Yesterday, Paul caught a trophy fish.

OK, so it’s not technically a trophy fish. He won’t win any awards and we didn’t even keep it. It was just a little spotted bay bass.

But that one fish represents a major accomplishment. It was the first saltwater fish Paul caught completely unassisted from the shore. 

He’d gone out with me at least 10 times over the past 9 months and never caught a fish. Probably 30 hours of fishing with no success. He’s had a lot of bites, lots of struggle to learn how to cast, and lots of coming up empty.

Finding Free Play

We live in a society that bores easily. Video games, the classroom, even our profession… we want nearly instant results. 

People want to do something for the very first time and see quick success when it just doesn’t work that way. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously made the argument that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become the best in a field. Although the precision of that claim has been discredited, the general concept behind it is true: If you want to get good at something you’ll need to practice and learn and find your own way of doing things.

To get good, at anything, you have to struggle past the mechanical stage of learning where you are thinking about how to do it to get into the muscle memory stage where you can stop thinking about how to do something to the point where you can start to play.

Success and innovation comes when we get to free play.

Watch anyone who is excellent at their craft and you’ll see that it often looks like play. Why does it look like play when they are doing something incredibly hard? Because it is play!


Few people get to free play… where a small success like catching a bass or a larger success like innovating software that changes the game while creating a great place to work.

You see, to get there you have to push past a lot of failure. Not cute failure. Not the failure you can laugh off as a learning experience. Actual failure.

There’s a characteristic that some people have and other people don’t, which is– in part– why some people succeed where others don’t.

So what is the difference between people who get to the success of free play and the people who just never quite seem to get there?

Researchers use one word: Grit.

Photo credit: Sandpaper by Lukasz Fabis via Flickr (Creative Commons)

illustrations Monday Motivation

It’s about the results, not the process

  • Michelangelo didn’t do it right. Boss man didn’t like the nose
  • You didn’t do your math right. Well, you got the right answer but your teacher marked you down because you couldn’t show that you did the problem the way she wants to see.
  • We celebrate Thomas Edison for his inventions. But we just prefer to not know or care that he electrocuted animals to prove the dangers of alternating current.
  • You didn’t write your big paper right. Sure, it was good. But you got marked down because you didn’t turn the outline in on time. And your bibliography isn’t in the Chicago style, anyway. The MLA sucks, according to your teacher.

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to care way more about the process than they seem to about the results?

It’s as if “their way” is the “right way” and even if you achieve the same or better results another way…

Why is that? Well, they lose perceived power if they don’t point out that you didn’t do it the “right way.” Meaning– their way.

It’s About Results, Not the Process

Every day is filled up with too many messages telling you how to do stuff “the right way“:

  • My Facebook timeline is full of links to posts like this: “10 things successful people do that you don’t” or “The Five Secrets to Steve Jobs Creative Process.
  • In the WordPress world, where I hang out quite a bit, there’s a growing hierarchy of so-called experts shouting down innovation simply because these new innovations aren’t marched down the way the hierarchy likes it. (This not-so-subtle change threatens to destroy the community driving 30% of the world’s websites.)
  • In an essay published by the New York Times, Dan Fleschler writes about the struggle he goes through as his daughter choses to work as a counselor at a summer camp instead of taking on a high end unpaid summer internship. The essay isn’t a knock on camps, it’s a knock on this notion that to be successful you have to walk the designated life path. (ht to Jeff Keuss)

Here’s a little secret… and I hope it frees you:

There. is. no. right. path. to. the. right. answer. 

Trying to get the process just right, according to a book or some so-called expert, will merely lead you to a lot of stress and anxiety.

Sometimes, to get the results you are looking for, you’ll have to submit yourself to an established process. Say, with the IRS, or something like that.

But… for the most part… you need to figure out how to get results in a way that works for your unique gifts.

I’m ashamed to admit how much time and money I’ve wasted in my life learning “the right way” just to later learn that the way I was already doing it got better results and fit me better.

Skip that.

Get the results.

And make your own process.

Photo credit: Frank Watching Frank, Jr by James Vaughn via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Don’t Let 1% Win

We each have 1% driving us nuts in our lives. 

99% of the people in our lives are fine. They are benefited by the work we do, they are positive about us and who we are as people, or they are just neutral and have no opinion about us one way or the other.

But we each have a 1%. Negative Nancys. Horrible Harrys. The Haters.

The apostle Paul, in a moment of self-reflection, wrote about this to the church in Corinth…

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

2 Corinthians 12:7-8

A thorn. Have you ever had a splinter or a thorn stuck in you? Yeah, you have to deal with it or it’ll drive you crazy!

You can’t ignore it. You can’t do nothing and let it get infected. You have to deal with it.

For you, the issue isn’t just that these people are complaining or don’t like us or something we’ve done. If that were the case we could ignore them. It’s that they’ve gotten under our skin.

Sticks and Stones Actually Do Hurt Me

Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.

That little childhood nursery rhyme is a lie. Many a great person has been destroyed by words. I’m sad to admit that I bet at some point in my life my words have shattered someone. Words are worse than stones, the bruises they leave last a lifetime.

I don’t know about you. But if 100 people gave me feedback and 99 of them were either neutral or positive and 1 were mean-spirited… I’d go home thinking about that 1 personI’d lay in bed that night thinking about what I could have done differently.

That 1% carries with me. It hurts me. It’s debilitating.

Don’t Let Them Win

While I fully acknowledge that I cannot ignore the hater-voices in my life I can make one rational choice: They aren’t going to own me.

They have a job to do: Hate.

But I have a job to do: Deal with them. I chose to overcome their words with actions. They poke at me but I just keep swinging away. When I’m tired their anger, doubt, self-righteous do-nothingness drives me to keep going. I deal with haters using their bruises to motivate me.

Why? I don’t know about you. But the calling on my life is way more important than to let the voices of Negative Nancy and Horrible Harry slow me down.

I can’t shut them up. But I can refuse to let them win.

Just keep swinging.