“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”―Michelangelo
I’ve learned a lot about people over the years as a small business owner. The number one thing that I have observed is this:
Most people don’t have grit when it comes to success or accomplishment.
I define “grit” as having the unwavering dedication to do what you say you are doing to do no matter how hard it gets. It’s rare when you find someone that has natural grit.
Grit is necessary for accomplishing great things, but it’s not just grit that keeps people from reaching the greatness they have inside of them. I know plenty of people that have all the grit in the world, but still lack the understanding of what it takes to be successful. They don’t realize how long or how hard the work really is, and it's this lack of understanding that sabotages their best efforts.
Success is always longer and harder than people expect.
I know people that have mountains of natural talent yet are in the same place they were 5 years ago. I also know that most of them will be in that same place—or very close to it—5 years from now.
This is because they either 1) don’t have the grit necessary, or 2) haven’t made the commitment to do the work that is necessary because they either do’t understand what the commit entails or because they are paralyzed by fear or laziness.
It’s sad because so many are stuck and there’s nothing I can do about it (although I try to help through my writing). There is no amount of advice or opportunity I can give them to make them change their ways. The human condition is one that changes from within, and only from within. No amount of coaching, advice, or help will ever do anything for the person that hasn’t first made the decision to do it for themselves.
You have to want it. Then you have to be willing to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get what you want.
What if you have the grit and you want to do the work for as long as it takes?
I’m glad you asked. There is a way.
First, you have to understand what the work looks like. Second, you have to do everything you can to get good at doing that work (yes, getting good at work takes practice) until you get to the point where you do the work naturally on a daily basis.
Before we get to my specific recommendations for doing the work, I want to point out a few things that you have going for you as you venture on this journey.
First, you have access to all the information you will ever need, which has not always been the case. This is something most of us take for granted, especially the younger generation. 20 years ago, if you wanted to start a company, you would've needed network and capital, and most of the time plenty of each. Most business back then were started by those already in the business, or that had a partner that was in the business (or by those that paid a consultant a lot of money to teach them the business). These were the rules of the game before business become democratized by the Internet.
Nowadays, you can go from idea to first sale for a fraction of what it used to require and cost (free in some cases). Thank the Internet for that.
Not only has the Internet provided access to the information you need, it has also commoditized nearly every part of the business process. You can run a business for less than $100 a month and still have a website, 800-number, customer support, newsletter service, fulfillment service, and so on. It’s incredible.
What this all means is there has never been a better time to build something for yourself (and you should because the only way to have real security in life is to invest in yourself).
You would think that the opportunities the Internet now provides would mean a larger percent of the population would become independently successful. But the numbers don't show this, and from what I've seen, it’s still the same 1% it’s always been.
Think about that. Only 1 out of every 100 people have the grit and unwavering determination necessary to become independently successful. In fact, I think the numbers are probably less than that… like maybe 1 out of every 200 or 300 people have what it takes.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, it could mean a lot of things; take from it what you will. Now, with that long aside out of the way, I want to share with you some of my ideas about the specific work that is needed to become successful. But before we get to that, I want to offer a couple disclaimers.
Disclaimer #1: The word “successful” can mean different things to different people so let’s avoid getting hung up on schematics. Whatever successful means to you is what you will strive for. Either way, the principles of grit and work are the same whether you are trying to become rich or just live a happy and healthy life.
Disclaimer #2: I’m not claiming I am “successful”—I know I have a long way to go. That said, by certain standards of time and freedom but not necessarily money, I consider myself successful—I set my own schedule and have assets I’ve built that pay for my living expenses. I am writing this from the point of view of someone that has accomplished certain things in life yet who still wants to (is going to) accomplish much more.
Here is the most fundamental lessons about success that I’ve learned so far in my life:
You can build anything in the world if you invest 4 hours of focused, non-distracted or interrupted work on a daily basis.
4 hours. That’s it.
Of course, I need to explain a few things.
First, doing an hour of work in a quiet room with your phone and Facebook “off” is different than work in a coffee shop, office space, or other distracted environment with your phone at your side and notifications and distractions running rampant. I would say it’s about a 4-1 ratio—for every 1 hour of work you do that is hyper-focused and uninterrupted, you are getting about 4 hours of the work output you get in a distracted environment that is constantly pulling you away from focus.
There is a ton of research showing the negative effects that interruption and distraction have on work output, but I won’t get into those here. Do some research on your own if you want to understand why this is. And no matter what: turn notifications off when you are working!
