historical perspective, you’ll realize that you won’t be remembered. The desire for legacy is narcissism in disguise. This realization should be empowering, not disheartening. It will allow you to go out and make a difference now, instead of attempting to preserve some future image of yourself when you won’t be around to reap any of its benefits.

23. “In victory, learn when to stop.”

Drifting expectations are dangerous. This is one of Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. You have to allow yourself time to reflect on what you have and how far you’ve come. Those who refuse to come to terms with this lesson find themselves as textbook examples of hubris, brought down by the same insatiability and arrogance that led them on an accelerated, unsustainable path towards the top. This is the reason people lose fortunes, families crumble, companies self-destruct, empires fall. More is not always the answer. Know when you’ve won.

24. Money matters

In The Geometry of Wealth, Brian Portnoy explains that wealth and investing are about funding contentment and underwriting a meaningful life, as defined by you. Not about getting rich, having “more,” and losing yourself on the hedonic treadmill. There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to the impact of income on experiential happiness (around $75,000), but there is no cap on reflective happiness. Wealth is a tool to achieve freedom, self-sufficiency, and spend your time exactly how you want to.

25. You can’t have it all, but you can have what you prioritize

Don’t try to keep up with those living an extravagant lifestyle. If your goal is to fund your own contentment and underwrite a meaningful life, you need to figure out what’s most important to you. Spend money on those things, without hesitation, and invest in yourself. Live frugally and cut costs everywhere else.

26. Moderation is king

This is the single most important value no one has told you about. Avoid excess. As a society, we pride ourselves on extremes. But even our virtues, when taken too far, collapse into their opposite–crippling flaws in character. Find the golden mean.

27. Everyone is facing their own adversity

I’m reminded of this on an almost weekly basis. The carefully curated versions people project of themselves on social media don’t reflect what’s actually going on in their lives. You never know what someone’s going through or what they’ve been through. Be kind.

28. Commit to the people who share your most important values

I can’t say it better than Ray Dalio, “When you have alignment, cherish it. While there is nobody in the world who will share your point of view on everything, there are people who will share your most important values and the ways in which you choose to live them out. Make sure you end up with those people.”

29. Build a philosophy of life that works for you

Philosophy is about the art of living. It will make these lessons easier if you have a reference point that reflects your most important values and principles. For me, this is a version of Stoicism. Go out there and find one that works for you, or create your own. Whatever you do, establish one, because this adds purpose, direction, and serves as a constant reminder of what’s worth attaining in life.

30. There’s no secret to happiness, other than gratitude

The single trait that the happiest people all have in common is a profound sense of gratitude. They wake up in the morning and feel lucky, with an appreciation for life and their current position. I achieve this by reflecting on all the good things I have, worst-case scenarios, and the finer details in my immediate surroundings.


The only true failures in life are moments of apathy or defiance, when you’re unwilling to learn. Knowledge and experience count for little if you’re unable to commit them as life lessons.

Determine what you want out of life, live in a way that aligns with those values, and never stop learning. That’s what it takes if you want to discover what it means to live well and maintain an upward trajectory over the course of your life. Go out and find the lessons that resonate strongest with you.

The Myth of Losing Your Edge

One of the biggest fears that many hardworking, talented people have is that if they ease up in any facet of their lives, they’ll lose their edge. It’s a myth that’s fueled by a failure to differentiate between internal and external expectations. If you want to be at your best, it’s important to make this distinction and assign each their proper weight.

If you’ve convinced yourself that your edge comes from orchestrating external factors–things that are by nature beyond your control–that’s your ego taking over. This mindset is what pushes people to high strung, compulsive, and rigid behavior. Attempting to inflict your will with brute force and control every variable will drive you to exhaustion.

What keeps you ahead is not a state of constant dissatisfaction and the excessive demands you place upon the world. And while you might be quick to dismiss this as the ‘slackers credo’ of aiming low, take a closer look. Renegotiating expectations has nothing to do with the trajectory of your aim. It’s about prioritization.

You do not control the actions of others, how your work is interpreted, the recognition you receive, the specific obstacles you face, or whether the perfect sequence of events unfolds immediately before you.

It’s not that these things don’t matter. But they should matter less. Because they aren’t what define your edge and they aren’t reliable metrics against which to measure yourself.

The greater importance you assign to these types of external expectations, the more dependencies you introduce, and the higher the likelihood that you’ll end up pissed off, burned out, and distracted from the work that matters most. While you might be able to influence these to an extent, any significant control you believe you possess over them is illusory.

Your real edge is in your persistence and your own abilities. Your inner drive is independent of external expectations–the two are not inextricably linked. You have to be able to separate these from one another, as the resourceful and antifragile know well.

Rather than compromising your edge, redefining internal and external expectations puts you at a significant advantage. You free yourself to focus back on the things you can actually affect–mainly, your actions, dedicating time to your craft, discovering meaning in your work, living in accordance with your principles, developing your own resourcefulness, navigating inevitable obstacles. This is the most accurate way to measure your own progress.

