There’s something that I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a long time. I’m not too comfortable sharing this because I’m afraid if I tell people, they’ll think I’m a raging lunatic. Well, here goes:
I have an allergy to the word “realistic!”
That’s right. It’s true. When I hear the word, I immediately get cramps in my abdominal region, my eyes puff up, and my armpits itch uncontrollably. I feel mentally confused, dizzy, and nearly vomit viciously.
I wasn’t sure what to do about this. If I consulted with doctors, they may have locked me in an insane asylum.
I had to prove to myself that my marbles hadn’t all escaped me. Lord knows they almost did. But that’s when Tim Ferriss took me to a Jets game with Gary Vaynerchuk and my symptoms disappeared.
Things started to make sense again but my soul just wasn’t satisfied. So, I did the seemingly impossible and went out to get 48 of my favorite people’s perspectives on one simple question:
What is the most “unrealistic” thing that you’ve ever accomplished, and what did you learn from the process?
Their insights have brought stunning clarity to my mind and I’m happy to write that my armpit itching has since ceased.
Seth Godin ··· Linchpin
Not sure I’ve ever done anything unrealistic, except for refusing to believe I was being unrealistic.
Chris Guillebeau ··· The Art of Non-Conformity
Overcoming my fear to move to West Africa and do something bigger than myself. Before then, I had a pretty nice life — I wasn’t killing it, but I had a nice small business that allowed me to play music at night and pretty much do whatever I wanted.
The only problem was that I wasn’t challenged. When I heard of an opportunity to pack it all in and move to Sierra Leone and volunteer for a charity with a two-year commitment, I was excited… and scared. It was unrealistic and not all that practical either, but it was the best decision I ever made.
Derek Sivers ··· CD Baby
I graduated college in 2 years, started a little company that made me $30,000,000, learned to scuba dive in an arctic lake in Iceland in the deep fissure between the tectonic plates, slept with a movie star, watched Peter Gabriel run up to me to say he loved my work, toured Japan as the guitarist for a Japanese pop star, made friends with my favorite authors, and married the girl of my dreams. (Most of that was in the last 2 years.)
What I learned is that all of this is as simple as doing laundry or anything else. 100 times a day you make a choice of what to do. Turn on the TV, or book a flight to Iceland? Browse Facebook, or contact your heroes? Relax, or create something new tonight? When you choose the “unrealistic” choice every day, you’ll be surprised how uncrowded and welcoming it is.
Leo Babauta ··· Zen Habits
Doing what I love for a living. I accomplished that in 2007 when I created Zen Habits and then quit my day job a year later. I never imagined I’d do that — I thought I’d be working for others my entire life. I learned that you’ll never do what you love unless you start doing it, every day.
Chris Brogan ··· Human Business Works
Great question. Everything I do is unrealistic. I started a marketing agency, told the world I sold to Fortune 100s, and they came. That’s pretty crazy, considering I had zero customers before I said that.
Brian Johnson ··· Philosopher’s Notes
First, quick context: It’s 12 years ago. I’m 24. I just dropped out of law school and I’m living with my mom (go me!). I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, when I come up with an idea to serve families involved in youth sports (think Little League baseball, AYSO soccer) by building technology that will allow them to easily create team and league web sites — filled with schedules, standings and pictures that grandma and grandpa can check out if they miss the game.
Before we even did anything, my vision was to have 1 million teams using it within 5 years. Everyone said I was crazy — including one uber successful guy who told me to (and I quote) “Take another hit off that pipe if you think you can do that.” Long story a little shorter, we created eteamz.com, won UCLA’s biz plan competition, raised $5+ million, eventually hired the CEO of adidas to replace me as the CEO and got to 1 million+ teams in just over 4 years (and now serve 3 million+).
I learned that if you REALLY REALLY REALLY want to do something, you’re committed to going for it and you’re willing to work on it thru the inevitable “WTF am I doing” moments, you can pretty much do anything.
