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Toss out the paint-by-numbers systems and follow these five steps instead

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Look, I know you want to be that big badass with the sweet-ass house and all the fancy letters after your name, but let’s be honest for a second: There’s no formula for getting that. Here’s what I can offer you instead.

Step 1: Ignore every step-by-step system for success, including probably this one.

Insane, spectacular success is achieved by doing something exceptional and extraordinary. To achieve something exceptional and extraordinary, you must — by definition — do something that few or no other people are doing or are willing to do.

Therefore, wild, insane, spectacular success can only be achieved by actively going against what others have done and believing you…

Your brain wants to protect you from your own decisions, but you can decide to override it

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Deciding to become a full-time freelance writer was itself a full-time job for me. I spent hours every day — for months — making lists of the pros and cons of being self-employed. But the more I deliberated over it, the more anxious I got, and then I would start the process all over again.

It feels a lot like what happens at the supermarket: I’ll pick up a box of cereal only to put it back down again and come back to it later.

The human instinct to weigh up the risks associated with each option is a survival…

The counterintuitive magic of putting time limits on your tasks

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For most of my working life, I lived by the principle I’d absorbed as a child, one I heard often both at home and at school: If you want to succeed, then put in more time. Long after my co-workers had gone home, I’d still be toiling away at my desk, convinced I was proving my value.

But when I eventually became a psychologist and started looking into the work habits of hundreds of entrepreneurs, I noticed something strange: The most successful people seemed to spend the fewest hours working. They’d spend a lot of time thinking about business strategies…

It’s basic math, really

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Life is a constant series of trade-offs: Everything you do is something you choose at the expense of something else.

Many of these choices, especially on a day-to-day level, are meaningless — for instance, both a banana and an apple are perfectly fine snack options, and your selection probably won’t alter the course of your life. Yet some choices come with profound implications. Say you’ve been offered an exciting job, but accepting would require moving to a city you might not like. You have just a few days to decide. What should you do?

To make the best decision possible…

As Forge turns one, we look back at the stories that helped us make sense of the last 12 months — and provide a blueprint for your future

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One year ago, we introduced our new publication, and characterized its world like this:

“Self help” has come a long way, and in its current iteration we talk more about progress, bravery, and mindfulness; doing more, and being more creative. The field has become less gendered, more universal and global, and a whole lot more interesting than it once was.

Here at Forge, we’re all obsessed with the individual’s engagement with the world. What we didn’t know in June 2019 was how crucial that engagement would become. The pandemic, the ongoing fight against racial injustice, and the financial crisis are…

Because your to-do list isn’t cutting it

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Are you a productive procrastinator?

Maybe your friends see you as fiercely productive, but you’re secretly avoiding the one thing that actually matters — that difficult conversation with an underperforming employee or addressing a key threat in your business.

To the outside world, I’m one of the most fiercely productive people around. But on the inside, I know there are a few things I’ve been putting off — important things that need my attention.

Even if you’re a relentlessly productive person, there’s probably something important you’re avoiding, often on a subconscious level. Perhaps it’s having that difficult conversation with an…

This two-question combo can help you look past the validation-seekers and find the most intelligent thinkers on your team

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What’s the fastest way to identify the most intelligent people in a group? Start with an easy question. Then ask a complex one.

Say you’re on a Zoom call with your marketing team. You need ideas on how to spend the last unallocated $5,000 of your campaign budget. There are a lot of different directions you can go, so whose ideas do you trust? Shailesh Panthee, a doctor in Nepal, suggests that opening with an easy, straightforward question is a quick way to reveal who’s eager — maybe too eager — to prove themselves.

For example, you could say, “Remind…

It’s time to look elsewhere for the fulfillment we hoped to get through our careers

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Over 15 years ago, before the financial crisis of 2008, I started working at my dream job. I was among that fortunate cohort of university graduates in the early 2000s who entered a workforce in which it still seemed possible that we could do anything if we worked hard and believed in ourselves.

For me, this meant working in book publishing: I’d always loved reading, I had a degree in English Literature, and I had a vision of myself sitting at a desk in fashionable (?) …

Illustrations: Katya Dorokhina

How to Write Anything

How to master the art of the nudge

This story is part of Forge’s How to Write Anything series, where we give you tips, tricks, and principles for writing all the things we write in our daily lives online, from tweets to articles to dating profiles.

I once waited eight months for a job offer. That’s 240 days from interview to “Let’s talk salary.” While this delay was partly due to the cumbersome budgets and org charts of big media companies, I’m convinced the offer eventually came because of one reason: I kept following up.

Crucially, my follow-up emails to HR were light, not accusatory. They were the…

Words and phrases that keep you happy, sane, and paid

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Imagine a world without words. Impossible. If you’re a freelancer (many have recently joined the club), the words that come out of your brain — especially those that cross your lips, wind up in an email, or on a printed page — shape your business and help create your future. Will you get that project? Will your client expect something different than you had in mind? Is that meeting really “on?” Your vocabulary determines it all.

As I’ve shared in my book, Freelance Heaven, your words give your current and potential clients and colleagues a sense of who you are…


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