Most dreams are driven by our desire to be like our idols. We all want to achieve what they have, whether that’s to be as successful/famous/rich/fit/etc as they are. So to do that, we naturally look at what they do and imitate that. If that’s what you’re doing, STOP! Imitating them as they are right now, is not going to get you to where you need to get to. To achieve the same, you need to go back and copy your idols as they were, not as they are right now.
What they do now does not make them successful, it only serves to fuel the success they have already created. The essence of what got them there, is totally different. It’s easy to look at a person or business and think “If it works for them it must work for me!”, but the difference between them and you is that they are at the stage where they are looking for small edges they can gain, where as you still need to get all the fundamentals down before you can work on the same things.
It’s the difference between having a painting that’s 99% finished and one that’s only 10% complete. The painting that’s almost finished needs only fine strokes to finish it off, where as the other still needs broad strokes to even make it meaningful.
So think about what your doing now to achieve goals and see if you’re working on the broad or fine details. If you’re working on the details and neglecting the bigger picture then reassess what it is you need to do and do it!
Everyone has grand ideas and dreams. The dream of being the match winning goal scorer in the World Cup final. The dream of being richest man on Earth. The dream of being a great husband, great father, great friend. Then comes a time when we realise we’re a million miles away from the things we set out to achieve, we freeze and resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll probably never get there. Some will carry on regardless, and of those few, only a small handful will reach that end goal. But we don’t need to be in the majority of those that fall away at the way side. We just need to understand that to reach that final goal, requires us to achieve smaller ones first.
Weight lifting is the perfect example of this. If you want to squat 200kg, don’t load on 200kg and try, because you’ll most probably fail, injure yourself and never try again. To reach that goal, load on what you can manage, then each week come back and add some more. Some weeks you’ll lift it, some weeks you wont. But the more and more you come back and try to add just a little bit more weight, the closer and closer you’ll get to lifting your final goal. Then one day you’ll turn up and lift 200kg. You’ll look through your notebook, full of all your previous session’s numbers, and see all the steps it took to get there.
And that’s the same principal for anything in life. If you want to achieve something great, start with something small. Want to lose 100lbs? Then start with the first pound. Want to run a marathon? Then start by running just a single mile. Want to be amazing guitarist? Then start by learning a single chord.
This all applies so much to business. We see all these big businesses offering loads of products and services, or huge web applications packed with functionality, and we strive for that. But the burden will be too great. You’ll fail, your ego will be bruised and you’ll never try again. You never hear the story of how these businesses started by doing one thing and how they all built their empires from there. You need that first step to be sure that you can take the next. You can’t be everything to everybody, and if you try, you’ll be nothing to nobody. Don’t be sucked in by business porn. Don’t rush into a thousand things in the hope of achieving something or that something will stick, because you can’t apply enough stickiness to that many things at once. The humble beginnings are boring, that’s why you never hear about them. You read about startups on TechCrunch and don’t realise that people have been using and hashing out the issues on those sites for ages. If you’ve been around long enough, you get to experience the wonder of seeing someone truly launch their site for the first time and needing beta testers, then a year later seeing them doing their “real” launch. Only then can you really appreciate how these things evolve and how the subsequent success was down to focusing on a single idea/concept/function and executing that perfectly right at the very start.
Little do we realise how little time we really have. Dates are mentioned, and while they feel distant and intangible, in reality they are just around the corner. It’s easy to put stuff off and rest on our laurels, because we think that our time is bountiful. We live each day, and bit by bit that time slips away. Then before your know it, it’s already too late. The time you thought you had for action has already come and gone.
“Oh, I’ve got 6 months to get ready…” sounds like an eternity but it’s only 20 weeks. It’s hard to achieve a lot in that amount of time. Life gets in the way of your dreams and everything always takes longer to do then you think it will. So take action. See time for what it really is and don’t pretend that you can hide from your goals until tomorrow. If all you do is wait, all you will have is regret.
They live meaningless lives. They waste their precious days over nothing. No matter how old they get, they’ll continue to say “My real life hasn’t started yet.”, “The real me is still asleep, so that’s why my life is such garbage.”. They continue to tell themselves that. And they age. And on their deathbeds, they will finally realise. The life they lived was the real thing. – Kaiji
While sitting in the sauna this morning one of the gym’s personal trainers came in, sat down and struck up a conversation. Of course the topic was training and goals. I casually mentioned what it is I want to achieve to which he made the comment:
How old are you? 30? Well if you really wanted it, you would have achieved it by now…
I’m sure he didn’t mean it how it came out but I was still pretty speechless and just sort of mumbled a faint agreement. And while part of me wants to agree with him and just crawl up and die, a bigger part of me just can’t accept that. If I haven’t achieved what I’ve set out to do, I’m not going to stop. I’m never going to stop. I don’t care if every day is a failure. I’m going to pick myself up and try again. Some goals take a long time to achieve, some even a lifetime. So never give in and never let go. A great quote I live by is from Renzo Graie about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:
The secret of this sport is, while you’re the nail, hang in there, let them hit you, until the day you become the hammer, then you smash them back!
