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There is so much competition — thousands or millions of people competing to do exactly what you want to do.
How do you get out of the rat race?
How do you advance quick enough to not have your dreams smashed into submission by society and imploded by "reality"?
How do you make the needed leaps to move beyond the masses vying for a similar position?
After all, you have bills to pay and tons of other responsibilities. You only have a limited amount of time each day. After work and everything else you've got going on, it's easy to justify waiting until tomorrow. Even if you have the raw energy to do your work, you may feel guilty breaking from your relational obligations.
It truly can feel hopeless and overwhelming. There's so much to learn. It can be easy to doubt our own abilities. Maybe we should just give up and accept reality for what it is?
The Truth Is...
Most of the competition are not hard to surpass. They're dealing with the same existential and practical challenges you are. Their life isn't structured for optimal creative expression. They are the primary obstacle in the path. Most will quit long before they ever really begin — always remaining mediocre at what they do.
With a few tweaks, you'll quickly drop through a wormhole placing you in the top 5-10 percent in your field. The challenge then becomes to move from there to the top — which movement is the real contest. Getting to the top 5-10 percent merely requires a change in lifestyle. Getting to the top 1 percent requires a fundamental change in your being.
This post is a framework to quickly get you into the top 5-10 percent of your field so you can begin the real quest of becoming the best at what you do.
Phase One will get you to the top 5-10 percent of your field. Once you're at this level, you are getting paid enough for your art to live on. This is key, as Paul Graham has said, "Once you cross the threshold of profitability, however low, your runway becomes infinite." He calls the lowest tier of profitability, "Ramen Profitable," which means a startup (or business of any sort) makes just enough to pay the founders' living expenses.
Infinite runway means you can now dedicate all your "work" time to your work. You are no longer moonlighting or squeezing time in the margins of your life. You can pay your bills and eat Ramen. This is where Phase Two begins, and is really the beginning of your artistic journey — becoming the best in the world at what you do.
Phase One: Getting To Ramen Profitable (Or Sustainable)
1. Start as an Amateur
Kenzie and Harris were recently married. They had both dropped out of Brigham Young University and were working at the Apple store in downtown Salt Lake City. On the side, they were recording music covers and posting them on YouTube and Vine.
They had enough money in savings to live on a year, so they quit at Apple to make a run at becoming professional musicians. Every day, they would post Vines. For several months, their work went mostly unnoticed. They had a few thousand followers tops.
Then, everything changed. They posted a Vine that immediately went viral. The next day, they were contacted by some of the top Viners as well as agents who gave them contracts. They were now Ramen Profitable, had amazing connections, and on their way to making an amazing career as musicians.
Kenzie and Harris wouldn't have had their breakthrough if they didn't start as amateurs. They had some raw talent. But more than anything, they were willing to put themselves out there over and over and over. Quantity became quality. And then they put something out that people loved.
Very few people have the humility to start as amateurs. They procrastinate doing the work they want in the name of perfectionism. You know these people. The one's who have been saying for years that they're going to do something but never do. Yet inwardly, they're terrified of what other people will think of them.
They're caught in a state of paralysis by analysis — too busy calculating and never reaching a state of flow. Rather than doing work their own way, they do what they think will be well-received — being merely imitators of what is already popular.
2. Get Coaching/Education
Take your dreams seriously. Most people don't. Take them serious enough to become amazing and move beyond mediocre. Get education and coaching.
"When the student is ready the teacher will appear." — Buddha
Ever since returning from a two-year mission trip, I've always known I wanted to be a writer. However, my dream remained a figment of my imagination until I became serious enough to get a mentor.
I've had two mentors that have changed how I write. One of my mentors was a young professor who taught me more in three months than I had learned in the previous four years.
Actually, he taught me more about academic writing and research in three months than most people learn through an entire PhD. With his help, I was easily able to get into the graduate school of my choice.
I started blogging about 21 months ago. Knowing this is something I'm serious about, I decided to get coaching. However, this time, I did it in the form of a virtual online course.
Within a month of taking the course, I wrote a blog post that was read over five million times across multiple outlets and in several languages. This online course was not the reason for my success; but it was an important part of the progression I would inevitably get one way or another.
You'll know when you're ready for the next level when you attract the right teacher to help you get there.
3. Stop Living the Broken Rules Everyone Else is Living
If it's popular it's wrong. Most people are mediocre at what they do for a reason. They're playing by rules that halt optimal performance. They are climbing traditional ladders intended to slow them down and keep them average.
