The Essential Character Traits of People Who Achieve Ambitious Creative Goals
One of the things I frequently get asked is what all the people that I’ve interviewed have in common. It’s inevitable that you notice patterns when you’re constantly interviewing people. A few months back I wrote a piece about the 6 things that people with interesting careers seem to have in common. These are just a few of the character traits of people who achieve ambitious creative goals.
1. Focus and Presence
In a world that’s incredibly distracted focus is in short supply. The ability to focus on a cognitively demanding task for an extended period of time, also known as deep work is one of your greatest competitive advantages.
“If there’s one thing that I could pick that would determine whether or not would reach peak performance, and this after going to 3 Olympics as a media person and working with a couple hundred Olympians, and a dozen expeditions around the world to do crazy stuff… One thing that I would say determines your failure or success in a critical moment of performance is whether or not you’re focused. If you are on task, you have no distractions, doing what you need to be doing and what you’re doing is related to the performance itself you’re going to be fine.”- Greg Wells
In a critical moment of performance, if you’re checking your phone, updating your status, distracted by the environment and uploading pictures it’s unlikely you’ll get anything worthwhile done.
- When I do a speaking engagement, I try to avoid anything that would be a distraction (i.e happy hours, receptions, etc) until after my talk is done. I’ve never regretted this.
- When I’m interviewing somebody for the Unmistakable Creative, I leave my phone out of the room or turn it off, and I make sure everything else on my computer is shut down. This leads to a depth in our conversation that I couldn’t achieve otherwise.
Focus and presence over an extended period of time lead to momentum and escape velocity.
If you want an amazing example of consistency, look no further than Seth Godin. He publishes something on his blog every day. If you wake up in the morning and there’s not a post on Seth’s blog, he probably got hit by a bus.
I think that part of the reason that he publishes something every day is because a consistent habit in one area of your life causes a ripple effect and impacts others.
The secret to meaningful progress at almost anything is showing up. When you do anything consistently, you teach your brain that you’re capable of changing your behavior. If you can change your behavior you can change your life.
3. Bias Towards Action
If there’s anything that’s the holy grail of creative accomplishments, it’s a strong bias towards action. If you look at the culture of successful organizations and the personalities of successful people, they all act quickly.
If you listen to the first lecture in the How to Start a Startup Podcast, you’ll hear Sam Altman talk about how great founders are obsessive about improving their products and acting quickly.
I’ve seen some incredibly talented people make no progress with their efforts simply because they lack a bias towards action. Product features don’t get implemented, bugs take forever to fix, and more excuses are generated than results. What should take hours takes days, what should take days takes weeks, and what should take weeks takes months. You can be a person who makes excuses or you can be a person who generates results. Be the latter and you’ll be fine. Be the former and you’ll spend years drudging up the same old bullshit and nursing pointless injustices instead of solving problems.
On the flip side, a bias towards action can result in rapid progress. If there’s one thing that I appreciate about our copywriter Kingshuk Mukherjee it’s that he makes shit happen. We never have to ask him what he’s doing. He tells us what he’s doing, why he’s doing it when it will be done by, and what he expects the results to be. Needless to say, he’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
4. Self Belief
In every interview I’ve seen with Chris Sacca he mentions one thing that all the successful founders he’s invested in have in common:
They believe in the inevitability of their success. They don’t speak in conditional statements.
Almost anything can be accomplished with a relentless work ethic, maniacal determination, and a belief in the inevitability of your success. Does that mean you won’t have any moments of doubt? Of course not. A moment or two of doubt is probably healthy. It keeps your ego in check and allows you to maintain a posture of learning. You never want to reach the point where your self-belief turns you into a person who is incapable of listening to others and learning from them.
How far past where the average person quits are you willing to go? That’s grit in a nutshell. A few weeks ago Angela Duckwork tweeted a documentary about Tom Brady called The Year of the Quarterback.
Tom Brady was the most underrated quarterback in the year that he was drafted to the NFL. He was one of the last people to be drafted. When he met Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, he said “Mr. Kraft, I’m Tom Brady and I”m going to the best decision you’ve ever made.” Being underestimated and underrated ignited something within him.
When we’re on the fringes, pushing edges, and crossing boundaries we’re often marginalized, underrated and underestimated. People in our lives and nearly every external measure cast doubt upon us. But what we do with all of this is a choice. Will use it as the opportunity to demonstrate our grit? Or will we accept a false narrative as the truth that dictates our lives? Will we adopt a fixed or growth mindset.
If you do the latter, you’ll have to endure the pain not only of those who doubt you but the work that needs to be done in order to prove them wrong. It might take years before anyone realizes that they underestimated what you were capable of. But when it’s all said and done, you might just emerge as your own version of the next Tom Brady.
If you’ve had the world handed to you on a silver platter, and never experienced setback or failure, it’s hard to develop grit. Grit comes from getting your ass handed to you, taking a blow the face and getting back up. Failure sucks, but it’s one of our greatest teachers because it results in grit.
One of the things you’ll hear Peter Diamandis talk quite a bit about is a massively transformative purpose. Over the last few weeks, I’ve given quite a bit of thought about our own massively transformative purpose at Unmistakable Creative and this is what I landed on:
Telling stories that enable people to make their unique contribution to the world
Having a massively transformative purpose enables you to keep going when all you want to do is quit. It motivates you to get up in the morning and keep working when you think you’ve got nothing left.
You don’t wake up one day and suddenly have all of these traits. They take time, effort and energy to develop. But developing them will have a lifelong return on investment.
Before You Go…
If doing the best work of your life is important to you, check out my free guide: “Optimizing Productivity & Creativity.”
The tactics I’ve packed into this guide allowed me to write over 1 million words in the last 2 years. What could it do for your life’s work? Don’t miss it.