6/20/2008

Were Remarkable People Ordinary? Yes - They Were

Do you believe that success is for other people? People who are wired for success? That you are stuck because you didn’t go to college? You’re poor, or overweight, or you aren’t as pretty as the beautiful people, or you don’t have an IQ of 170?

Do you believe that only people with special gifts can succeed in business and in life?

If you read this blog, I’d guess you don’t believe any of that garbage. But just in case, I am going to remind you.

Josh Kaufman recently wrote a post titled There Are No Magic Businesspeople in which a commenter named Robert wrote that he didn’t like the post, and believed that successful business people are “magic” or “special.” I must disagree.

One day, decades ago, two very ordinary, kinda ugly, New York Public School teachers, Eugene Klein and Stanley Eisen, decided to create a rock band which they hoped would be as big as the Beatles. These guys had very little musical talent (and still don’t). They could have done 30 years in the New York Public Schools and collected a fat union pension, but instead they choose a different path, and after many years of hard work, they became the biggest selling American rock band of the 1970s, KISS. They started life as ordinary people, what made them extraordinary were the goals they choose to pursue. Are they different? Special? Yes they are, today. But they weren’t in 1970. They were just like the thousands of other school teachers. What made them different? The power of decision. The decision to follow their dreams.

The goals you choose to pursue will determine your future. Why do the two tiny countries of Sweden and Finland produce an astounding number of professional hockey players while their neighbors Norway and Denmark produce almost none? Is it because the Swedes and Finns are genetically gifted hockey players while the Norwegians and Danes are not? Is there “magic” hockey dust in Sweden and Finland which doesn’t exist in Norway and Denmark? Of course not. The Swedes and Finns produce more professional hockey players because they choose to focus more time and energy playing competitive hockey. They choose to develop a talent which the Danes and Norwegians do not.

Am I saying anyone in Norway and Denmark could become a professional hockey player if he choose the focus on that outcome? No. I’m not even saying they should.

Am I saying that a group 60 year old men from outer Mongolia could form the biggest rock band in history if they simply decided to? No.

Am I saying someone riddled with rheumatoid arthritis and confined to a wheel chair could play golf like Tiger Woods if he simply decided to? No I am not.

What I am saying, is that you have the power of decision, the power to follow your dreams, and the power to make them come true, within reason. What is reasonable depends on your situation. Only you can decide what is reasonable for you. No one else can. And if you fail to develop your talent, you’ll never know what you are capable of.

One thing I can say with certainty, is that the younger you are, the easier it is to create the future of your dreams. As Paul Graham said, “the time to take insane career risks is in your early 20s. Once you have a marriage, kids, and a mortgage, it is much harder.” It isn’t impossible, but the trade offs are bigger, so you are less likely to take risks.

If you know what you love, see your talents, and hone them to razor sharpness, your odds of being successful and happy increase exponentially. If Tiger Woods had gone into law or medicine instead of golf because it was the safe bet, we wouldn’t be watching the greatest golfer to ever play the game. On the flip side if Einstein had pursued Football instead of astrophysics, he probably wouldn’t be a household name either.

I am not saying any of this is easy, and that it takes only a decision and nothing more. What I am saying is that your future is created by the decisions you make today, and if those decisions are always the safe choices, your life is likely to become routine and boring. If you start making the safe choices early in life, the odds that you will accomplish something remarkable decreases with each successive safe decision. Also, if your decisions are irrational and delusional and have no reasonable possibility of success, you’ll likely be poor and miserable. But that is the trick, because only you can determine what is possible and what is delusional for your life.

If there is anything remarkable about remarkable people it is that they appear to know the difference.

1 comment:

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