I finally get it. Growing up I believed that what separated those who succeed from those who fail and die alone was talent (with lots of intelligence thrown in for good measure).
I grew up talented. And smart. This isn’t just my opinion. From an early age I was shuffled from one gifted and talented program to another. I was in the coveted RED reading group. My elementary school teachers would brag to my Mother that I was a joy to have in class, always helping the less fortunate students learn how to read or memorize their numbers. By High School I was winning awards at the state and national level in Science, History and even Mathematics. Every class I took had a label that implied I was special – one of the chosen few. Honors. GT. AP. I was on various academic teams – competing in Academic Octathlons, Decathlons, Science Olympiad (yes – this really exists), National History Day and more.
And while I had every advantage – I didn’t grow up to be as successful as everyone believed I would be. It’s taken me the last couple of years to figure out why so many of my friends are millionaires and even billionaires by now, and I’m still barely making six-figures (and yes…I know that’s a lot of money to most people). I’m just not where I thought I would be.
The answer. Talent is over-rated. Intelligence is over-rated. Being talented and intelligent is just not enough.
I won’t spend too much time explaining the why behind this. If you’re curious Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book about the talent myth called Outliers.
What matters infinitesimally more than having talent or smarts – is hard work, discipline, perseverance, and PRACTICE.
“Every question is how.
And every answer is do and do and do.”
~Karen Maezen Miller
Many of my friends are writers. Some are good writers. Some are great writers. Some are dabblers.
The good writers write often. Not every day – but they know that if they want to get better they must keep writing. Over time, the good writers realize one of two things:
The dabblers write when inspiration or the muse strikes them. Often they have talent – and the work they produce is better than average. They love the idea of writing – of living the writing life. But when it comes down to it – they fail to commit to the writing path. And so their work is scant and inconsistent.
The great writers don’t worry about waiting for inspiration or the muse. For them, writing is serious. They sit down every day and they write. Some days they write crap. Other days they write crushing poetic prose. But no matter what – they keep writing. They are committed. They know that talent and intelligence can never take them where hard work and discipline will.
My friend Victor told me a story once about the time he met Louis L’Amour at a bar and asked him his advice – one writer to another. L’Amour told him that the secret to writing was to sit down and write. It’s the easiest and the hardest thing in the world to do. He went on to say that throughout his career he’d had several occasions to meet celebrities and go to fancy parties…but he knew that the work was more important. So he stayed home to write.
“John Wayne was in 3 of my movies and I’ve had many opportunities to meet him…but I never have…cause my writing came first”. ~Louis L’Amour
I’m paraphrasing that a bit – I’m sure Victor would tell the story differently.
While staying with Victor at his compound in Oceanside he gave me the same advice. Having now gone on to write several books himself – including a best-seller and two Pulitzer nominations – Victor would admonish me over and over again to stop wasting time and write. Just write.
It’s been over a year since the last time I saw Victor. But in the last 3 months I’ve started to take his advice to heart. I’ve stopped worrying about whether I’ll ever write anything good or not. I’ve stopped worrying about what it means to be a writer – I’ve stopped lusting after the payoffs and fallen in love with the process.
I have some raw talent and I’m smart, but it’s like we always say in the Startup world – “Ideas are great. Ideas are beautiful. But ideas are worthless. It’s 100% in the execution.”
So get out there and Do The Work.