It took me 17 years & 114 days to become an overnight success – Lionel Messi
I finally got myself together to finish this article. It’s been waiting as a draft for almost 3 years.
So for those who quietly read my posts and wonder if I vanished in the nothingness of a daily life – I have not. I have been in an unfair and illogical fight for our right to trade Japanese craft products. Lots of things changed in the last months too. I had to depart ways with my cofounder Anna due to change of her priorities and so I got Magdalena and Ilona on board. We’ve also started working with an amazing Japanese-Luxembourger guy Kenichi to reach undiscovered craftsmen.
I’ve been also very busy with Untrite, working on new clients proposals for automation process mapping. Girls in Tech London chapter, where I’m a Managing Director, have been keeping me busy too. With our series of Getting Into Tech and upcoming Startup F*ckups events I’m having a chance to invite people who’ve already been through what I’m going through. And if it wasn’t enough, I’m also helping my partner to spread the news about new kid on a blockchain block – Tracemarq – a project helping to trace illicit trade on supply chains.
But most important – I’ve been learning to choose.
Before you jump into conclusion that I’m spreading myself too thin – see it as dispersing risk in a portfolio.
Les misérables hustlers
Somebody once said that the poor people aren’t the most unhappy ones. The most unhappy ones are the very aspirational ones. Some call this the “
chronically ambitious and chronically unhappy” syndrome. It’s a truly lethal mixture.
Milk The Pigeon
And damn, I’m constantly unsatisfied. Whatever I achieve, it’s never enough. The fundamental problem with people like me, the ENFP type, is that we like to live in the future. I see where I want to be, but I don’t like where I am now and I’m very impatient. I used to be much more detached from the present. I wanted to jump too many steps at once so I was having small break downs when something was not moving at my pace. I used to put on myself insurmountable projects where I would eventually get burned… but not discouraged to start again.
Now I’m getting better at managing my expectations. I’ve learned to embrace simple… ok, simpler.
Over time, this impatience has taught me a lesson of humility. I experienced the obvious – that there is no such thing as overnight success. I learned that behind every successful individual are years of unrecognised blood, sweat and tears (or a well-connected uncle, but that doesn’t fit to this story :).
And I now know for myself that the #1 reason most of us don’t get what we want is because we’re impatient. We think we’re owed things that we want within the timeframe we’ve set for ourselves. I learned that – even if I would wish to – life doesn’t work that way. Whatever you want to accomplish necessitates a slow, gradual journey rooted in a consistent work made out of small, often not-so-exciting completed tasks. It may sound discouraging but if you’re working on something which is aligned with your true interests, you will persist. I learned to appreciate that most people are unwilling to put in the same effort, which makes it easier for me in the end.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — C.G. Jung
It’s easy to blame others or ‘fate’ for your failures, your ‘worse’ social upbringing position or attractiveness level (at least the one according to social standards), but guess what – it won’t get you any closer to success. People who blame bad outcomes on anyone or anything other than themselves are behaving in a way that is at variance with reality, and subversive to their progress. Blaming bad outcomes on anyone or anything other than one’s self is essentially wishing that reality is different than it is. And it is subversive because it diverts one’s attention away from growing personal strength and other qualities that are required to produce the outcomes you want.
Yep, I’m still having a moments of break down when I feel like life is unfair and everything is against me, but when the tension is over, I quickly go back to my notes and revise my strategy. If there is something I can break into even smaller tasks, I do that.
There is no time for self-pity. In fact it’s the least useful and attractive quality in a person. We aren’t able to control the cards we’ve been dealt, but we have control over how we play them. We need to seize the opportunities, no matter how small or insignificant they seem, because you never know just how they might lead to something else that will completely change your life.
Everyone and everything had its humble beginnings. If you want to see how people and businesses visions have evolved, check their projects on Web Archive – go back few years and see that even today’s big companies didn’t have its shit figured out back then.
(Ps. It’s also cool to see your own old projects and how you evolved, like in my case the remains of The Sims fan page I created when I was 13 years old. The first saved piece was from June, 2001, nearly 17 years ago!).