That day for me hasn’t come yet… But it will. Mark my words, it will.
Currently I’m reading Don John’s excellent book Never Let Go. In one of the essays he talks about being told that if something is important do it everyday, and the political prisoner exercise is a way of deciding what that thing should be. Imagine that you are a political prisoner and you are only allowed 15 minutes a day of exercise. What would you do? You wouldn’t waste your time on curls or skull crushers (well I hope you wouldn’t). You’d concentrate on the core lifts like squats and deadlifts or olympic lifts like snatch and clean and jerk. The aim would be to get the most “bang for your buck” with the limited time you have.
This applies to everything, including business, and relates to my previous post Professional Procrastination. Of all the things you can do, if you only have 15 minutes to do it in, do what’s going to give you the best results. Don’t neglect the big picture items for the sake of the small ones. Don’t neglect your entire body for the sake of flexing your biceps.
When a business is going nowhere, or even worse, going downhill, the temptation is to blame the idea or to blame customers. Rarely do we have the courage to admit the problem is really with ourselves. Potential sales are lost because people “just don’t get it”. We say that they’re stupid, brain dead and missing the opportunity of a lifetime. When business dries up we blame market conditions. When the lights are turned off for the last time we say the timing just wasn’t right.
Before we point the finger we should be asking if there is something we did wrong. Businesses are not limited by customers or market conditions, they are limited only by those that run them. Sometimes that can’t be helped, after all, there are only so many hours in a day and the limitations may be that of time or resources. More often than not, the problem is that of realisations. We don’t realise that we’re doing the wrong thing. We believe in the wrong ideals. We hope for X or Y to happen. We wait for feature X or Y to be ready. We blame everyone but ourselves.
Only when it’s too late, do we look back and see where we went wrong. How if we’d only done this instead of that, we could have made a break through. We’re so caught up in the moment of our business that we can’t see the wood for the trees. Imagine yourself three, six or twelve months from now. Imagine your business has failed from no traction or no revenue (or whatever factor determines your business a success or not). If you could spend that time again to get your business really going, would you do what you’re doing right now? If the urgency of surviving was hanging over your head, would you do what you’re doing right now?
Don’t limit your business or your life because you’re following the motions of what someone in your position should be doing. Don’t do something because you read it in a book. Don’t do it because someone told you to. Do the right thing. Your opportunity may not last.
A lot of people say that procrastination is the bane of their lives. That procrastination is what stops them actually getting anything done. But recently I’ve come to realise that the real enemy isn’t your typical “putting things off” sort of procrastination, it’s the “putting important things off” sort, or what I’ve come to name as “Professional Procrastination”.
If you really boil things down, this is perhaps one of the biggest business killers. It’s not picking up the phone to talk to customers. It’s not meeting with potential clients to make a sale. It’s moving pixels around on your homepage. It’s writing up marketing plans and creating spreadsheets planning out the next three years.
It’s doing all the things today, that might make you money tomorrow, when you could be doing things to make you money right now.
I love the term spinning the wheels, and this is it exactly. You don’t even realise you’re doing it because you feel so busy. I’m working 18+ hours a day, I must be doing some good. But you know what, it’s easy to be busy. I could shuffle around a gym all day and not lose weight, or I could go in bust my ass for 30mins and achieved a million times more. But that’s difficult. It’s difficult to realise results aren’t an outcome of random hours, results are an outcome of precise and definite action. I can’t remember where I read it, but a book said you should constantly ask yourself “Is what I’m doing right now, the most important thing I could be doing?”, and that’s be no means an easy question to answer. That bug may be critical, or that new feature may make all the difference. But are you doing and ignoring that customer who’s waiting for you to connect with them and make a sale? Are adding more features to certain areas of your site while ignoring what really matters most because? We do these things because the good stuff, the stuff that really brings home the bacon is hard. This blog post certainly isn’t the most important thing I could be doing right now though, that’s for sure.
