What the path to success looks like

Last night I watched the first episode in HBO’s new series Vinyl, which I loved and highly recommend. There was this one seen with Bobby Cannavale who plays Richie Finestra who started American Century Records (a fictional record company), and he is talking about how he worked his way up from the bottom and started his own record label.

It occurred to me, when I look at the people I respect and admire, the people I consider “successful” they have one thing in common, they worked for a very, very long time to get where they are. They have put in the 10,000 hours that author Malcom Gladwell talks about.

When I look back on my life, I’ve certainly spent 10,000 hours working; the problem is, it was on many different things, with no single focus or direction. I was all over the fucking place.

Let’s look back at my life starting with high school. I can’t lie; I was a complete mess in high school. I had absolutely zero direction and it showed. It is safe to say I spent more time goofing off then I did studying. I muddled my way to achieving a somewhat mediocre GPA which got me into a somewhat mediocre college.

It should be no surprise that I had no idea what I would major in. I really had no interests other than drinking, smoking the occasional doobie and watching porn. When it came time for me to choose a major I went with history. Why history? It was the only class in high school I got an A in.

One year into college I realized a history degree would probably only be useful should I be stranded in the woods and have no other kindling with which to start a fire. My major went from history to finance. Why finance you ask? I thought the stock market was pretty cool. Turns out it’s not, at least to me.

After graduation I worked as a financial analyst, which sucked, so I went back to school, got my MBA and found a job in marketing. That job lasted about two years before I quit and to start my own business, the brownie business, which you can read about here.

So as you can see, 10,000 hours but, 10,000 hours spent on 10,000 different things.

· Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours learning code.

· Anderson Cooper spent 10,000 traveling to war zones and reporting on what was happening.

· Howard Stern spent 10,000 hours working in radio.

· Casey Neistat, the youtube guy, spent 10,000 hours honing his craft as filmmaker.

· Jerry Seinfeld, 10,000 hours, performing, writing and learning the art of comedy.

You get the idea; the list goes on and on.

What does this do for me? It makes me worry. If I’ve not put in my 10,000 hours, how will I ever be successful? The individuals mentioned above their paths may not have always been linear but they knew what they wanted to do and they kept working at it.

Seinfeld did not work as an English teacher; delivering packages for UPS and waiting tables all while learning how to knit. His 10,000 hours were spent moving him closer to becoming one of the greatest comedians of all time, because he knew what he wanted to do.

I’ve mentioned that quote from Steve’s jobs about how you can’t connect the dots looking forward only backward, but honestly I’m totally flabbergasted as to how mine are going to connect. I’m sure many other successful people said they exact thing, but seriously look at my dots. If you graphed my life since, let’s say 1997(when I was 18) it would look very similar to a graph of the stock market, up, then down, up, then back down again, market crash, followed by a recession, then backup, followed by another crash, to where it is today, essentially the same place it was in 1997 or maybe even worse according to some. Read here.

Successful people are more like an individual stock such as Apple. Lots of ups and downs, but the net result is growth over time.

They way I see it I have to options if I want to be successful like that silver haired fox, Mr. Anderson Cooper. I can start now, chose something I’m passionate about, go after it, putting in the 10,000 hours needed to be successful or I can stop looking at my past as nothing but a long list of misdirected, mis guided failures and faith that someday soon, the dots will connect. That switching from a history major to finance major, working in finance, going back to grad school, getting a job in marketing and starting a brownie business will make sense.

If I go the route of starting now on my 10,000 hours, the road ahead is long and daunting but not totally unrealistic, but it is mostly unrealistic. Let’s assume I can work 7hrs a day on my craft, 10,000/365 equals roughly 1,428 days or just shy of 4 years.

Right now I’m going to choose to trust that my dots are going to connect. That I’ve been putting in my 10,000 hours albeit in a rather unorthodox manner. Maybe my path is different. Maybe my path to success does not look like other peoples? Are their people whose path to success looks more like mine?

Sure there have been plenty of people who failed numerous times or were fired repeatedly before making it big. I’m not referring to those people. They were as they say failing forward. They were failing or getting fired from jobs that were all related to what they eventually ended up succeeding at. It is the stories like Oprah being fired from a Baltimore news station, Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team and Steven Spielberg being rejected not once but twice from USC film sky. They all got rejected doing what they knew they were meant to be doing and just kept going.

I’m talking about the people out there who were all over the fucking place. People whose dots, when looking back connect but you are left wondering, how the hell did they. It took a little digging but I found someone whose story fits the bill pretty well, J.K. Rowling. Sure Harry Potter was rejected again and again by publishers, but let’s see how she got to that point.

Her teenage years were not happy ones. Her mother was very ill and she had a strained relationship with her father. She went to college and graduated from the University of Exeter with a B.A. in French and the Classics. Her first job was as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International in London, before moving to Manchester where she worked at the Chamber of Commerce. Throughout these times she was writing for pleasure.

She left Manchester to move to Portugal where she taught English as a second language, met her husband, had a kid, and got divorced. It was not a dream life. By all accounts she was depressed, considered herself an absolute failure and was living off welfare. You get the point. She like me was all over the fucking place. I would not be surprised if looking back on it now, she still has a tough time connecting the dots, but the fact is they connect.

Not everyone is Mark Zuckerberg and makes it big before their 25 birthday. Ray Kroc was 50 before he bought his first McDonalds’, Donald Fisher, the former CEO and Founder of The Gap, started the company when he was 41, having failed numerous times before. You can read more about other later in life success stories here.

The point is my path is my path and I have to remain faithful and committed. Not all paths to success look the same. They are not all up and to the right. They have twist and turns, side moves, back moves, little steps forward, giant steps backwards. Success comes in many different ways, from many different paths and at many different points in our lives.

Will my dots connect? We will just have to wait and see.