I was a faithful listener of Alec Baldwin’s podcast produced by WNYC, Here’s The Thing. This past June was the last episode, an interview with Jerry Seinfeld. I think Alec is a talented and entertaining guy. And Jerry, well, who can argue?
In the interview Jerry made an observation about the people who make it in comedy, or entertainment.
Who wants to be there more than anyone else. Those are the people that are in it.
Who can dispute that passion, enthusiasm and determination are key components to success? They’re not the only factors, but it’s hard to argue that they don’t matter.
We’re drawn to stories of people who hustle their way to success. Pete Rose was known as “Charlie Hustle” because he outworked others. He never took a play off. His enthusiasm for the game was apparent even to people who hate baseball (people like me).
I grew up watching guys like Dick Butkus play linebacker for the Chicago Bears. Same kind of work ethic that Pete Rose had. Butkus wasn’t just fearless, he was tenacious. Relentless.
There are lots of stories of people who worked hard, hustled and loved whatever they were doing so much that is made their performances remarkable. We hear such players often say how they’re not the most talented, but they’re committed to the work. We usually believe them, but I don’t really think they’ve got it right. I think we may short sell them on the talent or skill. Pete Rose and Dick Butkus had major league talent.
The odds are you’ll need them, but they don’t guarantee anything…any more than talent or skill will guarantee anything.
Around here we’ve got a guitar virtuoso named Monte Montgomery. Click here and you’ll see a video of him playing an acoustic version of Little Wing. You wanna doubt his skill with a guitar? Or his determination? The guy is constantly playing any gig he can book. He’s visible. He’s playing and hustling.
In music if you define success as earning a living by playing, then Monte is successful, but most of us think of something far grander. Is Monte a national or globally recognized talent? No. I’m betting you’ve never heard of him. Is he on the charts? Nope.
There are lots of factors to success. Monte has achieved something most don’t, but he’s not yet achieved what most want…a national or global audience. Even Jerry Seinfeld recognizes that people need “a break. ” Something unquantifiable needs to happen to give people an opportunity. In a world filled with success gurus who preach a “you can do it” gospel, there’s one necessary ingredient nobody can teach or coach. A timely break. A serendipitous opportunity.
But let’s stay focused on sheer will and determination because those are things we can control. We can’t control our skills or talents, but like Monte, Pete and Dick we can develop the ones we’ve got. We can put in the work. But first, I think Jerry is onto something.
We’ve got to decide where we want to be.
According to Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac fame wanted to be in London. Shockingly, to most, at 16 his parents put him on a train with his drum kit and sent him to London to pursue his dream.
Fleetwood was attending a boarding school and was doing poorly. Teachers knew he was intelligent, but his scores didn’t properly reflect his ability. He was miserable. Teachers weren’t able to impact any change in his school performance. One day, in his teens, he describes walking out of school and sitting under a tree on the grounds. It was there under that tree that he made a firm commitment. He wasn’t religious, but he prayed to God that he wouldn’t be at this school any more.
I wanted to be in London and play in a jazz club. It was totally naive and ridiculous, but I made a firm commitment to myself that I was going to be a drummer.”
According to Sir Ken’s account in the book, Fleetwood then encountered a series of “breaks” that might have never happened had he stayed in school. A neighbor in London heard him playing drums in the garage in London. He was a keyboard player who invited Fleetwood to play with him at a gig. Another friend, Peter Green, found himself in need of a drummer to play for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, a band that had some famous names along the way. People like Eric Clapton. He asked Mick to fill the slot.
Together with Green, Fleetwood would connect with another ex-Bluesbreaker, John McVie…and Fleetwood Mac was born.
As a kid I had no sense of accomplishment. Now I was starting to get markers that it was okay to be who I was and to do what I was doing.”
Mick Fleetwood didn’t want what school offered. He didn’t want to be in school. He wanted to be a drummer. Now to be fair, we’re not talking about a first grader who hates going to school. We’re talking about a 16 year old with a history of teachers seeing a very intelligent young man who simply couldn’t accomplish things in the classroom that seemed congruent with his brain power. Quite simply, he wanted to be somewhere else, doing something else. And he wanted it badly.
Jimmy Buffett released a record in 1974 entitled, Living And Dying In 3/4 Time. On that record is a song Jimmy wrote, The Wino And I Know. Jimmy did go to school and got a degree in history from Southern Mississippi. He didn’t start playing guitar until he was a freshman in college. His first real music “job” was busking on the streets of New Orleans. Did he want to be on the streets of New Orleans? Well, evidently he wanted it enough to do it, and to be there. Jerry Jeff Walker took him down to Key West on a busking expedition in the early 70’s and gave him a place to stay.
But Buffett wasn’t experiencing success with his brand of country music – he called it “gulf and western.” Nashville wasn’t kind to him at the time and like many young creatives he struggled. It was during his “gulf and western” years that I found him and loved his storytelling. It was during these years I went to see him play Gordon Theater in downtown Baton Rouge one night at midnight after the last movie let out. Tickets were $1.02 a piece because the local radio station, Loose Radio FM102 WFMF, was promoting the show. About 200 of us showed up while Jimmy and a lone guitar player, The Coral Reefer Band, took the stage armed only with acoustic guitars. I was on the front row with a friend. He played the song.