Lori Deschene ··· Tiny Buddha
This is a tough one to answer because I’ve never done anything unrealistic — if it wasn’t realistic, it couldn’t have happened! I have, however, accomplished things that I once thought would be highly difficult to achieve. The recent one that comes to mind is my book deal. I always wanted to write a book, but I believed I was far better at writing shorter pieces, like articles and blog posts.
I later realized that a book is just many smaller pieces put together — and that’s true for a lot of things in life. Anything that appears to be big grows from one small act built on top of another.
David Siteman Garland ··· Smarter Faster Cheaper
Starting my own TV show when I was 22 years old, hosting it and getting it onto ABC. The lesson learned? Don’t become obsessed with the “how” to do something. Instead focus on the “what if” and the “why”.
Everett Bogue ··· Far Beyond The Stars
I thought the most unrealistic thing was when I quit my job and moved across the country. Now that seemed easy. I thought the most unrealistic thing was when I started a location-independent business that made money in my sleep. Now that seemed easy. I thought the most unrealistic thing I ever did was to take 1-2 yoga classes every day for two months. Now that seemed easy. Now the most unrealistic thing I’m going to try to achieve is searching for a deeper reason for the end society’s obsession with physical objects… We’ll see. Maybe it’ll be easy?
The more I focus my attention fully on doing superhumanly unrealistic things, the more I realize that anything is possible. You gain strength, power, and energy from being unrealistic. So do it.
Arsene Hodali ··· Dance Proof
I could talk about me jumping out of a perfectly good plane, surviving for 6 months on two hours of sleep a day, or about the 20+ schools I went to before I turned 15. But for me the most unrealistic thing I’ve ever done is, simply put, survive (on my own terms). A consequence of having survived the Rwandan genocide is that my mom became schizophrenic from it, and thus I had to somehow provide for my entire family while working less than 10 hours a week (a must because my mom needed supervision)… all at the age of 17. Game over, right?
I thought so too. But through hard work I was able to start a couple of businesses — including a dance business that works with the government to help at-risk youths stay in school through dance. Proud to say that now, just turned 20, I’m able to fully sustain for my family while working less than 10 hours a week (it’s actually been less than 3 hours a week for the past 5 months), leaving me enough time to pursue other interests. How’s that for unrealistic?
Adam Baker ··· Man Vs. Debt
In 2008, we decided to sell everything we owned, pay off $18,000 in consumer debt, and travel the world with our newborn daughter!
It was a crazy idea at the time — no really, a lot of our family and friends thought we were crazy. But we grew more as people and as a family than we could have ever imagined possible.
Karol Gajda ··· Ridiculously Extraordinary
One unrealistic thing I accomplished is starting a business while in university and earning far more than the GDP per capita by the time I graduated. Therefore, I never needed to look for a job upon graduation and never looked back from living a life of freedom. The biggest takeaway I got from this is that I need to believe in my convictions even when things aren’t going in my favor, and especially when they are.
Mars Dorian ··· Mars Dorian
The most “unrealistic” thing I have done so for is creating my own, unique digital career. I managed to build an entire business using my personality as a brand, while being willing to crash and burn occasionally. No matter how cheesy it sounds, when you follow your guts, ignore the outside resistance, and you take MASSIVE action, you will find your true destiny. It’s about crafting a laser-sharp focus on your path and implementing the trial-and-error method on a daily basis. Concentrate on what matters, and hack away the unessential.
Henrik Edberg ··· The Positivity Blog
Off the top of my head I would say that the most unrealistic thing I have accomplished is writing articles that are read by many thousands of people every day. It still boggles my mind to just think about all those people sitting in front of their computers each day, reading something I have written and, in many cases I hope, getting something helpful out of it. I could never have dreamed of something so awesome happening just 4 years ago.
Eric LaForest ··· Elevated Simplicity
I had worked for a telecom corporation for 10 years, making $73k a year, great health care and 5 weeks of vacation, and I quit. Without another job lined up or even a plan on future income. I’d had enough! I learned more about myself during this time than I had in the previous 32 years of existence, and would have been pissed if I’d allowed all the naysayers to detract me from gaining knowledge, courage, enlightenment and perspective.
