On Success

One of the first things The Grind (from Be the Master) has you do is Define Your Success. I can’t stress enough how important this is, or how much people can overthink this.

Look, I’m not saying you need to sit down and write stuff like, “I will be the new Bon Jovi.” People hear the word “success” and they start thinking about Dumpsters full of money, fame, cars, houses, and everything. Yeah, that’s success for some people. It wasn’t mine, and it doesn’t need to be yours. Success doesn’t need to be something other people see as “sexy” or whatever. You’re not defining what other people think you should be doing to “be successful;” you’re defining what YOU think a successful YOU looks like.

If you think to yourself, in the quiet of your own mind, “hey, I’d be pleased as heck, and consider myself a runaway success, if I just got to a point where I could be teaching my passion to other people as a part of my regular job,” well, then that’s YOUR success. That’s not aiming low. It’s not cheating. On the contrary, it’s achievable, it’s objectively measurable, and above all it’ll make YOU happy. That’s your success. Write it down.

Your success is going to change over time. I always hated those “where do you see yourself in five years” questions, because a lot of time the “me of today” can’t even imagine what might be possible in five years, let alone what I’ll be doing within that possible. One you achieve your success, you might find that there’s a step or few beyond that. Cool. At that time, when it comes, you can redefine your success.

Your success definition might not even last out the year. Maybe some amazing opportunity comes along, and changes your entire vision of what’s possible. Fine! Seize that opportunity, and redefine your success within that new world.

The point of “define your success” isn’t to set some unreasonable limit, or to cater to others’ expectations, or to limit yourself. It’s to give yourself a set of clear, concrete goals that make sense for you TODAY. If the time comes and it seems like a re-definition is in order, you can do that. What I like about “The Grind” though, is that it forces me to actually THINK ABOUT IT. When that new opportunity presents itself, I need to look at my current definition of success, and DECIDE if I want to step away from that path and define a new one. It’s not something that “just happens.” I don’t flit from one life path to another without thinking about it — “The Grind” makes me think about it. It makes me make decisions, like an adult. I like that.

Don’t rush this. Draft up a definition of success and sleep on it. Tweak it over the coming few days until you’re happy with it. Test yourself by asking, “if I come to a point in my life where I feel absolutely successful, what will I be doing?” Whatever you write down for your success definition should answer that question clearly.

Now, before I let you go, we need to have a brief understanding of the word “discipline.” I want you to be disciplined about keeping up with “The Grind,” and this mailing list is designed to provide some help. But “being disciplined” simply means “being able to remember what you want, and why you want it, and how important it is to you.” You’re not going to BE successful unless you BECOME successful; “The Grind” is not about the end-state as much as it is about the journey. So you’re going to have to walk the walk and do the work. I want this mailing list to help poke you each week, so that you’ll take the time to do the work, BUT YOU GOTTA DO IT. It’ll be way easier to not do it, and you gotta fight that.

Time to get started. Define your success.

“Discipline:” A Definition

We all put things off. Typically, if something isn’t contributing directly to our immediate survival or pleasure, it’s easy to put it off. Folks will tell you that not putting it off is a sign of discipline. But what is discipline?

In my book, discipline is nothing more than remembering why you wanted to do a thing in the first place.

If you picked up a book, clearly you’d wanted to read it. But then other things came up, and so you made a decision on where to spend your time. That’s fine, except when you made that decision, you may not have been exercising discipline. You might not have remembered why you picked up the book in the first place.

This comes up all the time: the gym, your diet, a movie, whatever. Obviously, life requires us to prioritize all the time, and it requires us to let some things go – you can’t have it all! But too often, we make the decision in the heat of the moment, without really thinking and remembering. We’ll tackle the thing that seems most proximate.

Businesspeople will often use a Cover metaphor about rocks and pebbles as a way of approaching this problem. You have a bowl, and it represents all the time you possess. Around it are rocks and pebbles. The big rocks represent the things that will have true impact on your life. You can put a rock int he bowl, but that’s going to take up a lot of space – meaning, it’ll tae a lot of time, and all the pebbles will still be lying there, un-done. You could grab handful of pebbles, too, and while they’ll all fit in the time you have, none of the really “big things” in life are going to get done.

For me, when I decide to do something, I add it to a list. I prioritize that list. Sometimes, I skip big items. Like, I have to pay the bills, right? But I make sure they’re at the top of the list.