Well the coffee is strong
at the Cafe Du Monde,
And the donuts are too hot to touch;
But just like a fool, when those
sweet goodies cool, I ate ’til I ate way too much.
Cause I’m livin’ on things that excite me,
Be they pastries or lobsters or love;
I’m just tryin’ to get by being quiet and shy,
In a world full of pushin’ and shove.
Is Jimmy right? Did he get it right by living on thing that excited him?
Another Buffett offers sage career advice. Warren Buffett provides wisdom that is straight-forward and simple, but much harder than it sounds.
The truth is, so few people really jump on their jobs, you really will stand out more than you think. You will get noticed if you really go for it.”
“Be so good they can’t ignore you,” says Steve Martin when people ask him for advice. Cal Newport wrote a book entitled, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion In The Quest For The Work You Love.
What does Warren mean? Is he talking about passion and drive or is he talking about being a top-tier performer?
These are hard things. It’s not easy to distill or quantify. Men have been trying for centuries to do it and it seems about the best we can do is keep asking the same questions. Why do some people with modest talent soar past those who have superior talent? Why do some people with crazy talent top out at much lower levels than people with lesser talent? Why do people who exhibit such determination and tenacity continue to struggle?
You can drive yourself crazy asking all these questions. I know ’cause I’m the guy wired to ask questions. These and many others. As a man of faith I recall a passage in the Old Testament.
Ecclesiastes 11:6 “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” (ASV)
Without waxing religious on you, Solomon was a man granted with superior wisdom by God. In that verse Solomon makes a godly observation about our responsibility to work. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening without not thy hand” means put in the work. It doesn’t mean twice a day. It means all day long.
Have you seen this TV series Parenthood? This is the last season of it, but this last week’s episode was entitled, These Are The Times We Live In. Craig T. Nelson is the actor who portrays the patriarch, the grandfather, Zeek Braverman. One of his daughters is getting a divorce from her husband, Joel. In a touching scene Joel, realizing that his marriage is just about over because the divorce papers are in the works, visits Zeek to tell him how much he’s going to miss being part of the family. After telling Zeek that he’s never had a role model as capable as Zeek, the old man wisely refuses to wax sentimental. Instead he issues a challenge to Joel with a series of questions.
“Do you love your kids? Do you love your wife?” Joel acknowledges that indeed he does.
“Then fight for them,” says Zeek.
Do the work. Put in the time. Don’t quit. As Solomon observed, because you don’t know what will prosper. You don’t know what work might work. Or if it all might work well. It’s about the process of doing the work. It’s about the diligence to faithfully do the work. It’s about the resolve to keep doing it even when adversity comes (and it will).
So what is it? Skill? Passion? Determination?
Yes. It’s all of those and more. But I want to stay focused on Jerry Seinfeld’s comment that the people who are in comedy are the ones who wanted to be there more than anybody else. I tend to agree with Jerry and it’s not because we’re both INFJ’s (a Meyers-Briggs assessment of our personality style that I talked about 10 episodes in episode number 4030). But Jerry’s comment is like many other general statements – even statements of fact. It may be mostly true, but that doesn’t mean it’s always true.
Could we survey the landscape of comedy and find stand up performers who experience quick big success? I’m sure we could. And it might be attributed to being in the right place at the right time. It might be they have a very unique approach that resonates with audiences. It might be many things that have nothing to do with how long they’ve been performing. And I suppose we could surmise what would have happened if they hadn’t found fast success. Would they have committed themselves to the grind until they eventually found success? We’ll never know because they didn’t have to endure the grind that most do.
Doing the work looks like different things. For some, it’s playing music in the streets for weeks and months, or maybe years. It’s living in houses you don’t own, unable to pay rent. It’s the ritual of daily survival so you can climb your way onto a stage where you’re making $150 a week and you think, “This is great. I’ve arrived.” It moving from just thinking about it to doing it. Or trying to do it. How scary must it be if you’ve got a degree in history, but you leave home and hit the streets to play music and you’ve only been playing the guitar for 4 years? Remember that the next time you’re prone to mock Jimmy Buffett’s commercial success and all the Parrothead mania that surrounds his shows.
Jimmy wanted to be inside country music, but it didn’t happen. He wanted to play music for a living, to be an entertainer. It didn’t turn out exactly as he had hoped. It turned out much better.
I’ve always been envious of people who could clearly answer that question. Early. Well, let me clarify a bit…I’m envious of those people who knew at an early age what they wanted to do, and where they wanted to be professionally. I’ve never had such clarity myself.
Jimmy Buffett is right I think. You do have to sorta figure it out and make it up as you go, but you still have to start somewhere. Jimmy had to start out on the journey to make music for a living. Jerry Seinfeld had to step out there as a teenager and get up on stage to perform a comedy routine. Both guys – like so many other successful people – had to set their sites on where they most wanted to be. Neither of them could have foreseen where they’d end up. Or how they’d get there. But I’m pretty sure neither of them believes they’ve had gotten there without the strongest desires to be there.
