My book Building a Second Brain comes out in 60 days. Cohort 14 of our course started a week ago with over 1,300 students enrolled. Our team of over 30 staff and collaborators is humming along like a well-oiled productivity machine.
On every front, we’re seeing unbelievable momentum and excitement for our work. Yet I find myself in the garage studio tonight unable to sleep.
It started this morning, the moment I woke and noticed something seemed…different. It felt like a tide had turned, like a season had passed. I somehow woke up a different person than when I went to bed.
The difference crystallized for me when I turned to my writing projects later in the day. I’d set them aside for many months as I focused on getting the manuscript finished and course launched. Now, I saw them in a new light. To my surprise, all my half-written drafts seemed so pointless. They were all fussy, pedantic explorations of obscure questions that my past self thought were so important. From my current vantage point, they looked trivial.
I realized in a flash that I am now in a new chapter of my life. I’m not sure when the page turned exactly, but the old chapter is finished. I feel a surge of remorse at all the unrealized goals and dreams I left behind there. But I know that what’s being asked of me now is to rise to a new level of self-expression and to step out onto a new stage – the world stage.
Even after all this time, there are still ways I’m hiding. There are ways I’m holding back who I am out of fear. I avoid speaking hard truths to people I know need to hear them out of fear they’ll be offended. I avoid meeting influential leaders out of fear I’ll say something stupid, look foolish, and lose my chance to make an impression. I avoid delivering my message in plain language because I’m afraid someone will point out some missed nuance. After all these years of working in public, I find there are still levels upon levels of self-expression beyond what I currently know.
I can see clearly that “details” are my security blanket. Finding them, recording them, organizing them, tracking them, using them to protect me from uncertainty. Like a pig wallowing in mud, I’ve long wallowed in my precious details. Part of what this next season is asking of me is to let go of details. To not worry about them so much. To not try to control them so tightly. To ignore them sometimes and go right to the heart of the matter before I’ve figured it out perfectly.
Perfection – that old friend and enemy. It’s the name of the station flashing by the train window as I pull away. It’s time to let go of my last finger grip on any illusion of perfection that still remains. Soon there will be people all over the world reading my book, in languages I didn’t write in and countries I will never visit. Many of them won’t finish it, many won’t understand it, and many won’t find value in it. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. I am trusting my life’s work to a vast network that doesn’t care about me and that I can’t influence. At the peak of my success I am most out of control – a perfectionist’s nightmare.
It strikes me that the ultimate trajectory of this book is now out of my hands. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still TONS of interviews to record, events to speak at, and promotions to run. The marketing campaign has barely begun and will unfold over many months. But most of that is already pre-determined. The manuscript is finished, the talking points outlined. Once a baby is born, it’s halfway to being grown up, its essential nature already set. I am merely at the service of a second brain meme that has already gone beyond me and taken on a life of its own.
I feel like I am standing at the precipice of the unknown, staring into the darkness. For more than 3 years, this book has defined my waking moments. It was a pre-defined commitment I had locked into place, and thrown away the key. For several years before that, developing the course was the driving force. But now, the degrees of freedom are opening up. The variables are unknown and at play. The relentless convergence of the last 5 years is finally giving way to divergence, like a narrow mountain pass giving way to a verdant valley.
For the first time in a long time, I have the chance to ask myself the ancient questions: Who do I want to be? How do I want to live? What activities do I want to fill my days? Who do I want to spend those days with? What matters enough to devote my one precious life to, given that every day is a devotion? This much freedom is almost overwhelming. The muscle of obligation has grown a bit too strong, has been exercised a bit too much. It’s time to give up some of that raw strength in favor of fluidity once more.
I know who I am in the face of adversity, but how about in the face of abundance? Will I rise to the occasion of not having to struggle for survival? Will I be able to let go of the compromises I’ve had to make to get this far? The compromises to my health, my hobbies, my close friendships, and my carefree enjoyment of days with nothing on my mind? Who is the self that will emerge from this experience, and will I like them?
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