In both your personal and business life, the goals you set have to be concrete. It’s not enough to say “I want to lose weight” or “I want to make revenues”. You need to say how much and by when, for the goal to mean anything. “I want to lose 5lbs this month” or “I want to make £500 in revenues this month”.
We are at our best when the goal is clear cut. A real goal makes us strive to achieve it and allows us the opportunity to measure our progress as we head towards it. If my goal is only to “make revenue”, then your brain just shuts off any effort needed to make any more then moment you receive £1. That’s how we’re designed to be. But if our goal is a sure fire £500, and we know we’ve got £499 to go, then we’ll keep moving until we reach that end goal.
A lot of the time we can’t see the wood for the trees. It’s all too easy to get bogged down in the details of what we’re trying to achieve, while missing the big picture. I know I do this a lot. In the gym, I tend to focus on what exercises and weights I’m lifting as opposed to what my overall goal is. With my diet, I tend to focus too much on calories and macros, rather than whether I’m trying to lose weight or gain. With my business, I tend to focus on slick features, rather than what features move my business forward. We all need to take a step back more often and evaluate where we want to be, and whether or not what we’re doing is actually getting us nearer to our goals.
I’m moving gym this month, and while the new place I’m moving to has a lot more equipment than my current gym, that’s not the reason I’m moving. If I really wanted to, I could probably achieve all my physical goals at my current gym, but I’m starting to feel stuck. A change of scenery and new challenges is what I need. Sometimes you’ve just got to move on, to move forward. The same is true at work a lot of the times. It’s very easy to get comfortable. To turn up day-in day-out, do your work and go home. But when we do that, we don’t grow as people. That’s what this is really about, growth as a person. One must take in new experiences and new perspectives. Not always to give us a better understanding of the world “out there”, but to also give us a better understanding of the world closer to home. Seeing how people live half way across the world may not interest you, but it can have a profound affect on how you live your life back home and give you a profound sense of appreciation for the things you have and have achieved.
I was thinking some more about my post yesterday on Ivory Towers. Not being on the front lines not only means that you don’t get the lay-of-the-land, but you can’t get a sense of the morale of your people. I’m sure that no one would be enthusiastic about being ordered to march to their own demise. And when you’ve been told to shut-up and to stop being negative, what can you do but put your head down and blindly follow orders. Not exactly the most productive environment to work in. I’ve been watching “Undercover Boss” recently, and nearly every boss is surprised when they find the people at the bottom have very low morale. That the orders they pass down the line just end up causing more problems, lower productivity and lower quality offerings. It’s a classic case of bosses living in their Ivory Towers and thinking that all is well is good, while the people at the bottom grumble and can see all the problems before them. Reminds me in a way of the Cylon rebellion against their makers and in the end against their masters. You can never excel when you feel like you’ve been set-up to fail.
I get this a lot. Orders come from up high about what needs to be done, while the people on the front lines are reporting back that it’s not working and something needs to be done. This can only be a losing battle. So what does one do? Give up and go home? Ignore the orders given to you and forge your own path forward? How can you work with someone who isn’t willing to listen to your input and advice? Simple answer is you can’t. If people are not willing to take on my advice based upon my experience and from what I’m seeing first hand, then they deserve to fail based upon their own decisions.
It amuses me to no end when in this situation. It’s evil and cruel I know, but you can’t save someone from their own moronic whims and desires. When that person’s decisions and actions are based upon emotion and reaction rather than logical and rational thought. It reminds me a lot of people I see in the gym. The posers who come in more to look like their doing something rather than actually achieving anything. They’ll swing some dumbbells around, run a bit on the treadmill and maybe even attend some classes. But they won’t break a sweat and they won’t progress. They want to appear to be busy. They want to spin the wheels. It’s the same in the business world. Meeting and greeting people and telling them about your hot new startup is just spinning the wheels when you’re not taking care of the flip side of it. Don’t sit in your ivory tower. Get down to the front lines and see for yourself what the real deal is.
Does thinking really count for anything? I’m not talking about solving problems or equations. I mean, if I spend all my time reading books on business or computing, where is it really getting me? If the practical doesn’t meet the theoretical side, then I don’t believe it counts for much. I’ve grown weary of reading business books over the years. The vast majority of books have the same underlying message. When you boil away all the fluff, you’re usually left with the same thing. The same thing is true of self-help books. I used to read a tonne of them until I eventually realised I was digesting the same thing just phrased differently. There comes a point when it comes time to put the books down and to put what you’ve learnt into practice. Pondering the finer points of business or self-help won’t get me anywhere. Turning that knowledge into something tangible is where it’s at.