Business, entertainment, arts, science, technology, marriage, family – these are not auto-pilot accomplishments. They all demand effort. Like Jimmy said, they all require “work, talent and a lot of luck.” And if that’s true consider which one you can most affect, work.
The question nags at you if you don’t have an answer. If you have an answer you find it tough to understand those of us who struggle to find one. Sometimes I think of the friends I had in junior high and high school. The ones who said they wanted to be doctors, or attorneys. I wonder if they made it. Since I don’t keep up with any of them due to my moving around so much, I prefer to think they found their ideal place to be professionally. I hope they did.
No conversation about all this would be complete though without considering some way to get where you most want to be. I’m not talking about a detailed turn-by-turn navigation. I’m talking about having a clue though. Jerry had a clue. It was going to a club and getting on stage. It likely started at an open mic event, but at some point he knew he had to get up in front of a live audience. Jimmy had a clue. He knew there were street performers in New Orleans. Being a Gulf-coast guy, that’s where he went and that’s what he did.
What were they thinking the next step would be? I don’t know. If you pay close enough attention, it would seem they both thought getting steady work at their craft was always the next step. They worked hard. Day and night. They had talent and there’s little doubt that thousands of performances improved their talent, however big or small it may have been. Or still may be. They had some good fortune, too. Nobody wants to talk about that, and for good reason. One, we can’t control it. Two, it diminishes our control, or our talent. But we all know it’s real. And most of us have heard that somebody somewhere said, “the more I practice the luckier I get.”
It’s like any other trip to a place where we’ve never been before. We know we want to go there, but we’ve never been so we’re uncertain of the best route. Map it out as best you can. Figure out your first step. Face your fear in having to let go of the comforts of where you’re at right now…so you can go to where you most want. I know it’s wise and smart to understand how long you’ll have to want it, but that’s unrealistic because you don’t know how long it may take. The question is,
Are you willing to endure whatever you must to be there?
I’m guessing you won’t know the answer to that until you try and see where it leads you. Paying the price today is one thing, but down the road when life may ask you to pay increasingly larger prices, you may change your mind. Just consider Nashville and all the people who want to become country music stars. For some, the journey lingers and presents higher prices that must be paid. So some fall out. They change their mind.
That’s okay. It just means you’re learning and leaning toward wisdom. At least that’s what I’m hoping it means…for all of us.
Zeek Braverman asked his soon-to-be ex-son-in-law a great question followed by terrific advice: Fight for it.
And travel safe.
Before I start, do me a quick favor. Click Here and join our little closed Facebook Group. Approval is a manual process, but I’ll approve you. It’s a way for us to connect, interact and spread our wisdom. Thanks!
I was nearing the end of an hour on the treadmill when he walked in. Probably 6′ 3″ and nearing 350 he was wearing a weight vest over his shoulders and a weight belt around his waist. The contraptions were barely strapped in place because they looked like they were meant for somebody much smaller. He was a man of some girth.
I immediately thought of the line from Larry The Cable Guy when a large woman approached him in the gym asking, “Can you spot me?”
I’m watching this guy walk up to an elliptical with these weight garments on and I’m thinking, “So the extra 75 pounds or so you appear to have in body fat isn’t enough?”
Today’s show isn’t about resistance or weight training. Most of us understand the value of putting enough stress on our muscles and bones to make them stronger, but what value is there in lugging around other kinds of weight – baggage? Is there any benefit to holding tight onto emotional baggage? Things like resentment, bitterness, insult, envy and all those other emotional suitcases we sometimes enjoy taking everywhere we go?
A former Navy Seal who goes by Mark Owen wrote a book about his experience as part of the team that took out Osama Bin Laden, No Easy Day. He’s appeared on CBS 60 Minutes a couple of times, most recently this past Sunday evening. In this most recent interview he mentioned something that made me think of today’s topic – handling only what you can and ridding yourself of the stuff that would distract you, or ruin your odds of success. We all have things that propel us and other things that hinder us. This ex-Navy Seal made a strong point about controlling only what you can.
“No Hero” is about the lessons that Owen learned as a SEAL, usually from failing at things. The most important, he says, came during a rock climbing trip, when he froze 300 feet up. The instructor made his way over to him.
Mark Owen: And he’s like, “Hey buddy. Stay in your three-foot world.” “What are you, what the hell are you talking about?” He says, “Look, you can’t affect anything outside of three feet around you, can you?” I’m like, “Well, no.” “So stay in your three-foot world. Look inside your three-foot world, find the next hand hold, and climb your way out.” I climbed my way out, and I’ve applied that analogy to so many things in my life. If I can’t affect them, don’t worry about it. You can’t. People waste so much of their time and– and effort worrying about things outside of their control. Learn from them, move on, and don’t worry about it.
Staying within his three-foot world has helped Mark Owen these last two years. He would still have written “No Easy Day,” he told us, but now he says he would have done it by the book.
Controlling what we can is a common desire, even though I have met a few people who would rather somebody else make decisions for them. Then there are those people who don’t seem driven to think. They’d just rather have somebody tell them exactly what to do. To each his own.
