Here’s the biggest thing holding you back

As I was doing research for the book I’m currently writing, I came across this quote from an anonymous NASA employee:

“I am here today to cross the swamp, not to fight all the alligators.”

The quote resonated with me because we often do the opposite. We fight the alligators, instead of crossing the swamp.

The swamp is a scary, uncertain place. We may never reach the other side. In many cases, we don’t even know why we’re in the swamp in the first place and what’s awaiting on the other side. We’re afraid of who we might become if we cross it.

But we know how to fight those alligators, so we fight them. We spend our time doing what we know best — tackling our emails, attending endless meetings — instead of finishing that paper or launching that product.

It’s not like fighting alligators is completely unjustified. They’re there after all. They might present a danger to us. As the alligators scream their 100 decibel sirens for attention, we feel compelled to fight them. Rather than being proactive, we spend most of our days — and our lives — playing defense.

All this churn feels productive, but it’s not. We’re slaying the alligators, but the shore isn’t any closer. We’re winning each battle, but we’re losing the war. Each of us is a modern Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

What’s worse, a new alligator appears as quickly as another disappears. Each email we send generates even more emails. Each Facebook message, tweet, and Instagram post gives us a reason to return.

We have a choice.

We can keep fighting alligators and waiting for a magical springboard to show up and catapult us to the other side (Spoiler: There are no magical springboards).

Or we can ignore the alligators, focus on the important instead of the urgent, and cross that swamp, inch by grueling inch.

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Ozan Varol is a rocket scientist turned author and law professor. He has been featured on BBC, TIME, CNN, Washington Post, Slate, and Foreign Policy. He writes about contrarian thinking at

Originally published at on August 15, 2018.

Here’s the biggest thing holding you back was originally published in The Mission on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Author: Ozan Varol

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