“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.” – Duke Ellington
One of life’s perpetual frustrations is that feeling that you’ve missed the boat. The sense that you should have started something 10 years ago but you didn’t.
Then maybe you decide that f*ck it. You may have missed out on those 10 years but you aren’t prepared to miss the next 10 and make a start. You dive in with gusto and enthusiasm, ready to see a shift and after a un-animate period of plugging away all you’ve discovered is how much you have left to do and quite how far you have left to go.
This can be exaggerated by failure. Moments where you feel your life has been building towards something, the stars are aligning, you’ve never been more ready and then for some reason, you miss the basket. Either you fall short or experience a rejection that feels outside of your control.
You’ve been telling your family how important you poetry writing is, yet you can’t get published. Or you’re convinced you have the potential to be the next Travis Barker, but you can still only manage to be the back-up drummer for a local wedding band and your solos wouldn’t be impressive, even if you were encouraged to give them.
It’s excruciating if you really want something, and much like heartbreak, in these moments the temptation is to bow out and protect yourself from further pain.
It’s also confusing. It’s confusing because you see other people who have managed to do remarkable things in the same amount of time as you. And because all the time you’ve been working, your friends have been spending socialising. Is it worth it? Will you “make it”?!
In 1997, two unknown Brits started working together on a radio station called xFM. The first had stumbled into a job with the kinda-grand, kinda-vague title ‘head of speech’. He was 37 at the time and hired a 23 year old assistant; hired because it was the first CV that hit his desk.
The ‘head of speech’ was someone you may describe as a frustrated creative. “I did start 20 novels, and then went, ‘Ah, too hard,’ and went to the bar.”
The 23 year old was called Stephen Merchant. When the two met, there was a shift in the approach and attitude of his manager. He was writing something and it was something that kept him plugging away at the writing and away from the bar.
“I enjoyed every moment of it… I enjoyed the result and I enjoyed the pride. I also realised in retrospect that I didn’t enjoy all those things because of how good I thought it had turned out. I enjoyed it because of how hard it was.” – Ricky Gervais
If you hadn’t already worked it out, that creative was Ricky Gervais and the project inspiring him was the now infamous TV series, “The Office”. Gervais wrote it at 40 and his life changed. In Stephen Merchant he found a writing partner he would go on to work with for many years, penning further successful work including “Extras”, “Life’s Too Short” and “An Idiot Abroad”.
There are a number of lessons to take from this. The first is that you do have gifts within you which may not be peaking right now, but you can uncover them by understanding work ethic.
“I think you should know something about me first. I never tried hard at anything. I was born smart on a very working-class estate. A couple of people I knew went to university apart from me, but all the way through I was the smartest kid in the school. That’s luck, but I was proud of it. And I was also proud of doing well without trying. As you get older, and it took me a long time to realise it, that’s a disgusting attitude, revolting. It’s ignorant and it’s a tragic waste, and I realised that the work itself is the reward. The struggle itself is the reward.” – Ricky Gervais
The second is that the right partner may be your missing piece. Humans are a collaborative species. Our ability to work in a team and benefit from one another’s strengths is one of the reasons we’ve advanced that bit further than other animals. (Read more on that here.)
And finally, to paraphrase Salma Hayek, there is no critical age for success. The idea of there being a boat you can miss is exactly what holds so many people back, because they decide not to jump on the next one.
“Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.” – Richard Branson