Are you fascinated like I am with people who claim to never experience fretfulness? How is that even possible?
For as long as I can remember my father has regularly answered, “Nothing” to the question of “What are you thinking about?” Me? I have no idea how that’s humanly possible, but he vows it’s true. Good for him, in his empty-headed sort of way. 😉
That all just proves how different we really are. And how varied our baggage can be, too I suppose.
At the moment I have in front of me a stack of assessments about 3 inches tall. These are all kinds of assessments like StrengthsFinder, IOpt, Standout, DISC and who knows what else. No, they’re not mine. They’re clients. I’m hopeful they’ll help me better serve some clients who already invested in them. They were kind enough to share their “results” with me so it could accelerate any help I might offer them. I’m sure they’ll help, but I’ve spent a lot of time with tools like these. I know that the big thing I’m going to see is what I always see – just how different we can be and still share the same problems. Our baggage mostly comes from the universal store, The Past.
We do it for the stories we can tell. Okay, maybe not exactly. But the stories help. Donald Miller’s popular book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, put forth the premise that if you want a better life then you must write a better story. Not literally, but figuratively. Live a different story.
It’s not easy to live a different story though because most of us feel like somebody else is doing the writing. In the grand scheme of things we feel like just one character in the story. Has the thought struck you like it does me…that perhaps those prominent folks among us, you know…the ones who take center stage clamoring for more attention than the rest of us…that they’re more skillful perhaps at recognizing their own “writing” skills? They are the center of the story. Their own story. The rest of us may be guilty of letting others collaborate too much on crafting our story.
But the point is baggage. Life experiences. The past. The present. What we think about the future.
You take a trip. You need to pack. The question is, “What will you take with you?”
Some people travel light taking only the bare essentials. Others travel light because money affords them to buy whatever they need once they get there. Most of us aren’t so fortunate, or rich. We need to pack.
Some people pack like hoarders, taking way more than they’ll ever need or use. They overthink it and assume they “may” need things that even they know, deep down inside, they’ll never use. I’ve been guilty. Especially when it comes to books. Especially before the Kindle craze. I’d jam a book bag with about 15 books knowing full well that I wouldn’t crack more than 2. The problem I always suffered was not knowing which 2. That’s why I took 15. Imagine the extra weight of 13 hardback books! Stupid, right?
About as stupid as a 350 pound overweight man packing on about 50 pounds in a weight vest and belt. I watched him for about 10 minutes as I cooled down on the treadmill. I wanted to go ask him, “Hey man. Why did you pack on more weight?” But wisdom got the best of me and I didn’t ask him. Instead, I was left to wonder about it. His very slow speed on the elliptical didn’t help matters much. Knowing what little I do about kinesiology I just couldn’t figure it out. So I assumed that he got the idea from somebody, or some place and assumed it was a wise way to go. Of course, the dilemma presented itself because of his apparent body weight. Had he been a buck forty five it would have made sense to me. But my fat senses, heightened by my own battles with fat, told me he was easily 75 pounds too heavy without the added weight.
How many of us carry extra weight unnecessarily? Maybe we’re like him, we think it’ll help us. Or maybe we don’t know how to travel any other way. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Nearly every week this gif seems to appear in my Google + feed. It’s simply a picture of a group of penguins figuring out how to get past a rope that’s tying off a boat. It’s funny, but powerful. Unable to easily jump, one of them just pushes into the rope, falls over on the other side of it, then gets back up. One by one the others follow suit. That rope may not seem like much of a constraint – or a weight – but you know the whole pack could have just looked at it, frozen with bewilderment as to how to get over it. But one of them figured it out and showed the rest of them the way.
Many ropes block our path. A lot of things weigh us down. We have 2 fundamental choices: freeze, assuming you’re just blocked or figure something out. Look at those penguins looking down at that rope. There’s a better way to get over that rope, but does it matter? Not really. The only thing that matters is that they get over it. As long as they get over it without hurting themselves, what difference does it make how they do it? It’s not a timed event. It’s not a competition. It’s an objective and they figure it out.
Over at BehaviorGap.com they published a post this week entitled, Building Wealth Means Doing Something Constructive. They posted an illustration that properly depicts the cycle we all need to use to make improvements – to figure things out.
Maybe things aren’t that complicated. Maybe our weight and baggage is more like that rope challenging those penguins. It’s just unfamiliar and that makes it more daunting than it really is. And maybe the solution is no more complex than their approach. Learn, act then repeat. Keep learning. Keeping taking action. Be persistent in repeating the process. That last one may be the toughest of all.
It sounds odd that repeating is tough when you’re winning, but it is. I suppose there are many reasons for it. For starters, we have trouble leaving well enough alone. And we don’t always know precisely what is working. Success is rarely binary enough to identify the precise action that makes the difference. I mean, if we suddenly take one single action and a seismic shift happens, it’s easy to assume that the single action made a substantial difference. But if we’re hustling we’re likely doing all kinds of things to make things happen so it’s tough to get a feel on which action. Or, if we’re not hustling we may be sitting around waiting for something to happen and repeating that behavior seems all too common. People can sit around doing nothing day after day. All the while thinking that success is totally random like lightning strikes. Big mistake!
