Everything Truly Worth Doing Takes Longer Than You Expect
I have been a late bloomer in nearly every aspect of my life:
- I didn’t have my first girlfriend until I was 25 years old.
- I spent most of my early 20’s putzing around from job to job
- I spent most of my 30’s laying the foundation for my career as an author and a speaker. I started writing and interviewing people in 2009.
By the time my first traditionally published book came out, I’d been doing creative for close to 7 years, and I was 38 years old.
If you talk to anybody who has accomplished anything of great significance, you’ll discover that it takes far longer than they think it will.
The Greatest Myth About Dreams Coming True
Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny. — Maria Popova
One of the greatest myths of our culture is the one of the I’ve made it moment. Because we only see an outcome, we overlook the process that went into achieving that outcome.
By the time a professional athlete makes it to the league, they’ve been playing their sport for multiple decades. Thousands of hours of practice have gone into what they’re doing. Tom Brady is exemplary of this kind of dedication. When his college coach called someone on the New England Patriots, he told them “you’ll never regret drafting Tom Brady.” Despite being Drew Henson’s back up at Michigan, he still worked his ass off and was responsible for several late-game comebacks. Despite being a 6th round draft pick, he walked up to Bob Craft on the first day of practice and said: “Mr. Kraft, my name is Tom Brady, and I’m going the best decision you’ve ever made.” At the time, he was not even second string. The “I’ve made it moment” was years on end of showing up to practice and busting his ass so that he was prepared when opportunity knocked. It’s safe to say that part of what made him into the quarterback that he is today is a focus on the process instead of the prize
Mastery instead of Metrics
Sometime last week a friend called me to ask about starting a podcast. Many people in his life were encouraging that it was something he should do. He asked me for tactics, and I didn’t have any. But I gave him two simple, but hard to follow pieces of advice:
- If you’re not going do it for at least a year, don’t bother. That’s how long it’s going to take to get just a little bit of traction.
- Focus on mastery instead of metrics
Focusing on mastery instead of metrics means doing little things repeatedly. It means reviewing your work, being critical of it, and looking for ways to improve it. To this day, I still listen to every interview I publish multiple times. I’m not looking for what I did well. I’m looking for what I could have done better.
For example, a few weeks ago I noticed another one of my filler phrases. “That raises lots of questions.” I realized it was a completely unnecessary statement. If I didn’t say it, my transition from dialogue to question would be much more seamless.
Leaning into the Dip
The Dip is one of Seth Godin’s shortest yet most insightful books. It’s about quitting. If you do anything for a long enough time, two things will happen.
- You’ll wonder if you should quit
- You’ll experience a dip
After what seemed like a rocket ride to the moon in 2013, the year that followed I had one of the worst years of my life. Financial losses, friendships ending, and one setback after another made me think that I should quit. Anything truly worth doing will have a dip and obstacles. Often people quit right before the inflection point. And inflection points usually occur right after the dip.
There are also plenty of times when it makes sense to quit. When I was in 7th grade, I had the genius idea of going out for the football team. I lived in Texas, so it was the thing to do. But as a skinny Indian, I made for little more than a fantastic tackling dummy. I would likely never be Tom Brady. My band director then gave me a choice: be an average athlete or an extraordinary musician. The following year I didn’t go out for football, and I made all-state band 3 of the 4 years I was in high school. It was worth quitting football.
The Metric of Time Well Spent
We live in a world that quantifies every aspect of your humanity from the size of our audience to the size of our bank account. But in all of it, we overlook one of the most critical metrics in our lives. It’s the metric that Tristan Harris calls time well spent. Of all the metrics in our lives, it might just be the one that not only increases our happiness but also improves our results.
Deep Work is Time Well Spent
All of us have had one of those days when we check email first thing in the morning, followed by a peek at Facebook, followed by an Instagram upload. We rinse, wash, and repeat only to get to the end of they wondering where the time we went. When it comes to our digital lives, the overwhelming majority of our waking hours are the antithesis of time well spent.
The state of your attention determines the state of your life. When you’re able to focus on a cognitively demanding task for an extended period (aka “deep work”) your time is well spent. Deep work makes you happier and increases the likelihood of being more successful professionally. With deep work and deliberate practice, you start to plant the seeds for mastery of your chosen craft.
Socializing in Person is Time Well Spent
We’re more connected yet more isolated than we’ve ever been. We are in the words of Sherry Turtle alone together. Facebook friends are not viable substitutes for real ones. Online communities, while beautiful can’t replace our need for human contact. My friend Mike once asked me what the ratio was of human to online contact. I was kind of horrified when realized how out of whack that ratio was.
Part of the reason I wanted to do a live taping of the Unmistakable Creative for the book launch of An Audience of One was so I could see people in person. Getting to meet readers, listeners, and friends made it one of my favorite parts of the book launch. When I lived in Brazil, my friends and I would sit at dinner for 4 hours talking, drinking and eating. Those are some of my fondest memories of my time there. Getting together in person, whether it’s flying to a different state or country to meet a friend or dinner with your family once a week is time well spent. It’s something we should be doing a lot more of, with our phones, genuinely present.
Exercise is Time Well Spent
I’ve said before that when you’re stuck mentally, you should move physically. Exercise doesn’t just give you more energy. Regular exercise is a keystone habit that creates a ripple effect. You eat healthier food. It alleviates symptoms of depression and increases the quality of your sleep.
- My friend Joseph is 49 years old, and you could hardly tell from looking at him. He could easily pass for being in his 30’s. Exercise is a big part of his secret.
- My friend Gareth jokingly says that my dad is the Indian Benjamin button because he seems to be aging in reverse. Walking 7 miles a day and his zen-like demeanor is his secret.
Sleep is Time Well Spent
In Arianna Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution, all the research shows that sleep leads to increases in productivity and performance. Sleep is an underrated productivity hack that gives people a competitive edge in everything from professional sports to creative endeavors. In a culture where billionaires are praised for the 120-hour work weeks, and social media celebrities continuously speak in praise of hustling, the value of sleep is highly underrated.
Learning Something New is Time Well Spent
The internet has given us access to a fountain of knowledge that ancient philosophers could only dream about. They would likely be appalled at the wasted potential of the internet. Between TEDTalks, Podcasts, and platforms like CreativeLive we have a vast fountain of knowledge at our disposal. Learning something new and useful with it is time well spent.
Instead of asking ourselves what we got done on a given day, perhaps we should be asking if our time was well spent. Everything worth doing might take longer than you think it will. But if its’ time well spent, you’ll have no regrets.
Gain an Unfair Creative Advantage
I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.