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Comfort Zone Vs You: Real-Life Inspirational Short Stories for Fearless Living

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As kids, we are encouraged to make use of our imagination. We think outside the box, live freely and let our minds wander to the far side of our reality. We make up imaginary monsters with candle-light shadows, get a rush of adrenaline when we’re playing make-believe games. But as we grow up, our imagination is gradually boxed in and a new generation of adults is taught to live by the society’s norms, which usually means being just another brick in the wall. It’s ironic how society teaches kids to be creative, and yet, as they grow up the same society teaches them to aim for the 60-year-old “American Dream” that our grandparents achieved two generations ago. I believe it is because of how we are conditioned to live; to avoid fear, take fewer risks, have a stable job and insurance for practically everything we can get one for.

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Now, enough about my philosophical beliefs about how society has caged us to live a painfully average life, regret the decisions we make and end up in a mid-life crisis, grow old all alone and eventually wither away into nothingness. Because the purpose of this book is not to complain about how we’re all doomed to live an unsatisfactory life, in fact, I am writing this because I believe in the true potential that lies within all of us, which can be tapped into if we gather enough courage to step out of our comfort zone. There is a famous saying by Norman Vincent Peal, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I am a firm believer in this concept, I think while the fear of things not working out prevents us from trying, it also hampers our potential significantly and consequently keeps us from realizing our ambitions. I mean, we aimed for the moon and literally invented immensely powerful rockets that thrust humans to the distant rock hundreds of thousands of miles away, all within the span of a decade. This is just one of the many unfathomable feats achieved by mankind.

Reading about astrophysicists inventing rockets and astronauts putting themselves under otherworldly pressure to escape earth’s gravity might be difficult for you to relate with, but don’t feel gloomy just yet. All great feats have humble beginnings and often face failures – multiple failures. It is only when we do not let setbacks bring us down that we can truly unlock our potential, as will be apparent in the real-life accounts I am to narrate in the next few chapters.

By the time you’ve read this book of real-life success stories, you will be hard pressed to step out of your own comfort zone. Reading about how average people with average lives and no apparent string of good luck were able to realize their dreams will not only inspire you but also instill a kind of intrinsic motivation that will shift your attitude towards risks a complete 180 degrees. That is, of course, if you’re someone who shies away from them. You’ll see risks in a new light, what used to be something you thought way too ambitious or the stuff dreams are made of will start to look like an opportunity. You’ll break the imaginary walls you’ve built around what you are conditioned to believe to be precarious and conquer your fear of failure.

I like to analogize our lives with an extended reel of film. A film is only worth watching if it has certain ups and downs, lessons, struggles, character development and some depth in the plot. Similarly, we only feel a sense of actualization in our lives when we’re are satisfied with what we have achieved in life. Of course, that requires struggling to achieve our goals and going out of our way to improve our state of affairs in this world. None of which is possible without stepping out of our comfort zone.

Let’s begin, then, our journey of enlightenment at the end of which you will be driven to take audacious initiatives in pursuit of your goals with a zeal and zest you didn’t know resided in you.

Casey Neistat is an American YouTuber with a Networth of $12 million. Founder of a social media platform, Beme, that operated in partnership with CNN. He is a renown advertising director for companies like Nike, Mercedes, and Samsung. Owner of a Creators’ Studio based in New York. These are just a few of achievements by this guy but I think they’re enough to categorize him as someone successful, at least career-wise. You might think, a YouTuber with that much money? he must belong to a filthy rich family or that his dad gave him a small loan of a million dollars and you can never catch up to him on the ladder to success, STOP!

Read on ahead about how he accomplished all that he did and then think to yourself, was it sheer luck, or a whole lot of hustle and hard work. Did he cash in privilege he was born with, or did he step out of his comfort zone and literally create seemingly impossible opportunities for himself?

Casey Neistat was born on March 25, 1981, in a Jewish family to Amy Neistat and Barry Neistat. He had three siblings; Van Neistat, Dean Neistat, and Jordan Neistat and they lived in the lower-middle-class part of Connecticut. He went to the same school as the rest of the kids in his town and used to be what he called a “Bad Kid.” He tells in his “Draw My Life’ video that he and his brothers used to play near a railway track behind their backyard where they hung mayonnaise jars below a bridge and watched as they smashed in windshields of trains going through. Once they set a tree house on fire, while they were still in it! Needless to say, he got in trouble frequently at school as well.

But his life took a turn for the worst when he was in high school. At this time, when he was already going through different phases of being a teenager, his parents decided to get a divorce, which had an adverse impact on Casey’s life. He became rebellious. Started doing drugs and alcohol. It was during this period that he decided to move out of his house after an argument with his mom, at the age of 15! Looks like Casey had his head up in the clouds, little did he know what turns his life will take moving forward.