Makes no sense, but we’ve all been guilty of doing it. We keep doing things that just don’t work. We neglect to do things that might change our outcome. We just hang onto the baggage of doing the same thing.
It’s a habit. Changing our habits is hard. That’s whole ‘nother can of worms. Charles Duhigg wrote a terrific book if you want to learn more. His book, The Power of Habit, was published a few years ago, but you should read it. And there’s a great flow chart he’s got available over at his website. I’d encourage you to spend some time on it. It’ll require everything you’ve got, but it’s always wise to spend time reviewing our habits – good and bad – then figuring out which ones we need to change (and which ones we want to change).
Carry weight or lugging around obstacles is a habit. We’ve all got our own unique reasons for them. Or excuses. No matter, it’s time to wise up, don’t you think?
My daily visits to the gym teach me lots of things about people, and about myself. Two years ago I did a video on one lesson I learned in the gym, It Pays To Be The Confident, Swaggering Girl In The Gym. Rarely do I go where I don’t observe something noteworthy.
One thing that often hits me is how people who haven’t worked out in years come in quite regularly, but nothing about their appearance ever changes. It’s safe to say that the guy wearing the weight vest and belt won’t likely change his appearance. The odds are he’ll neglect making the changes necessary to bring about long-term improvement. I’m not picking on him. I’ve just seen this movie before. People dreadfully out of shape come to the gym and do things that don’t help them. And they don’t look for anybody to help them.
There’s an incredibly large woman who I see regularly. She’ll get on the stair climber at a snail’s pace for 10 minutes. Then she’ll migrate to a treadmill and get on it for 10 minutes at a leisurely pace. Then she’ll go back to a different stair climber for 10 minutes. Again, at a really slow pace. I’m not sure about her, but I’ve watched her for almost a year. No change in her appearance. Of course, I don’t see her diet. But I see her in the gym for an hour or so and my main thought is, “Doesn’t she know she could spend that hour in a more meaningful way? Somebody should show her.” Maybe they’ve tried. Maybe she’s deluded. Maybe she thinks she’s doing all the right things.
I’m thinking how depressing it must be for her and how discouraged she must be. I feel badly that she’s investing all this time without visible results. I suspect she’s doing what she knows. She just doesn’t know enough. Not yet anyway.
And she’s clearly been able to establish a new behavior because I didn’t see her until about a year ago. Something happened in her life. I don’t know what it was, but something drove her to the gym. And to her credit she’s showing up. She’s putting in a degree of work. But there’s something still in her way – some weight (besides her own body fat) – that’s preventing her from really making progress.
The poor guy in the weight vest thinks he’s doing things right. And maybe he is, but I have my doubts. I’ve seen guys like him before. Inside the gym we see who is really putting in the work. And we clearly see the results.
The guy with six pack abs is hitting it hard. He’s putting in the work and his work doesn’t look like ours.
Or the girl who is the envy of the other girls in the gym. She’s doing a routine that is just exhausting. We see her effort. The results are clearly visible. But that’s not our routine.
One hour or 90-minutes spent together under the roof of the same gym. Those guys and gals are doing things very differently than what we’re doing. They’re also getting very different results.
Yes, we know the old moniker of doing the same thing expecting different results…but still we do it. And we’re constantly disappointed that we still get stymied by the same ‘ol things.
So we keep carrying the stuff that foils us. Like my book bag, maybe we’re thinking we may need that sometime down the road. But mostly I think we know we’re never going to look at them. They provide us comfort and security. It’s just a feeling though…it’s not real. The real thing is they’re spoiling us and harming us. They’re keeping us comfortable in our failures and weaknesses.
Mr. Weight Vest feels better about himself for wearing that weight. The poor fat lady is still fat after a year, but she’s feeling comfortable because she still shows up at the gym day after day. So what’s the harm? The harm is the mental damage that will eventually – in their cases – likely result in the physical failure to get fit. They’re doing what’s comfortable. A slow steady pace on a stair climber or treadmill or elliptical. What would really rattle them both would be to shed the baggage (literal or metaphorical) and start doing things very differently. If I walked up to Mr. Weight Vest and challenged him to take off that ridiculous contraption, but sprint on that elliptical for 20 seconds, then go slow for 60, then repeat the sprint…and so forth, for about 15 minutes…he wouldn’t want to do it. That’s what I’m betting. Cause lumbering around with a weight vest on is easier. Doing what we’ve always done is easier. Even if the results suck and make us miserable.
Something is in your way. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something. There’s always something. A weight vest and belt that makes us feel like we’re doing something when it’s not doing anything profitable at all. A rope between where we are and where we’d like to be. Some obstacle or hurdle that makes us want to hang onto whatever is comfortable. And safe. And it looks daunting at first. Besides, we’re a lone penguin most times so there’s nobody to watch make a first attempt to get over the rope. Nobody to watch. And when we do watch others it’s like everybody is succeeding, but us. That’s all just how it seems. That’s not really how it is.
