Ayodeji is an author, writing coach, and digital marketing Director at MLT Group – A Minneapolis SEO Services & Web Design Services Company.

You’re either one of the two characters in this story.

A logging company hired two wood cutters to cut down 50 trees each.

The first woodcutter started chopping down the trees immediately. He spent hours and hours each day chopping down the trees. The first day he managed to chop down 15 trees, the next day 10 trees, and the next day 5 trees. He grew fatigued and wondered why he was chopping down fewer and fewer trees as the days went by.

The second woodcutter spent the first few days sharpening his axe. In the beginning, the first woodcutter laughed at him saying, “You do know the job is to actually chop down these trees, right?” The second woodcutter paid him no mind and continued to sharpen his axe.

The first woodcutter became puzzled at his behavior. He thought, “ I can’t believe he is just sitting there sharpening his axe while I am doing all of the work!” He grew angry with the second woodcutter and continued to hack away at the trees. 5 days passed and by the last day, the first woodcutter had successfully cut down 50 trees. That very same day, the second woodcutter, with his sharpened axe, cut down 50 trees, in one day.

The moral of the story: Work on “sharpening” your skills before trying to “cut down” the trees in your life.

The Common Misconception We Have About Our “Life Path”

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln.

Passion and purpose are the rage these days.

If you just find that one magical, mythical, wondrous passion, everything will fall into place. So you wait for passion to fall in your lap — and it never does.

Instead, focus on sharpening your saw, so when you see the tree you can whack it down in a few strokes.

I’ve told the story 75 times about the year I read 75 books. I kept hearing that success people read a lot. I wanted to be successful, so I read a lot.

At the same time, I started writing — not for money, not to for fame or business, but for practice. Hell, I had no idea you could make any money writing until much later. I was just tired of being lazy and I wanted to find skills to build.

I figured all that knowledge would come in handy one day and it did.

Those same articles I wrote for free three years ago, help me make thousands per month now. The knowledge I gained from reading helped me become a better writer, make better decisions, and spot opportunities I wouldn’t have noticed had I not been prepared to look for them — this is key.

If you have no idea what you want to do with your life, start trying to get good at something, anything. Having skills without knowing exactly where they’ll lead is better than having no skills and no direction at the same time.

Once you have some skills, you can use them to make more money, improve your life, and find passion through competence, which is the right direction to find it in.

How Skill Building Can Transform Your Life

Let’s say you’re broke and you have no skills.

How are you going to fight your way out of your circumstances? This is the common refrain I hear from most people — they’re too broke, lack resources, lack connections.

The truth — they lack confidence. If you have no skills, you have no confidence. If you develop skills, you’ll build confidence, and that confidence in your skills can help you create any type of life you want.

Here’s a hypothetical example I’ve seen happen in real life more times than I can count.

Jane decided to skip college because she didn’t know what to major in. She bounced around from job to job — making just above minimum wage — and she doesn’t know what to do next. She loves being on her computer — reading articles, playing games, and talking to her friends on social media.

One day, she stumbles across an article on computer programming. It looks interesting to her. She decides she’s going to start learning how to code and signs up for a free beginner’s class.

After taking the beginner’s class, she signs up for advanced courses — still reasonably priced — and after a while, she gets the hang of the process.

She starts putting little websites, games, and apps together — for fun — and continues reading the latest news on tech websites. She keeps coming across stories of other self-taught coders who built careers of their own without degrees or traditional experience.

She follows the same path and ends up with the same outcome — a well-paid job at a startup. It turns out the companies just want to know how skilled you are, not what credentials you have.

I’ve seen this story play out often. Someone learns a valuable skill — for fun at first — then realizes that skill is marketable and uses it to create their own careers.

Here’s a short short list of those types of skills.

  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Design
  • Coding
  • Video production
  • Marketing
  • Public Speaking

In fact, if you know a little bit about each area, you’ll have a weapons grade level skill stack — a group of related skills that have an exponentially greater value when combined — and you can pretty much take over the world.

Not only are these skills marketable, they’re accessible to all of us (hint: If you want to practice your writing, there’s this website that allows anyone who signs up to publish their work…….)

You can find online courses for dirt cheap on almost anything. You can build these skills on the side of your job — just for fun at first — and market them once you get the hang of them.

You can start developing skills for the sake of developing skills right now, but some of you won’t because you’re stuck in mental prison.

How to Escape Mental Prison

It’s a simple theme — one that permeates through every self-help article.

It’s simple and repeated because it works really really really well.

Work on yourself first, worry about your circumstances second.

Your circumstances can, in fact, block you from certain opportunities, but only when you have no skills. When you have skills, you realize all the traditional routes to success your Mom and 5th grade teacher told you are garbage — get a degree, entry level job, and let your soul rot away for 40 years.

This is 2018. The Golden Age. Where you can start a business for $100 bucks and learn for free what used to cost one hundred thousand dollars.

What do you have to complain about?

If you spend time working on yourself, the circumstances will fall into place for you. You can even think of the future you want — the industry you want to be in — and reverse engineer those skills.

I promise you. If you become so good you can’t be ignored, opportunities will come to you.

It’s all there for the taking.

But you have to escape from mental prison. You have to stop believing things that are no longer true about the world. You can get smarter.

While you’re building the skills you need to succeed in the Golden Age, Read books. When you are done reading those books, read some more books.

Yes, the articles about reading books are a little played out, but reading often is a superpower. I can’t explain why exactly, but it’s more useful than you can imagine.

A well-read person with a skill stack can’t stay in a mental prison because they’ll be ‘awake’ and realize the prison doesn’t exist.

Figure out what skills are required to get to the top, and work on them relentlessly.

I guarantee you if you work on yourself the universe will respond to you in a positive way. It may take a while for it to catch up, but it will. Opportunity + preparation = Success.

You may feel like you are in that forest with 100 trees right now. Take the time to sharpen that axe of yours. Wait until it’s so sharp that it will obliterate anything in its way, and when the time comes for you to clear the forest, swing it is hard as you can.

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Originally published at medium.com