Vino and Dami asked me a couple of weeks ago to write this guest post for The Connected Network. I was flattered. I was also a bit hesitant; for some odd reason, these guys think I’m a good writer. I’m really not. For one thing, none of the ideas I share are original. I’m not sure if they know that, or if you know that, but that’s the case with a lot of writers and speakers: none of the ideas are original. We’re innovators, not inventors – we take ideas and apply them to new ones.
In fact, as a writer, I find that the majority of my work is studying the people that have done what we wanted to do. This is what I call exploring.
I wanted to write about exploring. So, this is it:
I have spent the past 8 months or so exploring. I’ve done my best to figure out the lay of the land regarding success.
How? I discovered that I’m not absolutely shitty at writing, and that I’m actually sufficient enough to write for larger publications and blogs. This was an opportunity that presented itself; I always knew it was a possibility, but I never really thought of leveraging it for myself until I was given the chance to do it.
Using that as a vehicle, I’ve been able to connect with people I never would have thought of as accessible even just eight months ago. I’ve been able to ask them for advice (under the guise of an interview). Even better – I’ve been able to help out some of my heroes. Surprisingly enough, some of the people I interviewed actually liked my work (wtf?).
I want to tell you this right now:
You already have the gifts and resources that you need to reach your heroes and the people you want to learn from. (Notice how this is not a question. This is a fact.) It can be writing, and interviewing people like that.
Or, it could be offering free work. Whether you’re a graphic designer, an economist, or a biology major, you have the intelligence and learning capacity that people you admire would love to have on their side.
In return, you can ask them for advice. I remember during my two-week span at a startup, I was too nervous to ask the co-founders explicitly for time to chat. As an interviewer, I knew that I was offering value – but as a marketing intern, I figured I’d already taken so much of their wisdom and their intelligence
On the night of my second last day, I’d realized that this was one of my shortcomings. I’d need to figure out how to ask this intrusive question, unintrusively. I didn’t exactly figure the unintrusive part out, but both founders were happy to chat with me when I asked them if they had five minutes. (Simple, right? Yes, the chat went on longer than five minutes.)
Anyway, I found some other interesting things along the way of my exploring that I wanted to share with you.
Things I Discovered:
There is never a silver bullet. Ever.
Silver bullets are pipedreams. They don’t exist. They’re just like that one-thing fallacy in psychology (“If I had this one thing, I would be happy”). Silver bullets are either fake (gimmicks), or they are one step along the way. They are by no means a cure-all.
Jay-Z didn’t rely on a silver bullet. Ryan Leslie did not rely on a silver bullet. Kanye West did not rely on a silver bullet. Instead, they built their repertoire of skills and talents up, one record at a time.
Haruki Murakami didn’t rely on a silver bullet. Tyler Brûlé did not rely on a silver bullet. Zack O’Malley Greenburg did not rely on a silver bullet. (These guys are writers.) They are rigorous writers, editors, and entrepreneurs. They put in hard work every day of their lives.
Ask Vino and Dami. These guys are amongst the hardest workers I know. Sure, they both got a good head start in the earlier days in grade school, when there was less competition for extracurricular activities – but it’s still no straight road for either of them today. Instead, they work hard to figure out how to stand out when they apply for jobs. They work hard to figure out how to make their product better. (What up, Knok.me?)
Whenever you think to yourself, “If only I had x, then I’d be successful,” I ask you to reconsider.
Never forget where you came from.
That’s not to be taken entirely literally. Sure, it’s important to remember your hometown, your roots, and your old friends and family.
But, it’s equally important to remember what all that stands for. All those are essential, crucial pieces of you. So what I mean is never forget who you truly are – your values, your passions and hobbies, your pastimes, the people who stood up for you when you needed it – and never let the chaos of mob mentality dilute it.
To do this, I plan to invest a lot more time into deeper relationships with my friends and family, who have been a part of me since the simpler, and much happier, times.
There is no secret to being happy. But it’s easier learning to dance in the rain than figuring out a way to avoid it.
My friend Greg posted that quote on Facebook one time, and it hit the nail on the head with a hammer.
Success should be relatively simple. Move fast.
Discover what the path was, or the common elements were, for those people who you think have succeeded. Then execute on it ruthlessly. Set milestones and goals for yourself along the way. For example, if you wanted to be a millionaire by 30, how much revenue do you need to generate as an individual? How are you going to do it? What’s in the pipeline for this week? This month? This year?
This is what people mean by “moving fast”. I learned to see everything as a race: how can I get from point A to point B faster than everyone else? I could run. Or I could spend time looking for a car (if a metaphoric equivalent of that existed in the realm of my exploration. Think YC for entrepreneurs, BCG for consultants, or an internship opportunity to follow someone who excels in your field).
If I ever seem impatient, I apologize. The race metaphor sometimes gets the best of me, and that’s why I place an extreme value on my time. However, I do recognize that I’m often times hasty and should be recognizing that every moment should be enjoyed to the fullest.
Metrics are extremely important.
If your goal is to start the world’s best magazine, what metrics are you going to use to measure? What’s “the best”? I can start one tomorrow and call it the best – how many readers are you going to have to win over in order to be the best? What awards would you have to win to be the best? Who would have had to interview to be the best?
Try to find metrics that are more relevant and valid in a real-world scenario. Then reward yourself accordingly: condition your mind to associate reaching your goals with rewards.
A friend of mine once told me that everything has a process, and anything with a process can be measured in quantitative or qualitative terms. So, in essence, you can be measuring everything! Once you start doing that, then you’ll also be able to figure out where you’re getting stuck, and why.
Once you figure that out, then you can work around it and get unstuck.
You’ll figure out your mistakes faster.
Failure is Unacceptable.
If you set a performance goal (like I’m going to write three posts today) and you fail to reach it, that’s not acceptable. Don’t even let yourself sleep knowing that you’ve fallen short of it. Make sure your goals are just beyond your comfort zone, so that you’re training to move faster. However, it’s equally as important to make sure you’re meeting those goals, otherwise you’re not going to be moving as fast as you need to.
This post was almost relieving to write, because I wanted to create something tangible for myself to refer to down the line. Who knows? It’s very likely that a year from now, I’ll look back and laugh at how naïve this article was. Or, perhaps it’ll reflect some advice that I totally forgot about.
Anyway, I hope it helps. Work hard, move fast, and stay sharp.
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