post written by: Marc Chernoff

9 Warning Signs You’re On the Wrong Track


9 Warning Signs You’re On the Wrong Track

“May you live every day of your life.”
―Jonathan Swift

A few years ago one of our close friends unexpectedly passed away at age 27.  Angel and I spent several weeks mourning, reflecting, and re-evaluating our purpose and path forward.  The aftermath of this tragedy reframed our thinking on many levels, and completely overhauled how we approach our lives, our dreams, and our relationships.

We suddenly realized how the fragility of life makes every moment so meaningful, and that most of us waste far too many moments immersing ourselves in needless distractions that steal our attention away from the things that actually matter.

If you feel like you’re on the wrong track with what matters most to you, here are nine warning signs to look for, and tips to get you back on track:

1.  All the decisions you’ve made someone else made for you.

There are people who live their entire lives on the default settings, never realizing they can customize everything.  Don’t be one of them.

You have to live your own life your own way.  That’s all there is to it.  Each of us has a unique fire in our heart for something that makes us feel alive.  It’s your duty to find it and keep it lit.  You’ve got to stop caring so much about what everyone else wants for you, and start actually living for yourself.

Find your love, your talents, your passions and embrace them.  Don’t hide behind other people’s decisions.  Don’t let others tell you what you want.  Design and experience YOUR life!  The life you create from doing something that moves you is far better than the life you get from sitting around wishing you were doing it.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Passion and Growth” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

2.  You’re only doing what you’re doing because it’s safe.

Never let your fear decide your future.  To play it too safe is one of the riskiest choices you can make.  You cannot grow unless you are willing to change and adapt.  You will never improve yourself if you cling to what used to be simply because it’s familiar and comfortable.

Accept what is, let go of what was and have faith in what could be.  The bold steps you take into the unknown won’t be easy, but every step is worth it.  There’s no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream, but this chase is what gives meaning to life.  And even if you have to fail several times before you succeed, your worst attempt will always be 100% better than the person who settles and never tries at all.

3.  You have chosen the easiest possible path.

Nothing in life is easy. Don’t expect things to be given to you.  Go out and achieve them.  Good things come to those who work for them.  Some have natural talent, while others make up for it with tremendous heart and determination, and it’s almost always the latter group that succeeds in the long run.

There is too much emphasis on finding a ‘quick fix’ in today’s society.  For example taking diet pills to lose weight instead of exercising and eating well.  No amount of magic fairy dust replaces diligent, focused, hard work.

Working and training for something is the opposite of hoping for it.  If you believe in it with all your heart, then work for it with all your might.  Great achievements must be earned.  There is no elevator to success; you must take the stairs.  So forget how you feel and remember what you deserve.  NOW is always the best time to break out of your shell and show the world who you really are and what you’re really made of.  Start right where you are, use what you have, do what you can, and give it your best shot.

4.  Obstacles are all you see.

The big difference between an obstacle and an opportunity is how you look at it.  Look at the positives and don’t dwell on the negatives.  If you keep your head down, you’ll miss life’s goodness.

There’s no shortage of problems waiting to be addressed.  When you see problems piled on top of problems, and when there seems to be no end to the work that must be done in order to resolve them, what are you really seeing?  You’re looking at a mountain of opportunity.  You’re looking at a situation in which you can truly make a difference.  You’re looking at an environment where you can reach great heights by raising the stakes and pulling the reality of what’s possible along with you.

When you look at an obstacle, but see opportunity instead, you become a powerful source that transforms grief into greatness.  (Read Flourish.)

5.  You are working hard, but making zero progress.

To achieve success and sustain happiness in life, you must focus your attention on the right things, in the right ways.  Every growing human being (that means all of us) has resource constraints: limited time and energy.  It is critical that you spend your resources effectively.  You have to stay laser-focused on doing the RIGHT work, instead of doing a bunch of inconsequential work, right.

Not all work is created equal.  Don’t get caught up in odd jobs, even those that seem urgent, unless they are also important.  Don’t confuse being busy with being productive.

