There’s always going to be people smarter than you and people dumber than you
Everyone wants to be successful in life. However, not everyone has what it takes to get there. Life is competitive, and to constantly keep up and excel over your peers is a tough and struggling battle.
Sure, some people believe that they can dominate everyone based on their natural abilities and intelligence, but you would be a fool to deny that there isn’t someone smarter and stronger than you out there (if you happen to be that one person who truthfully qualifies for that, email me and I’ll apologize to you personally). For most of us, gambling that you are the ultimate genius is a risky way of winning any battle.
The only way to win is to spend more time more efficiently on it
For everyone who is not the ultimate genius, the only way to beat the genius is to spend more time more efficiently on that activity. You’ll have to spend more time practicing, doing, failing, and learning than the born natural.
In his often-quoted book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell talks about how in order to become highly successful in something, one needs to spend 10,000 hours on that specific task. To put this into perspective, this is like practicing a specific action four hours a day, seven days a week, for seven years. (speaking of which, how many hours did your last “social media expert” put into his expertise?)
Needless to say, spending more time on something is not enough, as HOW you spend your time on it matters a lot too. I used to play chess on Pogo.com a lot (until Snow Leopard doesn’t support their java anymore…), and I’ve seen people who have astonishingly played 14,000 games but still plays like a beginner. These people lack the fundamentals of chess and a good player can literally beat them without looking at the board .
Obviously, if you practice the wrong way, spending more hours doing something will only make you suck more. If you don’t learn from your experiences every step of the way, you might as well not do it and die.
Take advantage of the Slacker’s Gap
Now the problem with spending more hours against others is that everyone has a limited amount of time on a given day. Since most people have to spend time sleeping, eating (and some even have friends and family!), whatever you do can only be highly marginal.
If your average competitor spends 4 hours a day improving himself, it’s pretty hard to three-times his effort and beat him that way. If you work your butt off, you probably practice 6 hours a day trying to get some kind of advantage. Yes, it works, and I encourage that if your goal is to become powerful in your field, but it’s definitely an uphill battle.
In that case, the best way to outcompete is to wait for what I call the “Slacker’s Gap.” Basically, this is a time when your competitors are taking days off and relaxing. When they are active, it’s incredibly hard to have a 40% advantage over them. But when they are doing nothing, you immediately gain immense ground since any progress you put in closes your difference by the same amount.
Am I telling you that in order to win, you need to be a workaholic and have less/no work-life balance?
I actually am. If you truly want to become powerful and influential in your field, you have to do more than what others are doing. Sure, there’s this thing about working smarter, not harder, 4-hour-work-week and all that. But to become highly competitive, you need to work smart AND hard. You need to do the 4-hour-work-week, 80 hours a week.
If you want to accomplish uncommon things in your life, you need to live everyday of your life uncommonly. If you spend your day like everyone else, you will end up like everyone else. It’s that simple.
Starting early allows you to stay competitive and become successful the easy way
But there’s actually an easy way to take advantage of the Slacker’s Gap. Lets say instead of working 50% more than everyone else, you started a year before everyone. That means for an entire year, your competitors are zero, and whatever hours you put in will be more than infinite times what they are doing. This is not just a Slacker’s Gap, this is a Slacker’s Valley. No one is there to challenge you until they realize they should start too.
Once you’ve had a head start like that, when your competitors start, they need to work their butts off, while you simply need to maintain steady pace to keep your lead. Life is easy and non stressful that way, obviously until some workaholic competitor surpasses you while you are in your Slacker’s Gap.
Three Steps to start early and become successful
Everything is easier said than done. HOW do you actually start earlier? If it was that easy than everyone would be doing it already! Here I lay out a few steps to help you gain an early bird advantage.
1. KNOW where you want to be, not where you are
Most people just focus on the present and their needs right now. You shouldn’t do that. You want to think about exactly where you want to be years from now.
Have you ever met people who are “lucky” because they knew what they wanted to do at a very young age? Most of them did not become “lucky” because they sat on their butts. They probably actively tried out a lot of things, got exposed to a variety of interests, and finally found out what they are passionate about.
