04/06/2015 02:58 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2016

Choosing Yourself in a World That Plays Favorites

I used to suck at basketball.

Gym class in middle school was the worst. I was always the last kid to be picked. The only reason I was even picked at all was because I was good friends with the best player in the class. I still remember how he would let out a heavy sigh of defeat before acknowledging, "I got Kevin."

True friendship.

In the eighth grade, I finally decided I was sick and tired of being a scrub. I dedicated that entire summer to getting better. I spent every day playing basketball, practicing for hours in the gym. I remember playing pick-up games with one group of kids until they all eventually got tired and left. Then a whole different group of kids would come in and I'd play them too.

After months of this dedicated routine, something amazing started to happen. People began passing me the ball. They trusted me to take the shot. They even started picking me first to be on their team! The last game of organized basketball I ever played was the culmination of all my hard work. Against a team far more talented than mine, I scored 27 points. We still lost, but I walked away from that game feeling like a total champion.

What I learned from those years of rejection and waiting to be picked was that life really isn't any different. Most of us spend our lives waiting for opportunities to land in our laps. What's worse, sometimes we feel entitled to them. And when things don't go our way -- when no one picks us -- we find something or someone to blame.

I could have complained when no one wanted me on their team. I could have convinced myself that I deserved to be picked. But I didn't. Instead, I took matters into my own hands and put in the work to become better.

How many of us are making excuses?

I can't find a job because the economy is terrible.

I'm not in good shape because I have bad genetics.

I don't have enough money because my job doesn't pay me enough.

I can't work on my passion because I don't have enough time/money/motivation.

Do any of those sound familiar? Maybe you've thought those things yourself recently.

Here's the truth...

No one is going to save you.

It's a wonderful realization to have, really. Because waiting on someone to hand you a golden ticket means waiting forever. But choosing yourself -- forging your own path and creating your own opportunities -- that means you can make things happen today.

There's a huge problem with shows like American Idol or Shark Tank; they fool us into thinking we have to gain the approval of middlemen, people who supposedly have the ability to determine our worth. We're led to believe that our ideas have to impress a panel of judges or else they aren't worth pursuing. That if we work hard and go through the motions, maybe our resume will catch the attention of that hiring manager; maybe our song will be picked up by that record label; maybe someone will read our screenplay and give our dreams a fighting chance.

Is that any way to live? To have our fate controlled by a chosen few -- people who in most cases don't even know us? I certainly don't think so.

But as it turns out, we have a choice. We can choose to create something meaningful, to use our voice, to move forward with our ideas. The gatekeepers are slowly fading out. Now, there's nothing stopping us from doing what we want to do.

The Problem with Fantasizing

I have a friend who hates her job, let's call her Tina. Tina works as an office assistant and routinely complains about how soul-sucking it is. She's one of the most passionate people I know about exercise and nutrition. For years now, she's talked about her dream of running her own health and fitness blog. Every time I ask her if she's started on it yet, she gives me the same excuses.

Things are really busy at work.

I'm so tired when I get home.

I'm not tech savvy at all.

And honestly, I get it. I've been there. Until I realized one day that life is always going to hand us a bunch of "mandatory" crap, and it's up to us to make room for the things that matter.

I spent most of my twenties fantasizing about pursuing my dreams. The problem with fantasizing is it gets you nowhere. Fantasizing is dreaming of the impossible. Impossible, not because you're incapable of achieving it, but because you have no intention of doing the work required.

When someone says, "I want to have my own business one day" but does nothing to move forward with their goal, they're fantasizing. People choose to hide behind fantasies because it's easier to put off the work, to make excuses, to avoid taking the risk.

Success isn't what you think it is

The most common fear for anyone pursuing their dreams is, "What if I'm not successful?"

The problem with that question is that most people's perception of success is skewed. We need to stop thinking of success as something that happens in the future. You don't achieve success once you have a certain amount in the bank, or when you finally reach the top of the corporate ladder.

Rather, success is being kinetic. It's doing, not just fantasizing. It's choosing to steer your ship and refusing to relinquish your fate to others. By this definition, we can choose to be successful every single day.

The results are to be determined. Maybe you'll turn your passion into a career. Maybe you'll start a side-business and make a little money. Maybe you'll have to keep your day-job and only devote your free time to your passion project. But the results aren't the focus here. The process is.

Want to be successful? Pick something you want to accomplish, then set a deadline for yourself every day.

Final Thoughts

If you want to be a writer, start writing. If you want to be a music producer, start producing music. It's never been easier to command your destiny. There's no need to ask for permission, no need to wait for the nod of approval from industry executives, no need for anyone to give you a green light.

Ironically, it's when we begin to pick ourselves that others start to pick us.

If you enjoyed this article, check out my guide, Stop Dreaming and Start Doing: How To Actually Do What You Love, for free at