The other day I was talking with a friend. For some reason a name of a guy came up in conversation. We don’t really know him, but we know of him. By all outward appearances he’s got it going on. A big social media following. A book. Some conference appearances. But he’s broke. Struggling. Working hard to hold up the facade. The conversation morphed to the topic of leverage and using what you’ve got.
My friend and I are both clear thinkers. That is, I don’t think either of us is delusional about what it takes to make it in life or business. And we’re not prone to embrace platitudes or high-brow thinking. We’re both more like street fighters, guerillas. But we’re just like you. We get frustrated at our failures because we feel like we’re smart enough to figure out how to be better – how to be our best. And we are…smart enough. That doesn’t mean it’s any easier though.
And as we’re talking I’m thinking of something I read awhile back when that ex-military sniper, Chris Kyle, got murdered right here in the DFW area. Between that and all the hubbub about Seal Team 6, I started reading some things about the Navy Seals. For a long time their training has intrigued many people. Countless TV shows have been done on it. But I came across this little article and being the simple-minded guy that I am, it struck a chord with me. Four simple steps for surviving hand-to-hand combat. It’s not that I’m interested in hand-to-hand combat, but you know me…I’m always interested in a good story and a possible great metaphor.
The article says it’s an excerpt from another website, SealSurvival.com. Here’s the main thrust of the strategy as quoted from the article:
As with most things survival-related, fighting has its own set of priorities that need to be addressed at lightning speed.
1. Protect your face.
2. Stay on your feet and keep moving.
3. Hit hard.
4. Haul ass (a.k.a. get off the X.)
About that last step, the article ends like this…
Although this is the last step in this section, avoiding fights altogether needs to be your first priority. Get off the X and save your fighting techniques for the gym. But you might need to strike first and hard to have the chance to get away. Don’t stay engaged if you can escape. The moment you have an opening, take it and leave the scene, because fights can change instantly and drastically.
Being prepared. Intentional practice. Knowing how to react in an instant. Knowing how to haul away…to flee and avoid a fight. If you’re running for your life you don’t need to take anything with you ’cause nothing you’re carrying is worth dying for, unless it’s another life. Instant priorities. The penguins know the rope isn’t a threat. It’s just an obstacle. They’re pretty defenseless animals on land, but they usually feel safe on land. Had that rope been replaced by a man with a threatening club in hand, I hope they would have fled, but I’m not an expert on penguins. And since you’re not a penguin, I’m hoping you’ll recognize the weight for what it is, an obstacle or a threat.
So I’m thinking of our popular pauper as I’m talking with my friend and I say to her, “He just doesn’t know how to leverage what’s he’s got. Maybe he doesn’t want to do the things he’d have to do to leverage them. Maybe something is holding him up.”
And for the umpteenth time I bring up the brilliance of the Kardashians who can teach all of us a thing or two about how to leverage what we’ve got. If ever a family figured out how to adapt, morph and change to make the most of an opportunity, surely they have! The popular pauper hasn’t yet figured out how to do that. I don’t know what’s standing in his way, but something is. While most of us would let the rope of “Who am I?” stand in our way, the Kardashians have no such hang up. They’ve succeeded in dumping whatever baggage prevents most of us from shameless self-promotion and they’ve become world-class experts at it.
I don’t watch the Kardashians on reality TV, but I do watch Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles. Josh Altman can sell millions and millions of dollars of LA real estate year in and year out, but he can’t maintain a strong relationship with a woman he loves. When it comes to the area of his life where he’s failing miserably, it’s because he’s got baggage he just can rid himself of. His weight is his ambition. He can’t walk away from any deal. Deals always come first. Always. He finds them more irresistible than her. It’s sad to watch because you just know that if doesn’t figure this out he’s going to be extremely wealthy and successful, but alone. So far, he’s willing to pay that price, but something tells me he’ll grow weary of paying it. I hope for his sake he does anyway. We’ll see.
Yesterday was Sam Shepherd’s birthday. You know him. He’s a famous playwright and actor. A writing blog that I follow did a post listing 7 quotes Sam’s made about writing. Number 6 is, “When you hit a wall – of your own imagined limitations – just kick it in.” Sam must have been through the Navy Seal school of creative writing.
But listen closely to number 3 on the list:
You start out as an artist, I started out when I was nineteen, and you’re full of defenses. You have all of this stuff to prove. You have all of these shields in front of you. All your weapons are out. It’s like you’re going into battle. You can accomplish a certain amount that way. But then you get to a point where you say, “But there’s this whole other territory I’m leaving out.” And that territory becomes more important as you grow older. You begin to see that you leave out so much when you go to battle with the shield and all the rest of it. You have to start including that other side or die a horrible death as an artist with your shield stuck on the front of your face forever. You can’t grow that way. And I don’t think you can grow as a person that way, either. There just comes a point when you have to relinquish some of that and risk becoming more open to the vulnerable side, which I think is the female side. It’s much more courageous than the male side.
It’s not about business. Or money. Or careers. Or marriages. Or friendships. It’s about ALL of those things. And more. It’s about the sum total of our lives. It’s about who we are and what we are.
It’s not about being better than the next guy. Or making more money. Or being more popular. Or having more friends. It’s about how much value we provide to the people who matter to us. And it’s about making sure that more people matter to us.
