If You Don’t Become a Student First, You’ll Never Be Great at Anything
Studying is boring, which is why few students ever become masters
“Repetition can be boring or tedious — which is why so few people ever master anything.” -Hal Elrod
The difference between the professionals and the dreamers is that the professionals actually become students of their craft.
They study it. They buy books about it. They ask others about it.
They live and breathe learning and improvement.
It’s not just 10,000 hours of it, either. Becoming a student means developing your deep work abilities. It means you practice deliberately. Simply put, an accountant can still be a terrible accountant after 10 years of work.
Most people will never take the time to ever become great. This is largely because for most people, “good” is good enough.
As Jim Collins famously wrote:
“Good is the enemy of great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”
If you’re ever going to be “great” at anything, you need to become a serious, committed student of it.
Most people will never do this, which is why most people will remain average at what they do.
“If you want good things, you must do your best. Go hard. Fight.” -Ahmad Ashkanani, professional body builder
If You Want to Improve, People Are Going to Laugh At You
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” -Epictetus, Ancient Stoic Philosopher
In his iconic book The Magic of Thinking Big, David Schwartz describes an effective way to sort out those who believe in you and those who don’t.
Schwartz recommends simply telling someone that one day, you’re going to be huge.
Maybe this is a VP of your current company. Maybe it will be the founder of a $50M startup. Maybe it’s to own your own company, traveling the world with your family while you help people become successful (that’s my one).
Their response tells you who they are.
Most people will scoff in some form. They might even be nice about it, but doubt in you is still doubt.
See, most people simply don’t think achieving that level of success is possible for you or them. And a declaration of the contrary counters their worldview, which makes them uncomfortable. So, they lash out to feel better.
“The great achievements in this world are reserved for those willing to look like a fool in the eyes of society.”
Sadly, most people find the scorn of others more powerful than the power of their own dreams. They feebly admit they have high dreams, receive the typical jeering, and fold under the humiliation.
If you want to improve, you need to be OK getting laughed at.
This is how greatness is achieved. This is how becoming a master works.
First, they laugh at you. Then, they criticize you.
Finally, they brag to others how they know you.
Learning, growth, and improvement are far more important than anyone’s criticism.
If anyone laughs at you for working hard to become a student of success, then good.
They’re confirming you’re on the right track.
“Haters confirm greatness.” -Alex Charfen
Here’s the Simple Formula to Become a Master of Anything
“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember, that’s where you will find success.” -Thomas J. Watson
I spent about 12 consecutive years failing at this one, specific thing:
Trying to stop looking at pornography.
From an early age, I began using pornography as a crutch to help me through my days. I was a quiet “C” student with a stuttering problem, and I discovered pornography could give me relief from my anxiety — if only temporarily.
I knew it was wrong, though. I grew up in church. I felt bad after every single time. I knew I needed to stop, but I failed every time.
When I finally decided to go to counseling for my addictive behavior, I realized something encouraging from my decade of failure:
I had learned exactly what triggered me to want porn.
After a decade of failure, I had become a master of myself. I knew if I felt any of the H-A-L-T feelings (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), I would want porn. If I was anxious. Scared. Embarrassed. Alone by myself at night in my room.
I haven’t looked at pornography in many years.
Here’s a simple formula for becoming a master of anything: fail thousands of times.
“If I fail more than you do, I win.” -Seth Godin
Tell Me How You Spend Your Free Time and I’ll Tell You Who You Are
“Successful people don’t see it as ‘free time.’ They see it as the only time they have to do the things they really want to do in life and they don’t take a minute for granted.” -Nicolas Cole
Most people spend their free time with entertainment and distraction.
Unfortunately, humans haven’t kept up with the advent of technology. In 20 years, we’ve gone from carrying a pager to knowing what the entire world is doing at any given moment, in real-time.
For most people, it’s too much too soon. They’ve let screens of information and pretty pictures prevent them from actually having conversations with real people.
Too many people fill their free time with all manner of entertainment, never giving themselves a chance to learn and grow. (Funny story: Thought Catalog recently invited me on as a writer. I had to fill out a special survey because I don’t have an Instagram to log in with. Can you imagine — someone without Instagram?!)
Tell me how you spend your free time, and I’ll tell you who you are.
Do you spend it on entertainment and distraction?
Or do you focus on learning and growth?
Growth is hard. Constantly learning and developing yourself can be boring and tedious. Most people don’t stick with it, so they never become great at anything.
Said Darren Hardy:
“There is one thing that 99% of failures and successful people have in common: they all hate doing the same things. The difference is successful people do them anyway.”
You don’t get much free time. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to use it to invest in yourself, using what you have to grow.
Many famous entrepreneurs have commonly referred to this as the “5–7 and 7–9” structure. What do you do between 5AM — 7AM and 7PM — 9PM? Do you sleep in and watch TV?
Or do you invest in yourself so you can have a better life in the future?
“Become aware of and make choices that support the expansion of your life.” -Darren Hardy
Most People Will Never Become a Student
“If you can’t learn, you can’t thrive.” -Cal Newport
Most people will never be humble enough to become a student.
The best professionals were, at one point, pretty bad. Everything is difficult before it becomes easy.
But the difference between them and all the wanna-be’s was that they kept studying. They committed to becoming a student. They sought the best teachers. They showed up to class, every day.
Eventually, they became great at what they studied.
Jim Rohn once said, “Anything of significance is going to be hard.” Whatever you decide to study will be difficult at first.
In the words of Mark Manson:
“Depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up.”
As much as I love Good Will Hunting, don’t be fooled. There are no handsome Matt Damon’s walking around with an innate ability to solve calculus.
Anyone who is great at something spent a long time becoming great at it.
The reason most people will never become truly successful is because they aren’t willing to become a student. They aren’t willing to fail over and over again.
This is great news for you and me. Since we’re some of the few who are willing to become students, that means life’s greatest successes and realities are reserved for us.
Want to become great? You need to become a student first.
“My brain gets stronger every day because I exercise it.” -Robert Kiyosaki
Most people don’t use their brains and their abilities to the fullest extent.
They spend their energy and free time on indulging in entertainment, not learning or growing.
But this is exactly why they stay in mediocre lives. Common choices always develop into common results.
Do you want a simply “average” life?
Or do you want to live a truly extraordinary life?
If you do, then it’s time to become a student again. Learning and growing must become the priority.
Your free time is precious.
Use it wisely.
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