Today, Chris Brogan wrote a post about how to manage distractions to get the job done. Oddly enough, what caught my attention was not the meat of the post, but rather the first part, where Chris talks about how he “phoned it in” at various times and did or didn’t get desired results.That part really got my attention.

A bit about me and my phone

When I was in oh, fifth grade or so, I was phoning it in hardcore. I would wait to work on my homework till the morning it was due, and if that didn’t give me enough time to finish, I’d race to get the work done while the teacher was taking attendance. I’d work while the teacher was collecting everyone’s work. I hated that feeling – that cold sweat, that pulse racing. When I would wait to write my papers, inevitably the printer would run out of ink at the last minute. I’d run out of paper.

It just was not working for me. So I decided I’d start doing things that would lead to a higher quality of work. Then I realized that working as hard as I could was really rewarding. I made fewer dumb mistakes on math tests. I bumped all of my grades up. Phoning it in became a distant and harrowing memory.

Replace Phone with Fire

As I got through high school and college and into graduate school, my passion filled and overflowed the place where my phone had been. Not only did I not miss phoning it in, but I actually was driven to go as hard as I could and do the best that I could simply because I cared. It was important to me. I was striving for good grades, sure, but as time wore on, I also just wanted to learn as much as I could. I wanted to immerse myself in the experience. I wanted to make me proud of myself.

As I endeavored to do so, a lot of people looked at me funny and told me I was doing things wrong. In high school, a lot of the smart kids would brag before a test about how they had read the entire book the night before. When I’d tell them I’d finished the book 2 weeks earlier, they’d roll their eyes. In college, friends would always tell me my papers were too long. In graduate school, I was picked on because not only did I read every word of every book, but I also took painstaking notes.

“You don’t need to do that,” my peers would say. “Just read the first and last sentence of every paragraph.”

Most of my friends in graduate school finished their theses before me. In college, most of my friends got better marks on their independent study projects than I got on mine. I was never valedictorian.

I have no regrets, though. I learned as much as I could. I put everything I had into the work I did. While the grades and ratings were measurements of a sort, ultimately, they are not the measurements I care about.

Don’t back down and don’t give up

There are a lot of people out there who are ready to offer you advice. I only have one overriding piece of advice. Be guided from within. Use a compass of your own devising. And once you have that, don’t let other people or other pressures tell you that what you are doing is “wrong” or “crazy” (unless you are trying to cut a tree down with a herring or something like that). It can be hard to do things this way. It was hard to be the last one to get my thesis done. It was hard to be rated lower than my friends on the magnum opus of my college years. But I clung to what I believed was most important. They did so for themselves, too, and that’s how things ended up. I doubt that any of us have any regrets. We stayed true to ourselves.

What really matters to you? Protect that like you would protect a tiny lit candle on a windy night. If your readers aren’t digging your blog right now but you know that what you are writing is what you need to write, stick to your guns. If you are tweeting a certain way and people say, “Ew, why are you doing that?!?” don’t be swayed if you really believe you are doing it right for yourself.

But keep your ears and your mind open

This doesn’t mean that we should fence ourselves off from other peoples’ opinions and advice. There are always things we can add to our arsenal. We can always add another bit of fuel to our inner fires. And if you end up shifting course as a result, don’t let people tell you that you’re dumb for doing that either. We are like flowing streams, always changing yet always remaining the same.

And let me tell you a little secret. Are you ready?

The only advice that you’ll carry is the advice your ears and mind are ready to gather for you.

What really matters to you?

Are you on a path that you know in your heart is the right one, yet all you are encountering is pointy fingers and cackling laughter, doubt, maybe disappointment…things that are standing in your way? Hang in there. It’s hard. It’s really hard. But you will not regret fighting for what matters to you.  Make sense?