A world-renowned athletic coach was asked once what the difference was between the best athletes and everyone else. In other words, what do really successful people do that most people don’t? Of course, there were the typical responses of genetics, luck, and talent.
But there’s an added element that most don’t think of; it’s the ability to handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts and drills over and over again that separates the professionals from the amateurs.
Think about it this way – it’s not that the best athletes have some insane passion or willpower that others don’t have; it’s the exact opposite. They can feel the same boredom and lack of motivation that everyone else feels; they aren’t immune to the daily grind.
What sets them apart is their commitment to the process. They fall in love with the daily practice, with the repetition, and with the plan in front of them.
Therefore, if you want to be a starting quarterback, you have to be in love with running drills and studying playbooks. If you want to be a New York Times bestseller, you have to be in love with the process of writing. If you want to get in better shape, you have to love the practice of eating in a healthier manner and exercising consistently.
You have to love the grind if you ever hope to turn it into the achievement of a goal.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Though some of the following may not be true all of the time, when you love the process of what you do, the following should ring true much of the time:
• You don’t talk about other individuals; you talk about the great things other individuals are doing.
• You help without thinking, or without being asked.
• You don’t struggle to stay disciplined; you struggle to prioritize.
• You’re excited about the job you are doing, but you’re more excited about the people you’re doing it with.
• You leave work with items on your to-do list that you are eager to tackle tomorrow.
• You think, “I hope I get to…” instead of, “I hope I don’t have to…”
• You don’t focus on retirement, because retirement sounds boring – and a lot less fulfilling.
Now, there is a chance that our society may have overdone the need for the above to be true all of the time. We have been told that if you do what you love, the money and success will follow. We have been told that if you are not changing the world in bold ways, it is because you are too afraid to find your passion and follow it.
The Pursuit of Value
Author Cal Newport has emerged as one of the more vocal critics of the only-do-what-you-love movement, and says it is time to end the professional guilt trip. In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Newport argues that following one’s passions can be a dead end. He maintains that it’s better to identify which skills you have that could be unique and valuable in the workplace, and then hone those skills until you have career capital that you can spend in the way you choose.
Developing career capital requires a carefully balanced mix of deliberate action and patience. If you are in a self-directed professional environment and are responsible for carving your own path, take responsibility for the direction in which you are heading – and what you need from others to get there. Do not wait for someone to come along who can help; be proactive in seeking out those who can provide mentorship and guidance along the way.
If you are responsible for developing career capital in others, incorporate this exercise in ongoing or annual reviews. Always be aware of the following question: “what I am I doing to help others identify their competitive advantages, and how am I providing opportunities for those strengths to turn into eventual career capital.”
Most roles have tasks that are required to engage in repeatedly; knowing the natural progression of a profession is essential. How many partners at a law firm still do all their own research? Does a surgeon want to spend more time in surgery, or in pre-op or post-op care? In these examples, practitioners outsource the less challenging work to junior staff that is not only capable of performing the work at a lower cost but also challenged by the work itself. What is the natural progression of your profession, and have you done a successful job of institutionalizing outsourcing?
Within a physician’s office, the nurse practitioner facilitates exams, the nurse checks blood pressure, and the scheduling department makes appointments. Each of those tasks are important but will neither provide the doctor with the challenge they need nor the financial rewards necessary to justify their time. In the case of lawyers, they have paralegals, legal secretaries, and associate lawyers they entrust. The lesson we can learn from both is that outsourcing certain tasks to other team members is not only more financially rewarding but also allows for greater challenges. Be aware of when the grind is necessary in the achievement of a goal, and be aware of when the grind must be alleviated in order to avoid turnover or burnout.