I also limit the list. I have friends who do not do this, and so they have these giant lists of “things I mean to do someday,” which effectively means they’ll never do any of them. When my list gets too long, things have to come off. I have to make a decision, which gives me an opportunity to remember why I wanted them there in the first place. Items that will lead to my personal definition of success always stay; everything else has to justify its place in my life and on the list.

How do you manage discipline?

Who are Your Stakeholders, and What are Their Values?

I’m married, with no kids. But I do have some extremely close friends who are every bit part of my family. They’re my stakeholders. If I want to make a change in my life, they need to buy off on it, and they get a say in it.

Their values are important to me. They may differ from my own, but when I look to make changes in my life, I need to understand their values, and take them into account. They won’t sign off on things that contravene their own values, and I wouldn’t want them to.

Whether I’m looking to make a change at work, relocate for a job, or whatever, my stakeholders have always been a part of the decision. They’re part of my Self, the reason I’m alive and happy. Without them, I wouldn’t be happy, and so I need to make sure my decisions are something they can get behind.

Who’re your stakeholders? What are their values?

As you’ve read Be the Master (and you can get a copy below by signing up), and as you’ve contemplated changes you might make to help you reach your success, have you consulted those stakeholders? What advice have they offered?

Even children can be stakeholders. They may not be able to form fully informed opinions, but they do have values, and to them, their opinions – however immature – matter. When my partner was young, his father switched from insurance sales to law, a switch requiring three years of law school and a significant amount of belt-tightening at home. His Dad wisely sought the approval of his stakeholders – his family – before doing that, because they were all affected. It may have been hard to explain to a pre-teen, but he took the time and tried, and it meant that the family went into the change together.

Get to know your stakeholders.

Embrace the chaos.

A lot of us don’t like chaos in our lives. I mean, I don’t. I don’t love uncertainty, and I don’t love stress. I like to be able to focus on a problem and work it, not be constantly jolted in a new direction by a set of ever-changing circumstances and requirements. Ugh. But… I have to say, embracing chaos on rare occasions can be life-changing in the most positive ways imaginable.

Most major career accelerations happen when someone steps into a chaotic situation and makes a positive contribution. If you can put up with the chaos for a little bit… kind of “lean into it,” as it were, then you’ve a chance to stem the tide and create some order. If you’re the type of person who can do that, then you’re going to find opportunities in front of you.

I knew a guy in the Las Vegas restaurant industry. He was what’s known as an “opener.” There aren’t many of those, even in Vegas where we’re opening new restaurants every fifteen minutes. But when you opened one, you tried to get this guy on your team.

He embraced the absolute chaos that is a restaurant opening. He’d staff it up (often bringing in people who’d followed him from job to job for years because they too liked the opportunities chaos created). He’d shepherd the chef through the menu creation. He’d establish vendor relationships. He’d coordinate the opening. He’d guide the restaurant through its first year, or maybe two… and then he’d move on.

This guy got paid nuts money, because he was The Best. And when he “moved on,” it usually meant not working for six months or so, and just traveling with his family. That was his success, and it aligned with his family’s personal values. Different strokes for different folks, right?

So don’t always step away from chaos when it comes your way. Consider whether or not your success would be best served by stepping in and making a difference.

People are a Package Deal

There have been folks in my industry that I’ve looked up to. I’ve admired them, and thought, “I’d like to be like them.” They are, or have, something that I want to be or have. Maybe it’s where they’re at in their career. Maybe it’s the respect they have from their peers. Maybe it’s their salary. But I got a wake-up call on that admiration one day.

I was in an “Ask me Anything” session with one of my heroes, and an audience member asked, “given all you do at work, and all you do for our community, especially with all the travel you do, how do you manage to do all that and still be a great parent?”

My hero paused, somewhat uncharacteristically. And then, in a quiet voice, said, “I don’t know that I am.”

The room was quiet for a while before the moderator moved on to the next question.

You see, I’d only been looking at the outside of the package: the things that are visible and obvious to anyone. I’d never considered that the exterior comes with an interior, and that the interior might be a mixed bag. It had never occurred to me what that person had scarified in order to get what they had, and I’d never considered whether I’d be okay making the same sacrifices to get to the same place.

This was a long time ago, but it’s what made me extend The Grind™ to not only include “Define Your Success,” but also to ask you to “Define Your Self.” You need to decide what the inside of the package is going to look like, because that’s you. And then you can decide if the outside of the package – your success – is capable of holding those contents. Decide. Don’t just let it happen to you. Pursuit of success without consideration of self is… well, it’s often fine, but sometimes it’s tragic, and without a decision, you won’t know which you’re headed for.