In the same way, you need to spend a lot of time trying different things and really envisioning yourself 5 years later. Instead of handling the tasks at hand, really spend time figuring out what does success mean to you 5 to 10 years later. Yes, it could be daunting, but if you want to become successful, this gives you an immense advantage that is too precious to not take advantage of.
This is actually the hardest part of taking advantage of the Slacker’s Valley and requires a lot of initiative, speculation, outside advice and soul-searching. The rest is a lot more systematic.
2. Understand the metrics required to to get there
Once you know where you want to be many years from now, you have to figure out what are the metrics that matter verses the ones that don’t.
For instance, if you are a dental student who just wants to be a General Dentist, passing dental school is very important, but getting top grades is not (it is if you want to specialize). Of course you want to make sure you nailed down all your dental skills in order to treat patients well, but you don’t have to kill yourself over classes like Biochemistry or such.
However, what does matter for a successful dentist is how many people in your practicing city know about your service and thinks positively of you. A dentist’s success is not measured by how well how he did in school or even how good he is at dentistry. It’s measured by how many patients he can attract and retain to his practice. That’s why established dentists have an advantage over younger dentists, even if some of them may not have done better in school nor are they necessarily better at what they do.
This immediately means that networking and building a personal brand to a future patient-base is much more important for a dental student than getting perfect scores in school. It’s really important to identify what are the metrics that matter verses the ones that seem important at the moment.
3. Pursue the success metrics that matter in the longrun and go easy on the insignificant ones
Once you realize what metrics truly matter, you need to start preparing for that immediately, no matter how many years later would it start to matter.
Most dental students would only focus on studying and hanging out with other dental students when they’re still in school. The FD student on the other hand would spend time networking with others and establishing herself as a future dentist to all sorts of demographics in her target city.
That way once she actually starts a practice, people already know about her practice and would contact her whenever they or their friends are looking for a new dentist. Even better, while in school she should probably network with those that don’t have a personal dentist yet but would be looking for one a couple years later, like those still in other professional schools.
As you can see, in this example it is also very important for the dental student to know exactly which CITY she wants to practice, since for a dentist it only matters that people who are local know about what she does.
If the city the dental students wants to practice in is not the city she is studying at, what she needs to do is instantly network with people in that city via online methods. Use social networking sites and tools like Twitter or Yelp to establish relationships with people in that city while constantly letting them know she is an aspiring dentist might yield great benefits later on when you update them, “I’m finally a Dentist now and am opening a practice in Orange County!”
She can even start a blog that targets the local audience there like a food/restaurant rating blog (would need some research or a friend’s help) to get locals to read her stuff on a regular basis, while having a “About me” section that talks about how she will become a dentist.
All in all, when you know what are the future metrics that matter, you need to immediately get off your ass and start building that foundation while others are oblivious of this.
This “lazy” way to become successful is HARD!
Now at this point you might be contesting, “Didn’t you say that this was the LAZY man’s way of winning? This is SOO much work!” It’s true. In order to become powerful in your field, you have to put in tons of work. There’s no way out of it.
But some people spend their entire lives working hard and never get to where they want to be. This post is more about using a realistic and doable way to get an advantage over others without killing yourself.
Based on how ambitious you truly are, by no means should you really just get an early start and chillax from there. Remember that the difference between 95 and 96 is not 1. If everyone else is a 95 and you are a 96, you are the winner, and the winner gets all the opportunities. In a winner takes all situation, it’s the difference between 0 and 100. If you truly want to become the best at what you do, you need to start early and constantly make sure you are on top of your game.
What if I’m already behind?
You’re screwed. Haha, not necessarily. Since most people are still slackers and don’t take much action, you actually have a huge chance of catching up in most fields. All you have to do is after you read things like this blog or some other self-improvement book, actually convert it to action and DO SOMETHING. Most people read this kind of stuff just to feel good and agree with things, but only the 1% of the people who actually follow through and make it happen are the winners. The key to winning is not starting early, it’s being proactive in empowering your own life however way you can whenever you can. There’s a reason why “Be Proactive” is the first chapter of the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.
Everyone else is still sitting in the sidelines. Be a winner and start now.