In recent years I’ve found myself repeating the same refrain to younger man – ambitious, hardworking men. Men who I see working as I once did, obsessed with achievement and success.
Your life is a finite resource. Invest it wisely.
Don’t invest yourself in schlepping around weight that burdens you down. Don’t invest it in toting around baggage that isn’t helping you become better. Whatever IT is, get rid of it as fast as you can. Find a way to get away from it or fight it off. Do whatever you can – and must – to become more highly maneuverable…because that’s what it’s gonna take to get over that rope.
Tenacity. Persistence. Drive. Determination.
Those don’t work when you’re up against a fortified wall that stands between you and success.
Flexibility. Curiosity. Analytical. Responsive.
Those work better. Wall or no wall.
Mediocrity will fail, but winning doesn’t require excellence. At least not at first.
Entrepreneurship is experiential. Aristotle said,
For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.
Push hard. Now push harder.
Don’t quit. Never give up.
Outwork the competition.
How often do you fail? How much failure does your employer allow? How much do you allow failure in your company?
Perfectionism. Many people claim to have it. Wouldn’t you think if that many people had perfectionism that we’d experience more of it. Doesn’t seem to work that way, does it?
The absence of failure translates into the absence of innovation. Innovation necessarily demands a high failure rate.
Ask customers what they want, then give it to them. WRONG.
Customers aren’t innovative. They mostly want it faster and cheaper.
There’s a logic to how companies and organizations provide value. It’s the stuff of crafting valid business models.
a. It starts with the customer. Who are you going to serve?
b. It moves to the value proposition. What problem are you going to solve? What need or desire are you going to fulfill?
c. Then there’s the channel or distribution. How are you going to deliver the value to the customer?
d. All along the way is the ever-important relationship with the customer. It has to be established and maintained.
e. The organization needs revenue. Customers must be willing to pay for the value provided. If they don’t, the enterprise fails.
f. Resources require management. The assets necessary to build and deliver value to customers have to be properly managed for the enterprise to work.
g. Activities require management. The company must create processes and work flows that get the job done. The people who perform the activities need leadership. People need accountability.
h. Partners are important. Enterprises need financial partners, vendors and other outsourced resources.
i. Costs and expenses have to be properly managed.
Things can go wrong at any step along the way. And they often do. Sometimes they go wrong in many areas all at the same time. Failure can happen at any point along the way.
I’m not trying to discourage anybody. Rather, I’m trying to encourage people. I’d like to encourage people to understand that this is more about experience and less about “how to.”
Gathered around kitchen tables all over the world, and sitting in beds with laptops perched atop…well, a lap…are millions of people dreaming the dream of entrepreneurship. For some, it’s their dream. For others, it’s the dream they think they’re supposed to have.
Let’s try a quick word game. Just blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind after I say each word. Sure, say it out loud. Why not? Let your own ears hear you say it. Ready?
I get those other 8, but not those last two. Not really. Sure, you’ve heard Gary Vee (Vaynerchuk) use the word “hustle.” Others of us – old school fools – we remember the disco hit from the summer of 1975, Do The Hustle. Disco. Now that was innovation. And I hated every minute of it. 😀 It was ridiculous then. It’s more ridiculous now. But it did plant the term “hustle” into everybody’s vocabulary.
Hustle is something you must DO. So is scrambling. One sounds right, positive. The other sounds less right and more chaotic. NFL quarterbacks flushed out of the pocket scramble. Roaches and rodents scramble when exposed to a bright flashlight. I’d like to be an NFL quarterback, but what if I’m just a roach?
Scrambling sounds so out of control, but if you ever watched Bret Farve play football you know it can be crazy effective. Or disastrous.
Sometimes it works. Other times it fails. Mostly because it’s improvisation. It’s veering away from the called play. Or it’s reacting to a busted play. No matter what, it’s reactionary because it happens as a result of new information or stimuli.
The defense rushes more men than we have blocking. Our quarterback scrambles to avoid the tackle.
Our quarterback fumbles the hand off to the running back, but regains possession of the ball. He scrambles.
Our quarterback is barking out the signals and suddenly the center snaps the ball when he’s not expecting it. He scrambles.
It happens in our businesses, too. We’re expecting to make 10 sales. We make 2. We scramble.
We open our launch. We expect 1000 sign ups. We get 82. We scramble.
We launch a podcast. We expect 1000 downloads per episode by the time we get to number 14. We get 33. We scramble.
The thing about hustling and scrambling is they’re joint workers. No, not THAT kind of joint. Joint as in partners. They work together, in tandem. If you’re not going to hustle there’s no reason to scramble. Not if you’re chasing success.
By the way, you don’t have to be chasing the entrepreneurial dream for this to apply to you. This applies to your career, too. It can even apply to your home life. Because things rarely go as planned. Because stuff happens.
All those business model steps – there are about 9 of them – can be applied to any situation of your life. Go ahead. Test it.
At home, who are you going to serve? Your family.
What’s your value proposition at home? Are you going to mow the lawn, earn the income, clean the clothes…what are you going to do to serve?
