“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” – Wayne Dyer

“How do you do it?” He asked.

I was at a party and this guy had just heard I was a stand-up comedian. Like a lot of people I meet he wanted to know how I’m able to make a living in a notoriously difficult field like stand-up comedy.

A lot of people have a passion – something they’d love to do with their life. They want to be a painter, or a musician, or travel the world. But they put off these dreams because they seem impractical.

When they find out I’m following my passion they want to know my secret. They think I have some magic trick, some incredible piece of wisdom and if they could just find out what it is they’d be able to do whatever they want.

Well, I do.

It’s a simple two-step process that will help you achieve any goal you set your mind to.

Want to become an incredible guitarist? The kind of musician who makes Jimi Hendrix look like a bumbling klutz with your effortless blindfolded solos?

This secret can help you.

What to become a great chef? Whipping up the most technical recipes with ease and creating bold new taste sensations off the top of your head?

This trick can make that possible.

Travel the world, master badminton, learn every programing language, earn a billion dollars – many people in all many fields have used this technique to achieve all kinds of things.

So what is this secret?

I’ll tell you soon, but first I should tell you how I discovered it myself…

I’ve always loved making people laugh.

I started doing stand-up in high school and kept doing it all through university. My grades got worse as my jokes got funnier.

I knew being a comedian was what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately I wasn’t making much money from comedy. What’s worse, I couldn’t see a way to ever make much money from comedy.

A lot of the headliners I was opening for were just scraping by, and even the famous comedians I met weren’t exactly rich.

Reluctantly, I got a “real” job.

Even though it was only an entry level marketing position, it paid way more than what I’d been making from comedy.

I got a new car. Started renting in a nice suburb. I bought everything from a waffle iron to gym membership (which was stupid because the effects of one cancelled the other out).

But despite having all this stuff I wasn’t happy.

Work made me miserable.

I’d sit at my desk counting down the hours until I’d be free. I’d go toilets on the third floor and sleep in one of the cubicles. I’d make coffee after coffee after coffee.

I longed to quit my job and focus on my comedy. But how could I?

Without the job how would I afford petrol for my car? How would I pay rent? How would I buy batter for the waffle iron?

How could I give up a good dependable paycheque for the risky, financially unpredictable life of a comedian?

I put it aside and went back to pushing paper.

Then I went to the show that changed my life.

After work one night I went to a blues bar to see one of my favourite harmonica players (a guy called Chris Wilson). I’m a big fan of his so I was very excited to see his show, and even more excited to get to chat with him afterwards.

Somehow we got onto the topic of making a living from art. I said something along the lines of “Yeah, it’s hard being an artist”.

“No, it’s not.” He said. “What’s hard is slogging away at a job you hate.

Sure, being an artist might never make you rich, you might struggle to survive, you might have to make sacrifices – but if it means you get to go what you love you won’t mind.”

The words hit me like a lightning bolt. He was right.

I was working this job I hated to pay for all these things, but all I really wanted was to be a comedian. If living my dream meant having to give everything else up, I’d gladly do it.

I’d sell my car and catch the bus.

I’d move to a worse house in a cheaper suburb.

I’d give up waffles.

Once I decided there was no sacrifice I wouldn’t make to live my dream the rest became easy. I quit the day job, stopped buying stuff that didn’t really make me happy, and since then I’ve been a stand-up comedian.

So this is the secret that I promised I’d tell you about…

To achieve any goal, to become anything you want to be, there’s a simple two-step process:

  1. Be prepared to do whatever it takes.
  2. Don’t quit.

That’s it.

If you follow these steps you’ll either achieve your goal, or you’ll grow old and die trying (in which case it won’t matter to you anymore).

Now, you might be disappointed to discover that’s my secret. When I tell people that’s how I manage to live my dreams they often are.

What people really want to know is how they can achieve their dreams without any hard work or sacrifice. Unfortunately I don’t know the answer to that question.

All I can do is tell you these two steps…

1. Be prepared to do whatever it takes.

To achieve whatever you want, the first step is to prioritise your goal over everything else.

You want to be a painter but you can’t manage to sell a painting? Stop paying for cable, sell your car and catch the bus, and get used to eating instant ramen at meal time.

