Penn Jillette (from Penn & Teller) and a Hollywood executive producer named Mark Burnett (creator of TV shows like Survivor, The Apprentice, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, etc.) were among the people who spoke at the various keynotes during the 2010 Blogworld Expo. Both of them, when asked how they achieved their success, essentially gave the same answer: I just did it.
They aren’t the first VERY successful people whom I’ve heard say this. In fact, I’ve heard it so often that it makes me feel like an idiot.
“I don’t know…I just did it?” Ha, that easy, eh?
On the other hand, I’ve heard from the next couple of levels down. These are the people who aren’t quite there. They have to always pitch themselves. They’ve had some semblance of success. They’ve gathered a larger-than-average pool of Twitter followers, whatever. They appear at conferences and seminars too, pushing their new blog/site/business, begging for followers/retweets, handing out “buy my stuff” swag. They have theories and coin phrases. And while they’re being recognized for their successes at certain venues, they haven’t “made it” by many long shots.
When these “almost but not quite” people talk about success, they recount the thousands of ways they expand their influence. They recount formulas for maximizing viewership. They talk about selling ads, Excel spreadsheets, projections, ad-words, keywords. They’re always self promoting. They’re always working. They claw success and fame from life like a starving farmer ekes his years from poor soil.
So there seems to be something else in the works. It seems that hard work only takes you so far when it comes to influence. Some people just have it. Some have to fake it.
Perhaps it’s like Shakespeare (and what isn’t?) “…some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” It’s like there’s a marked difference between the genuine achievers and influentials in the world and the rich guys you see in pyramid scheme late-night commercials.
However, it also makes me think of something Abe Lincoln said (and what doesn’t?) “…give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Maybe the major successes of the world have something else they do? Maybe it’s something that’s so ingrained in their behaviors and dispositions, that it just seems like common sense to them?
Hell if I know what it is outright, but I’d like to think they know how to listen—they know where to apply their limited force on the world and cause a shift.
Penn talked about adapting and learning different skills and doing different things as he saw them. Mark talked about hearing different ideas and going with ones he thought were compelling. There seemed to be a lot of “Wait, then act” motifs to their life stories.
…which flies in the face of the “always on, sell, sell, sell” obnoxiously aggressive sales approach I hear from others.
So maybe, instead of asking the Penns and Marks of the world, “How do I get to be as famous as you?”, we should ask, “What do you value and how do you pursue it?”
Seems like one of those, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” sorts of things. And that’s cool, as I’m all for naturally accruing influence in life. Scheming and following formulas to mine fame comes across as disingenuous.
Controversial, I know, but I usually put schoolwork second while I was in college.
Uber peep Seth and I had traditions. We’d often head out in the evenings to a convenience store (not necessarily convenient as it was a bit far, as I recall) to get a Jones soda. Jones makes those quirky-flavored sodas with the unique photos…
Anyway, we’d put aside our schoolwork to spend some time together, talking about life, liberty, whatever.
A lot of people stopped by my room back then too. I’d make it a habit to put down my books and talk. Usually it was girl-related, sometimes God stuff. But, regardless, I’d make time to talk things through. Sometimes the talks would last well in to the night. There was still mountains of classwork to do, but I got to know a lot of people during those talks.
For me, life experience was much more important than GPAs. Not to say I didn’t do well, got a little “with honors” sticker on the ol’ diploma, thank you; but I was zealous in not letting tedium take me away from the genuine moments of humanity that grow in between the stuff we consume ourselves with.
In the West, we focus on the destination—the end state of things. College equals diploma, which equals job, which equals money, which equals stability. Religion equals beliefs, which equals salvation, which equals a ticket to paradise.
But what is missing is the journey. To the Eastern mind, the trek is far, far more important than the destination. It is much better to experience and endure the race than to simply cross the finish line.
And I agree. What’s the point of anything without the journey? Might as well skip to the credits of every movie we watch if we just want the ending. It’s the struggle—the minute by minute drama that inspires us.
For some, being rich is the end goal. They just want money and to hell with how getting there will grow or change them. For some, it’s getting married, or getting divorced, or getting a degree, or a type of car.
Often when a person runs out and gets that new car, or runs headlong into marriage, the unhappiness is still there. I think that’s because the person is in love with the idea—in love with the concept of “arriving.”
There’s a scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt is talking to Edward Norton about a conversations he had with his father, growing up. He graduated high school and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Go to college.” He graduated from college and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Get a job.” He got a job and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Get married.”
Like that’s all there was, a careful series of steps that led to fulfillment. Like happiness would just automatically come.
What’s missing was the process—the sting of life; how we are altered by each day and grown by the people we meet.
I love conversation. Each time I ever talk with anyone, I grow. Each time I ever spend any time with anyone, I grow. After 10 or 12 years of careful introspection, I’ve noticed that there’s never an end to the race. Life always has another hill to climb.
That’s what’s so tragic about people who focus on the destination—the race goes on forever. There is no finish—no magic line that makes everything perfect.
It can be discouraging and daunting if a person focuses on the distance and the unending miles; but if, instead, the company kept was the focus, the journey itself was the joy rather than the promise of some ideal destination, then the sh*t of life stepped in isn’t so bad, ’cause it’s on all of our shoes.
And that’s the secret. That’s where life is, I think. It’s in those magic in between moments that let us discover who we’re in this struggle with. That’s why I never sacrifice conversation for “productivity.” That’s why I’d much rather spend time talking than go out on “a date.”
It may seem trivial, but one is the pursuit of a goal, the other is a careful cultivation of relationship and understanding. And the latter is more meaningful, I think, more genuine.