When everyone else is zigging, that's when you zag. Darren Hardy says you should run "toward the thing everyone else is running from" in order to stand out from the crowd.
As Peter Diamandis says, "The day before something is a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea." If what you're doing doesn't seem slightly crazy to you, and very crazy to other people, you're probably following the safe path.
Instead of following the rules set by society, create your own rules. Restructure the game to automate your success. Dismiss the haters, convention, and conformity. Follow your heart and the voice inside you encouraging faith and forward movement. In order to be happy, you must build a lifestyle around being true to yourself. If you're true to yourself, good things will follow.
4. Be Consistent Until You Have a Breakthrough
If you haven't had your big break yet, keep going. Consistency is the most fundamental virtue to becoming the person you want to be. Almost everyone can sprint for a while. But most burn-out and quit. Everything meaningful in life is a marathon — meant to test your commitment and will.
If this is what you love doing, you'll do it regardless of the outcome. In fact, obsession with a particular outcome will keep you from attaining your desired results. Your work will be forced rather than organically lived.
There is a natural law known as the compound effect. If you invest a small amount of money consistently, eventually compound interest takes over and growth becomes exponential. The same holds true for any habit, whether good or bad. If you do something long enough, compounding will take effect, momentum will surge, and you'll begin to experience exponential results.
If you want it bad enough, you will do whatever it takes to make it happen. If you don't, you won't. You'll be willing to reduce time with friends and hobbies, forego sleep, make big asks, take risks, find a mentor, get educated, and look foolish. You'll be surprised how quickly you become Ramen Profitable when you take your work seriously.
Phase Two: Becoming The Best In The World At What You Do
The person who succumbs to temptation knows far less about its power than the person who resists it. Experience is key. Knowledge only becomes wisdom when it's properly and consistently applied. Thus, the importance of learning from people who have actually been there, as opposed to sideline spectators. Never take advice from someone you wouldn't want to switch places with.
Getting to the top 5-10 percent in your field can be done by following principles taught by other people. However, in order to become the best at what you do, at some point you leave it all behind. You become an innovator. A pioneer. An artist.
In order to get to the top 1 percent of performers, you must come up to the razor's edge — the brink of disaster — where probability of failure is high. At this point, everything you've been taught is opposed by what you feel you should do. But your intuition is operating at a higher level.
5. Structure Your Entire Life to Optimize Your Performance
Entering the realm of the best in the world requires becoming holistic about your art. Everything you do matters. Every moment of your life either contributes to or takes away from what you're trying to accomplish — the food you eat — activities you do — people you spend time with — and how you spend your mornings and evenings.
Most people's lives are structured in a reactive way. The first thing they do in the morning is check their email or social media. They may even read a good book. But all of these things are highly addictive inputs.
In order to become a creative master, you must focus your efforts on outputs by leveraging your subconscious mind. While you're away from your work, like sleeping, spending time with friends, or other activities, your subconscious is working through and mulling over the problems you're trying to solve.
The first thing to do when you wake up is output. This may be in the form of writing in a journal to capture all the work your subconscious has been doing while you were sleeping.
Or immediately getting to the project you're working on. When you get out of a meeting or finish any form of activity, rather than going directly to your email or other input, maximize your subconscious by going directly to output — your work. Creative and insightful eruptions of intellectual inspiration will flow.
Being healthy and free from physical pain is also crucial for enhanced performance. In his book, The Great Pain Deception, Stephen Ozanich wrote:
"Pain and other chronic symptoms are physical manifestations of unresolved internal conflict. Symptoms surface as the instinctual mechanism for self-survival. They are messages from the inner self wanting to be heard, but ego takes center-stage, and hides the truth within the shadows of the unconscious mind: which is the body."
In the 1990's neuroscientist Candice Pert, Ph.D., shared her discovery that the body, not the brain, is the subconscious mind which communicates via neuropeptides. Indeed, human beings are holistic. Our body and mind work in unison.
When we have unresolved tension in our lives, this tension is generally manifest in physical illness. When we clear ourselves of this tension, we allow our body to naturally and organically heal. When our bodies are healthy, we're far more prone to inspiration.
6. Allow Time for Recovery
Less is more. When you focus on results, rather than being busy, you're 100 percent ON when you're working and 100 percent OFF when you're not. This not only allows you to be present in the moment, but allows you the needed time to rest and recover.
The science if very compelling. Psychological-detachment from work is essential for being engaged while you're working! Here are other benefits of psychological detachment from work:
- If you don't detach from work, you're more likely to procrastinate and get fatigued on the job.
