Ready, Aim, Fire: Developing Self-Mastery Through Exploration

Many people love to travel. For some, the thrill might come from the childlike curiosity of the explorer that lives within. For others, traveling is a wild adventure filled with spontaneity. Many of my friends simply love to “have a good time” in different locations. But to them, all this typically means is getting drunk and and spending lots of money at bars.

Some dance to remember and some dance to forget.

Like the arrival of spring after a long, cold, dark winter, the curious explorer experiences a re-birth into a newer and hopefully better version of themself.

Vacation Back to the Real World

Memories are made as life takes on new meaning. It is refreshing, even if just temporary. When vacation ends, we usually experience a melancholy disappointment. “Back to the real world,” we say. It is always bittersweet.

But the spirit of exploration that creates satisfying experiences for vacationers is more than just a component of travel. It is an attitude, which means it can apply in our lives when we are not on vacation too.

If nurtured appropriately, the mindset of an explorer could even transform your mediocre life into one of success and progress.

The Best Answers Come from Within

The answers to questions such as: “Who am I?” “What do I like to do?” “What is the right career for me?” cannot be found in a textbook. Even if they could, these answers would seldom be meaningful. The best answers to purpose-driven questions like these come from the diverse and enriching experiences of life itself.

As we grow, eventually adversity and failure find us. Our ability to navigate negative emotions like these are a key ingredient in the recipe for growth. As we “mature,” our institutions of education, people around us, and society’s cultural expectations replace our parents as the primary source of influence and guidance.

This comes with a cost.

Schools tend to teach us not to fail, rather than how to fail. Perhaps the sooner we learn how to fail, the better. Approaching new experiences with the light-hearted spirit of the curious explorer is helpful, but it is not enough in itself. We must take action too, and lots of it.

The ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’ Approach:

“Do thing and you will have the power.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When soldiers follow the famous commands, ‘ready, aim, FIRE,’ we should be thankful that they do so in this order. If the soldiers were to fire before they aimed, bystanders would experience catastrophic effects.

What can we learn if we apply this same procedure to our personal development?

Ready →  aim → fire.

Ready, Aim, Fire

Suppose you just finished your college degree. You are excited about the accomplishment and the next step of applying to a new job start your career. You get ‘ready’ for an interview through preparation. You ‘aim’ your pitch at the employer in an effort to impress. After getting the job, you ‘fire’ your best effort at success, but the job does not provide what you were seeking. You either quit or get fired. This is common for many young people, myself included.

You may start a new job, implement a new daily routine, or start a new workout program to bolster daily energy. You get ‘ready, aim, and fire’ in an attempt to create a new habit, yet you may notice that interest and motivation tends to wane over time.

There is nothing wrong with you. This is perfectly normal. If success and fulfillment were easy, nearly everyone would be loving life. This is not the case.

‘Ready, Fire, Aim’

All is not lost. In fact, if you still have your explorer’s hat on, the fun has just begun. In a classic book by business consultant Jeffrey Olson, “The Slight Edge: The Secret to a Successful Life,” the author shares useful insight about daily habits and how they can be utilized to constructively forge this process of self-mastery.* 

Let’s observe one suggestion from Olson’s book that would be unthinkable in military training and adjust this phrase.

‘Ready? …Fire …Aim!’ → (Repeat)

Why the re-shuffling of the words? The primary reason is, we cannot possibly have all the information needed to ‘aim’ exactly where we want when starting something. Sometimes we need to ‘fire’ first. If less planning is done when getting started and instead prioritized for after the action steps occur, the ongoing inputs from the journey can teach invaluable lessons.

More often than not, the first thing needed in any human endeavor is to experiment by trying a few things (‘fire’) before we can perfect the plan (‘aim’).

‘Do’ First, ‘Plan’ second

Conventional wisdom suggests that successful people need to “know what we want to do with their lives,” or “devise a plan,” or whatever people may say. When our plans fall short and we do not reach a goal, sometimes others can even be judgmental. “Well you deserved it” or “you must not have tried hard enough,” the social Darwinists may say.