He moved in with his then-girlfriend, and while things looked fine for a while, his girlfriend soon got pregnant. Naturally, Casey had to leave high school and work more hours to make ends meet. They were now living in a friend’s basement for a while. He became a father at the age of 17. Due to having no formal education, he ended up working as a dishwasher at a seafood restaurant and could only afford to live in a trailer park with his new family. They were extremely poor and struggling to make ends meet, so poor in fact that they were on welfare for a while. But as the hard times passed, things started to ease up a bit.

At this point, Casey had a lifestyle similar to that of his father, who was, throughout his whole life, a Restaurant supply salesman. Like so many other people in that town, Casey could have stayed and worked at the same seafood restaurant to make ends meet, barely, and have a painfully average life. But he could not fathom bringing his son up in the same town he grew up in. He suddenly felt like he was caged, the town he grew up in suddenly seemed like a dead end. People like him have an intrinsic drive to make hustle and strive for greatness, no matter how poor their current situation is, they aim for the sky. He wanted to get out, wanted to explore more opportunities in life. But at the age of 20, he broke up with his girlfriend. His girlfriend didn’t have to stay with someone who’s prospects in life showed no signs of hope, that coupled with many other reasons is why his girlfriend left him. This was the hardest time of his life, he had no idea of where to go from here.

Before the breakup, he went on a vacation with his family to visit his brother in New York City. There he made his first couple of videos and immediately fell in love with the process. Soon it turned into his passion and he dreamed to move to New York City to become a filmmaker. But his family was in Connecticut and moving to New York seemed like the scariest thing to do especially when he had no plan or a degree. After separation, Casey could’ve lived the same life he was living before. Not having the responsibility of two family members would’ve allowed him to comfortably make ends meet working at the restaurant, I guess you could look at this as a silver lining in this whole bizarre situation. So, when his girlfriend broke up with him Casey reached a tipping point in his life and was faced with a difficult decision, lose all hope and keep living in a town that makes him miserable and a doing a job he hates or leave everything behind and move to New York diving headfirst onto a path of perils and uncertainty.

At the age of 20, he took the huge leap of faith he was scared of all this time. He packed up everything and took a cab to New York. What bothered him the most was not that he had no shelter, money, or a plan or action, but that he couldn’t meet his son anymore. This was also a major reason why he was reluctant to move to NYC in the first place but regardless, he pulled through. He looked at the bigger picture and knew that he didn’t want his son to think he’s a loser. Being a filmmaker sounded way cooler than a dishwasher.

He claimed that this was the hardest time of his life, his long-term girlfriend had broken up with him, he was away from his son, was all alone and back to doing an odd job as a bike messenger and had no place to call home. Despite all these setbacks, he stubbornly refused to lose hope and eventually got hired by an Artist for 10 bucks an hour his brother, Van Neistat, knew. This was his first job as a creative individual and it just proved to him if you stick to your goals, life has a way of eventually working out. But don’t think Casey’s struggle ends here, this was just a glimpse of a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day.

Just as Casey was looking forward to his future in the city, he ran out of rent money, which forced him to move out of his place. For the time being, he moved in a buddy’s apartment in the Financial District of downtown Manhattan on 2nd September of 2001. I guess you already know what happened next, the 9/11 attacks. At this point, he was freaked out by the shock and horror ensued by terrorist attacks, his family wanted him to come back home. His dad wanted him to come back and go back to washing dishes as he didn’t really believe Casey would be able to achieve much in life.

But Casey is a person who took chances with his life no matter how slim they were, decided the odds of him succeeding doing something else are close to none since he had no education, a stable job, or potential career prospects. He was still broke and basically homeless. He was aware of all this, he knew what his options were. At this point Casey had nothing to lose, he had burnt all bridges. So, he chose to do the only thing he knew, take another chance at life and gamble his way through these difficult times. He thought that no matter what, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

I mean, the guy literally got knocked out of bed while he was asleep when the first plane hit World Trade Centre. He stayed where he was and kept working towards his dream and hoped that maybe if he gets through the storm he’ll be greeted with sunshine and bright skies.

As he struggled through the chaos that his life was, things finally started to look good, he was getting paid more at his job, got a really cheap apartment in the city and kept making videos in his free time. These videos consisted of his own ideas, as well as his little venture with his brother which consisted of them shooting videos of anything anyone willing to pay them for. It was a nice way to hone their skills and make a little money on the side. Even though Casey was just doing what he loved for himself, little did he know where his love for film making was about to take him.

In 2003, Casey and his Brother Van made a video “iPods Dirty Secret” because Casey was frustrated with their dead battery policy. Casey uploaded this video on the internet and it went viral. It got such a massive response that Casey was invited to talk shows and got his story published in the likes of Washington Post and such. Mind you, this was way before YouTube even existed, it was back when there wasn’t even a concept of ‘viral videos.’