- Although this is obvious, if you don't detach from work, you're less likely to have marital satisfaction.
Your ability to work at a high level is like fitness. If you never took a break between sets, you wouldn't be able to build strength, stamina, and endurance. However, not all "rest" produces recovery. Certain things are more soothing than others.
Recovering from my work generally consists of writing in my journal, listening to music, spending time with my wife and kids, preparing and eating delicious food, or serving other people. These things rejuvenate me. They make my work possible, but also meaningful.
7. Have a Pre-Performance Routine That Gets You in the Flow
Josh Waitzkin is a genius when it comes to learning and optimal human performance. He was a Chess prodigy as a child — he won five National Championship titles in Tai Chi Chuan — and is now focusing on becoming world-class at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He takes the fundamental principles of learning from the ground up and applies them laterally to different disciplines.
In order to "get in the zone," Josh recommends a Pre-Performance routine. The goal is to reduce stress and anxiety so you can be present. These routines often take 20-60 minutes to put you in the zone. However, Josh recommends incrementally reducing the routine time to the point where simply thinking about it clicks you into the zone.
The purpose of the pre-performance routine is to alter your emotional state. Most people experience emotional resistance before engaging in a task, like say, writing.
That resistance could be a number of negative and suppressed emotions such as fear, uncertainty, and feelings of inadequacy. You don't want these emotions to influence you while you work. They will negatively influence how you perform.
The pre-performance routine is intended to alter your emotional state to one of courage, peace, acceptance, and love. From these emotional states, your work will be far superior. Without question, how you feel in the moment you do you work determines how well you do.
8. Embrace Fear and Suffering
"The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It's the same thing, fear, but it's what you do with it that matters." — Cus D'Amato
The idea of fearlessness is a false concept that is imposed by spectators. True performers feel fear and experience suffering. However, they learned to settle-into it like a yoga stretch.
Cycling is a sport notorious for the amount of suffering required. As Tyler Hamilton has said, "I discovered when I went all out, when I put 100 percent of my energy into some intense, impossible task — when my heart was jack-hammering, when lactic acid was sizzling through my muscles — that's when I felt good, normal, balanced."
Cyclists often refer to "the pain cave," which is a mental place they go deeper and deeper into as they're competing. "I went deeper than I thought I would." "I was at the limit." "I was totally pinned." You often hear phrases like these in interviews after a cycling race.
"Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them." — Josh Waitzkin
When you begin feeling uncomfortable, that's when you start feeling good. That's when you're growing. No pain no gain. That's your happy place. That's where most people stop. But not you.
9. Do It Because of Love
In the end, there's nothing more important than deep connection with humanity. The love you feel for other people is an experience that eclipses all others in life.
So much of training and personal progress is introspective — focused on the self. However, moving outward and focusing on the needs of others provides new meaning for your work. Become the best at what you do, not because of the legacy you'll leave, but because of the lives you'll bless.
There is a four stage hierarchy of motivations in psychology.
At stage one, you are motivated by fear. Everything you do is to avoid punishment or negative outcomes. You only do what you think others want you to do, being completely dependent on them. According to decision theory, this form of motivation is prevention focused.
At stage two, you are motivated by reward. Everything you do is to get what you want. If you are in business, you do only that which you believe will get you ahead. Thus, you are promotion focused and although highly independent, you can't see outside of your own limited worldview. You're too fixated on what you want, so much so that you're unable to truly collaborate or get genuine feedback.
Both stage one and stage two demonstrate extrinsic motivation, which is far less powerful than intrinsic motivation.
At stage three, you are motivated by duty. You're going to do what you believe you should whether you receive a reward or not. You have no fear of punishment. You are intrinsically motivated. You're willing to do whatever it takes to get the result, even if that means changing your initial mindset, ideas, or strategies. Even still, there's a lack of something truly magical when you do something only out of duty.
At stage four, you are motivated by love. You have moved beyond worry for your own needs. Your aim is to bring as much joy to each individual as you possibly can. Your love transcends human reasoning. It drives you to do things most would consider crazy. You no longer live by conventional rules or wisdom. You have a plan, yet that plan is continually upgraded through connecting new dots via collaborations and inspiration. You're no longer tied to a specific outcome but you have conviction and faith that the best outcome will occur.
You can quickly get to the point where you do what you love for a living. This will require hard work, sacrifice, and consistency. However, what got you here won't get you there. Becoming the best involves transcending guidelines and following your instinct.
You get to decide the level of impact or quality of the work you do. You can become the best in the world. It begins with elevated thinking.
Are YOU going to get to the top 1 percent?