No pressure, right?

Unfortunately, because of the misplaced fiction that planning is a one-time, static process, rather than a variable process that occurs over time, an exorbitant amount of energy is usually wasted in premature planning.

Whether brief or thorough in the initial planning process, when the time to do something finally comes, the actual process of execution will almost certainly look nothing like the plan. Since reality differs from the initial plan, a mismatch is created.

This is where the process breaks down for most people.

As a result, we are likely to feel a loss of energy and motivation. No matter how much passion you may have about the action, the process begins to feel like work and this can be demoralizing.

When this happens, you may even begin trending down, rather than up on what Olson calls “The Slight Edge.”

Personal Growth over Time

Even if you do manage to ‘dance to remember’ and push through the motivation barrier with an explorer’s mindset, if you do not return to refining your vision for the future, the lesson will be lost.

The planning we do after taking action is far more important than the planning that occurs before starting something new.

Enjoy the Journey

We know that if any human effort is going to ultimately become successful, the initial plan will look like a rough draft of the later plans. In some cases, it will look pathetic and embarrassing by itself. But judge yourself not.

Any writer, entrepreneur, or person who has found success on their career path can attest, destinations like best selling books, profitable businesses, or fulfilling dream jobs, only emerged along a journey which consisted of numerous smaller steps.

Ready, Fire, Aim.

Practicing the habit of regular and consistent planning allows us to gather the vital feedback that helps us ‘aim’ toward our future. But oftentimes, the action needs to take place before the real planning can commence.

Successful people recognize that the best thing to do is to do something, even if imperfect. It is only after taking action that adjustments can be made. When the planning process gets continuously refined in this way, self-mastery is within reach and you might just ascend like a rocket ship.

The joy is in the journey.

Do what the Rocket Does

Speaking of rockets, we can learn something significant by considering its functionality.

Olson explains in “The Slight Edge:”

“The rocket starts from point A (its current position) and heads for point B (the moon). As it travels its first few miles, it gets slightly off course. Now the rocket’s gyroscope shows one reading, while the rocket’s instruments show that it’s actually headed in a slightly different direction. The gyroscope, …is always pointed in the right direction, the direction the ship actually wants to go.”

“And so it goes, from here to the moon, a constantly occurring series of adjustments turning what is predominantly a string of failures into ultimate success.”**

Through its use of the gyroscope, the rocket remains on track to reach its destination through a series of constant corrections in its journey. Despite being off-track nearly the entire time, the rocket reaches its goal.

By applying this same systematic approach to our lives (without the complex math of rocket science), ultimate success is virtually guaranteed, as long as we re-orient ourselves by ‘aiming’ after we ‘fire.’

Things just might not turn out exactly the way you “planned” them.

A Final Word

All the pressure we put on ourselves, including the self-doubt, becomes a secondary factor when we consider the underlying dynamic that governs the process of personal growth. This is especially true when you look at the context of growth over time.

The fact is that we do not always need to move in the right direction to end up where we are meant to be. This came as a huge relief to me when I considered it, just like a vacation. Perhaps, like the rocket, all we need to do is return to the action that we took, consider how well it worked and what we can do to move onto the next phase.

Perfect action is never necessary but imperfect action is always better than no action.


*Olson’s book, is an easy 162 page easy read which describes how our habits either work for us or against us. It is a worthwhile reminder that the little things that we do matter.

**See chapter 9, “Mastering Yourself” for an insightful break down of mastery.

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4 thoughts on “Ready, Aim, Fire: Developing Self-Mastery Through Exploration”

  1. I found this to be an enlightening view into a scary place most of us have been. Weaving our way through this phase of our life for most of us called for plenty of soul searching. Thank you for the explanation that many of us neened. The missing link shall we say.


  2. I really liked this article. It shows how we should live the moment instead of getting lost in what titles we can gain and how much money we can earn. Things never or seldomly come as we think, and re-learning, as well as re-thinking and the ability to change plans, is more important than following the same goal because of social pressure. Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”


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