I realized while writing this article that it might sound very negative. Please read the whole article before making any judgments. I realize there are plenty of “nice sounding” advice out there, most of which doesn’t work. While sometimes writers are very careful not to offend most of their readers, I’m more concerned about offering real value to my readers. While I do respect all of my readers, I have to warn this isn’t a “feel good” post, it does touch on topics that might be sensitive issues for some. Writing this post was a wakeup call for me, since I’m also working on many of topics I discuss. I’m still working on implementing and maintaining many of the strategies and tips I provide. All of the strategies have worked for me personally in one way or another. I’ve also noticed many of the extraordinary individuals I know in my life, who are great in their specific field, use some if not all of the strategies.
I’ve made it a habit to study great people, and have been doing it now for several years. While there is no mathematical equation that guarantees greatness, there are many commonalities that are shared by great people. These commonalities don’t just apply to a particular set of fields or expertise. Interestingly if you take a person who is very successful in one field, and put him into another one usually they’ll be able to achieve a very similar level of success in the new field. Of course it might take them a year or two or even more to catch up and learn the new field. Yet after they catch up on the basic fundamentals of that new field, they usually start progressing and succeeding in it at a very fast rate.
Before getting to the tips and strategies I need to address what I mean by great. I don’t simply mean great as in slightly better than average. By great I mean spectacular. Becoming great in any field is simple yet it isn’t easy. Becoming great is simple because there are no secrets or magic pills. As you read on you will notice that many of the strategies and tips I provide are very simple and make a lot of sense. Yet most people aren’t going to be great, and this is why becoming great is difficult. Most people are average, and will stay average for the rest of their lives. Don’t take my word for it, just look at mainstream America today. Here are some quick stats for you…
Percent of non-institutionalized adults age 20 years and over who are overweight or obese: 66.3
Percent of non-institutionalized adults age 20 years and over who are obese: 32
50% of deaths in America are cause by heart disease. Heart disease is easily preventable by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating nutritious foods, and regularly exercising.
Source: World Health Organization
Top 20% of income earning households in American hold about 80% of the wealth, leaving the bottom 80% of household (the mainstream) with only 20% of the wealth.
The average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day
Source: Nielsen Co
Only 14% of Americas say they are “really satisfied” with their jobs.
Source: Conference Board
Now the mainstream is hard for us to relate to at times, and stats are stats, they aren’t very tangible, they are just numbers. But think about 10 of your close friends, family members and coworkers. Are most of them satisfied with their weight and have a healthy balanced lifestyle? or are they jumping from one diet to the next trying to lose a few pounds? Do they earn a satisfactory income? or are they getting deeper and deeper into credit card debt? Do they really love their jobs, are they eager to wake up in the morning to go to work? or are they always complaining about their coworkers, and other work conditions? Overall do they sound like they are satisfied with their lives? Are they usually happy and full of joy that spills over into other peoples lives? or are they usually sucking everyone else’s positive energy?
I hope the stats and questions have clarified what I mean by great. Someone who really likes their job and is excited to get their work done is great because most people aren’t very satisfied with their jobs. What’s really alarming to me isn’t the fact that most people aren’t satisfied with their current jobs. What’s alarming is that most people still spend the rest of the lives working jobs they don’t particularly enjoy. I’m all about change and transformation. If you could choose any career path and are guaranteed abundance and limitless success in it, what would it be? It’s interesting to me that most people will have multiple answers to this question, most people can think of a job or two they’d enjoy a lot more than there current one, yet most people never try to switch jobs or careers. Most people never even try to research that potential new job and learn about how to be successful in it, and gradually try transitioning over. I know what this feels like personally because I wasn’t happy with my last job, and I’m currently in the transitional state. Is it easy? No. I know how difficult it can be because it took me 6-12 months of not liking my last job to decide to finally try transitioning over to a different job.
Here are the practical steps to becoming great in any field or area of your life…
Strategy #1 – Make sure you really want what you are going after, make sure it’s a worthy goal, one that’s tied to your own personal values.