6.  You have a started a dozen projects and completed none of them.

We are judged by what we finish, not what we start.  Period.

Think about it, you rarely fail for the things you do.  You fail for the things you don’t do, the business you leave unfinished, and the things you make excuses about for the rest of your life.

In all walks of life, passion is what starts it and dedication is what finishes it.

7.  You are too busy to connect with others in a meaningful way.

Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life for yourself.  Never get so busy that you don’t have time to be kind and connect with others.  The happiest lives are connected to quality relationships.  If you are too busy to share an occasional laugh with someone, you are too busy.

Truth be told, sometimes we’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are and who we’re with.  So lift your head up today and appreciate those standing beside you.  The people you take for granted today may turn out to be the only ones you need tomorrow.

Oh, and if you’re currently on the fast track to success, be sure to be nice to people on your way up, because you might meet them again on your way back down.  Remember life is a circle.  Everything comes back around.

8.  The people you make time for don’t make time for you.

Wrong things happen when you trust and worry about the wrong people.  Don’t make too much time for people who rarely make time for you, or who only make time for you when it’s convenient for them.  Know your worth.  Know the difference between what you’re getting from people and what you deserve.

Surround yourself with those who will support you when it rains, not just when it shines.  And above all, remember that people come and people go.  That’s life.  You have to stop holding on to those who have let go of you long ago.  (Read Emotional Blackmail.)

9.  You are playing a role in life’s drama circle.

Needless drama doesn’t just walk into your life out of nowhere; you either create it, invite it or associate with those who bring it.  Do not let anyone’s ignorance, hate, drama or negativity stop you from being the best person you can be.

Be an example of a pure existence.  Don’t spew hostile words at someone who spews them at you.  Ignore their foolish antics and focus on kindness.  Communicate and express yourself from a place of peace, from a place of love, with the best intentions.  Use your voice for good – to inspire, to encourage, to educate, and to spread the notions of compassion and understanding.

If someone insists on foisting their hostility and drama on you, simply ignore them and walk away.  Sometimes people will talk about you when they envy the life you lead.  Let them be.  You affected their life; don’t let them affect yours.  Those who create their own drama deserve their own karma.  Don’t get sidetracked by people who are not on track.

Next steps…

If you are reading this, smile.  Although nothing in life is ever guaranteed, you can always choose to make the present a positive, productive experience.

What you do with this moment is what’s most important, because the present is the steering wheel of your life.  The only difference between where you are and where you want to be, at any point in time, is what you are presently doing.  Your present actions can instantly steer you onto the right track.  From this moment forward everything changes if you want it to.  You simply have to decide what to do right now.

Your turn…

In what way have you traveled down the wrong track in life?  What have you learned and what changes have you made?  Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.

Photo by: Dustin McClure

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44 Comments

  • Great post. I totally agree that when we fill all our time with activities (which may or may not be meaningful) we are just spinning our wheels and taking up time that could be used more intentionally. This is something I’ve been working on for many years - I was definitely on the wrong track - and I’ve been making lots of progress.

  • If you’re rationalizing your own inactivity and believing it, that’s a huge minus… but it can be hard to catch yourself.. it took me years before I realized that was what I was doing wrong.

    You can recognize certain patterns and phrases that identify it as an irrational justification for procrastinating.. but you have to realize that it might not be true and be willing to question and review your own motives.

  • Hi Guys,

    9 plagues me most. Get caught up in drama, complain, rinse and repeat until death. Not good. When you are aligned with a definite purpose you have no time for garbage.

    Step outside. Breathe. Then go for your dreams. Sometimes you need a shock. I explicitly did not get a J-O-B while things were tight financially to keep my butt outside of my comfort zone.

    I ran into some interesting moments but at least I stayed on the right track. I was forced to grow, and now that I have been traveling the world for almost 31 months, and inspiring others to do the same, I feel blessed to have made this uncomfortable decision.

    No time for drama here ;)

    Thanks guys!

  • Most important thing for me: STOP dwelling on the past. Everyday is a new story. I know this, but I still struggle to let go.

    Thanks for the timely post.

