Often we think that success in life comes in front of an audience: the new job, the big promotion, buying the awesome house, unveiling the new artwork/restored car/song, announcing your early retirement. But as I sit here eating chocolate cake at 9 PM, I think it’s the things you do with no audience that create success (which sometimes leads to those publicly seen symptoms) — the morning work out you do or don’t do before work, the money you do or don’t put into a savings/investment account each month, the chocolate cake you do or do not eat late at night, the self-improving/educational reading you do or don’t read before bed, the extra work you do or don’t put toward your projects and goals.
These things, that we do alone, that nobody can see, I think, are what really create happiness and “success”. Not the spotlight moments. Not the big award on stage. The series of small, daily smart decisions, each a drop in the bucket, until they become a tidal wave of momentum you are surfing on.
But it’s hard to know that because we don’t see that part. We don’t see the late nights. We don’t see the work squeezed in at any possible moment, between meetings, while getting gas, in the parent pick up line. We don’t see the consistency, even when they didn’t feel like it — ESPECIALLY when they didn’t feel like it.
And nobody escapes it. By the time you discover someone, chances are, you are learning about them because they are already a master of their craft. It seems like they were born that way. It seems like they are naturally gifted. Michael Jordan, Whitney Houston, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Jobs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Elon Musk, Arnold Schwarzenegger… they all just seem to be imbued with otherworldly talent. And in those cases, those specific cases, there might be some slight predisposition toward their craft that gave them an edge. But far more importantly, they all worked when nobody was watching. The real thing that separates them is a daily, consistent striving to improve. There are no naturals. No one starts off great. It has to be earned. I wish we could have seen Tolkien’s first short story or Jordan’s first time trying to shoot a basketball. I promise you that both were terrible. Nobody starts off writing Lord of the Rings. That’s just the only thing we see.
When Forbes did their article about me, I shared it because I thought it was cool, and I was proud of it, but I was astonished by everyone else’s reaction. Everyone else was a lot more excited about it than I was. Because there was nothing difficult about doing that interview. It felt far less impressive than what I do day after day, night after night, conversation after conversation — the much more difficult things that don’t get any praise. But nobody can see that part. You just see the woman on the podium getting her Olympic medal. You just see the article in Forbes.
If the secret to greatness isn’t natural born talent, but rather consistent dedication, that means greatness is something accessible to all of us. You just need to do the work. But it’s not going to happen on accident. You can’t work toward becoming somebody without first deciding who you want to be. You can’t live up to an ideal without first defining that ideal. You cannot surpass a goal without first setting the goal.
A wise man once said that we are our habits. It only takes two weeks of doing something every day for it to become a habit, good or bad. What good habit do you wish you practiced every day? If you started today, in two weeks, it would be almost automatic. What version of YOU do you want to create? And what specific actions do you need to take, every day, when no one is watching, in order to get there?
(If you know somebody that this can help, send it to them. And if you’re the kind of person who wants to keep on getting better, who is doing the work when no one is watching, join the CRIP fam and text the word CRIP to the phone number 484848.)