Your Glass Ceiling

Francis Galton was a man who truly believed in natural talents and an upper ceiling for success and achievement. Take the following quotes, which were borrowed from Talent is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin.

His maximum performance becomes a rigidly determinate quality.

He is no longer tormented into hopeless efforts by the fallacious promptings of overweening vanity…” He discards the foolish notion that he can ever do better, makes peace with the idea that he’s as good as he’ll ever be, and “finds true moral repose in an honest conviction that he is engaged in as much good work as his nature has rendered him capable of performing.”

Galton believed that each of us was born with a specific set of abilities and a predisposition to perform well at a certain type of work. After engaging in that level of work for awhile, Galton believed we would all hit a true ceiling, a level at which we could no longer improve.

I’ve certainly felt this way. Haven’t you? I would pick up a new hobby (playing guitar comes to mind), try to mimic professionals, and then give up when I fell terribly short after only a few days of practice. After sulking in frustration, I’d blame “natural talent”; it was the perfect scapegoat.

The “natural ability” blame game reminds me of Carol Dweck, who describes two different mindsets – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Dweck distinguishes between people with a fixed mindset — they tend to agree with statements such as “You have a certain amount of intelligence and cannot do much to change it” — and those with a growth mindset, who believe that we can get better at almost anything, provided we invest the necessary time and energy. While people with a fixed mindset see mistakes as a dismal failure — a sign that we aren’t talented enough for the task in question — those with a growth mindset see mistakes as an essential precursor of knowledge, the engine of education.

Galton more closely related to the fixed mindset model rather than the growth mindset. In today’s society, I think quite a few people inadvertently are hopping on the fixed mindset as well. They hear stories of famous entrepreneurs and chalk the results up to circumstances outside of their control. Musicians and professional athletes must have had something that separates them from the rest of us. While being born to parents on the wrong way of six foot puts you at a disadvantage on the courts, it’s probably not the only reason you’re watching games from the stadium seats instead of playing it first-hand.

The fixed mindset offers the easy way out, an explanation for failure at new pursuits. On the other hand, a growth mindset, one that chooses to disregard limits, promises years of frustration. After picking up a new hobby or interest, you’ll likely spend months just trying to get good enough to enjoy it. You’ll have days where you truly just want to give up. Your initial output truly will suck. You’ll probably feel embarrassed and want to draw back into your safety cocoon and just work on things you’re good at.

But, that’s part of the growth process.

You have to see how terrible you are in the beginning in order to appreciate how far you go in the end. To quote Ira Glass:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

During the growth period, you learn an incredible amount about yourself. What makes you tick? How do you learn best? How hard can you push yourself? Those are the fun questions to answer. If you skipped straight to the fun part (being proficient or better yet, good), you wouldn’t truly appreciate your success.

So, take some time to work at one skill you’re truly passionate about. Aim to master your own craft. Ignore shortcuts and suffer through the days when you just want to quit. When you think you’ve reached your potential, look for other ways to improve. Change up your practice style or look to shadow someone with a slightly different perspective. No matter what domain you work in, there’s always room for improvement. There may be a ceiling on ability level, but it’s a false cap that lures most of us into laziness offering the perfect “out” from hard work.

Talent is Overrated

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Author: Geoffrey Colvin
Title: Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
Published: Oct 4, 2008

In Talent is Overrated, Colvin explores and dismisses some of the most popular myths surrounding mastery. From expert musicians to sports heroes, he breaks down performances that many of us chalk up to innate ability and provides rational and reasoning as to why talent is based largely on hard work rather than some sort of born skill set.

Perhaps the most fundamental element of the book is a concept known as deliberate practice (something Gladwell alludes to in Outliers). Deliberate practice is characterized by several key elements including:

  1. It’s designed specifically to improve performance
  2. It can be repeated a lot
  3. Feedback on results is continuously available
  4. It’s highly demanding mentally
  5. It isn’t much fun

Obviously, these elements come in stark contrast to the casual game of golf on the weekend or the neighborhood hoops game. Neither will produce extraordinary results. Colvin breaks down many popular performers (including Tiger Woods for example) and demonstrates the impact that deliberate practice had on their success.

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Do What You Love

Recently, Slate published an article on the topic of “Do What You Love”, specifically how the phrase “Devalues work and hurts others”. As someone that truly does love what they do, I wanted to share some thoughts on the article as a whole as well as some specific points regarding choosing a career path you love even if it’s well outside of your current wheelhouse.

The phrase “Do What You Love” has become increasingly popular over the past few years as workers long for a career path that motivates them to get out of the bed in the morning rather than living for the weekends and the meager amount of vacation time they have saved up. The mantra also stems from a generation privileged with a much different outlook on employment and work in general. Startups are running rampant particularly within the technology sector making the dream of running your own business much more realistic. Remote working is getting ever more popular as businesses look to employ talent from anywhere rather than just from a physical location. A college degree and the right connections are no longer enough to solidify a job climbing the corporate ladder. Needless to say, the term work has changed quite a bit over the past few years.

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Long-Form Content

The problem is that long doesn’t mean good — it just doesn’t look like most of the junk. Too many people now ask for (and produce) “long-form” when they really want substantial.

Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, shared some great thoughts on long-form content on his blog. The topic of long-form content has been popping up recently both in the Atlantic and the NY Times.

Straight, No Chaser

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I vividly remember the first time I had a sip of Maker’s Mark whiskey. I was in a bar in downtown Gainesville during my college days. My buddy Jason and I were out shooting pool (something I’m absolutely terrible at). I remember drinking a few Samuel Adams throughout the night (a “craft” beer at the time in my mind) before Jason offered to buy me a shot.

