I recently took a ‘Big-5’ personality test, which confirmed to me what I already knew about myself, with one surprising kicker.
I scored exceptionally high on trait openness. Meaning that I am, by nature, artistically inclined and open to experiencing new things. I was already well aware of this.
What I didn’t expect to see was that I scored in just the 35th percentile for conscientiousness.
Understandmyself.com had this to say about people with such scores: "They are not markedly decisive, neat, organized, future-oriented, or reliable, and they find themselves easily distracted.”
Gee thanks, internet.
But I knew the score was truer than my previous self-evaluation had led me to believe.
If I considered my wide range of interests and abilities, I could see that yes, it’s true. I have underachieved up until this point in my life.
That’s what brings me here, today. To write a letter to myself, more than anything. A few nuggets of wisdom, for the talented underachiever. Sound like you? You’ve traversed to this random corner of the internet, so chances are you're at least high in openness!
My fellow Jacks-of-all-trades, let’s become masters of some.
Become an effective student by believing in yourself
Don't withhold your gifts from the world (Source - Pixabay)
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Step 1: Live your life as though it were a story

Your body inhabits the material world, yes. However, the inescapable fact of life is that you live inside your experience.
Your emotions respond to the events and changing storylines around you more than anything else. Think about your deepest moments of bliss. Was there a sense that every facet of your life lined-up harmoniously for a few minutes? Did it feel as though the sky, the breeze and the external social world were all telling you that right here, right now, this is where you’re supposed to be?
If you tend to spread yourself across a variety of goals, social circles and values, this sort of deep, defining moment may be harder to access.
You, with your magnificent pluripotentiality, could well find yourself floundering about on the periphery of many, ideas, activities and relationships without achieving deep, sustaining meaning or success in any domain.
I believe that this comes from a failure to articulate the story of your life. 
Putting down on paper your future goals, as well as your values, strengths and weaknesses will help remove some of the fog around your own narrative, which you spend every day adding to, whether you know it or not.
Clinical psychologist Jordan B Peterson had this to say on the matter: “You’re in a story, whether you know it or not. If you’re in someone else's story, it might only be a bit part. And if you don’t know what story you’re in, it might be one with a really bad ending.”
If your personal story is carefully articulated, consistent and ambitious, then each stride within a particular domain coheres with the others, and contributes to success holistically.
If the story is not steadfast, then you will avoid tackling obstacles forthrightly. Rather than climbing the mountain in front of you, you’ll just wander off and find some new game to play, like a hyper-social Kindergartener.
Pick your story. You will, by the conclusion of your life, have played out an experience which is archetypal in nature. The question is, is it the archetype of the fool or the hero? I know which I’d prefer.
Guitar Practice
Achieve the feeling of deep work. Bless us with something original (Source: Visualhunt - Stevie B)

Step 2: Be the king who controls and directs his sub-personalities 

There is a part of every one of us that is impulsive to the core. It just varies from person-to-person the degree to which their actions are dictated by this part.
We all have our vices; it’s a simple truism about life.
And so we engage in a constant battle between our higher-order self, pursuing the righteous path, and the "semi-autonomous subsystems which make us up", that generate motivations and storylines which may be counter-productive to our well-being.
If the impulses win out, it’s an indication that “there’s no overarching hierarchy (of values) and there’s no king at the top.”
Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and even Roger Federer are people who we naturally admire people for their ability to suppress their immediate desires and emotions and play the long game. 
These people’s actions can be traced all the way up to their initial motivational roots and that’s why they are trusted and universally respected. 
So, how does this relate back to you my intelligent-but-slightly-lazy-friend?
It’s a reminder to ask yourself what your motivations are? Who generated the motivation for this action? Was it the King? Or was it one of those goddamn sub-systems looking for a quick fix of dopamine?
By questioning the motivations dictating your day-to-day decision-making, you can remind yourself to consult the higher-order self, not some slimy middle-manager.
Once you’re doing this, you can actually employ the sub-personalities to help the king with his duties.
For example, you can agree to donate money to an ‘anti-charity’ (an organisation you hate) if you fail to make a self-imposed deadline (props to Tim Ferriss for this one).
By activating your hip-pocket-nerve you can help achieve the goals laid down by the King.
As director Guy Ritchie said so beautifully, “you must be the master of your own kingdom.”
Pilates the fitness routine is named after its founder Joseph Pilates.
Limit your impulsivity and increase your focus (Source: Unsplash)

Step 3: Define your parameters for success (and failure)

 

So you’ve started living life like it’s a movie with a sweet ending and you’ve suppressed your impulses to the point where you're sitting pretty in the cockpit of your being.
Now, this part will be hard, I know you’re an innately curious individual, but now you must employ limitations. Focus on the things which matter to your life story and ignore that shiny golden looking thing over there in the distance.
Think briefly about the different domains, broadly speaking, that your life could be divided into (eg. for me, family, social, football, music and work). Then, think about how you would define ’success’ for that particular aspect of your life.
You define your measure of success how you wish, the most important part is - and I apologise for the cliché - that you don’t allow your satisfaction to be determined by external parameters.
Sure, you will receive invaluable feedback from people around you as you move along. Listen to it. However, the feedback ought to guide you towards achieving your self-defined goals, a 'congratulations' is not the result at the end of your personal production line.
One reason people often avoid defining success is that by doing so they also define, and make possible, failure.
Fear of failure can be paralysing and without it, I’m sure there would be a lot more artists in the world today.
Your first couple of projects probably won't take off as you hope for. However, they will set in motion the process whereby you may achieve something profound in the future.
Therefore, measure success, but not by the number of eyes which lay upon your work.
Personally, I define success in my creative endeavours as consistently increasing the quality and quantity of my output and conversely, define failure as the refusal to engage in this process of improvement.
Planning a good singing lesson is all about focussing on the student
Define success. You do have to risk temporary failure to do this (Source: Unsplash)

Take the Plunge

Carl Jung said, “The fool is the precursor to the saviour.” So I am encouraging you, nay, I am encouraging myself, to be a fool for a while, albeit a productive one.
Remember what we went over:
  1. Live life as though it were a story
  2. Be the king who controls and directs his sub-personalities
  3. Define your own vision of success.
Considering the difficult circumstances we all find ourselves in due to the coronavirus pandemic, this may be the perfect time to set your story straight and take the steps towards the kind of self-realisation you’ve been putting off.
If you really can produce great work, someone will be better off for you having done so. And that someone might be you.
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Jack

An English Teacher by day, a writer and musician by night. Teaching is my adult passion the same way Pokemon was my childhood passion.