And how to calm down that voice obsessing over the result…
There is a moment in the film ‘The Bucket List’ where Morgan Freeman’s voice says, “I believe that you measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you”.
It’s a slightly clunky sentence that takes a moment to digest, but when it does it becomes very powerful. Powerful because within this lies the epitome of what success really looks like to many of us.
True success looks like being respected by and on a level with people you respect and would otherwise look up to.
There are great icons of culture or business who have achieved remarkably rare things.
As an entrepreneur you might look to Richard Branson. As an artist you may follow Damien Hirst. As a singer-songwriter you may be imagining a day when Ed Sheeran taps his foot along to your records.
Through books, podcasts and documentaries we get access to these iconic figures and through that access have the ability to understand and learn from their processes.
But, while on an individual level we may know we’re interested in getting to that level, there is a serious influence which can block you from being ‘successful’. This influence is constant, unrelenting and powerful, but it comes casually and in disguise. The influence comes from the environment you’re currently in and the people you are surrounded by. These people want the best for you and want to see you succeed. Which means they are ever ready to hand out advice and pass on their opinions about your attitude and approach.
Before you consider or take on board these opinions, think for a second about who it is that you are trying to emulate. Whose level of achievement would you want to match, in order to feel successful?
If you want to be a professional tennis player, Serena Williams would probably tell you that it’s a good thing to train for 7 hours a day, 6 days a week, for years. She might say it’s good to almost break your body in practice, so that a four hour match isn’t as hard for you as it might be for your competitors.
“All I know is that I do work very, very hard. The other day I was on the court for four hours with my coach and everyone was like, “OK, are you crazy?” No, I’m just really intense. I work really hard.” – Serena Williams
I can guarantee that most of your friends or immediate associates would be worried about you if you were working at something with that level of intensity.
It isn’t normal. It isn’t relatable for a majority of people.
Tracey Emin is a Turner Prize winning artist. She is someone who grew up without constant electricity, spent large chunks of her youth homeless but who has now sold artwork for over £1million. People may tell you that as an artist, you need to be connected to the real world and not isolated. They will want you to be out and about living a regular routine, but Tracey Emin might have a slightly different angle on routine.
“I don’t have a family life like other people do, all I have is my art. That is my obsession, not me.” – Tracey Emin
Serena Williams and Tracey Emin are committed to their craft. Much more committed than most people. What this means is that pursuing their ambition becomes a lifestyle in itself. The goals may help them structure their routine but really, it’s the lifestyle that they’re experiencing on a day to day basis.
Let’s say you’ve decided you’d like to write a book, but you have children and work full time. After doing an audit of your time you realise the most feasible slot to write is first thing in the morning, before your children wake. In casual conversation with a friend you mention your plan to get up early and write from 5:30am-6:30am.
“What?!” They exclaim. “Sarah, you can’t do that, you’ll get exhausted. You should do evenings or weekends instead.”
So you nod your head, take it on board and think, they do have a point… but 6months later and the book hasn’t progressed. Your weekends didn’t suddenly free up because your friend felt that would be a better time for you to write.
Jean Chatzky is the financial editor of NBC’s TODAY show and founder and CEO of HerMoney. She has 2 children and has written 7 books. She would probably give you different advice if she could.
“When I’m in the process of writing a book, the 5:00am wake-up time can go on for months. It’s something I learned from my mother… She would get her work done before anyone in the house was awake. So, I get up. I let the dog out, make the coffee, let the dog back in, feed him, and then sit down at my computer and type.” – Jean Chatzky
It’s nice to listen and feel supported by the people around you, but if they haven’t achieved what your seeking, does their opinion count for much?
The writer Ryan Holiday advises something similar, saying that if you want to be a writer, don’t do what people who want to be writers do, do what actual professional writers do.
You see, people will advise you to work towards a goal. But what that actually looks like on a practical level isn’t something they have seen, so it jars with them and their lives.
We can all fall into this trap. Obsessing over some ultimate result that we’re aiming for rather than crafting the processes that would actually get us there.
High achieving people have lived and still live with the lifestyles that enable them to achieve all they have, without becoming miserable on the way. It is because of this reality of their lives that they will tell you “it is about the process”.
It is because 99% of their lives is spent in the process and 1% in the result; at the book launch, collecting the Turner Prize, raising a cup above their heads.
The 1% is public, the 99% is private. But that 99% will not only carry you towards the things you imagine. It will also make you more relatable to the other people who have got there. You are in it together. You understand the challenges and routines which confuse everyone else.
So to borrow some wisdom from Amy Poehler:
“You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.” – Amy Poehler