Choose what you pay attention to. If your mind lingers on something that bothers you, that’s kind of your fault. You do not need to pay attention to it if you don’t want to. Same applies to good things. You can choose to ignore or focus on the glass half full. Up to you. Be stubborn enough to believe you can pay attention to what you want.
Expertise is directly proportional to the focus you pay a certain skill or talent in your life. Practice eighty hours a week and think about nothing else in between and you’re bound to be the best. Some people focus so intently on their work or passion that even menial skills cannot compute. If you want to master a skill or trade, are you willing to give it your all? And I don’t mean some vague notion of heart and care. All of your time. All of your focus. Oftentimes at the expense of other aspects of your life. Are you prepared to make those sacrifices? If not, do not lie to yourself or pretend to be something you’re not. You’ll sleep better at night if you accept and understand your priorities.
Age does not have a reading level. There are no rules or expectations. I suppose growing up we all share curriculum milestones (like reading in the first grade) and pass certain legal milestones (driving at 16). But even those vary from place to place. I first suffered algebra in fifth grade (I guess most schools teach it in seventh?). Our bodies change at different rates and over different periods of time. The whirlwind of life introduces different things to different people at different times. A classmate of mine skipped high school altogether and graduated USC before he could legally vote or upgrade his provisional driver’s license. Some have children in their teens; others wait until their late thirties. Midlife crises hit anywhere between 31 and 64. The older you get, the more everyone diverges from a standard path.
Age has very little to do with maturity. A man hardly three years older than I runs an international multi-billion dollar company with close to a billion users in his back pocket. We’ve all seen our fair share of childish adults. Maturity can be circumstantial – like playing with friends versus giving a corporate board presentation. It can also be environmental – growing up with only adults around in a large city versus never leaving a small group of friends your age in a rural small town. No matter how life is served to you, age matters very little in the grand scheme of things. You do not need to sit around and wait for some magical date. Put on your game face and go. I’m fortunate to have a game face with real facial hair so that the big kids take me more seriously. But I sincerely hope the course of my life, relationships and accomplishments have had very little to do with that. You have a choice to be who you want to be, when you want to be.
Acting your age? I have no idea what that means.
You can accomplish amazing things when you have no fear, no distractions and nothing to lose. I am by no means an expert on any of those three things, but I am working hard to learn. Starting with distractions. Too many distractions on a regular basis – total loss of control – is overwhelming to me. Email plays a big role in that for me. Though it’s only been a week or two, I’ve found myself considerably less stressed out and thereby far more productive without email buzzing in my pocket. In all of my studies, I found that the smartest men and women in our era and history long before it knew how to focus on things that matter. I think part of that also has to do with ignoring or saying no to things that overwhelm or otherwise hurt you. I am a huge proponent of trying new things in new ways. But if something doesn’t work out for you, why keep doing it? Why let it keep happening? Especially if you don’t like it or if it overwhelms you? Do something about it. Shut it off. Tell him or her to leave. Be honest. Or just say, “no.” Whatever it takes to lift that burden on your shoulders and get on with your life.
I did the math and realized my phone buzzes or beeps once every 3.5 minutes during the average work day. Over 90% of that comes from email. It’s a miracle that I am able to pay attention to anything at all with that party going on in my pocket. And forget restful sleep – there’s no way. Email is huge a distraction in my life. Out of spite, I’ve started leaving my phone places. Unfortunately, that results in a nasty habit of missing worthwhile phone calls. To combat the distraction, I started a very simple experiment: turning off all email notifications on my phone and laptop. I intend to track productivity and see how things go. With any luck, I will find myself more engaged in work, meetings, conversation and social outings. Text messages and instant messenger are still fair game if you have something urgent to say. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark with an email – I’ll get back to you when I choose to (and not when my phone nags me to).
Even when no one notices or cares, keep fighting the good fight. When someone finally notices, he or she will come to appreciate your persistence and dedication. A series of wins makes a winner, not just one win. The longer and harder you try, the more reputable and respected you will become when you’re finally acknowledged.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by failure, errors, bugs, hurdles and drama. Rough patches and setbacks are never fun. You can either throw up your hands, whine and get beaten down by them – or you can look past and move forward. Focus operates hand-in-hand with success. If you keep your eye on the prize and ignore the rest, you can still cross the finish line in good time. Do what you can to put the stress, pain and drama aside for the time being. Go for a walk, eat a meal, take a nap – whatever it takes to cleanse, reset and get back on the horse. Man up, get the job done – and then complain.
It’s very difficult to routinely switch gears between inward-facing and outward-facing responsibilities in an organization. One minute, you’re hunting outside for growth opportunities. Next, you’re back home taking care of chores and drama. It takes a special kind of person to juggle both simultaneously and not twist his or her head off looking back and forth all the time. One of my mentors in college made a point to hunt outside in the morning and clean up internal messes in the afternoon. By batching his processes, he was able to oversee a very large company and scale it with relative stability. I struggle to build that structure into my day-to-day management, but I see how necessary it is to find focus and routine in your operations.
I can think of few things more unfulfilling and overwhelming than leaving an incomplete pile of work on your desk at the end of the week. You feel like you don’t deserve the weekend. But you do. That work will keep coming and coming. Sometimes you just need to let go.
I’ve found that it’s better to draw the line in the sand on your to-do list first thing every morning. Realistically outline and prioritize the tasks you think you can complete in one day and set the rest aside. Do not let the other tasks bother you. Fold them up and hide them – whatever it takes to focus and feel like you accomplished the list you’ve reasonably committed to.
I’ve turned into a sticky note junkie. I’ve found that the size of a sticky note keeps your list focused, finite and reasonable. I try not to commit to more than one sticky note per day. Nothing feels better than to crumple complete notes and throw them away at the end of the day. You should try it sometime.
Contemporary academia leaves little to no room for error. With grades and tuition on the line, failure is not acceptable. We were all raised to think this way, perhaps the single greatest fault of contemporary education. Individuals deeply ingrained in the academic world have even less tolerance for failure. You cannot genuinely innovate when you need to ask permission for everything or need to meet a rubric. We need to have freedom – permission to make mistakes – before we can truly change the world.
Seth Godin calls this ‘guts’ – a trait far more admirable than perfectionism or a no-tolerance policy. We can all respect high batting averages; we cannot always respect the methods behind high batting averages. At the end of the day, we pay more attention to home runs than high batting averages anyway. To hit home runs? Swing with everything you’ve got – even at the risk of missing the ball. You may lose the game if you miss, but you cannot win unless you swing.