“Most people, if they really look at how they’re living their life today, it’s based on a set of standards/beliefs that they made choices about 10, 20, 30 years ago.”
My 10-year high School reunion happened a couple months ago.
I didn’t go. I debated for a long time about going (I guess I’d been debating for years leading up to it). In the end, I…just couldn’t bring myself to go.
I didn’t want to go back to that environment. I was a different person back then, and frankly, I didn’t like a lot of who I was. I just didn’t want to go back there.
Who were you in high school?
What were you like?
What did you believe about yourself?
Would you be happy if you were still that person today?
I wouldn’t want to be that same person today. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of the decade working on evolving from that immature, insecure little boy.
I was a very different person in high school. For starters, I had this super-secret, intense addiction to pornography. I was using porn like a meth head shoots up crack, using it to numb myself when any problem came up. Because of this, I was a walking cardboard cutout of a person, unable to really connect with anyone. I wasn’t really…there.
I was terribly insecure and afraid, too. I was always wary of another dude trying to steal my girlfriend, or of being bullied, or of someone trying to pick a fight with me (The very thought terrified me: Would I punch back? Would everyone discover I was secretly a wimp??).
I was dealing with lots of tension in the home and was constantly running away from my problems. I faked a lot, pretended to be something I wasn’t to survive. I hated the cool kids, but only because I so desperately wanted to be one of them, rejecting me.
I think the reason I didn’t go to my high school reunion was this: I didn’t want to be in that environment again — back where I was the old me.
Since high school, I’ve spent the majority of the decade in therapy, counseling, and basically getting my crap together. I started going to 12-step meetings for my porn addiction, and haven’t looked at porn in years. I finally confronted all the family pain and hurt I’d been running from for years. I started taking responsibility, knowing that if I didn’t, I would probably end up like those before me — divorced, broke, and estranged from their family.
But what I’ve learned in this: many people haven’t graduated high school yet. And I’m not talking about teenagers in 12th grade — I’m referring to millions of the adults walking around you, right now.
Here’s why most people are still stuck in their old behaviors, and how you can escape the old you and evolve into something truly extraordinary.
If You Don’t Mature, You’ll Never Have Truly Great Relationships Or Financial Freedom
When you were young, relationships and money (two of your most important resources) were probably handed to you. Community, friends, and relationships were built into your life through school. Money was given to you when you needed it.
The problem is, many people still think (and expect) for this pattern to be the same. That is why most people don’t have great relationships or financial freedom.
Life after college was very difficult for me. I went from living with my best friends, hanging out with them all the time, and never worrying about money or food (thanks, student loans) to the total opposite. When I graduated, I found myself living with strangers, working full-time at a job I didn’t like (with people I didn’t like), never seeing my friends and always worrying about money.
Here’s an inconvenient truth that most people would prefer to ignore: it’s up to you to put in the effort to have great relationships or learn financial freedom.
See, the reason why so many people are lonely, broke, in-debt, and relationally bankrupt isn’t because their circumstances are bad or they were dealt an unlucky hand. No, relationships and finances are in your control, to learn and master and put effort into.
If you’re lazy, you won’t have great relationships (at least not long term).
If you’re lazy, you won’t achieve financial freedom.
If you’re lazy, you’ll almost certainly end up more lonely, broke, in-debt, and financially crippled.
It’s up to you to break the cycle and start putting effort into these areas. No longer can you expect your friends to make the first move — you must make the first move and reach out.
No longer can you expect your parents or loans or the government to bail you out of financial irresponsibility: if you do, you’ll continue to be a weight on society and never give yourself the chance to grow.
If you don’t mature and start putting effort into your relationships and your money, you’ll never have truly great relationships or financial freedom.
Ordinary People Never Confront Their “Hard Feelings” and Stay Stuck in Mediocrity
“The real meaning of ‘hard feelings’ is old feelings that have become calcified and now hurt us whenever they are pricked. To process is to remove the archaic, painful deposits and liberate the soft, healthy vulnerability so close to our surface and so productive of loving responses in others.” -David Richo, How to Be An Adult
Hard feelings suck.
We all have them. Every one of us has felt alone, afraid, depressed, anxious, and abandoned.
I have. And for a long time, I never resolved those issues. Deep down, I knew that God didn’t love me. I was confident that I wasn’t worthy of love or attention.
I let these feelings dominate my life. I built my behaviors and beliefs around them. Tony Robbins once said, “We all act consistent with who we think we are.” Since I truly believed these hurt feelings were the truth, that’s what they became.
The truth is, many people never confront these problems. It’s like having a thorn stuck in your finger: instead of pulling it out, many people choose to leave it in and build their life around that thorn. They cover it up and avoid touching it, never taking the time to do the painful act of pulling the damned thing out. Pulling a thorn out hurts; living with a thorn hurts far more.
If you want to act like everyone else and so gain the life most other people have, don’t worry about all those hard feelings, those “thorns” stuck in you. Build your life around them. It’ll hurt, sure, but that’s life right?
