Last year, I read a really interesting book called:
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
The title of the book comes from advice that comedian Steve Martin likes to give whenever someone asks him, “What does it take to be successful?”
The author goes on to tell a story about one of Steve Martin’s lesser known talents: that he’s an amazing banjo player as well! [YouTube clip]
But how did he become such an excellent banjo player? Here’s the quote from the book:
[I thought], if I stay with it, then one day I will have been playing for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it.
Now, for me, personally, 40 years sounds like a pretty long time (I’m not even 40 years old yet). So, this amount of time basically amounts to “a lifetime from now.”
But at the same time, I’ve also been following the work and progress of another talented actor: Hugh Jackman. Take a look at these before and after pictures of him playing Wolverine in the first X-men movie (2000) to The Wolverine (2013) – a little more than 10 years later.
I started thinking about it and thought:
- 10 years is long enough to make significant progress toward a goal
- It’s also not too long as to lose sight of your end goals
- And taking Steve Martin’s quote: “Anyone who sticks with something for 10 years will be pretty good at it.”
- Finally, of course: “If he can do it, I can do it.”
As of this July, I’ve officially lived and worked in South Korea for 11 years! So, let me recount a few of the things I’ve “gotten good at” in the last decade:
- From unable to read Hangul to Level 4 in the KIIP program
- From no teaching experience, to developing curriculum for and teaching 8 new high school courses (and a Google Certified Educator/Trainer/Administrator)
- From barely getting my Computer Science degree (a D in a major class), to TOP of my class in grad school for Graphic Design
- From a single suitcase, to a house, car, wife and 2 kids, and all the modern conveniences of life
A few tips and cautions
The book (So Good They Can’t Ignore You) lists out 5 specific rules to help cultivate success and this blog post that provides an excellent breakdown of those and review of the book. In the list below, I’ll add some of my own thoughts.
(Book) Rule #1: DON’T Follow Your Passion
Actually “Be Passionate About What You Do” would be better advice to take. This applies whether you’re learning Korean, going to the gym, or taking up bass guitar (as I did about 5 weeks ago).
Sometimes there are certain things that you should do, need to do, that aren’t necessarily FUN, “passion-filled” exercises – things like:
- drilling grammar patterns
- memorizing vocabulary
- waking up at 5am to go to the gym
- lifting heavy weights or doing pullups when you’re tired
- learning and memorizing scales and playing techniques on a musical instrument
These things aren’t necessarily AMAZING things in and of themselves – but they have the potential to make YOU amazing.
Therefore, rather than thinking: “what makes me passionate?” we should be thinking “what part of this activity can I become passionate about?” And then, through routine, habits, self-discipline, and a commitment to the long-term benefits, you can gradually increase your passion in the thing you are doing – and the payoff will be worth it in the end.
(From) Rule #2: Cultivate the Craftsman Mindset
The above is the kind of the the book author describes as “The Craftsman Mindset.”
Look at anyone who’s REALLY successful at what they do and you’ll notice a few things:
- They genuinely enjoy what they do – not necessarily because it was their first “passion” but because they’ve become so adept at it, they can do it skillfully with ease
- They often talk about “Refining my Craft” (I noticed this a lot in Kevin Hart’s new book: I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons)
- They take pride in their Craft and “deliberately practice” to master even the smallest nuances of it
On Deliberate Practice (from the blog post):
Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.
“If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an ‘acceptable level.’” [of performance]
(My) Rule #3: Baby Steps – Every day – 10 years
Since I joined the gym with my friend a little over a year ago, I’ve seen pretty noticeable changes in my muscle size and capacity, my weight, and my energy. (Last summer, when I lost 10 pounds in less than 2 months, a lot of my friends noticed as well.)
But my main takeaway from this is: it wasn’t easy, but it was small, step-by-step
My friend, a gym-rat/personal trainer, stays in the gym for hours everyday, but he only trains me for 30 minutes. Granted, it’s an intense, highly focused and energized 30 minutes, but it’s not long. Over time, as my body is able to handle more and more, I may personally choose to increase this, but for now, I’m reminded of Steve Martin’s quote:
If I stay with it, then one day I will have been [doing it] for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it.”
Personally, I’m shooting for 10 years for everything. Because even in 10 years, I can make some pretty significant progress.
Next time, I’ll work on SETTING some Specific (S.M.A.R.T.) goals for the next 10 years.