How are you going to deliver that value? Will you hire a lawn service, or are you going to do it yourself? Will you get the kids to help you vacuum?
How will you establish and maintain the relationships with the family you’re serving? Will you tell them you love them? Will you hug them? Will you spend time with them?
Family members will need to reciprocate or pay you back for your service. What will that look like? What will you expect, or demand? No, it won’t be money, but it’ll be much more valuable.
You’ve got to manage the resources. The bank account is limited. Monthly income is, too. That’s what budgets are for.
Activities need oversight. The kids have to be given training and instructions. And discipline. Everybody has a job to do and there’s got to be accountability throughout the house.
Partners matter. You’ve got lots of outside relationships that impact your house. There’s the mortgage company, the utility company, the insurance companies and a host of other providers who make your house run. You have to manage those.
Expenses really matter. Boy, don’t you know this all too well? You can’t spend more than you make. Everybody has to understand that rule.
There it is. In a nutshell. The business model applied to your house. A model that can fail at any point and bring your house down financially.
Marriages fail a lot. More than half. And that’s not counting all the common law versions.
Parents fail a lot. Kids get in trouble. Act stupid. Misbehave. Kids fail because too often parents fail.
Careers fail a lot. Sometimes they implode under the weight of an ego, a hot temper or any number of ill-mannered behavior. Sometimes they implode under the weight of incompetence.
But sometimes things fail in spite of our best behavior and efforts. It’s the crude, but true saying, “**** happens!” Indeed it does. And sometimes when you least expect it.
I can’t end today’s show without the realization that bad things happen to good people. And bad things happen in spite of us doing all the right things. That’s because we’re not in full control. Other people enter our lives, sometimes to help us. Sometimes they disrupt us.
He’s a business owner who is in trouble. For years he’s run a successful company, but in recent years things have turned south. Way south. It didn’t start with anything he did wrong. His longtime landlord died. A daughter who lives four states away inherited the property. She wants triple of the lease amount. The details of the lease give her wide latitude. The business owner has 6 months to execute a new lease at these higher rates or make other arrangements. Stunned, our business owner knows tripling his monthly lease amount will cripple his business so that’s not an option. But finding a suitable place to relocate his entire business within 6 months is not ideal either.
He begins to negotiate to buy some time. At the same time he begins to earnestly find another location. The move is going to be expensive, but not as costly as tripling his monthly overhead. He moves and the business suffers. And so begins a tailspin from which he can’t recover. Decades of business success foiled by the death of a landlord and a greedy survivor. Such is life. Or death.
More than a landlord died. So did his business. And the only thing he’s thinking is how deadly that lease agreement was, but as he reviews the last few years he realizes the wealthy landlord held all the cards. Should he have signed that lease? He didn’t have a choice if he wanted to remain in a location he’d had for years. The landlord was growing older and they had a great relationship, but things change. Death happens.
Things beyond our control foil our success sometimes.
I was not yet 30 and running a multi-million dollar retail company, a subsidiary of a much larger company. The owner was older, 39. We were on a roll. Barely did a week go by where he didn’t tell his inner circle the big, audacious goal. “We’re gonna go public and we’re all gonna be rich,” he’d say.
One Friday I had a scheduled meeting with him in my office. That morning his secretary and assistant called to tell me he had decided to travel to Houston for the day. “No problem, ” I thought. I’ll talk to him next week. We saw each other almost weekly. He was a terrific guy and great mentor.
That same Friday night he was killed in a car accident shortly after leaving the airport. My phone rang in the wee hours of the morning with the news. I remember driving to his house to see his wife and a few fellow co-workers. None of us planned on our founder dying. We had big plans. We were going places.
I won’t bore you with the struggles of the next 18 months, but they were some of the most stressful, taxing times of my life (and my young family’s life). I went from loving my work to hating it. Dreading it. And finally walking away from it.
I had done nothing wrong, but it didn’t matter. Professionally, many of us were wrecked through no fault of our own. It happens.
My day work focuses on helping people with a variety of problems and challenges. Some of them involve generating revenue. These days, most don’t involve that at all, but they all involve people’s work with and for other people. The business arena calls them the “soft” skills. Think of me as a soft skills expert.
Most weeks I catch myself urging people to avoid the false notion that “the company” or “the organization” will take care of them. It’s fool’s gold. As I sit in people’s offices and see pictures of family I regularly remind people that those people in those pictures are depending on YOU – the people I’m serving – to take care of them. Don’t entrust their success (or failure) to your employer, or your company. Assume responsibility for yourself and those you love. Put yourself in the best position possible for success, knowing that lots of things can happen beyond your control. Even so, you can control your own behavior, conduct and choices. The wiser we can make all those elements, the better our chances of success.
Who cares if failure is more common than success? Somebody is out there succeeding. It may as well be us.
Over 30 years ago an old business guy told me, “Somewhere, in a bad location and a bad economy is a store that is setting new sales records. Somewhere, in a great location and a good economy is a store that is dying. You know the difference? The guy who runs the place. Leadership makes all the difference.”
Be a leader of your own life and your own career. Make all the difference you can.