Jay Baer ··· Convince & Convert
Without question, the most unrealistic thing I ever did was getting my wife to date me. I completely blew the early phase. I’m not good at playing it cool, and went full stalker from the get-go. Through incredible perseverance at a level I have never subsequently matched, I convinced her to be my friend — and eventually my girlfriend — over a period of years.
I learned the value of diligence, strategic planning, recovery from failure, and a bunch of other things that have proved to be invaluable. If I hadn’t been successful in that one, early endeavor my life would be a lot different — and unquestionably worse — than it is today.
Pat Flynn ··· Smart Passive Income
When I went to college at Berkeley, I was on a women’s rowing team! Let me explain. In 2003, I used to row for the Men’s Cal Lightweight Crew until I suffered an injury and was no longer able to row. At the same time, the Women’s Lightweight Crew lost their coxswain (the person on the boat who yells commands to the rowers). With a race coming up, they needed an emergency replacement, and I volunteered. We immediately bonded and ended up winning all of our races together!
I learned a couple of valuable lessons: Just because things aren’t “the way they are supposed to be” doesn’t mean that it can’t work out. Don’t let negative reactions stop you if you really believe in something. Doing things out of your comfort zone is how you get to experience new things in life. At the end of the year, I was awarded Coxswain of the year for the entire Lightweight Crew team, both male and female.
Corbett Barr ··· Think Traffic
The most “unrealistic” thing I’ve accomplished has to be becoming a “professional” blogger. When I started, everything I read talked about how impossible it is to earn a living blogging. Funny thing is, I now hang out with lots of pro bloggers regularly, all of whom started within the past two years. I guess we’re all a little unrealistic.
Glen Stansberry ··· Life Dev
I’d have to say that co-forming the LifeRemix.net group was one of the most unrealistic things I’ve accomplished. The fact that we were able to pull in the talent level of writers (NYT best selling authors, top world bloggers, etc.) into a nice little blogging family was pretty unlikely, yet we pulled it off.
Through the process I learned that having real conversations with people and putting them first wins every time. Also: quantity doesn’t equate quality.
Celestine Chua ··· The Personal Excellence Blog
The most “unrealistic” thing: Quitting a well-coveted Fortune 100 career to start totally from scratch and pursue my passion instead. It’s been less than 2 years and I now generate a 5 digit monthly income doing what I love to do.
What I learned (or rather, an affirmation of what I knew before that): Focus on value, and money will fall into place itself. While I track my income, I have never once set income as a primary goal and have always focused on coming up with ideas that will bring the best value for my readers instead. This has translated itself into results in all areas.
Annabel Candy ··· Get In the Hot Spot
I gave birth to my second child, a whopping 11lb 1oz (5kg) baby at home naturally, despite having a caesarean delivery for my first baby (who was also big, just under 11lbs). A lot of people think once you’ve had one baby by caesarean section, you have to have caesarean deliveries for all your babies. But I did a lot of research and planning, conquered my fears and readjusted my mind set, then surrounded myself with people who also believed a normal, natural delivery was possible after caesarean.
Many people thought it couldn’t be done, that I was crazy, never mind unrealistic, but I showed that you can make your goals and dreams become real, no matter how unrealistic they seem, as long as you’re determined to succeed.
J.D. Meier ··· Sources of Insight
The most unrealistic thing I accomplished was pole vaulting 10 feet. I never saw myself as a pole vaulter. I’ve never done anything so physically complicated from bending the pole just right to getting my body over the bar to releasing the pole… all in a flow. The day I did it, I first saw myself as the little pole vaulter that could, then made it happen. It’s true that what the mind can see, the body can achieve.
Sean Ogle ··· Location 180
People told me I was crazy to quit my cushy finance job in one of the most uncertain economic times in recent history. They said I was even crazier for thinking a move to Thailand and my goal of owning a business was any kind of feasible option. Well last month I made more money than I would have made in my “real” job.
I’ve learned that achieving unrealistic goals isn’t always hard. It just takes the willingness to take a chance on something that excites you — and when it works, it pays off tenfold.
