You can do whatever you want. Seriously.

I’ve said it before. I doubt it sometimes (like everyone) it but I’m in a constant battle to prove to myself that it’s true.

Last week, Robert handed me three books and asked if I’d read them for as research for 50 and pick out all the important parts. That coincided nicely with the fact that I’d already read, tabbed and written about them on my own. Now I was going to get a check for it.

Fridays, now, are study days. I redid my schedule, basing it around something I’ve wanted for a long time: A day spent totally on learning. I drive back to college and spend most of the day in the library. I go to a few classes, but mainly it’s just a day for learning. I take books, my laptop and an iPod and spend the entire day working. I read Academic Journals and archived articles from Lexis Nexis. It’s what I wanted and what I worked for. I not only found a person who was understand enough to see that I needed it but great enough to see that it’d help with everything else I did.

I get paid for all kinds of stuff that I didn’t even know it was possible to make money doing. Stuff I used to do with my friends in college, sites I’d read anyway for fun, what I do to relax, things I can’t even talk about publicly – it’s all interwoven into the niche I’m setting up for myself. And slowly, it’s being filtered through a schedule that keeps me sane and excited. It was hard, sure, but it wasn’t impossible. I just listened to people who cut their own path before me.

I’ve always known that I was a bit different – that I had something that most people don’t have. But instead of feeling confident, like that was an asset, I doubted myself. I knew that I wouldn’t be doing what everyone else was doing but I didn’t know that I’d be doing something better – I thought I’d be rejected instead of doing the rejecting. (Or something close to that. Needless to say, it wasn’t a positive state of mind) That’s how it works, the system is aimed at breaking people who can disrupt it. The superficial incentives all point to mediocrity and sameness. But when you leave that state of mind, everything changes.

It’s scary sure. It’s not somewhere devoid of work or effort or inconvenience. Still, it is a space where your priorities are the things that matter to you – not other people – and you don’t waste time on things that mean nothing. Since that makes you massively, massively more efficient, you start lapping people. And then you learn about a wonderful thing called cumulative advantage.

Here’s my thinking: You can do whatever you want for as long as you continue to believe that it’s true and it will be. When you start resigning yourself to “this is what I have to do” or “this is what I have to be” that’s when you’re done. So don’t. It’s pretty simple. Find out what matters to you, decide what you want and ask for it.

(And if you want evidence of how shitty it feels to be broken and bitter and full of cognitive dissonance, just wait and read the comments)

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.