You want to be a guitarist but you haven’t practiced enough? Lock yourself in a room and do those scales, wake up earlier every day and practice, and when the blisters on your fingers pop seal them up with super glue and keep playing.

You want to travel the world? Get on the next bus out of town, hitch hike across the country, if airfares are too expensive you can walk or stowaway on a boat.

I’m not saying these things are exactly what you need to do. I’m saying that if you want to achieve your dream you need to be prepared to sacrifice anything else to get it.

People who are great at something (chess, maths, farming pigs, etc.) have usually focused on these things above everything else (friends, money, sleep, sanity, etc.).

People are always saying “I’d love to…but…”

“I’d love to be a dancer, but I need to finish my law degree first.”

“I’d love to go to France, but the flights are too expensive.”

“I’d love to live in a hot air balloon, but my parents wouldn’t approve.”

Realise that anything after the “but” in those sentences are excuses. If there’s something you want, just ignore everything else and go get it.

You probably don’t need everything you think you need.

You’ll be amazed at how much you can live without. You only think you need most of the stuff you own thanks to a combination of advertising and other people’s opinion.

New clothes, a car, television, anything to drink other than water – these things are nice to have but you don’t really need them. If it lets you live the life you want, you won’t mind cutting down to the bare essentials.

No matter how much you give up I doubt you’ll ever be truly poor.

Recently I’ve been working with the charity World Vision and seeing how they help people in developing nations. Once I saw how the poor live in other countries I realised thinking of myself as anything but incredibly lucky is ridiculous.

Once you realise millions of kids die every day from drinking dirty water, living off pot noodles for a few weeks won’t seem so terrible.

I should also point out that the sacrifices might not be as tough as you think.

When I first quit the job I had nightmares about going broke and living off cat food.

But the fact is cat food is delicious. It’s high in Omega-3’s and gives me a nice shiny coat.

Just kidding. I’ve never had to eat cat food.

I have had to make some sacrifices though. I live in a small house. I don’t own a lot of stuff. I got rid of my waffle iron. I don’t miss any of it – that stuff was just obligations holding me back.

Since it means I get to be a comedian, I do not mind giving those things up. I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve my dream.

My point is, until you try you have no idea what sort of sacrifices are required, they may not be that bad, and even if they are terrible in this country you’ve got a long way to fall before you’re in any real trouble.

Why not give it a go?

2. Don’t quit

The “don’t quit” part people often misunderstand. They think I mean something like “if you want something hard enough hard enough keep at it and you’ll get it eventually”.

That’s not what I’m saying.

The truth is if you go after your dreams, even if you go after them with everything you’ve got, you might fail.

If you become a writer perhaps no one will read your books.

If you start a band people might not like your music.

If you set out to travel the world you might go broke or get mugged or kidnapped in some strange country.

Before I quit my job I had no idea if I could make a living as a comedian. I wanted someone to give me a guarantee that I’d succeed. Unfortunately, no one could promise me that.

What I realised though was, while there was no guarantee I’d succeed as a comedian, I could guarantee that staying in the job would make me unhappy.

If you want to follow your dreams you’ll probably face a similar choice. You’ll have to decide whether uncertainty with a chance of happiness is better than certainty with guaranteed unhappiness.

I’d suggest you take the chance.

You’ll be happier relentlessly going after what you really want (and perhaps failing), than sticking with security and buying stuff to distract you from your dream.

Go do whatever you want to do. If you’re forced to give up after doing it for a year, then at least you’ll have experienced a year of living your dream. A lot of people don’t even get that.

Also, realise that if you try and fail you can try again. Go back to the drawing board, figure out a new plan and give it another go.

Every failed attempt brings you knowledge that makes you more likely to succeed on the next go. And even if you die before you make it, you’ll be happier trying and failing than sitting round wondering what if.

So that’s all there is to it.

  1. Be prepared to do whatever it takes.
  2. Don’t quit.

In the comments please let me know if you’re leading the life you want to live. If not what you’re doing now, right now, to make it happen?

Photo by Alan Cleaver

Michael Connell

Michael Connell is a stand-up comedian who has never eaten cat food. You can get a free copy of his CD at http://www.michaelconnell.com.au

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