Since a large part of the American workforce works in an office environment that is full of distractions and interruptions, you can get miles ahead of others by locking yourself in a room and focusing. It’s as simple as that.
It’s not only people that work in offices that you can outperform, it’s most people. The majority of people are addicted to the distractions that social media and connectedness provides. So, when I say “4 hours,” it’s a different kind of 4 hours from what most are probably used to. This is your opportunity.
Hours in a day
If you sleep eight hours a day (and you should), you’ll have sixteen waking hours left to do with as you please. If you work the standard eight hour workday, you’ll still have eight hours left to do other things. If you commit only four hours of this “leftover” time to do focused work, you’ll still have four hours left to eat, commute and spend time with other activities. Not bad at all.
Of course, people are habitual time-wasters. This is why I always say that getting good at work takes practice. Building the habit of regularly putting in focused work takes time to develop. The more full your schedule is, the more time it will take to build the habit of focused work because you’ll have less time and energy to get the work slotted in. But if you keep at it, you will eventually build a solid routine. And that’s what you want because that’s where the results come from.
When you start dedicating two or more hours a day to focused work, magical things start happening. It gets much easier when you are habitually working focused hours because you will more easily get into flow state, and, before you know it, two hours becomes four, and four becomes six, and so on. It’s the first two hours of habit that are the bitch. This is why you should start trying to get the first hour into habit (then the 2nd and so on).
Take note: If you can’t commit to 4 hours a day to work towards your goals, regardless of how “crazy” your schedule is, you should take it as a sign that you don’t want it enough.
Of course, none of this is going to happen overnight. That’s why you should start with the goal of getting just one solid work hour in a day. Goal-reaching (is that a word?) 101 states that if you start small, you set yourself up for success because you can celebrate small wins—and on the flip side, if you start big, you are likely to fail because you make it too hard on yourself and you get frustrated and quit.
Start small, get a win, then build on that. Positive momentum is necessary for accomplishing anything in life. No matter how grand your goal is, you get there the same way you get any where: by taking strategic steps.
Start with one hour a day of focused work and grow from there.
What it takes
In anything you start that is hard, you are going to struggle in the beginning. This is the process so you better just accept it. From what I’ve seen, most people don’t have what it takes to stick with the long haul in anything. I say this not from judgement or contempt, but from pure factual observation.
Not everyone needs to be, or can be, “successful”—at least in the terms that society defines it. That’s totally fine. As Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Not everyone needs to exchange life for success. Don’t assume that you need to just because those around you are or want to. C'est la vie… “That’s Life.”
Success is as glamorous as they make it out to be. Many successful people are miserable and become depressed or drug addicts. If you think about this, it makes total sense. Think about your life: If you had everything and anything you wanted at any time, what would add meaning to your life? So much of our lives is a balance of having and wanting and needing and if you immediately take away the wanting and needing and provide only the having, you get problems. I often think of this; I sometimes think that life would become too boring if money immediately become of no concern. Sure, I could spend time helping others and philanthropy, but I would lose the competitiveness that only comes with a yearning to excel in business and other competitive games like poker or magic (also known as Magic The Gathering… don’t ask). If I had all the money in the world, why would I want to play poker? The result wouldn’t sting or provide joy. It would completely lose it’s most valuable force motivator for wanting to win. I think the game would lose its appeal I think. (And I think this is the effect you see when you see millionaires and billionaires risking their entire fortunes to get more. It’s a form of playing the game in a way that provides enough “string” or excitement.)
Hell, there are plenty times when I wish I wasn’t so driven to be successful. Life would definitely be easier, although probably more dull. I dunno. Either way, I long ago accepted the fact that I’m willing to forgo temporary pleasure in exchange for greater enjoyment, and security, in the future. This is my choice. Yours may be different, and again, that’s completely ok.
For those of you that want to be successful, and that are ok exchanging some life now for greater enjoyment in the future, you have to understand—and accept—what it’s going to take. Start by making it your mission to get to 4 hours of focused work a day, preferably in the mornings. After that, keep adding more work until you reach where you want to be for what you want to accomplish.
Closing disclaimers: Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Make sure you enjoy the journey. Make sure you have a clear “why.” Most importantly, make sure you don’t sacrifice health, family and friends throughout the process.
If you are true to yourself, and honest with the world about who you are, then you have done all that you can. The world will have to accept you for who you are. It isn't a debate or as discussion; it is you. Make the world accept you. The easiest way to do this is to be completely yourself beyond any reasonable doubt.
Live for yourself. The rest will follow.