Just when I think I’m onto something, the magical secret to becoming so fantastic and amazing, I start to see inconsistencies in mine and others’ theories. What I am finding is that there doesn’t seem to be a 100% agreed upon way to become a ‘master’, an ‘outlier’, a ‘supergenius’, a ‘super-talent’, a ‘standout’, or any other terms we use to describe people who have somehow elevated themselves above the rest of us.
Even as I read about what Geoff Colvin, in his book Talent is Overrated, calls ‘deliberate practice’ and how he believes this criteria can be seen in most of our ‘greats’, there still seems to be much debate over what other factors play a role in the success of many of our best-known giants.
Professor and author Cal Newport argues that pre-existing passion doesn’t have to exist to lead to great work. According to his research, creating value, research, mission, practice plus feedback, and time are the recipe for “work you love”. Author Robert Greene, on the other hand, argues that even the most brilliant person will struggle to succeed without an understanding of people and human nature. Therefore, many of his writings are about understanding the egos of ourselves and others – and just how to strategically navigate this touchy subject. Author, comedian, and success coach Andy Andrews teaches us that accepting responsibility, making a choice, persisting without exception, seeking wisdom, taking action, forgiving, and choosing to be happy are the keys to personal success. Super influencer and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk describes a world where everything is about getting attention, finding your lane, and patiently grinding it out to near exhaustion. Well-known hedge fund guru Ray Dalio advocates for using a set of “principles” in your work that revolve around transparency, systematic approaches to solving problems, and weighted believability of those involved.
I could go on and on.
I have bookshelves full of advice from smart and believable people. I have a YouTube feed full of videos just waiting to let me in on the secret to solving all of my problems. I have instagram nuggets of wisdom from those who have either made a name for themselves or those who are trying.
With all of this available at my fingertips, why do I sometimes end up feeling like I’m just running in circles? Why does one successful person’s advice seem to contradict another?
My thought is that maybe there just isn’t a final answer. As I said in a recent post on instagram, when we search for answers, what we often find is more questions. These questions usually lead us to being exposed to a new way of seeing things. To me, that might just be the answer. It’s all about seeing things a new or different way.
Even though there are wildly different views on just what matters when it comes to success, as well as wildly varying definitions of success – I have noted many common threads that seem to be woven into most strategies. Regardless of the platform, the personality, the unique ability, or their overall message – there are certain things that seem to be present in some form or fashion for all.
Below, I have listed 10 pieces of advice that I would say are fairly consistent suggestions no matter who you follow or what your goal may be.
#1 Overdeliver – Always do more than is expected or asked of you; do a world class job; build a reputation for excellence; provide the best experience one can have; build your name so that it is associated with the highest quality; Be the name people think of when they think of someone who will “do it right”.
#2 Process – Immersing yourself in the process is where you learn what it’s all about; try to enjoy the process; the process and what happens inside of you during that time is often the gift – not the end result of the process.
#3 Don’t expect pats on the back – No one is sitting around waiting for you to save them; the world is concerned with their own hopes and dreams and you should be doing things because you want or because they are the right thing to do; sitting around waiting on validation is dangerous and will most likely lead to suffering. Instead, strive for excellence for the sake of excellence (see #1)
#4 Practice – Even though there seems to be a lot of debate about how to define practice and what type of “practice” is necessary, the overall gist is that you can’t get good at something you don’t practice. How good you get and for what specific goal will determine what type of practice you need. Olympic or world-class endeavors will most likely require very specific coaching and practice that involves feedback from those qualified to give it.
#5 Patience – This one goes without saying, yet can be the hardest to accept and execute. We want it and we want it right now. We get excited about a new pursuit and we want it yesterday. Unfortunately, all successes require this component. It’s probably the most important in terms of sanity. It takes time to become good or great. It takes time to figure out where you want to go, where you belong, what you true voice and desire is. It just does. Put another way, “stay the course” is probably a good way to think of this.
#6 Other people – You have to somehow accept that living in this world involves living and dealing with other people. Realizing that everyone is in their own world and cares about what THEY want more than anything else is uncomfortable but helpful. In the world of working and producing and gaining opportunities, you must produce or do something that matters to someone else. People aren’t happy just watching others achieve. They want things for themselves. Therefore, you must do something that helps someone else, solves a problem, makes someone look good, teaches them something they need to move forward, etc. In essence, something of value to another person.
#7 Simplify/Clarify – You have you narrow your focus to a degree because scattered focus and distractions don’t lead to amazing results. There is simply not enough time and your brain can’t produce amazing things of quality if you have 1000 things competing for your attention.
#8 It never stops – This one should go without saying too, but I’m going to say it. Learning, evolving, adjusting, getting better – there’s no end destination. You don’t ever “make it” and then sit back for the rest of your life. The work never stops. There is always more learning, more adjusting, more challenges, and new ways. You have to keep going. Nothing stands still. New information is presented all the time. New technology is created. New ideas are available. New people enter this world. It’s a cycle. Accept this. “Making it” may just mean that you’ve accepted that you can handle whatever comes your way because you have done it before and you are mature enough to know change is coming – with or without your permission.
# 9 A project-based purpose mindset – This was a phrase I adopted to help me feel less overwhelmed by big goals. Basically, it’s the idea that everything you do can be seen as a project in itself. It’s the same concept as “being present”. This is my way of explaining the reality of day-to-day work that leads to greater things. You don’t necessarily have to have some grand life purpose – each and every project can have its own purpose – and therefore its own reward. Instead of having one rigid goal, it’s more likely to be just a long string of projects and events that build up to an interesting combination of skills and learnings – otherwise known as a life.
#10 You don’t have to be an expert at everything or do everything great – I often get wound up when I read books or hear motivational things – feeling like I have to do each and everything in my life as if I’m going for a gold medal. What happens is I feel defeated very early on – realizing it’s impossible to be amazing at everything. The truth is, most things just don’t require that much from us – and rightfully so. There needs to be only a few things that demand the utmost attention and excellence. Let the rest go. No one can do everything.
There you have it. A few bits and pieces that keep showing up in various forms. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but I think it captures some very common threads that I have seen from various influencers, authors, researchers, and successful people. But, the reality is, I’m not sure we’ll ever know anything for sure. To this day, we are still quoting relevant quotes of writers and philosophers from many years ago – who were plagued with the same problems we have today.
Geoff Colvin: Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else.
Cal Newport: So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.
Andy Andrews: The Seven Decisions: Understanding the Keys to Personal Success.
Ray Dalio: Principles: Life & Work.
Robert Greene: Mastery
Robert Greene: The Laws of Human Nature