When you become reliant on someone or something else to determine a successful outcome or your personal sense of self-worth, you’re putting yourself in an impossible position. Dependencies introduce anxiety and envy.

The mentality of “if only X, Y, Z happened for me, that would solve everything” is more of a liability than it is an asset. And it doesn’t say much for your ability to prioritize. Why place a premium on things you can’t directly affect? You’re wasting your limited time and energy, which could be better allocated elsewhere.

What you should prioritize is a state of relaxed concentration. It’s here where your best work gets done.

When you turn your attention back to your own abilities and immerse yourself in the task at hand, the anxiety subsides. There’s something calming about putting in the work when it’s down to just you and your craft. It brings things back to self-discipline, self-expression, and the pursuit of meaning in your work, all of which are within your immediate grasp.

Most top performers, who once believed their insatiable, demanding tendencies to be their edge, will concede this with age. What you achieve in life is not conditional on your external expectations. They don’t make you better and they don’t guarantee success. There will always be other factors in play beyond your control, and that’s okay. What actually matters is your internal focus, the work you’re putting in, and the expectations you hold for yourself.

Renegotiating expectations doesn’t mean sacrificing personal aspirations or expecting less from yourself. And it doesn’t mean aiming low. It means aiming higher and demanding more–of yourself–and prioritizing that. Define yourself by substance. Not by luck or futile attempts to bend the world to your will.

When you differentiate between internal and external expectations–assigning each their proper weight–it’s not your edge that you’ll lose, it’s your angst. In its place, you’ll build gratitude and a greater capacity to focus on the work that resonates strongest with you. It’s here where you can make a real difference and develop the quiet confidence that it takes to create something meaningful.

The Stoic Guide to Winning the War of Reality vs. Expectations

Fortune falls heavily on those for whom she’s unexpected. The one always on the lookout easily endures.
— Seneca

Most of us are torn between the duality of what’s playing out in our minds and what’s actually taking place around us.

We all have certain expectations that things should go a specific way. For some of us, it’s holding fixed expectations that our relationships should be exactly as we’ve imagined—perfect partner, kids, family, friends. For others, it’s the expectation that we should have it all figured out by now, that our careers should follow a carefully plotted path, or that some special event—wedding, birthday, vacation abroad—should live up to the hype.

The trouble with this line of thinking is that higher expectations do not equate to higher levels of happiness, gratitude, or performance. Additionally, projecting fixed expectations is in fundamental opposition to the impermanence and ambiguity that define life. Expecting things to go a set way is to reject the fabric of life. You cannot and will not eliminate all uncertainty from your life, no matter how hard you try.

In reality, there’s no such thing as the way it should be. Everything is in a state of constant motion.

The harder you work to eliminate uncertainty and ambiguity from life, the smaller the confines of your comfort zone become. True comfort is found through embracing discomfort, not shielding yourself from uncertainty—and this is the paradox of comfort. The wider the range of potential scenarios that you’ve trained yourself to handle, the better things will turn out.

It’s not that expectations are inherently dangerous. But they become exactly that as we fixate on a single outcome that’s outside of what the Stoics deemed as our ‘reasoned choice’—one which we have little to no control over. Positive visualization—setting expectations sky high and fixating on the best-case scenario–is not so much a strategy, as it is a recipe for failure. Sooner or later you’ll end up wrecked by something beyond your control.

Expectations outside of your reasoned choice leave you fragile, rigid, and reactive. Focusing your limited energy on trying to control every variable and getting from A to B like you’ve dreamed it in your head is restrictive and ineffective. It limits what you will learn, what you can achieve, and the person you will be.

Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.
— Epictetus

Negative visualization—contemplating the range of potential outcomes, including the unfavorable and worst-case—is a far more effective technique offered by the Stoics (also known as premeditatio malorum). The greatest minds don’t sit around thinking of a fanciful alternate reality where everything plays out according to plan. They develop the resourcefulness to navigate inevitable obstacles and turn them to their advantage.

The only expectation worth holding is that you take advantage of opportunities to act in accordance with your own values and principles. You should expect to leverage your own resourcefulness and resilience to better yourself, regardless of current circumstances or obstacles. Create your own momentum.

Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it – turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself – so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.
— Marcus Aurelius

It all comes down to your perspective. Prepare yourself to handle a range of potential outcomes, develop confidence in that ability, and limit any expectations beyond your reasoned choice. When you adopt this mindset, you strip setbacks and external circumstances of their power to catch you off guard and dictate your life.

Reality rewards resilience. Projecting fixed expectations in life blinds you to everything but the one-track, imaginary path you’ve predicted.

At the foundation of each of these Stoic lessons is the negotiation of reality and expectations.

Acknowledging this inner war allows you to bridge the gap and begin developing the mindfulness, focus, and resilience that it takes to make meaningful progress of your own. Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming disconnected and discontent with the only life you have.