  • Thank you for another timely reminder, Marc & Angel. I’d also add: When you don’t get satisfaction doing what you do and you’re still making excuses for not pursuing your passion.

    When you’ve become resigned and cynical, when all you see, like you said, are problems rather than opportunity to stretch yourself, that’s a clear sign you’re on the wrong track and you need to get off it quick.

  • It’s really easy to get suck on the easiest possible path (#3), especially if it’s comfortable enough to get you by every day. But if you’re silently suppressing the feeling that there’s something else you should be doing with your time and that you’re not fulfilling your potential, this path will only lead to distress and unhappiness.

    Paradoxically, it’s crucial for our wellbeing to be honest with ourselves and start pursuing what we truly want from life even if it scares us half to death.

    The good news is we don’t have to take it all on at once - baby steps does it as long as we’re on the path that we know in our hearts to be right. :)

  • Great article!

    #5 - “You are working hard, but making zero progress.”

    This is exactly what happened to me in the past and I’m sure there are millions out there with the same problem. These people (I was one among them in the past) will have lots of time to spend, but they don’t really know how to make proper use of it. I have wasted so much time in my life thinking and doing things that didn’t really matter.

    So, its really important to identify the “odd jobs” and focus on things that really matter.

    Vamsi

  • Great post Marc. We can definitely change our behaviour to create external changes in our life.

    I don’t know that I have felt like I have been off track in my life, but I’ve definitely approached it the wrong way at times. I believe that everything happens to us for a reason and there is something to learn in every situation. What I’ve found in most situations when I’m finding it tough, is that if I adjust my attitude, life becomes easier and I learn a lesson that I really needed to know.

    For instance, I used to be a bit of a control freak and stress head and I had high expectations of those around me. That created a lot of stress for me and, as you can imagine, didn’t help my relationships, especially with my young son. I found that when I was kinder to myself, I was also able to be more understanding of him and our relationship was a lot smoother.

    So often if we would just open our eyes, adjust our thinking and be grateful for what has been given to us, we learn valuable lessons that help us move in the direction we truly want to go.

  • Good read ! Could not have come at a better time .. what a great way to start my day .. Thank you.

  • Last year, I took stock of my life and realized that a lot of the things I wanted to do, were never done as I always found excuses for not following through with them.

    well, I decided to start a new project I called “project eliminating excuses in my life” and this time, I have accomplished a whole lot more and now I know I am on the right track!!!

  • You feel trapped by a bad decision or choice. Being a project manager was NOT where I wanted to be in my professional life. However, its saved me from being unemployed twice when my consulting and sales jobs ended abruptly. My choice to stay a project manager kept me employed, but put a cage around my heart.

    There are many days I stare out my window sorting out things in my head, and I see folks outside enjoying the day. This time next year I plan to be one of those people.

  • I’ve learned to do what is important and ignore the urgent. I’ve also learned to let go of people and situations that don’t support or appreciate me. This was a tough lesson to learn, but I learned it.

  • Sometimes I feel like I’m on the wrong path. But after reading this article, I am reminded that I am doing exactly what I need to be doing.

    I’m not living someone else’s life. I’m not following someone else’s plan. I’m forging my own path and doing it damn well.

    It’s easy to lose sight of these things when you’re right in the heart of your business. That’s why it’s so nice to read an article like this and be reminded that I’m exactly where I need to be.

  • I think I have been on the right track most of my life, but for 26 months my tracks have changed course. The first 18 months were just a blur, but now I see a different path. I am afraid to chose which path to travel down. Afraid of the unknown, and cling to the familiar. Am slowly making some changes. Always wanted to write, and have started writing a story. It is very hard for me to go out of my comfort zone, but every one step down a different path is a new experience.

    Thank you both and all of everyone’s comments. Yes, they all are valid points to consider, and apply to my journey.

  • Getting caught up in people’s drama is what I’ll start avoiding from today onward. Great post!