Neil Pasricha ··· 1000 Awesome Things
Getting over a broken heart. It helped me learn that even baby steps add up, every day’s a new chance, and attitude means more for our future than memories do…
Melissa Gorzelanczyk ··· Peace and Projects
Quitting my day job! The process took over two years, but the lesson I learned applies to almost every goal in life: You have to take the first step. Then, do that every day until you reach your goal. If you keep moving, you can do anything — write a novel, be a good parent, quit your day job, get out of debt, lose weight. Just focus on one step. And repeat.
Gianpaolo Pietri ··· Simply Optimal
Four and a half years ago on Friday, I was sitting in a meeting with other architects going over the game plan for a big presentation to a client the following Monday. After agreeing to have everything I was responsible for ready, I went back to my desk, gathered up all my papers, threw them in the trash, went to the airport and bought a ticket to Helsinki, Finland to tell my girlfriend I wanted to get married. My surprise scheme backfired, and it didn’t work out, but by the time I got back a week later I had a new job paying me more money, and my failed escapade ended up creating a new opportunity.
I thought that was pretty unrealistic until I decided to quit my job (again), sell all of my things, and move to New York City to live life by my own rules and on my own terms while providing value to anyone who’ll listen. What have I learned? That no matter what, despite all the setbacks, failures, and hardships along the way, I would do it ALL again… and again… and again.
Tyler Tervooren ··· Advanced Riskology
I found a big, passionate group of people who think like I do in a pretty short period of time. When I was starting Advanced Riskology, I got a lot of advice from people saying things like “Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out right away” or “That sounds kind of radical. Are you sure people will listen?” I kept my expectations high anyway, went all in, and did it.
When you give yourself no other option, things work out a lot faster, and unsolicited advice from people who never believed in you anyway is no indication of what you’re capable of.
Lea Woodward ··· Location Independent
The most unrealistic thing we’ve accomplished? Back in 2006, we sold almost everything we owned, set up a business to run 100% online and took off to “move” to Panama to become location independent. Back then, it was much less common and we knew no-one else doing it in the same way we were.
What did we learn? That even when everyone doubts you and what you’re trying to achieve (especially those closest to you), you can achieve it anyway.
Sathvik Tantry ··· There’s Money Everywhere
The most “unrealistic” thing I’ve ever accomplished was when I convinced two close friends to drop everything and move with me to Santiago, Chile… literally on a whim. Other than wanting to start a business, we had no real idea about what we were going to do. We ended up getting plugged into a network of Chilean government officials, and nearly convinced them to give us funding to build a mining equipment trading platform.
Unfortunately the plans fell through at the last minute, and we decided to return to the states. Even though we failed, it was still an accomplishment in terms of a great adventure and a wonderful story.
Tripp Lanier ··· The New Man
Five months after graduating from college with an art/communications degree, I started my own business — having zero business experience. Within a few years I had an employee and enough cash to fund what I really loved to do — create, record and perform my own music.
I learned anything is possible if you have a vision, you’re connected to others and you’re willing to work hard.
Dirk de Bruin ··· Upgrade Reality
Turning the dream of hooking up with dozens of hot girls into a reality. Up until I was 18 years old I was the most shy guy in the world, too scared to even say hello to a pretty girl. I thought this was my fate and how I’d be for the rest of my life, but something inspired me to take action to change it.
A few years down the line, after much learning, practice, money spent and approaching literally hundreds of girls, I’m at the point where I can hook up with a pretty girl almost every night I go out. Awesome!
Josh Roa ··· 80 Day Millionaire
Cold-calling the CEO of New Zealand’s #1 SEO Firm directly and convincing him that he should take me under his wing, mentor me and employ me as his Personal Assistant. At the end of the hour-long call, he said he looked forward to me starting the following Monday. For many, that can be an impossible or unrealistic task, but amazing things are certainly possible when you have the motivation, perseverance and focus to go after what you want.
Another important part of this puzzle however, is the alignment of every other factor in order for your goal to be realised. Some call it “The Law of Attraction”, others, a “higher power” and the rest simply put it down to “good fortune.” Looking back, I can attribute all of my failures to a lack in one or all of those personal qualities, as well as that “right time” feeling.
