Capacity, Not Conformity

Here at The Writer’s Life, we’re spending Thanksgiving week borrowing the productivity tips and success secrets found in one of my favorite books, Get Out of Your Own Way by Robert K. Cooper, PhD.

Today, I’d like to tackle one of the most dangerous barriers to your success as a freelance writer: complacency.

It’s very easy to settle into patterns of complacency. In fact, it’s exactly what our brain wants. You see, if you are not risking anything, then your brain assumes you are safe.

The problem is, in today’s world, doing nothing can be the least safe way to live your life. Let’s face it, most of our threats are no longer physical. What threatens us now is being replaced in our jobs. We’re more likely to lose income or self-respect — often due to inaction or lack of preparation on our part — than bleed to death from losing an arm or a leg.

But, the fight-or-flight part of our brain hasn’t made that switch yet. It still thinks we’re killing saber-tooth tigers and mastodons for dinner.

So, what our brain looks for is what are others doing and still being safe. And, that leads to conformity … following the status quo.

But, our greatness and true potential is found when we try new things. Explore new worlds. Do what we’ve never done before.

And that’s Dr. Cooper’s Key 3: Capacity, not conformity.

I think this quote by Orison Marden begins to uncover how powerful this idea really is …

“The most amazing powers to change our lives and the world are waiting just beneath the surface of our daily habits …”

It might be something as simple as setting a timer to write for 30 minutes without interruption. It could be contacting a prospective client and introducing yourself. You could take on a new type of assignment — something you don’t have much real-world experience in. Or even more basic, admitting to your family this week you are a professional writer … out loud … without apology or embarrassment.

It’s all about testing your capacity … without any reference or comparison to what anyone else has or has not done.

I promise you this, you have far more capacity for success than you can even imagine. The only way to find your limits is to simply try and push past your limits. I say try, because I believe few people ever get anywhere close to their capacity. Probably because so much can be accomplished just focusing on the direction you want to go and … well … going in that direction.

The results are often so quick and so noticeable we get scared and never truly push the boundaries.

You’ll notice in the quote above, the powers are “just below the surface,” not buried deep within.

For me, even approaching my perceived capacity limits opens up new worlds and new opportunities.

For instance, I once had the opportunity to speak on marketing for a local group. Problem was, they had just had a speaker in on copywriting the week before. Knowing I had some resources available to me through AWAI, I jumped in and offered to speak on “The Power of the Press for Business Success.” The thing was, I knew NOTHING about the subject other than it existed.

The results were beyond my expectations. A week later (and after some fast research on my part), I gave a presentation, landed a client, and got 11 glowing testimonials about my presentation.

So What?!

I’ll leave you with a quote from Steve Jobs’ now famous 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford University. (Take some time today to watch it on YouTube either for the first time or again). Steve was perhaps the greatest example of “capacity, not conformity” in the last 50 years.

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else’s life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Think about it, then let me know in the comments how you might expand your capacity. Be creative. And by all means, don't think about what others are doing. Be yourself. What can you achieve?

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Published: November 23, 2011

7 Responses to “Capacity, Not Conformity”

  1. There is lots of wisdom in this article. The element I deal with most is exhaustion.

    Guest (Maria Jacketti)November 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm

  2. Sean, You really hit my nail on my head this time. I have everything ready to begin my business but I'm having trouble sitting down and sending out my first mailing for some reason. I didn't understand the struggle I was having. But your article has given me some insight. Thanks.

    Guest (Jim Keller)November 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm

  3. I was identified as a leader at school, I don't even know how to spell conform.

    CarolynNovember 23, 2011 at 3:05 pm

  4. I was with you 100% ie totally; Until you quoted Steve Jobs at the commencement address at Stanford University. Steve was a great visionary but the enemy of American jobs. Ironic no? I love to deride people who use their chi/com Ipads to write pro american statements. How do you have free trade with a communist country that conrols their currency? Excuse me, I'm ranting .

    Guest (Robert)November 24, 2011 at 10:30 am

  5. "Don't Be Trapped by Dogma!" Culture protects itself through dogma, it seems. Social Psychology, some time ago, opened my vision. Facebook, didn't trust initially, now my comments are drawing global comments. Technology, on the other hand, as gone beyond culture traps. Simple "pistol loaded" statements, don't be trapped by dogma, hits faster than hundreds of dry articles. Thank you.

    JMStuart--Write2011January 20, 2012 at 11:16 am


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