  • I’d add to the list the feeling of emptiness - that awful feeling you get when somehow you know that what you are doing is not what you are meant to do… I don’t know if that’s applicable but I got that feeling and many other signs of the list above some years ago and they made me realize that I was on the wrong path. Hopefully I’m on the right one now… great post as always :)

  • I’m coming out of a marriage that had a lot of drama. Reflecting on it all, drama does come from not knowing your own worth, which unfortunately can come from a difficult past- as mine did. No excuses though- there is a way to heal from it all.

    It’s difficult to walk away once you’re attached to someone. But it’s a must. I loved my husband, but he was too distracted by other woman, to the point I couldn’t tell whether he even found me attractive, and I gave more than I received consistently. I couldn’t tell whether these were just minor faults in him, narcissism, whether he just wasn’t “in to me”, or didn’t truly love me, or was using me. I only know I felt like he treated me like, “I was no big deal”. When it came time for him to step up to the plate for me, he put himself first instead, and the marriage imploded- talk about drama. Painful to move on, but healthy. Next time I feel this confused over whether someone loves me or has my best interest at heart, I’ll walk away with less drama.

  • There is a real challenge when you find drama as part of the culture. I’ve noticed a pattern among those who thrive on news with a negative twist. There seems to be nothing else to talk about. Even if there are some positive moments, they’re overshadowed by the wrongs. Sometimes they are people you have no choice but to regularly encounter, such as neighbors or co-workers~people who aren’t inspired themselves to talk about what enriches their lives, or aren’t educated even enough to express the simple joys of reading.

    My time with them is limited, but necessary. I accept them for who they are, yet extract myself from them to continue my own growth in my own direction, cherishing my own time.

  • “You are working hard, but making zero progress.”

    That is exactly what I am doing right now, have been working almost two years now on my online business without much success. This gives great inspiration!

  • I have no time or patience for pettiness, competitiveness and drama, especially of the out-of-control, irrational kind, to the point that half the time I don’t even know it’s there until it all blows up. And I have no problem whatsoever walking away from it.

    I only have two problems, or modifications I’d make to #9 though: 1) That whole “they’re angry or hostile or negative towards you because they’re jealous of your life” thing is a cop-out. It’s rarely the truth and is usually the excuse jerks use to take no responsibility for their own actions and to blame others for having a problem with them. 2) Sometimes, a person’s hostility or anger towards you is warranted, because you are not doing the right thing and/or not being truly honest, with them or yourself, and ignoring it or walking away from it only makes it worse. In this case, talking it out and/or an apology works wonders.

    In my own experience, I dealt with a business partner who didn’t even remotely pull her own weight and laid most of the work on me, and then took everything so personally that what work she did do couldn’t be discussed, no brainstorming could occur and nothing significant was accomplished for months on end, because she withdrew and “ignored” communications she didn’t like or thought were too negative or whatever. Her behavior held me and the business back to the point that four months were completely wasted until I couldn’t emotionally deal with it anymore.

    My anger and hostility were completely justified, and in the end, I was the one who had to walk away. Once I did walk away, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me and I was free. Things started seriously kicking into gear again and moving forward at an overwhelming pace.

    This experience made it even easier to walk away from a second attempted business partnership, where I felt like I was being strung along by someone who claimed they wanted to be involved in the business, but kept putting me off from even having a conversation about it because they were so busy. He was someone I considered a really good friend. By then I knew I wanted an equal partnership where we both pulled our weight and nobody was left hanging in limbo stagnating, and respect and friendship existed.

    Both of these experiences clarified what exactly it was I wanted in a partnership AND helped me come up with a solution that would allow me to do it on my own without any drama at all, that was actually easier with less sacrifice than the path I was on. Now it is all just falling into place at a steady pace and it feels good, instead of the rubberbands-wrapped-around-my-head feeling I had before while I was stagnant waiting in limbo for other people to make it a priority.

    So maybe you could add “if you’re stagnant and miserable, you probably need to course-correct” to the list.

    Thank you so much for all of your inspiring posts. I’m so glad I found your blog.

    Melissa

  • LOVE THIS! Brilliant list of indicators :)

  • Great stuff - 5 and 8 really hit home…

    The key now is for me to act on the awareness and knowledge, not just continue to coast on the easy path.

