Next time you see a successful person think about that one ingredient, that one unknown human attribute that they have. They stand beside us and fill us with awe. We cannot even comprehend how a person, with the same necessary physical abilities as you, can achieve so much in so little time. “They must have some supergene,” we convince ourselves to think.
Some use this as an excuse not even to bother trying; others see it as the end to their goals. They become either their crutch or the finish line ribbon they must break to feel satisfied with their existence.
The truth is, there is no magic sauce. No one is better than you at every single thing. The thing that they appear to be better than you at, they just cultivated through hours upon hours of obsessive behavior and impeccable work ethic. Most people who seem to have this “magic sauce” become great at one thing, or at least one thing at a time. The phrase “you can do anything, but not everything” holds, but you should rephrase it as: “You can do everything, just not all at the same time.”
For example, if becoming a great reader of many books was a new year’s resolution, then you have two options: do you want to finish as many books as you possibly can, or do you want to have the complete comprehension of all the books that you read? One involves moving quickly, the other moving intelligently. Reading as many books as possible becomes a simple task then when all you want is to make a list of the books you have read and know that no one will question you about them. But instead, your goal should probably be to grow your intelligence and comprehension about the topics you are reading.
One or two books a month, and writing down a summary of what you read that day in a piece of paper( to reinforce comprehension) is probably a much better use of your time than turning pages with no goal other than getting to “The End.” Focus is the secret ingredient that makes people the best at one thing. They take their time, obsess over this single goal and maintain a laser-like focus on it.
Take online courses. I have been a proponent of online classes from the moment I found out that they existed. Other people close to me prefer the environment of a traditional classroom where people can ask questions, and live discussions are allowed to brew. This classroom environment had the opposite effect on me, though, an introverted person who merely survived this environment by sitting in the back, hiding behind someone, and praying that the teacher never put me in the spot.
Taking online courses, though, I could not only absorb the material at my own pace, but I could do so without the constant stress of being the center of attention. That can be a double-edged sword, of course, because some people will play the course videos on the background and skip the optional quizzes and projects. To get the most out of it, you have to treat online courses as traditional courses. You have to turn everything off but the video of the lesson you are watching. You have to put in the hours and do the work.
Doing the work
Doing the work is where most of us fall short of the task. Most of us aim, get distracted by something else, then lower our bow and never take the shot. We don’t want to do the work. We satisfy our brain pathways by merely talking about how “how great life would be if…” and then we abandon a project before even starting it.
Take at least a month and do the work. Reassess your project when the end of the month comes to decide if: You need another month, you will take a break from it, or you will abandon it forever. Not everything we think we want to do is as it seems from the outside. Maybe you have always wanted to be a commercial airline pilot. Still, when you enroll in small airplane courses, and you get to fly one for the first time, you realize how stressful and fearful you feel and get to experience first hand what it is, versus what you perceived it to be. That’s ok. You tried it, and now you can move on to the next thing.
The greats in any field make things look a lot simpler than they are. That is what seduces us. Take a rockstar, for example. Most of us wanted to be a rockstar at some point in our lives. I know I did. They make it look so simple and execute it with so much confidence. What they never talk about is the grueling schedule they need to have to make it to all the gigs to which they have committed. Traveling from one place to another and playing full sets with almost no real rest. That, without also considering the emotional pain of playing or singing the same songs that you wrote probably on your darkest hours of your life. To relive those emotions has to have a toll on you.
They are having to play full shows while sick or having to interact with interviewers, fans, and any human being that crosses their path in a kind and mild manner, even when you don’t feel like it. Who is perfectly calm, collected, and kind, with an ethical, moral compass 100% of the time? Why do we expect this, then, of artists? Public and press criticism adds another level of complexity.
Take also inventors, founders, CEOs, and the “evil” wealthy businessmen of any country. People criticize them for earning too much money for the little work they do. They compare their salary to their employees. Nobody talks about their 2 hour sleep days, never-ending meetings to keep the company afloat so that hundreds, maybe thousands of employees do not lose their jobs. No one discusses coming up with new ideas so that the company stays relevant, and the fact that their workday usually doesn’t begin at 9 am or end at 6 pm. It is typically never-ending, especially at the beginning. While their friends are binge-watching or binge-drinking, they are binge-packaging their product and mailing it themselves.
These people are approaching business owners randomly to talk about their services, and they are trying to get investors to lift them off the ground when they have already poured and risked all their cash and time investment they possibly can. They are learning website design while trying to keep up with the arbitrary IRS rules because they have no money to pay anyone else to do it for them. They could be homeless at any moment, and you call them up to invite them to a local bar, and then hang up on them mad that they keep saying: “No.”
Next time you criticize an entertainer, businessman, artist, or anyone who you deem is earning “way too much,” please consider all this.
Make a choice
Eventually, you have to make a choice. When you are 50-60-100 years old, will you be happy “As Is,” or would you wish you could return the product and get a refund? Will you complain, or will you try to understand? Will you talk about your plans and then fire up the grill or the gaming system, or will you write down simple, actionable steps to go through with your project?
You don’t have to do anything. That is the best thing about being an adult. It is all on you. But once you make a choice, you have to own it. You have to live with it forever. If you leave the Success Hotel, do not linger around in the Lobby, criticizing everyone that comes out of the room to walk around the city. Remember, you chose your life. Or at least, how you reacted to what you were given. A lot of successful people had impossible upbringings and illnesses or afflictions that would stop many on their tracks. You could have what they have if you put in the work.