At 40 years old, I’ve adopted a new way of looking at achieving success.

One thing that I’ve always struggled with is cognitive endurance for monotonous tasks. I’m rubbish at saving small amounts of money here and there, going to the gym with perfect regularity, sticking to strict diets, waking up early in the morning, writing on one and the same project day in and day out, compiling time reports every single day — and the list just goes on and on.

So what, you ask. These are the types of things lots of people struggle with. Aren’t I just a privileged douchebag for not wanting to do the things that I find to be boring? Or worse — aren’t I just another entitled slacker who lives under the illusion that I’m somehow too special for actual work?

In my mind, a successful person is successful due to their habits (and a fair amount of luck, of course). They have an almost heroic amount of self-discipline, they have their eyes firmly fixed at their targets, and they go after them fiercely yet patiently.

In lack of a better expression — “successful people got their shit together.”

Well, for 40 years now, I haven’t had my shit together at all. Still … I might be on the right track nevertheless.

Going down the rabbit hole

Here’s the rabbit hole I decided to go down:

I’m not actually “unsuccessful”. But I certainly don’t “have my shit together”. How does this work?

Then, a little bit deeper down the rabbit hole:

I struggle a lot, but for whatever reason, it’s as if the struggle with the struggle itself just isn’t in my wheelhouse.

Then, a little bit deeper down the rabbit hole:

It all seems very much like a Pareto principle thing. If I “struggle with the struggle” for 80% of my time, it still only yields 20% of the positive results.

Then, a little bit deeper down the rabbit hole:

To get by, I do things to cope with the everyday struggle. Like writing this blog, for instance. I always feel guilty about it, simply because it feels so good.

Then, a little bit deeper down the rabbit hole:

The things I do to cope seems to yield 80% of the positive results, though. So, there we go with the Pareto principle again.

And, at the bottom of the rabbit hole:

It seems to me that I should be doing less of what typically makes other people more successful and more of what, apparently, makes me more successful.

What’s this all about? Why is everything counter-clockwise down here?

The difference between smugglers and strugglers

Most successful people seems to be great strugglers, yes. But maybe not all of them? Maybe some successful people are successful for other main reasons rather than “having their shit together”?

My hypothesis is this:

There might be a subset of successful people who just can’t help themselves but to focus on doing things that no-one is asking for right now. They do these things to smuggle their stuff out in the wild just to see what happens. They ship their goods even though maybe they shouldn’t.

Let’s call them “smugglers”:

To smuggle is to ship a constant stream of novel content, novel ideas, and novel solutions.

As opposed to the “strugglers”:

To struggle is to do all the things that you’re supposed to be doing even though it’s hard.

The Pareto principle of smuggling

Since I encountered the Pareto principle down in that rabbit hole, why not go all in?

Out of successful people, 80% are strugglers and 20% are smugglers.

We can’t all struggle all the time and we can’t all smuggle all the time.

Since strugglers will get 80% of their results from 20% of their struggles, they should find a balance of 80% struggling and 20% smuggling.

Since smugglers will get 80% of their results from 20% of their smuggles, they should find a balance of 80% smuggling and 20% struggling.

Of course, this whole line of thought could be 100% nonsense.

But what if there’s a hint of truth to this? For about a year now, I’ve been thinking of successful people in terms of strugglers and smugglers. I’ve tried to shift from 80% struggle down to 20% and done the opposite for smuggling.

And, I simply couldn’t be happier about the results.

The benefits of being a smuggler

By accepting myself as a smuggler, I’ve encountered several staggering benefits:

Since smuggling, at least for me, yields 80% of the positive results, I now get more and better results.

I get so much extra energy from 80% smuggling, that the remaining 20% of struggling now feels like a soothing breeze on a sunny day in the park.

I’m now less hard on myself, which makes me happier, which yields even more positive results.

Pretty cool, right?

This shift in mindset, however nonsensical, seems to be working really well for me. But from a strictly practical perspective, how does it actually work on a daily basis?

How to be a smuggler of novelty

Here are a few practical example on how smuggling works for me:

I find to-do-lists to be suffocating, so I keep them to an absolute minimum. Instead, I use “have-done-lists” where I document all the things I ship during a day. The more I ship because I want to, the more energy I get.

If I feel down somehow, I take a break and I create something novel. For instance, a client could suddenly get a whitepaper with a detailed solution to a problem they didn’t even knew they had.

I pair up with talented strugglers, people who get lots of energy from absolutely crushing their to-do-lists, but who might get anxious about uncertainties. We can share the load while boosting each other with energy.

I introduce novelty to otherwise typical struggle-type tasks. In the gym for instance, I bring a notebook and I challenge myself to come up with ten interesting ideas during every workout.

Could this idea be applicable to your life in any way? I honestly don’t know. For sure, this could very well be the most nonsensical article I’ve ever written. Still, I sort of just had to ship it.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.