But if you’re someone who’s not satisfied with living an ordinary, average life, it’s time to do the extraordinary thing and resolve those old wounds. As author Srinivas Rao once said:
“If you want to live an exceptional and extraordinary life, you have to give up many of the things that are part of a normal one.”
If you act like most people, you’ll get what most people have: an ordinary, average life that probably has some serious hurt feelings that have never been truly addressed.
But if you want to achieve an extraordinary life, one that turns heads and attracts success, it’s time to start doing things differently. And true change comes from fixing the core, the roots, and real problem, not just the symptoms.
For me, that was counseling and therapy and pouring myself into personal growth and self-improvement (that’s why I write about it so much!). I didn’t like where I was, and I didn’t want to end up where everyone else seemed to be going. I made a point to address all the emotional crap I had never dealt with, and came out of therapy a new, changed man.
I have a wonderful marriage with my best friend now. I’m a successful writer (praise the Lord!). I’m not held back by my old shame, guilt, or fears.
I still deal with these issues from time to time, but let me tell you — life after you pulled the thorn out is so much better.
Don’t Fear Being Different; Fear Fitting In With Mediocrity
“The fear of being different prevents most people from seeking new ways to solve problems.” -Robert Kiyosaki
The world trains you to operate at substandard levels.
Traditional structures like the broken education system, archaic 9–5 workday schedule, and endless amounts of addictive entertainment set you up for mediocrity.
Don’t fear being different — fear fitting in with mediocrity.
“You cannot allow the actions of others to define your reality,” prolific writerSteven Pressfield once penned. If you do, you lose control. Most people are consumed with competition and will manipulate you for their cause if you let them. Pressfield went on:
“Those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”
Most people just want to fit in and enjoy the safety of the herd — to fly under the radar, not rock the boat, and live as hassle-free as possible.
But eventually, hassle-free morphs into mediocrity. Best-selling author Grant Cardone once said, “If you are not creating enough new problems for yourself, then you aren’t taking enough action.” Struggle is growth. Experiments, even failed ones, lead to success.
Don’t worry about fitting in; you don’t want to be part of that club anyway.
“Take into account that you have been educated with restrictions. Be aware of this so that you don’t underestimate the possibilities.” -Grant Cardone
If You’re More Focused On Being Cool Than Learning, You’ll Never Achieve True Success
When I was growing up, the one thing, the one thing I wanted:
I wanted to be a cool kid.
Whenever my mom took me clothes shopping, I’d insist on going to the cool skater stores like Vans and Pacsun (that’s where the cool kids bought their clothes). I would comb through my dad’s Men’s Health magazines to find good workout routines to get abs (cool guys had abs).
I’d get detention then brag about it. I’d spend hours practicing basketball moves that would make me look awesome. I’d ditch class early and generally acted like a little fart so that I could finally, finally join the cool group.
But they never accepted me.
After years of trying to be cool, it never happened. I covered my longing and shame with anger and hatred towards cool kids, hating them while still secretly longing to be one of them.
But when I finally shifted from trying to be cool to actually learning, I discovered something incredible: the more I learned, the more success I started seeing.
I’ve been writing for 5.5 years now. The first 4.5, I was very focused on being “cool”: securing a book deal, “going viral,” being a famous writer that everyone knew and loved. But that never happened. After 54 grueling months, I had made virtually zero progress.
Then, I decided to focus on learning. I became a student of my craft. Where I had refused to spend a dime on investing in myself, I started spending hundreds of dollars on myself, in books, online courses, coaches, tools, and programs. I learned how to write what people wanted to actually read (not just my terrible “Sunday Musings” articles).
The result? I got a book deal. I started making enough money from my writing to quit my 9–5 job and become a full-time writer.
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert comics, once said:
“Every skill you acquire doubles the odds of your success.”
When I stopped trying to be cool and started to actually learn, that’s when I started seeing success.
That’s something you can never know if you’re still acting like your old high school self, trying to be cool.
“You got this far operating under one set of assumptions. Abandoning those assumptions and embracing a new, bigger set may be exactly what you need to to do get to the next level.” -Seth Godin
In high school, you relied on a specific set of beliefs and actions to get by.
Back then, these beliefs helped you. They allowed you to connect with others, and hopefully even thrive in your environment.
The problem is, a lot of people never change these old beliefs. This is why so many grown adults still act like children, becoming passive-aggressive or resentful or gossipy or even violent in the face of confrontation: that’s how they were in high school, and they chose to never grow up.
Ordinary, average people never grow up. They choose to act how they always have, never changing their minds or admitting faults and character defects that could use an upgrade.
Kris Valloton, best selling author and paster, once wrote: “The neural pathways you create become mindsets that tend to dictate how you think and what you visualize most easily.” Right now, you have specific neural pathways in your brain that are responsible for the mindset and beliefs you have now.
Is it time to change your mindset? Do you think you could use an upgrade?
Wouldn’t it be better if you did?
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Why Most People Will Never Graduate High School was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.