Stop Being an Engineer.

I often tell people that I have “engineer brain.” It has a lot to do with how I was brought up in my first couple of jobs, and it’s largely served me well. But it’s also a weakness, sometimes, and I’m coming to understand exactly how toxic it can be when it’s misapplied.

My first real job was as an aircraft mechanic for Naval Aviation Depot Norfolk, doing overhaul work on F-14 Tomcats and A-6 Intruders. My trade was responsible for the entire airframe, excepting only the engines. We had to know how the entire system fit together to make all those millions of parts into a fighting jet.

Later jobs had me doing things like network architecture, where you kind of have to know the entire system in order to build anything at all.

It’s like a civil engineer who’s building a bridge: you can’t design half of the thing. You have to do the whole thing, or none of it. It’s a system, and it all has to fit together perfectly to work.

But a lot of things in life aren’t like that. Take software applications. You could sit back and design the entire thing, with every feature it’ll ever need, making sure they all fit together perfectly.

  1. This will take forever.
  2. You will be proven wrong.

The “engineer” brain just doesn’t work in situations like that, and in fact can make things pretty terrible. There’s no need to try and understand “the entire system” because (a) it isn’t a system and (b) nobody can understand all of it.

Instead, I’ve had to learn to be comfortable designing and shipping a “minimally viable product.” That is, something where I do not know what the entire thing will someday look like, and instead am only worried about the minimal thing that people will still use. After they’ve used it for a bit, I’ll know more about what needs to come next, and the application will evolve as needed. Yes, I’ll be doing some wasted work now and again. Yes, it’ll sometimes be harder to add new features, because I have to slightly re-engineer existing ones so that its all fits. But that’s fine.

You can apply “don’t think like an engineer all the time” to a lot of things. Take your life, for example. You can’t know the entire shape of it, and it’s useless to try. You can have a direction you’re headed, although even that may change over time. But with that direction in mind, you simply evolve your life in ways that seem to align to that direction. You’re a bit reactive, sure, but sometimes, that’s okay.

Start by getting a destination in mind, not a complete feature set. Then drive toward that destination bit by bit. You might not get there, but you’re more likely to get somewhere great.

Is it “Lazy” not to Try and Change Something in Your Life?

We’re at the time of the year when people are starting to get tired of their New Year’s resolutions to hit the gym more, and the gyms start getting a little less crowded, and the gym companies start counting up their profits. If you’re one of the folks who fell off the resolution wagon, you might feel lazy. But what is “lazy?”

Understand something about our brains: they were originally built for primitive-level survival. We fall into habits because, back in Survival Days, those habits kept us alive. Changing things – eating a new berry, or trying something new – was often a good way to get killed. And so our brains are naturally resistant to trying something new, and naturally comfortable being in a safe groove.

Modern humans can recognize that and overcome it, which is where our innovators and disruptors come from. They know that “to try is to invite failure” is only one way to look at things; another way is, “to try is to live, and to fail is to invite another opportunity to try.”

Be the Master is in the hands of literally thousands of humans at this point, either physically or digitally. Yet very few bother to go through with The Grind™. Why bother? Where they are now is probably just fine, and going through the process represents something new. It doesn’t mean they’re lazy at all – it just means they’re doing what their brain has been conditioned to do over centuries of evolution. And that’s fine.

But I hope that some folks can recognize that conditioning, and force themselves to re-condition in a new way. To trust the process, to try it, and to keep at it until it becomes habitual. There’s zero danger to it, because the process doesn’t demand you change anything about your life. It merely asks that you look at it, and decide, actively, if that’s working for you.

That’s true for nearly anything where you might be saying, “someday, I should….” Why not today? Break out of the groove a bit and do something new, or different. See how it feels. Fail if you must, without fear.

Grab the book by popping in your email address below, and give it a shot.

10x Thinking and You

There’s a meme that’s been going around for a while now about “10x thinking.” Basically, it’s the idea of looking at something and figuring out a way that you could not only make it a little better, but make it ten times better. And it’s a kind of thinking that everyone should be going, although not in quite the way you might imagine.