Make sure you don’t just want that goal because of superficial reasons including financial wealth or others praise and adoration. It’s hard to become a great doctor if you are just in it for the money. On the other hand if you really want to help others in pain, becoming a great doctor will be much easier, and the money will follow. I’ll never forget my health teacher in high school. He actually got accepted into several med school, and ended up not going. He realized that becoming a doctor and all is nice, but what he really wanted was to help other people. He realized that educating high school students about developing a healthy lifestyle would prevent them from getting dangerous diseases in the first place. He was one of the most passionate teachers I had. Of course teaching isn’t as lucrative as medicine. I also think it’s reasonable, even natural to want financial abundance and freedom. All I’m saying is that if a superficial reason such as “making more money” is the top reason you are trying to become great in a certain field then it will be very difficult. External motivators such as money and people’s praise will only take you so far, however if a goal or a field of interest is strongly tied to your personal values, you will be internally motivated. So when you first are failing in that field, aren’t seeing any money yet, and everyone around you is telling you to give up already, you will still be motivated from the inside, and will be able to keep going. Of course if you aren’t sure what your personal values are, you will not be able to create internal motivation. Take some time to list values, characteristics and ideas you really care about. Some of mine include positivity, an abundance mentality, personal growth and transformation, giving to others, financial freedom, traveling and learning new skills. Sometimes two values will be in disagreement with each other. In that case you will need to prioritize your values. Your values will change, I would recommend modifying or updating them every 3 months as necessary.
Being true to your personal values will be difficult. It will usually involve going against the mainstream at times, and sticking out. Going back to the example I mentioned of my health teacher and his career change decision, I’m sure when he made that decision many of his friends and maybe even family disagreed with him. I can just hear them thinking and maybe even saying “who in their right mind would give up being a doctor to become a teacher?” But then again remember that most people (or the “mainstream”) aren’t very satisfied with their jobs. That just means that they end up pursuing a career usually for the wrong reasons, I would guess because of external superficial motivators. Therefore in most cases the mainstream or the common advice usually doesn’t help those who want to be great. Usually mainstream advice is what keeps people average, and just good instead of great. A quick helpful rule of thumb is to only seriously consider the advice of those who already achieved great spectacular success in your field or have already achieved the goal you are going after.
One way to make it easier to stick to your personal values is to regularly spend time with friends that have those same values. What if no one in your current social circle has those same values? Well this is where you will need to start making new friends, and maybe even become a bit more socially savvy to attract other people. Of course making new friends might not be the easiest or most comfortable skill to learn. Most people become nervous when they have to even make small talk with strangers. This leads to my next strategy on becoming great.
Strategy #2 – Regularly get out of your comfort zone
There are many advantages to getting out of your comfort zone. However the main advantage is that outside of your comfort zone is where you will learn life’s greatest lessons. It’s also where you will personally develop and transform at a great speed. Regularly getting out of your comfort zone will also dramatically increase your learning and adaptability speed. Getting out of your comfort zone usually involves doing something new that perhaps even makes you a little nervous. Going through this experience will teach you all kinds of skills, and multiply the size of your personal comfort zone. You will eventually start noticing that in situations that make most people nervous, you tend to be more calm and relaxed. Getting out of your comfort zone regularly will also help you develop your creativity. You will notice that by expanding your personal comfort zone, you will start seeing outside the box more often than others. How is getting out of your comfort zone related to becoming great in your field? When you are back in your field, you will realize this new creativity and all the indirect skills you acquired are very handy. You will start coming up with solutions you never even thought existed before. You will start seeing all kinds of new effective and efficient ways of doing things that you missed in the past.
Getting out of your comfort zone regularly will be difficult and intimidating at times. I remember once walking into this very advanced aerobic kick-boxing class for the first time and I was 10 minutes late. I was thinking hey I need to try something new. Of course when I walked in the class has already started, and there were only 3 other students in the class. Normally these classes have about 10-15 students. All 3 other students were very experienced, in great shape, I found out later that they have been taking these classes for months, sometimes even twice a day. Saying that I looked foolish in the class is an understatement. It’s funny now, but during the class I remember feeling almost sick inside, because I was so off beat and felt very intimidated by how good all the other students were. Of course it felt like an eternity until the class was over, but hey afterwards I felt amazing. It hit me. Only 3 other students are good enough to even take this class. It’s like I jumped into the ring with a pro boxer without having any boxing experience. How many people are willing to do that? I also felt this very rewarding feeling of accomplishment inside. I remember for the rest of that day I was in this very peaceful happy state of mind. It was a great feeling.