Arina Nikitina ··· Arina’s Self Help Blog
The most unrealistic thing I have ever accomplished was finishing a 3 year university program in 3 semesters. It might not seem so “extraordinary”, but take into consideration that when I got accepted to The Biccoca University in Milan, I could hardly say two words in Italian. So basically, I was learning Italian by reading books on Business Psychology, Neurology and Biochemistry. It took a lot of time and hours of super-speed studying to pass my first exam, but after that, things got easier.
This is how I learned that every single person is capable of doing extraordinary things. Most of us just don’t know about it. Try and you will be amazed!
Peter Shankman ··· Peter Shankman
I never thought I could complete a full Ironman Triathlon with my schedule and the amount of business travel I do.
I learned that when you think you’re tired, your body can still perform. That goes for anything you do in your life.
Rob Rammuny ··· Rob’s Web Tips
The most unrealistic thing that I’ve ever accomplished was turning my entire life around. I went from a struggling drug addict on the streets to making a name for myself in the world. I’ve been able to go from the lifestyle everyone looks down on to the lifestyle everyone wish they could live.
I learned that change is possible, no matter where you’re at in your life. You just need to keep your head up and believe the unbelievable.
Chris Guthrie ··· Make Money on the Internet
I got fired from my day job in October 2009 and in the following year made triple the income I did while I was working a full time sales job. I learned that you can’t let your friends dictate what you can accomplish. In the weeks after I got fired people kept telling me that I needed to go get a “real job” and to quit wasting my time doing website stuff. The best part is that, even now, I still get that comment from time to time and I just laugh it off, because telling them that I earned well into the six figures a year from my “fake job” would just be rude.
Bottom line: if you aren’t working extra hours after you get home from work to build an online business, you should start now! Just remember to ask yourself this question before getting started: “How Does It Make Money?“
Tammy Strobel ··· Rowdy Kittens
I never thought I would leave my day job and start my own small business. Since the beginning of February, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned how to stop doing stupid work, to believe in abilities, and that relationships are the most important thing in my life. Developing amazing relationships has helped me become a happier and healthier person. Without strong relationships, I don’t think I would have taken the risk of starting my little business and following my dreams.
Dan Andrews ··· Tropical MBA
You put “unrealistic” in quotes, which is exactly how I think of it. That’s to say, I don’t think anything I’ve ever done is particularly remarkable. There are people who see the achievements of others and marvel at them and focus on the difference or impossibility of achieving something similar.
I’ve always sought to deconstruct particular successes, seek out things I have in common with them, and get moving on towards them. I think this is a fairly common mindset, especially amongst entrepreneurs.
David Risley ··· PC Mech
My life has been a chain of “unrealistic” events. Thing is, they were realistic when they happened, but not realistic beforehand. Everything from running my first product launch to becoming a dad.
What I’ve learned is that the idea of whether it is realistic or not is purely a perception, and not based on exterior fact. In other words, we put up arbitrary walls of “realism” inside our heads which serve to keep us within certain boundaries, and when we end up on the other side of that wall, you see it for what it is.
Charlie Gilkey ··· Productive Flourishing
Building my business is probably the most unrealistic thing that I’ve done. In its earliest stages, many people said that building a sustainable business from a website wouldn’t work. As it grew, many more experienced online entrepreneurs said that I couldn’t build it the way that I have – I’d need to be more salesy, more watered-down, and less holistic. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and learned a lot of lessons, but things keep getting better and better.
Next up: finishing a book and a dissertation in the same year, while continuing to grow the business. :p
Colin Wright ··· Exile Lifestyle
After I quit my last job in LA, I had a month’s worth of rent in the bank, no clients and an ex-boss who was looking for ways to screw me over and threatening lawsuits over all kinds of imagined wrongdoing. Despite these hurdles, I managed to cobble together a client-base, then build that into a business, and then build that into a flourishing business that was bringing in 6-figures of profit within a year.
Through it all I learned the value of my network, the power of incredibly hard work (when applied correctly) and that there are far more important things in life than money, though money can help you attain/achieve those things.