As an example: suppose you had to make a 10% improvement to email. That’s probably pretty easy to imagine. A better user interface might make your email client more productive, or better spam filters might help. But what if you needed to make it 10 times better? You’d likely end up with something that looks nothing like the email of today, and that’d make you a real innovator.

But what if you’re not an innovator? Does 10x thinking still apply?

YES.

If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. You know this saying, right? “If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” That’s a 10% improvement. What if you taught a hundred people? Apart from depopulating a marine ecosystem within two generations, you’d have made a 10x impact. You’re not fishing for 100 people; you’ve become a force multiplier and taught 100 people to fish. They can probably feed 1,000 people. So instead of feeding one guy, you’re indirectly responsible for feeding 1,000. That’s actually… let me get my calculator… 1000x thinking!

Look at the people around you. No, not the ones who’re smarter than you, or better than you, or whatever your Imposter Syndrome is telling you. The ones around you. The people at work, sure, but also the people in your home, your neighborhood, and your community. Where can you be a force multiplier?

This is the heart of the apprentice/Master message of Be the Master. Remember, Masters were primarily intended to protect and preserve the knowledge and skills of their trades by passing them on to apprentices. But one Master could potentially have many apprentices. They became force multipliers. Every village could have a blacksmith, rather than villagers having to travel for days to the nearest one.

This is how we improve the human condition. I’m not being dramatic, here. I’m pointing out that wealth, success, and happiness are locked up in two main axes: opportunity and skills. You can absolutely provide skills to other people. You don’t need to be an expert (Some blacksmiths couldn’t even make shields). You just need to have a skill that someone else can learn from you. Maybe you can’t provide opportunities for everyone, but if you can help pass along your valuable skills to others, then they’ve won half the battle.

Add 10x thinking to your daily life. Be a force multiplier. Start today.

Stop Trying to Impress Your Heroes

It’s a natural human thing to want to please the people you look up to. We do that with our parents, and we also do it with our heroes. You know, the people in our profession or lives that we admire, and perhaps want to be like. We should stop that.

Setting aside family, here’s my reasoning:

Wanting to impress your heroes sets up a sometimes-impossible situation. You’re taking someone who, by definition, you consider better than yourself, and you want to impress them? I’m not saying you can’t, of course. You definitely can. But why do you want to?

Instead of looking up at your heroes, consider turning around. Look at the people who maybe haven’t achieved as much as you have, or maybe haven’t yet learned as much as you. Who have less experience, maybe, or who simply haven’t had an opportunity that you may have had.

Be a hero to them. Impress them. And while you’re at it, lift them up. Teach them something. Give them an opportunity. Share some experience with them. And as you’re doing so, make it clear that you’re already proud of what they’re attempting and achieving, and that you want them to someday turn around and do the same for someone else.

That’s what being a Master is all about.

Mentoring (ugh)

I do not love the word mentor. That’s because it’s actually a dude’s name. Mentor. So saying mentoring is a lot like saying “oh, I was rogered at work today,” which British people will assure you is not a desirable thing. But the activity that we all use the word mentor to describe is useful, and it’s bidirectional.

Having a good mentor within your company – ideally someone in your basic part of the company, but not in your direct line of reports – can be invaluable. They can help you better understand company culture, spot opportunities from further away (so you have time to position yourself for them), offer advice and a sounding board when you need it, and help you understand the personalities of the company higher-ups. Mentors can provide invaluable recommendations when you’re ready to move up, and if you share your definition of “success” with them, they can help steer you toward it.

Being a mentor is also valuable. And… oh, wait. Let’s get this out of the way.

YOU ABSOLUTELY DO KNOW ENOUGH THINGS TO BE A MENTOR FOR SOMEONE ELSE, PLEASE TAKE YOUR IMPOSTER SYNDROME OUT BACK AND SHOOT IT IN THE HEAD, THANKS.

OK. Being a mentor is valuable, too. You get a different perspective on your company and your own career. You’re helping to uplift someone else, which is immensely satisfying. You’re often forced to think about things in a new way, which is good for all of us. You’ll improve your communication skills. You’ll start thinking about people as people, and you’ll start gaining empathy for other people’s perspectives, goals, and challenges.

And if you’re really, really lucky, one of the people you’ve mentored (I refuse to use “mentee,” because Mentor’s student was named Telemachus, not Mentee) will support you as you move through your career. And if you’re really blessed, they’ll surpass you. Trust me, there’s no greater feeling than seeing someone you’ve helped tae full advantage of it and rise to the heights they’ve earned.