It can feel impossible to move toward your dreams. You know exactly what you want to do, but there are endless obstacles in your way.
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 advance quick enough to not have your dreams smashed into submission by society and implode by reality?
After all, you have bills to pay. You have mouths to feed. You only have a limited amount of time each day. After work and everything else you've got going on, it can be easy to justify waiting until tomorrow. Even if you have the raw energy to do your work, you may feel guilty breaking from the relational obligations that derive the most meaning in your life.
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 grow 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 key tweaks, you'll quickly drop through a wormhole placing you in the top 5-10% 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% merely requires a change in lifestyle. Getting to the top 1% requires a fundamental change in your being.
This post is intended to give you the framework to quickly get into the top 5-10% of your field so you can begin the real quest of racing for number one.
Phase One will consist of getting you to the top 5-10% 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, "Raman Profitable," which means a startup makes just enough to pay the founders' living expenses.
Infinite runway means you can now dedicate all your time to your art. You are no longer moonlighting or squeezing time in the margins of your life. You can pay your bills and eat Raman. This is where Phase Two begins, and is really the beginning of your artistic journey. This is where you make a run for the World Title of whatever it is you do.
Phase One: Getting To Raman Profitable (Or Sustainable)
1. Discover Your Craft
Josh Waitzkin was a six year old boy, playing in Washington Square Park when he noticed some odd figurines on a checkered table. These figurines were being moved in patterns by bantering men"”the homeless, junkies, and hustlers who hung out at the park playing Chess all day.
Something immediately clicked and Waitzkin was seized upon by the game. Chess became his life and he became one of the best Chess players to ever live. He led his school to win seven national team championships between the third and ninth grades in addition to his eight individual titles. At age 13, he earned the title of National Master, and at age 16 became an International Master.
For most, it takes more time and exploration to discover your art-form. And of course, many people spend their entire lives unsure what they want to do "when they grow up."
In order to become world-class, you must find work that represents something of a spiritual or higher calling. It doesn't matter what it is, or if it's not esteemed by society. All that matters is it resonates deeply with you, and you have the passion to make it your art.
Once you find what you love doing, stop questioning it and embrace yourself. It may seem risky to pursue your dream full-time. The choice is yours: The pain of discipline or the pain of regret. No matter what decision you make in life, there will always be a cost. It's not intended to be easy.
2. 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 Raman Profitable, had amazing connections, and on their way to making an amazing career as musicians.
Kenzie and Harris would have never had their breakthrough if they didn't just start as an amateur. 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 until 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.
3. Get Coaching/Education
Take your dreams seriously. Most people don't. Take them serious enough to become amazing. Move beyond being an amateur. Get educated and get coaching.
"When the student is ready the teacher will appear.""”Buddha
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 Ph.D.. With his help, I was easily able to get into the graduate school of my choice. In truth, I could have gone wherever I wanted after getting his training.
I started blogging about six 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 10 million times across multiple outlets and in several languages. This 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.
4. 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 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.
5. Be Consistent Until You Have A Break Through Patience.
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 Raman Profitable when you take your work seriously.
Phase Two: Making A Race For The World Title
6. 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. From 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 true 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. When you have return to work, rather than reactively checking email or getting more input, go directly to output. Creative and insightful eruptions of intellectual inspiration will flow.
The first thing you should 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.
Being healthy and free from physical pain is also crucial for enhanced performance.
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.
7. 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.
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.
8. Have A Pre-Performance Routine That Gets You In 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.
What activities facilitate your highest mindset and inspiration?
Mine are working in the yard while listening to an instructional audiobook followed by a cold shower. If I want a flash of inspiration, this is all I need to do. The more intense the yardwork, the more subconscious breakthroughs I get.
9. 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. 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. When injured, which happens frequently in the life of a martial artist, I try to avoid painkillers and to change the sensation of pain into a feeling that is not necessarily negative. 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.
10. 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. When you've been moved and transformed by love"”that becomes your primary motivation for the work you do.
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 behind, but because of the lives your will bless.
There is a four stage hierarchy of motivations.
At stage one, you are motivated by fear. Everything you do is to avoid punishment or negative outcomes. 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 religious, you follow the commandments solely for the blessings it provides. If you are in business, you do only that which you believe will get you ahead. Thus, you are promotion focused.
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. But there's a lack of passion. There's a lack of life that will take you beyond human ability and reasoning.
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 are directed by the highest and purest power in existence.
In order to get to the top 1% 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 institution is operating at a higher level.
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.