Jay Piecha ··· Suite J
I think just working for myself online is unrealistic! I’m a high school dropout from a fishing town with a pop. of 3000 people, who just decided to buy a computer when I realized “rock star” wasn’t gonna pan out. Everything I’ve done, I taught myself… I still type with two fingers!
Michael Donghia ··· The Art of Minimalism
The most “unrealistic” thing I’ve done is to get off my butt, start a blog, and write passionately about stuff that matters. It’s a strange feeling when you get to the point and realize that potentially thousands of people will read what you write, but it causes you to think critically and elevate your life to an entirely new level.
The scariest part is the fear that no one will care what you have to say. That can be a major blow to your confidence and self-esteem. But I’ve learned to kill that voice and follow my heart — the results always follow.
Jonathan Mead ··· Illuminated Mind
Deciding to live and create my life consciously. As much as possible every day, I do my best to decide to live the life that I want to. It seems like that should be the norm, but unfortunately it’s not. I think it’s one of the most radical things you can choose to do.
Peter Clemens ··· The Change Blog
I’m not sure if “unrealistic” is the best description of this, but certainly the most important thing I’ve done is travel for one year in 2003-04 after finishing university. Until this experience I was really just following a well-worn path.
Travel opened my eyes to the opportunities in the world and gave me a new outlook on life. It’s also how I met my wife and came to be living in Canada (I’m originally from Australia).
Dean Hunt ··· Dean Hunt
Speaking on stage to 300+ people in Washington in March of 2009. I’d previously believed, like many people, that public speaking was a fear worse than death. In this case, it was my baptism of fire… Not only were there 300+ people, they each paid $3,000 to be there, it was being filmed for a DVD… and all my friends, industry leaders and peers were in the room. The upshot of this little tale is that it went really well and I’ve done it numerous times since..
I learned that comfort zones are like muscles; they contract or expand depending on how much you stretch them… I believe very little in life, except that business of any real value is not done from within our comfort zones. “Money is where the fear is.” Life is too damn short, and when we are on our death bed, it is the things we didn’t do in life that will plague us, not the things we could have done better.
Dave Fleet ··· Dave Fleet
The most unrealistic thing I’ve accomplished was becoming a Vice President in an agency before reaching 30. I put the achievement down to sacrifice and hard work over the last 9 years.
That whole process taught me a lot; that you need to learn — early on — how to rely on others; that you shouldn’t be threatened by people smarter than you (they make my life so much easier); that you need to respect your team’s work/life boundaries; and that, sometimes, you need to put life before work.
Eliot Burdett ··· Peak Sales Recruiting
Some of my memorable achievements include going from not exercising to doing a triathlon within one year while I was in University, earning $100k in a year before I turned 27, speaking to an audience of 1,000 people, securing marquee accounts for my various businesses, becoming a CEO in my second start-up (I was a co-founder and VP in my first company, which my two partners and I sold) and becoming a father, twice! Another time I wanted to combat my fear of heights by going parachuting (which I did twice, along with bungee jumping twice), and in one of my zanier moves, I wrapped up a bunch of consulting projects to successfully start my current company while my wife was 6 months pregnant with our first child (something I don’t recommend anyone else do, btw).
None of these seemed unrealistic to me at the time — I just decided to do these things and set out to achieve them. Even future goals like traveling to the moon (on my version of a bucket list) don’t seem that outrageous to me — consider the advances in drugs and medicine that will likely allow me to live well past 100 (my goal is 150), which will leave plenty of time for moon travel to become commonplace. The bottom line is that (correctly or foolishly) I have always believed I can achieve any goal I set my mind on, so from my perspective I have never really had any unrealistic goals.
Here’s where YOU come in:
1. I would love to hear about the most unrealistic thing you’ve ever accomplished. Feel free to email me or drop a comment below and I’ll respond to you. I’m super inspired by this line of thought.
2. If you’re inspired by any of the above, it would mean the world to me if you could share this. How else will 8 million people be inspired?!
All photos are courtesy of the #1 travel photography blog, Stuck In Customs.