The trick is to not get discouraged and stay persistent, at least if what you’re doing is really what you want to do in the long term.
Few days ago I had a really interesting conversation with a colleague of mine about motivation and failure. He reminded me that motivation is all about tricking your brain. Your reasoning part doesn’t want the unknown, it likes stability. Your creative part likes dreaming big, but can’t achieve anything without reasoning. Once you encounter a problem, your brain tells you to stop. At that moment you should stop working on the difficult task and complete something smaller and tangible, like doing the laundry. Once your reasoning part is satisfied, it zeroes the tension and your creative part kicks off again.
Do it for yourself
The truth is that nobody cares how hard you work. All people care about are your external, tangible results which they can benefit from. As Dalio puts it in his Principles book:
Look at what caused people to make a lot of money and you will see that usually it is in proportion to their production of what the society wanted and largely unrelated to their desire to make money. There are many people who have made a lot of money who never made making a lot of money their primary goal. Instead, they simply engaged in the work that they were doing, produced what society wanted, and got rich doing it.
If you’re judging your output by your tiredness, you’re sure to be misled. You can be chasing the wrong demons for months only to realise that what you’ve done didn’t bring you much to where you imagined yourself to be.
IQ of 1000
Success means a a lot of things to different people. For some, its influence, for others, it’s a level of wealth. Alessandro Pluchino at the University of Catania in Italy and a couple of colleagues created a computer model of human talent and the way people use it to exploit opportunities in life. The model allowed the team to study the role of chance in this process:
The distribution of wealth follows a well-known pattern sometimes called an 80:20 rule: 80 percent of the wealth is owned by 20 percent of the people. Indeed, a report last year concluded that just eight men had a total wealth equivalent to that of the world’s poorest 3.8 billion people.
This seems to occur in all societies at all scales. It is a well-studied pattern called a power law that crops up in a wide range of social phenomena. But the distribution of wealth is among the most controversial because of the issues it raises about fairness and merit. Why should so few people have so much wealth?
The conventional answer is that we live in a meritocracy in which people are rewarded for their talent, intelligence, effort, and so on. Over time, many people think, this translates into the wealth distribution that we observe, although a healthy dose of luck can play a role.
But there is a problem with this idea: while wealth distribution follows a power law, the distribution of human skills generally follows a normal distribution that is symmetric about an average value. For example, intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, follows this pattern. Average IQ is 100, but nobody has an IQ of 1,000 or 10,000.
The same is true of effort, as measured by hours worked. Some people work more hours than average and some work less, but nobody works a billion times more hours than anybody else.
And yet when it comes to the rewards for this work, some people do have billions of times more wealth than other people. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that the wealthiest people are generally not the most talented by other measures.
Since amount of wealth is not proportional to the amount of effort you put in, you shouldn’t push yourself over the limits, especially at the sacrifice of lost relationships and no fun in life. Choose the projects most aligned with who you are and if you’re still figuring it out, maybe learn more about yourself. Take personality tests, ask your friends how they see you and what they think you’re good at. We tend to be underestimating the things we know and we don’t want to start before we’re ‘ready’. Tim Minchin says that you don’t have to have a dream, just be aware of the next worthy pursuit and have fun along the way.
Chasing the horizon
Everything in life takes a hell lot of time. If we think we might be successful in one year, we won’t probably be successful until few years later. Success is not a result of a well-passed test of your skills or intelligence. It’s a test of your preservation and a mental strength.
Angry Birds, the incredibly popular game, was software maker Rovio’s 52nd attempt. They spent eight years and nearly went bankrupt before finally making a hit. The WD-40 lubricant got its name because the first 39 experiments failed. WD-40 literally stands for “Water Displacement–40th Attempt.”
Most people of success are successful not because they are more talented or smart, but because they stay. Persistence, the grit and determination are primary ingredients for accomplishment. So please, don’t make my mistakes and be like Jimmy (just don’t take his haircut tips 🙂 – start a project you’re passionate about and be persistent.
Fun fact: Night in Venus equals 117 Earth days.