    Thanks for sharing and for the motivational tone!

  • Such great insight! Really speaks to me. Thank you.

  • I need to stop punishing myself for things that happened long time ago, it is not just getting off the wrong track but rather the baggage you carry with you once you get back on.

  • “You Have Started A Dozen Projects And Completed None of Them.”

    Profound! “Also, we are judged by what we finish, not what we start.” I can identify here. It takes a certain emotional maturity to commit to one or two things that are in line with what you want…then commit to what is usually a 90 day plan to make it happen.

    And when someone wants to grab onto many things, it’s usually a vote of no confidence in the ability to make one good thing happen.

    THIS was a powerful post!

  • This is a good list. I’m guilty of having the warning signs of 1, 6, and 8. Especially number 6. I have to remember to make my own decisions, finish what I start, and not be preoccupied over people not having time for me just because they have other activities to do. I’ve made the mistake of doing everything at once without getting support. I’ve learned to ask for help before attempting a daunting task.

  • Being busy but not being productive. I run my own business and have dealt with this a lot. After 5 years I am finally learning to use my time effectively so I can have a life and spend time living life instead of hiding behind always being busy. Thank you for your wonderful posts.

  • Wonderful article. The entire article is filled with so much inspiration and anyone who reads this will definitely gain something from it. In order to achieve something in your life, you have to stop looking at your past and start with a new perspective and embrace anything that comes your way… with a positive attitude.

  • Dear Marc and Angel,

    Thanks for an inspiring post once again.

    I’m happy to see that you included your first point since I believe that is the most important one of them all: “All the decisions you’ve made someone else made for you”

    I once read that 90% of the decisions we make in our lives are based on what everyone else wants. If this fact is correct, it means that we are only responsible for 10% of our own lives. Scary!

    The way to prevent this is to make conscious decisions that support our values everyday.

    Best,
    Anders Hasselstrøm

  • Patrick’s first paragraph describes me. I am comfortable and thankful for my current home situation, which makes it easy, but after being laid off from a 17 year job working for someone whom I thought was a close friend, (lost the friendship too) I was in shock mode. The job came to me and I took it without considering if it was what I wanted. I decided I needed to find the path that was mine that brought me joy. Soon realizing I have been living #1 for so long I had no idea of what my hopes, dreams or goals are. In my 60’s getting another position in this economy has proven very frustrating especially when I don’t know the direction I want to take. I don’t just want something, I want something that, as Patrik said, fulfills my potential, because so far it has led to distress and unhappiness. Ready to chase the dream if I could figure it out. Great post! Really needed these thoughts right now. Thanks Patrik for putting into words what I am feeling.

  • Tanks for another life changing message. I must commend Marc and Angel, you have really been part of my world recently. I have come to realize that I have to respect my opinion in all things, and believe strongly in myself no matter what.

  • @Ragnar: Many years ago, procrastination was my biggest issue. Putting myself on the spot for a daily review of my progress was an essential tool that helped me realize and overcome this bad habit.

    @Ryan Biddulph: Uncomfortable decisions like yours almost always lead to positive growth. Congrats!

    @Nila Sweeney: Good point. Excuses will lead you onto the wrong track, every single time!

    @Patrik Edblad: I couldn’t agree more. Very well stated.

    @Vamsi: The key is what you do starting today…

    @Susan Jones: Isn’t it fascinating how a simple change in our thinking alters our reality? Thanks for sharing.

    @Abraham: Congrats on your new, healthy project.

    @David Rapp: As cliché as it sounds, taking productive baby steps, as I’m sure you are, will get you where you want to be in a year. Keep us posted. We’re cheering for you.

    @Amandah: Great addition! Putting the important over the urgent is one of the most common issues I see people struggle with.

    @Betsy: Exciting! Congrats on starting your story. Just keep writing at least a page a day and don’t break the chain.

    @Bren: Thanks for sharing a part of your story with us. Food for thought.

    @J.: I do the same exact thing. Limiting time with negative people is a must in my book.

