You are ONE Word Away from Success
And How to Find Your Thing
What’s the word? you’re thinking right now, tapping your foot.
See, I know you. You’re a person in a hurry. You’re Young. Hungry. Smart. Creative. Time is your most precious commodity — and you just don’t have enough of it to read a five-minute blog post to get ONE word. Forget it: the Productiveness Ratio is just way too low.
I respect that. So I’ll give you the word right now. Then you can bank or dismiss it, zip off into Would-Be Success Land without wasting a minute.
Let me, er, repeat that.
Hold on, that’s not new! you say. Obviously, if you want to be good at something you have to do a lot of it. Some 10,000 hours, according to the principle of skill mastery popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. And other theories abound. You must be Organised. Solutions-focused. Goal-directed. Smart. Adaptable. Deliberate.
It’s all valid stuff, but let’s not over-complicate it. Success stripped down, owes itself to repetition. Doing something over and over, experimenting, tweaking, messing up, starting again, refining, honing, until you have a rare skill — not because you’re any kind of genius, just because you’ve done a boatload more of it than anyone else.
More than that, repetition propels you over 3 key barriers to success:
- Excessive focus on outcome: The wrecking ball of creativity. When you’re busy DOING, you have less room for an often destructive focus on winning or being great.
- Staying stuck on mistakes. Mistakes are acceptable when you’re in the process of doing or making things. In fact, bring them on! They help you find the way forward.
- Fear of failure. Repetition trumps all the excuses (I don’t have time; I’m not creative; I’m too old/young etc.) Repetition strangles fear by denying it the air it needs to breathe. Meanwhile your talent, without the weight of expectation or the fear of screwing up, gets to play, learn and grow.
But I Don’t Know What to REPEAT
Psychologists see a lot of young people who desperately want a Passion, something to throw themselves into, something to get up for.
Slow down, we say. Time’s on your side.
Writer Andrew Wilson, in his fascinating fashion biography about the late Alexander McQueen, says Savile Row apprentices spent five years learning to make a suit jacket. And for two of those years they only stitched lapels.
When I was 12 I wanted to be a great tennis player. I was quite good. I was about the same stature as the legendary Billie-Jean King and I read that she thought her sturdy thighs would wreck her dream. Clearly they didn’t. Aha! If one girl with sturdy thighs could conquer the world, I could too. But that dream didn’t last. I didn’t have the talent. I also didn’t have Billie-Jean’s work ethic, commitment or drive. I was lazy.
And I was lazy because tennis wasn’t my Thing. It was one of my things back then, sure, but it wasn’t the thing that kept drawing me back, that I thought about when no-one else did, that I would have talked about day and night, that I was almost embarrassed about my love of it. It took me many years to see that particular thing — and in the process I had to try an awful lot of other (very fun) activities. Which I don’t regret AT ALL.
Early talent is often a curse. You do something, like music or drama, debating or sports, and find you’re pretty good at it, then everyone starts telling you you are, and so before you know it, it’s your Thing. It becomes your Identity. Except it’s not really. After a while, you’re not even sure you like it that much.
But you’re too scared to let it go because you’ll lose a piece of who you are. You’ll lose your position in the world. You’ll lose RESPECT. So you stay with it and you get miserable.
How to Find YOUR THING
Trying to hunt down your Passion invariably ends in disappointment. Figuring out how to spend your life is an organic process. It takes time, sometimes years, or decades even. But the life you have already lived holds the clues as to where you should focus. It’s easier to connect the dots backwards, so try this.
- Take a piece of paper. On one side write down every activity you can ever remember really enjoying. On the other, write down WHY you loved it. Write (at least) three WHYs for each activity.
- Then rip the page down the middle and throw away the activity half. Making a snail farm or wearing a spiderman costume, for example, is probably not going to wash in the adult world. But check out the WHYs. Look for patterns. Look for themes. Then connect up the dots that link them. It’ll show up your own particular weirdness (in a good way); it’ll shine a light on your way forward.
Your Thing lies in the apex between what you enjoy and what you are (quite) good at. It may take a long time to develop and it may not come in the package you expected. Creativity and intelligence present themselves in a dizzying array of ways.
Remember, just because you are talented at an activity doesn’t mean you are handcuffed to it. You’re allowed to stray. If you cheat on Your Thing with some other things for a few years, that’s okay. If the relationship was real, you’ll be back.
You see, Your Thing will hang around. You’ll know it because you’ll think about it way too much, you’ll make (or sneak) time for it, you’ll research it and read about it, cancel other things for it, you’ll hide how much time you devote to it. Almost unconsciously, you’ll be repeating.
But here’s a warning. Check your motivation is internal, fuelled by your own skills and interests. Don’t be a slave to someone else’s demands, or some greedy corporation that wants your time, sanity and life blood, because you’ll burn out.
Whatever you do, DO IT FOR YOU.