One piece of advice I have is to get out of your comfort zone gradually. Also make sure that getting out of your comfort zone wont compromise your physical safety. Expect getting out of your comfort zone to feel scary and intimidating, yet remember that this is mostly your perception, and discomfort is a small price to pay on your pursuit to becoming great. When you get out of your comfort zone don’t worry so much about your performance. Say you try karaoke singing since it always made you nervous and you stink, that shouldn’t matter, you have tried it, gotten out of your comfort zone and that’s all that counts. Building friendships with adventurous people will make getting out of your comfort zone easier. Adventurous people tend to seek the excitement of exploring and discovering the new and great unknown.
Strategy #3 – Pay attention to what the great majority in your field are doing. Usually this great majority are following common rules or tactics and therefore achieve the same results and average success. Experiment with doing things differently, or even doing the opposite of what everyone else in your field is doing.
Why do most people only achieve average success? well it’s because they are usually looking around to see how everyone else is doing things and automatically copying it. It’s important to study how everyone else is performing a certain task, yet realize that if you don’t improve this process, you will only get average results. Usually people who are great in their field are regarded as “strange individuals” before they achieve any success. Usually they are doing things differently, they are adding in little tweaks here and there. However once those “strange individuals” achieve greatness, all that strangeness is forgotten and people start embracing their theories. Usually great people can look at a process that has been performed for ages the same way, make a couple of quick inexpensive tweaks that will say double productivity. Great people usually think outside of the box. How can you develop this creativity and think outside of the box? How can you be able to see tweaks and solutions that no one else in you field sees? Well the answer is simple: by regularly getting out of your comfort zone and by constantly learning new skills. This expands and diversifies your perspective in general. Since most people live inside of their comfort zone for most of their lives, they don’t really develop much. They don’t really learn that many new skills or acquire many new perspectives especially after they graduate college. Also they don’t travel much and as a result they don’t come across different traditions and ideologies that will force them to reflect and question their own practices, habits and thoughts.
First realize that any process or traditional way of doing something can probably be improved. Don’t limit your potential with the current way everyone else in your field or area of expertise is doing things. Also realize that when you start doing things differently, many of your experiments and attempts will fail, but that’s ok. Remember you are pursuing greatness, and expect it to be a bumpy ride. Don’t be afraid of failure. Actually the existence of failure is questionable. As long as you are learning from your mistakes you are gaining experience, failure doesn’t really exist, it’s a negative label. Also be ready to receive some criticism from others in your field when you start doing things differently. When another person in your field sees you doing things differently it’s threatening to them on an unconscious level. Mainly because they haven’t taken the time to examine why they are doing things in a particular way, they just copied the process from someone else, and are actually very insecure about it. Most people in general don’t stop and question things, they are just copy cats. Make sure your life is more than what society declares “appropriate” or “worthy” or “respectable”. Make sure you are living in accordance to your personal values, and doing things the best way you deem fit.
Strategy #4 – Offer unique original value in your field
After following the first 3 strategies this will generally take care of itself. Declaring and living in accordance with your personal values, regularly getting out of your comfort zone and regularly questioning the way most people are doing things in your field will give you that unique edge. The unique edge is where you will be able to offer unique original value to others. Now this doesn’t mean that you wont be able to use other’s previous experience in your field or wiser mentors advice, it just means that you will be able to provide a fresh new perspective in your field. This fresh new perspective is what will allow you to offer unique value.
For example toothpaste traditionally offered the value of healthy clean white teeth, until someone came along and thought of flavored toothpaste. While flavored toothpaste provides all the traditional value of toothpaste, it additionally provides a more delicious fruity after taste. Now the idea of adding flavor to toothpaste is very simple, yet it’s interesting how one brand came up with it first, and all the rest copied the idea. This idea is an example of offering unique original value. Of course adding flavor to any consumer item isn’t an original idea in itself. But combining this idea with toothpaste is what created original unique value. Your personal values, all the new skills you’ll learn from getting out of your comfort zone, and your creativity creates a very unique you. As you develop that unique you, you will be able to combine ideas and even come up with fresh new ones that will allow you to provide original unique value in your field. This will certainly make you great in your field.