    @Melissa Webster: As always, excellent addition and back story. Thank you. I’m happy to hear you’ve learned from these past relationships and taken a stand.

    @Bernadette: As always, thanks for stopping by.

    @Dave: Awareness is important. Good add.

    @Susan: So true. Letting go of the old makes way for the new.

    @Anders Hasselstrøm: Yeah, that is a scary statistic. Regardless of it’s accuracy, it’s a great reminder.

    @Pam: Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to hear that Patrick’s comment resonated to deeply with you. This is precisely why I encourage everyone to share their insight here.

    @All: Thanks for another round of inspiring, insightful commentary. I’ve taken some new notes. ;-) Cheers, till next time…

  • Thank you! I really liked this article - I’ve had issues with spending time on/with the wrong people all my life, but I’ve been working hard on connecting deeper with the good people in my life and am definitely feeling more on track.

    I have always and continue to struggle with feeling like I’m making zero progress because of lack of focus. I’m so interested in life and I love to say yes that it’s hard for me to see the track I should walk. I’ll continue practicing, but do you have any suggestions on where I can learn how to do this better?

  • Inspirational post, thank you for sharing and thank you for encouraging me to get on with my coursework!

  • How do you know which work is the RIGHT work to do?

  • Sorry for your loss. I know it can be hard to cope with, however I’m glad it gave you guys the time and a reason to think about your path.

    A very inspiring post, it made me think of how life is so short and how every decision matters.

    Good luck in your future endeavours!

  • Great post. This is what I need right now. I have been trying to figure out what is wrong with me.

  • #1 “All the decisions you’ve made someone else made for you”, is “spot on” with my life situations because I always thought I was an independent thinker and then differed my one of my largest decisions to someone who I thought had my own best interest, and they did not. Your article allows me the means to move on slowly and forgive myself. Thank you both for your good work. Continue.

    Merry Christmas to you both.

  • All the decisions you’ve made someone else made for you.

    My life choices were mapped out as a child for me - work hard at school, be the first one to go to university out of the whole family, have a “career”. I’ve ended up here having done a degree I sort of enjoyed and doing a job I have flipped between loving and loathing. HOW do you find your loves talents and passions? I’ve tried all the quizzes and my answer is “I don’t know” to most of the questions. If there is / was anything there it’s buried so deeply and so completely I don’t know how to uncover it. And to be honest, I’m afraid to a bit. I fear that finding I’m so far away from what I want and have been like it for so long would break my mind. Then I have to ask myself how I pursue this and still make sure my family have a roof over their heads, food on their plates, clothes on their backs and my children aren’t subjected to ridicule because their dad is “following his dream”.

  • I am really really thankful to Marc for writing this article. You have truly inspired me. Thanks for the reminders.

  • I have been doing ALL of these for years!!!

    Man have I got some work to do…I KNEW it wasn’t in my head!

  • So glad I found this page! I’m 4 weeks into a new job and I just KNOW in my gut its not for me.

    Even just reading point 1: ‘All the decisions you’ve made someone else made for you’, confirmed what I knew was true: that I never would have chosen this job of my own accord. A recruitment agent picked me up and now I’m in a job I wouldn’t have chosen for myself.

    Time to sort it out and find something that I want to do!

  • I was really feeling down today & this just helped me so much. I had been working at this job for 10 months I ended up having a baby & had to go on maturity relief but I couldn’t get my job back. So I have recently been looking for a job but it’s hard especially when your breastfeeding & no transportation. This just gave me some good advice again… thanks.

  • Danielle Michelle`
    August 9th, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Every single one hit home for me.

    I have been diligently keeping my dreams and goals alive since I have been working at 16. However after graduating high school, the lack of interest from my folks and the lack of discipline within myself led to confusion, distraction and worry. My pursuits were clouded and self esteem dropped.

    I started let people define success for me. I allowed them to explain to me how unqualified I am, and the results that was “bound” to occur if I did not take their advice. I was going to be a robot too, and it would have succeeded if the dream and the plan was not pumping inside of me. I am scarily, but boldly saying “no” to their respectable pathways, and I am going to travel my own.

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