Greatness Happens In The Shadows

Dwayne Johnson has a motto; always be the hardest working man in the room. This mindset has served him well, with careers in football, wrestling, and entertainment, leading him to be the biggest actor in the world today (literally and figuratively).

During that same time, we have also seen social media go from zero to full ahead, with people putting themselves under the microscope. Celebrities like Johnson allow us glimpses into their lives and show us the cars and jets and famous friends, so we assume that this is what their entire day is like. But what they are NOT showing us is where we should focus. That is where the magic happens.

We see the Rock’s impressive build, but we don’t see the thousands of reps it took to get to that point. We see the success of Game of Thrones, but don’t see the millions of words George RR Martin wrote before ever having a hit. We listen to Sweet Emotion in the car, but don’t think that the Rolling Stones didn’t have to pay their dues.

The one thing that everybody who has accomplished anything has in common is that the real work didn’t happen in the spotlight. That lasts only minutes. The real work happened in the shadows, and that is the work of a lifetime.

Why do people put in thousands of unsung hours? How do they grind out the reps each day, with no fanfare or recognition? There are a number of skills required, but it all starts with one:


You must first believe in what you are doing; that it means something and has value. Even if that value is only to you alone. This can be a vision of where you want to be in the future, or just for pure enjoyment of the activity — love of the game.


I’ve been coming back to this topic again and again because I can’t understress its importance. To improve you must practice every day. You’ve got to live it. You can’t just go into the shadows once; you have to live there for a large portion of your life.


Another popular topic. Why work on something with only half a heart or half a mind? When you go to the shadows you must give it your all. Focus relentlessly on your work and two things happen:

  1. It gets done faster
  2. It gets done better

This doesn’t only apply to how you work, but also what you work on. Focus on one thing and kick ass at it. Or focus on many things and succeed at nothing.


It gets lonely, working in the shadows. This needs to be balanced with friends, family, and good times. Think of them as micro-rewards. Or battery recharging sessions. If you live your whole life inside your head you can forget what and who you are living for.

Let Go Of Your Expectations

This last one is huge. You need to let go of any expectation of where your work will lead you down the line. You’ve got to embrace the suck, love the boredom, and keep pushing because you find meaning in your work that satisfies you on a personal level. Find satisfaction in the shadows so that you are not disappointed if you never make it into the spotlight. And hold your head high that it was not from a lack of effort.

Anyone you see, be it the Rock, GRRM, Keith Richards, or anyone else you admire — they got to the spotlight only through the shadows. Quit worrying about what other people are doing and focus on what you can do.

Start putting in the reps.

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