Follow these two simple steps and you’re guaranteed to become a millionaire.
Step 1 – Get a million dollars.
Step 2 – Don’t lose any of the million dollars.
TA DA! You’re a millionaire.
Albeit without a lot of safety margin.
On second thought, maybe it would be better to get TWO million dollars. Then you could lose one and still be a millionaire.
That probably wasn’t the advice you were hoping for. Maybe you expected a list of six things you need to do before 6am that will guarantee your success. Or an explanation on how taking cold showers will generate passive income.
But I’ve yet to find a secret recipe. And I don’t think life comes with guarantees.
We love stories of the overnight success. But behind each “overnight success” is someone who relentlessly pursued their vision. Behind each surprise victory is countless hours of preparation and discipline.
We don’t necessarily want to hear this. We want to think there’s a quick solution. Even though deep down, we know there isn’t one.
And the sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can forget about these distractions. And start truly pursuing success. As the political activist and great thinker Simone Weil once wrote, “You live in a dream. You are waiting to begin to live…”
Clear View Doesn’t Mean Short Distance
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses . . . in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” – Muhammad Ali
Why do we celebrate the finish line without recognizing the hard work that went into getting there?
Because the finish is exciting! It’s a celebration. And we’re trained from an early age to celebrate the result, not the effort. The output, not the input.
The output’s visible. It’s what’s plastered all over our vision boards and showcases our worth from social media pages.
So we see the end. And want to get there yesterday. But as Former CEO and president of Netscape Jim Barksdale once said,
“The problem with the Silicon Valley, is that we tend to confuse a clear view with a short distance.”
When we start thinking we’re on a quick path to success, it goes hand in hand with trying to get there as quickly as possible.
But too often, that clear view isn’t a short distance. It’s not a quick path. And when this happens, we stop. We lose our momentum. And that clear view begins to fade.
We put off facing the next obstacle. Say we’ll tackle it tomorrow. But time rarely brings more courage to overcome them. If anything, it brings the opposite. It invites the status quo and a sense of complacency with our present state.
One day goes by. Then another. And eventually we look up again and we’re no closer to our goal than when we started. We’ve lost focus. And with it, our progress.
The solution then is not to lose that focus. Not to stop and cost ourselves whatever momentum we’ve built.
The solution is to act. And with action brings progress. And focus. In the advice of Anna Deveare Smith to aspiring artists,
“Start now, every day, becoming, in your actions, your regular actions, what you would like to become in the bigger scheme of things.”
America’s Original Self-Made Man
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” – Ben Franklin
Benjamin Franklin rose out of poverty to become a successful printer, scientist, inventor, author, founder, rebellion quasher, and diplomat. He was also a man who constantly focused on self-improvement. At the age of 20, he decided to take on the seemingly achievable goal of moral perfection. In Franklin’s words,
“I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”
Franklin tracked his self-improvement across 13 different virtues he considered critical to being a good person. Whether it was temperance, sincerity, or any others from his list, each week he would focus on improving in one area, then restarting the cycle after 13 weeks. With each week, he strived to develop new habits that brought him closer to his goal.
There was no end. Franklin continued in this pursuit throughout his life. And while he fully acknowledged that he never succeeded in living these virtues perfectly, he felt he’d become a better and happier man for having tried.
With focus comes action. With action comes progress. And with progress comes growth.
Make Progress Every Day
“Do not be subject to inertia.” – Josh Waitzkin, Tribe of Mentors
What projects have you been putting off? What goals have faded from your focus?
I get it. Life’s busy. We all have a lot on our plate. And you don’t need me to lecture about priorities.
But what if every day, you did one thing? One small thing to progress towards that goal?
Navy SEAL Jocko Willink writes in Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual,
“Do something about it. Every day. Every day. Do something that moves you toward that goal – that keeps that goal alive and in sight and in focus.”
Each day’s progress adds up. But more importantly, it keeps our goals in focus. It doesn’t allow one day’s inaction to become another’s. As the inspiring Hannah Arendt described the power of action to propel change,
“The smallest act in the most limited circumstances bears the seed of the same boundlessness, because one deed, and sometimes one word, suffices to change every constellation.”
Each action contributes to another. Each decision influences another. Positively or negatively, how you decide to spend each moment defines how you’ll choose to spend your future ones.
Appreciate the Long Road
“We are often taught that successful strategy is a matter of boldness, but it has also always been the case that it’s as much a matter of patience and due diligence as it is of noticeable action.” – Ryan Holiday, Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue
In his latest book, Ryan Holiday tells the story of how Peter Thiel masterminded a lawsuit culminating in Gawker Media’s bankruptcy. A fascinating story, expertly researched and told, it humanizes the people involved, shows the momentum behind poor culture, and demonstrates the brilliant level of strategy and power that was necessary to pull it off.
But my greatest takeaway was the superhuman level of patience and determination that Thiel maintained for nearly a decade. Within any given day, progress may have been negligible. But with continued focus and intentionality, he carried out a plan that many considered to be impossible. And whether you appreciate his accomplishment or lament Gawker’s demise, we could all learn from Thiel’s willingness to take a situation where everyone believed there’s “nothing you can do about it,” and then do something about it. In Ryan’s words,
“We have plenty of opinions—plenty of histrionic complaints about how terrible and awful and stuck we are—but not enough people with the patience, coordination, and ambition to do anything about it.”
Whatever our goal, we get there through patience, and focus, and continued action. And situations that look hopeless continue to look less so.
Start Today. Take Action.
“Things live by moving and gain strength as they go.” – Bruce Lee
Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was known to carry a notebook everywhere, which he filled with everything from training regimens to philosophical reflections. And when he came across a particularly important thought, he wrote it on a 3×5″ notecard, which he signed, perhaps as a contract to himself. Covering topics from managing ego to staying humble, this set of reminders helped guide his daily life and pushed him to practice the discipline with which he lived each day.
But a consistent theme is on the necessity of focused action in achieving our goals. In his words,
“I know that I have the ability to ACHIEVE the object of my DEFINITIVE PURPOSE in life; therefore I DEMAND of myself persistent, continuous action toward its attainment, and I here and now promise to render such action.”
We all have definitive purpose. And we all have the ability to achieve it. Write yours down. What do you want to accomplish? Where do you want to go?
And then demand that persistence of yourself.
You don’t need to get there tomorrow. And a clear vision may not equal a short distance. But progress each day shortens this gap. It keeps us focused and let’s each day’s progress compounds. In the words of Kenneth Goldsmith,
“If you work on something a little bit every day, you end up with something that is massive.”
Choose your focus. And get started today.
I don’t know if it will make you a millionaire. But do things right, and I don’t think you’ll care.