Let me preface this with the fact that if there’s one person on earth that truly hates taking shots, it’s me. The whole process just doesn’t seem enjoyable.

Despite my constant whining and pleading, Jason order up two shots of Maker’s Mark whiskey. I grudgingly tossed mine back and surfaced an expression on my face that likely made it seem as if I was going to lose my cookies at any moment.

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5 Stretches You Could Be Doing More Effectively

Whether it was Jane Fonda or the grade school gym teacher who taught us to sit and reach, from a young age we’ve been conditioned to associate stretching with exercise. But what we know now is that more than one form of stretching exists, ranging from more active methods (referred to as dynamic) to more passive variations (also known as static). While active variations are more appropriate for warming up for exercise, research suggests that passive stretches are best saved for after a workout.

I collaborated with Dr. Mike Reinold for this piece on DailyBurn. Check out the full article here.

Everything That Remains

ETR_20001-500x800Authors: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
Title: Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists
Published: Jan 1, 2014

In Everything That Remains, which the authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are calling a memoir, Joshua presents a timeline of his transition from a cushy office job with a high-paying salary into a minimalist lifestyle where he gets rid of many of his material possessions and ultimately starts to pursue the life he really wants to live. Starting as a twenty-something with a half dozen maxed out credit cards and a mountain of material crap, Joshua stumbles upon minimalism from a brief conversation with a neighbor. After a saddening event where he loses his mother, he begins to move toward a minimalist lifestyle, following the path of several others like Leo Babauta in the process. Along the way, Joshua convinces his best friend Ryan to join the lifestyle as well and proceeds to help him rid his apartment of all the items he doesn’t need. The two eventually fully adopt the lifestyle, start TheMinimalists.com, and travel the country speaking to crowds from New York to California. Rather than simply throwing away all of your crap, their challenge is to live the life you want to live, not the one you think you should live due to mass media and advertising. Having quit their high-paying salary jobs, both Joshua and Ryan now pursue their passions living in Missoula, MT at the end of the book (a town I very much want to visit).

As for the content itself, the book covered most topics you would expect a book on minimalism to cover. Without reading it, you can probably assume the theme centers around decreasing your material possessions, watching less mindless television, reading more, creating more, contributing more, and enjoying more. If you’ve read anything about minimalism, you likely have the basics covered. My one criticism of the book (and really of the popularity of minimalism in general) is that it tends to get repetitive. Seemingly everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and preaching the same material. If you’re looking to read a story about how to become a minimalist, I wouldn’t say this book is for you. They have plenty of free information on their site that guides you towards a minimalist lifestyle. However, it’s apparent from the beginning this wasn’t their intention with writing the book. Their goal was to provide a transformative story on shifting towards the minimalist lifestyle and the many benefits it can have, which they nailed.

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Your Own Worst Enemy

I pulled into Rogue Strength and Performance around 8AM on a Friday morning, still digesting breakfast and buzzing from too many cups of caffeine. I walked through the door and introduced myself to a few of the coaches and clients that were either finishing up sessions or just getting started with the fun. I paused for a second taking in my surroundings. The place was exactly what you would look for in a gym; that is, if you’re looking for a garage gym complete with graffiti on the walls, chains and old bars stained with sweat, and a “results at all costs” attitude. This was surely not the place where you would find heated towels in the locker room. Admittedly, it was a far cry from the commercial gym I’m used to, but I loved it.

After a few brief conversations, I was on my own for what seemed like a normal workout. I foam rolled, stretched, and warmed-up following the guidelines laid out by my training program. Then, I powered through the prescribed workout. It was tough, but it didn’t leave my gasping for air on the ground or feeling unable to drive home. I found a spot on the turf and started to roll again, ready to shower and get on with the rest of my day. Surely, the fun was over.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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Use Your Quantified Self Data

With more fitness watches, technical gear and health apps on the market than ever before, users have every opportunity to gain deeper insights into their daily habits, a revolution known as the “quantified self.” But while these tracking devices might be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, the amount of data they provide can seem limitless. In fact, between steps taken, calories burned, hours slept, and many more metrics, sifting through the numbers can be more overwhelming than navigating the gym in January.

So which metrics are most valuable when it comes to changing habits and getting closer to your health and fitness goals? To help you make the most of your data, we’ve broken down the four main metrics measured by most fitness trackers, what they actually mean, and how to start putting them to better use.

I’ve previously blogged about quantified self and why I’m not hopping on the train just yet. One of my main arguments against the fitness tracking movement is that I don’t believe users actually put the data into practice. I was really excited to share some thoughts on DailyBurn on how to put all of this data to use.

Read the rest of the article here.

This article was also syndicated on The Daily Beast here.

Creature of Habit

There’s a very solid chance that if you were to ask me what I’m doing between 5am and 7am, I’m writing something. When the clock strikes 12pm, I’ll probably be headed to the dog park. 3:30pm? I’m likely at the gym.

With the exception of the weekend (where I have a different schedule of sorts) and vacations, I have a very solid routine in place that helps me stay sane. The regular occurrences help me to be more productive. They also help to reduce my stress level and therefore create a healthier, happier me. I’m not alone in my dependence on a routine. If you look back at many famous entrepreneurs, you’ll find that many of them have routines they follow.

As 2014 kicks off, many eager individuals will look to set New Year’s resolutions. Yet, a great deal of those resolutions will fall flat within the first few months. Most don’t even make it that far. The reason: Change is damn hard.

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