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Are You Who You Thought You’d Be Ten Years Ago?

A personal essay of reflection over the last decade. I don't think I made a good job of making my dreams come true. These are the lessons this decade taught me.

Oren Cohen
Oren Cohen
Photo by  Peter Fogden  on  Unsplash

Photo by Peter Fogden on Unsplash

I’ve been living my life in the past two weeks, accompanied by a sharp needle-like pain in my back. Over two weeks ago, when I looked at the mirror in the bathroom, I realized that a small lump formed on my back. This lump was already there like a year ago, only visibly smaller and not painful.

A quick google search revealed that it might be a cyst that can happen to anyone and usually isn’t a cause for concern. Only, for me, it is. My shirts and backpack keep chafing it since it grew in size over the last year.

The real problem is that I can’t go to a doctor to treat it because of the pandemic. All appointments are taken up to July. So, now that it is chafed and wounded, it’s putting me in a lot of pain. I’m trying my best to treat it until my appointment with the doctor arrives.

Now, at this point, I spent about three paragraphs describing a cringe-worthy personal health issue, and you’re probably wondering why I’m putting you through this. I’ll get to that right now.

What Do You See When You Look in The Mirror?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how my life looks as opposed to how I wanted them to look long ago. I assume that if you are here, you feel the same way.

I told you about my painful lump at the beginning of this piece because it dawned on me that it is the perfect metaphor for how we go about our days.

We don’t want to be in pain. We don’t want to feel unhappy, depressed, or incompetent. We want to get rid of those inflamed lumps that hurt every day, no matter how we try to make ourselves feel.

But when we look in the mirror, we don’t see a smiling face — we see a pondering one. Perhaps some wrinkles on our 30-ish faces, dark circles under our eyes, and some white follicles to prick our fledgling self-esteem.

We want to be happy. We want to smile, laugh, explore, enjoy life to the fullest.

And we used to. Do you remember? Long ago?

How did your life look like before you were an adult?

Where did those days go?

Did Life Steal Your Childhood Dreams?

When I was nineteen in the army, I felt so incredibly good about what I used to do outside of office hours.

I was playing video games, writing in a blog about gaming, going out with friends once in a while, reading books, and mostly exploring my creativity. I didn’t have any money, but I wasn’t concerned about it back then. I was living in my parents’ house, young, not feeling the need to build my own family anytime soon, not feeling the need to construct a future.

If there’s one thing I regret most of all, is that back then, I used to let life dictate the path forward. I didn’t build my life with my own two hands when I had the chance. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this piece right now. If you did, most of you wouldn’t be reading it.

And yet, here we are.

I know I need to fix this, and life simply wouldn’t let me. How do I return to waking up refreshed and purposeful every day?

How do I smile when thinking about my life and mean it?

It’s tough, but I think I found a way forward that I want to share with you. I mean, this is actually why you’re here. You’re hoping for me to give you a magic solution that will make all of the pain go away.

You and I know that’s not how you get rid of cysts in your body. You either have surgery to remove it or go to the doctor to take care of it some other way. There are no magic treatments. In rare cases, cysts disappear on their own — in rare cases, people win the lottery.

The same goes for our lives, friend. There’s no magic solution — but there is a solution.

Discover Your Biggest Obstacle

The first rule of business is not to quit your day job. As I said, this isn’t a magic solution. You’re going to work hard for this life change.

Then, you need to understand what keeps you from living the life you meant to create for yourself.

Is it a financial issue?

Is it a bad habit? A regrettable life decision?

You know what it is, deep within. Write it down.

For me, It’s my debt. If I were debt-free today, I would spend my days writing blogs, books, and traveling the world (excluding global pandemics, of course). But I can’t. My debt is a dictating factor in how my life looks. People I talked to about my debt often ask me, ‘What is the worst that’s going to happen if you quit your day job tomorrow?

That’s an incredible question to ask ourselves. Please do ask yourself that very same question and discover your honest answer. It might surprise you.

My answer is that if I quit my day job tomorrow, I would lose a valuable income source. While I won’t stay homeless since I’m living with my parents, I would immediately have to find a new income source to cover the minimum payments on my debt the next month. I would have to either find a new job or find a creative outlet to cover the expenses.

If I can’t do that, I’m risking lawsuits and all that jazz.

So, no losing my day job anytime soon for me.

What about you? What is the most significant factor that prevents you from living the life you wanted to live? Ask yourself and try to come up with an honest answer.

Once you have it, we can move on to the next step: removing it.

Work Tirelessly to Remove That Obstacle

If you knew that your future awaits just behind one closed door, what would you do? Wouldn’t you try to smash that door down to get to it?

You might have some other obstacles along the way, but this is your biggest one. The defining factor in your life. The one thing that, if removed from your way, your life will take a completely different turn.

You need to work tirelessly to remove it but also smartly.

For example, if we take my debt obstacle, I can’t avoid buying anything for several months to pay it off. I have a girlfriend that I need to go out with, I have my blog expenses like hosting, services I pay monthly for, like music. There are some things to figure out.

So, what I do is learn from the past. I look back on what I did with my money in the last several months. Lo and behold, I had a month where I spent the equivalent of 300 dollars on a game’s in-app purchases on my iPad.

That’s wild.

Doing the work of examining what I’ve been doing reveals that I could have saved a lot more than I actually did before. And those are lessons that I take with me for the following months.

I also started using YNAB, which is a great budgeting app. There is no better way to confront debt than to work on your budgeting skills.