Finally, this was the start of something big. Things started to work out and Casey was finally being appreciated for the craft he spent years improving on. People started showing interest in what other stuff Casey had shot, he was now getting the attention he was striving for. In 2006 he was offered to shoot a much larger project, a TV show about himself, spanning over the course of one year, he was paid just enough to survive this period, not much. While a lot of people thought he was wasting his time and hell end up broke a year later and have nothing to show for, in 2008 his show was bought by HBO for just under $2 million. I guess you could call this his big break.

At this point, he had enough money to go on frequent vacations with his son, which is something he cherishes to this day. Moreover, he had found an audience for his films on YouTube. He felt that YouTube was his calling, something that he enjoyed and was passionate about doing. Even though he had gotten some success in his career, he didn’t let it get to his head. Instead of slacking off because he didn’t have to worry about not having enough money to pay rent, he kept working, perfecting his craft. Kept coming up with new Ideas, which eventually lead him to form the social media platform, Beme. Again, a lot of people called him out for being too self-absorbed in his creativity to access the practical use of his idea, which was basically creating software to record snippets of daily life and share them with the world. It was eventually taken in by CNN for $25 million.

While he was forming this platform, he also started a whole different kind of trend on YouTube that you see every other person getting into these days, he called it The Vlog. That’s right, Casey Niestat is primarily a vlogger. But don’t think he’s just like any other vlogger on YouTube though. He followed an extremely rigorous schedule to push out a video every day. This was something that took a lot of time to become beneficial for Casey, and during the time it took his Vlog to become popular he had to face harsh criticism by his own family for sacrificing so much of his time on something pointless. Apart from Casey maybe only his wife, Candice, to whom he got married in 2013 and now has two kids with, could tell you how hard that must’ve been.

On an unrelated note, if you’re interested you should check out a podcast by Casey and Candice, ‘Couples Therapy’, to get a more candid look inside their relationship and how Casey managed to balance his extremely busy work-life schedule.

To this day, he frequently uploads these videos on his channel which are now a source of inspiration and a positive start of the day to a large audience. Recently he embarked on a new journey, he calls this venture ‘368’ which is a creative space for creators all around to collaborate, grow, expand, and gain exposure and insight on their craft. Casey is an incredibly driven individual who’s obsessed with using his time in the most efficient way possible while inspiring others to do the same. That is something commendable, to say the least. But believe it or not, there are many who still think that even though Casey stresses that 368 is going to be a big thing, it is just a gimmick and will accrue no real benefit to aspiring creators.

Struggling throughout his life, Casey sure knows how hard things can be for anyone starting out their career and he is doing an amazing job of providing a safe haven, as well as a platform to slingshot struggling artists into recognition. Over the years he has introduced and collaborated with artists, big and small, from all over the world featuring them on his YouTube channel which has helped the young creators get a head start on the online platform, which every they continuously strive for.

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems as if Casey has everything made. Like the world is unfair and very few people in the world are lucky enough to be able to pursue their dreams and earn a living working at their dream job, while these outsiders spend their free time lousing around the house and being bitter about their lives but refuse to take any initiative to improve it. It is only when we look at Casey’s past that we learn how his struggles led him to the place he is today.

There are a few key elements in Casey’s struggle that you may not have picked up while reading, so I will take the luxury of pointing those out to you. Casey’s success wasn’t just because he was talented and had a great work ethic, it also wasn’t just because he was willing to step out of his comfort zone and put himself to turmoil and chase his dreams. While these qualities are imperative for anyone’s success, there is one thing that many of us have not noticed, which is how he persistently fights negativity. At every stage in his life, Casey has been faced with harsh criticism and swarms of people who refused to believe in him because they thought his plans were too ambitious. To this day he faces criticism from strangers about how he is an incompetent creator, a bad husband, a fake stuntman with hollow promises but what keeps him going is a passion for his craft, he’s driven to embark on a new journey, put his epic plans into motion.

From being lifted off by a huge prototype drone in a Santa Claus costume to swimming with the sharks to running four marathons in a week, Casey makes sure he goes through with anything his mind is set on no matter how outrageous it is or how much negativity he’s receiving for it. Casey’s own family didn’t believe in him while he was struggling, others made fun of him for talking about stuff dreams are made of, his relationships got seriously affected by his precarious behavior, but he didn’t let go of his dream. He believes inconsequential people in your life who try to bring you down are the usually the ones who don’t have the courage to take risks. Those are the people who surrendered their dreams and gave in to the slave-like life society has conditioned us to live. Those are the people who will try to bring people like you down.

I believe that just like Casey we all have immense potential in ourselves, but reaching that potential comes down to the willfulness of the mind. So, are you ready to take the radical measures needed to turn your life around? To conclude our current discussion, I would like to end with a quote by the man himself, “look back at your life, it’s always the hardest times that made you who you are.”

Bibliography:

  1. Neistat, Casey. “Draw My Life – Casey Neistat.” YouTube, narration by Casey Neistat, 9 Feb, 2015, Neistat.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6Y-ahQFQDA.

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