Now, for your obstacle, do the work. Realize what are the skills, tools, or knowledge to make the obstacle in your way disappear.

If you want to be a writer, learn more about writing. Medium’s Writing topic page is an excellent place to start. A google search for guides for beginner writers can also result in some good hits.

Heck, I’ll even give you a bonus writing lesson right here (if you’re not a writer, just skip this paragraph): Just write. You don’t need fancy tools or special requirements. Write. Bleed your heart out and see what comes on the page without discrimination. When you’re done, and only when you’re done, think about editing. That’s it. Those are my 2 cents about writing.

Be proactive about confronting the obstacles in your journey. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Nevertheless, there is always a smarter way to do things. Let’s talk about secret doors.

Look For Secret Doors — Not Shortcuts

A shortcut is to get from one point to another without actually traversing the way you need to go to reach that point.

Here’s a good example:

Let’s say you are a musician. Or at least, that’s who you’d thought you’d be ten years ago. Now, you wrote in your bio on Twitter and Instagram that you are a musician. Both of these social networks have decided to immediately give you the blue checkmark. You instantly have a million followers on each account.

Now what? Are you really a musician if your environment suggests that you are? Do you know how to sing? Inspire? Motivate?

I bet you don’t.

This has been one of my problems in the past as well. I had a Twitter account and a Facebook page that represented my video game blog at the time. We’re talking about 2012.

I had just started posting reviews I wrote and some posts and tweets. I thought I’d expose the site, and I’ll get lots of followers. Naive, I know.

No one came. No one interacted with me. I continued to write, but I needed encouragement. When that wasn’t the case, I gave up.

I was looking for a shortcut to success. If you’re a streamer, can you really hope to master streaming with only 2–3 streams under your belt?

They say it takes about 10,000 hours to master a skill.

So no shortcuts. They never work.

But what about secret doors?

Secret doors help you advance in the general direction of your life journey. A secret door is something you do that makes the work easier to bear. We, humans, want instant gratification. We want to feel like we’re always advancing and immediately.

So, secret doors are methods you can employ like social accountability, habit building, and rewarding your work that make your journey more bearable.

Even though I’ve been writing on Medium for sixteen months, I didn’t develop a consistent writing habit. I knew I wanted to be writing fantasy, but I was doing anything but the actual work: writing fantasy. Life gets in the way, and you find yourself doing other things. That’s why I started to learn how to create a writing habit. That will be an entire post all by itself when the challenge I’m participating in will be over.

If you’re an author and you’re on your way to writing your first book, developing a writing habit will be extremely useful to you. The same goes for bloggers who want to be able to publish every day. Perhaps training yourself in writing quicker can also have an impact on your success.

What makes your journey easier to bear while not being a shortcut? Those are the secret doors you should look for. Not many people realize that to be good at something, you need to develop a related habit. People just want the result, and that’s where they fail.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Nothing Matters If You Lack Consistency

One of the things I always did when I was younger was to hop from one project to another without sticking it through. I would tell myself that it was time to move on when a project wasn’t “taking off” after a few days.

I have built and tore down dozens of websites, forums, and communities on Facebook because of my lack of consistency.

I wanted to create what I was participating in, so I looked for shortcuts. Maintaining the course was such a long way to go. I didn’t know how long I would have to wait and work for things to catch up. The thing is, we never do, and when a project finally blooms, it’s magnificent.

One of my communities back then was a forum dedicated to video games. I was posting questions about the video games themselves, wrote some nonsense related to games that I liked, and hoped people would come. We’re talking about 2006–7. I didn’t have a goddamn clue how to improve SEO. I also didn’t have a clue about how to market stuff.

But the thing is, I didn’t really need to know these things. They were not the defining factor of the success of a website back then. My forum could have had so much success if I had only provided content that people want to read consistently. If I had taken the time to answer the questions I was faced with while playing those games, I would have created a valuable source of information for people.

I didn’t see it back then, but that was the primary reason (and still is to this day) why people join forums, groups, and websites. They look for answers. That’s what we all do on google. We stay for the community.

So, to connect the dots between consistency and your own dreams, look at what valuable resources you can provide people in your realm of interests. If you’re an aspiring musician, create attention by sharing your learnings about the craft. Share your songs even if you think they are terrible. If you’re an aspiring architect, share with people the designs you find most interesting. Review related products, perhaps even stream online. In the last few years, Twitch has become so much more than just a gamer’s platform. People show off baking shows, writing open source code, writing, and the list goes on.

Whatever it is that you want to invest your time and energy in to make it the major thing in your life, do consistent actions related to it.

I’ve been writing on Medium for sixteen months straight. I may not have been as consistent about it as I want to be in the weekly schedule, but I’ve stuck to writing for sixteen months in the grand scheme of things. And it paid off. I still have on my personal blog some writings from 2016. The quality of those pieces is cringe-worthy.

I was consistent in my writing, and now I gained the benefit of hindsight. If I wouldn’t have invested regular work in my writing, I would never grow and become better at realizing my mistakes.

Give yourself the gift of hindsight by being consistent towards your dreams.

What To Do Right Now

Consider your life’s obstacles like a river blocked by chunks of stone. Once you get rid of the big rocks, the water will flush the small rocks away.

So, put your energies into identifying, analyzing, and removing those significant obstacles in your way.

There are no shortcuts, but there could be secret doors like forming related habits or teaching yourself more about the things you want to achieve.

Whatever you do, don’t stop walking towards your destination.

I believe in you.

self improvement