The First Step To Greatness Is Defining It.

An empty Hammons Field

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” — William Hutchinson Murray

 
There’s a moment you’ve probably never seen at a stadium. It’s about 30 minutes after the game ends. The fans are already on their way home. The ushers are cleaning up the aisles. The grounds crew is on the field. The lights are still on.

And there’s this strange quiet in the stadium. There’s no music playing, no athletes on the field.

What you’re left with is a big, empty stadium, just waiting for someone to come on in and do something amazing.

It’s impossible to look at an empty stadium — for me, at least — and not think about all the great things that are yet to come in such a place. When I look at a stadium, I see an incredible stage on which greatness can and will soon exist.

For many of us, such greatness is elusive. It’s within all of us, but it can’t just be unleashed on the world. Greatness, like anything else, needs to be focused.

Here’s the thing with greatness: First you have to define it, and only after you’ve done that can you go out and actually be great.

That’s what I love about sports: It’s easy for an athlete to define greatness. It’s defined by what happens on the field — the plays they make, the records they set. Sports give athletes a defined space and structure in which they can be great.

Outside of sports, greatness is a little harder to define. To the entrepreneur, to the writer, to the salesman, what is greatness? There are no rules out there in the real world — just you and your work.

So define how you will be great. And there are so many ways to do it. There is greatness in being a great dad or a great friend. There is greatness is shooting for the moon.

There is greatness in taking the first step.

Not all of us have — in the literal sense — those big stadiums, where the lights are shining and just waiting for us to step out and do something great.

But all of us have those places within us. When we define them, we build them — and we give ourselves the stage on which great work gets done and great dreams get achieved.

Go find your stage. Define your greatness, and then go out and be it.

That photo at top is of an empty Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo. It was taken by yours truly.

The Magic Equation: Work = Passion + Hustle + Skills + Time + Tribe.

“I find the courage to follow my dreams because I don’t have any other choice.” — Karol Gajda

 
Let it be known: I love doing the work.

I love it. I love showing up each day to make things happen. I love the feeling at the end of the day when I know I’ve done good work.

But when I talk about “the work,” I’m not talking about the day-to-day tasks and duties. I’m not talking about the bullet points.

The work is so much bigger than that. What I’m talking about is The Work — the thing you do to make a dent in this universe.

The work starts with five things. It is a simple equation:

Work = Passion + Hustle + Skills + Time + Tribe

 
Some people have one, maybe two of those things down. A lot of entrepreneurs have the first three, but they don’t have the time or the tribe, and without those, projects die.

If you can find a way to put all five together together, you’ll have magic.
 

Passion

Do you love showing up to put in the hours? Are you excited about what you do? Do you truly care?

Matt Rutherford’s a case study in passion. This year, he circumnavigated the Americas on a 27-foot sailboat — by himself, without stopping. A fellow sailor who’d done the journey — on a much larger boat, and with a small crew — described Rutherford like this:

“What Matt is trying to do, I’m absolutely blown away by it, He’s doing this in a boat that, frankly, I’d be scared to sail from Newport to Bermuda. I’m in awe of the guy. This is such a mammoth undertaking, and to do it without stopping — alone — is mind-boggling. It’s almost teetering on the edge of blood-insanity, frankly.”

That’s the kind of passion I’m talking about: the kind of passion that would drive your fellow colleagues to question your own sanity. Great work will push you to limits others say can’t be reached. Without crazy passion, you’ll listen to them — and turn back before the journey’s up.

Love — with every bit of you — what you do. It’s the only way to convince yourself to do what should be impossible.
 

Hustle

Hustle often gets confused with speed, and that’s not quite right. Hustle isn’t about working faster. It’s about working harder. It’s about putting in those extra hours, and making a few extra things happen each day.

Hustle means setting your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier every morning to make time for a big task. It means staying at the office 15 minutes later to make that extra call. Over the course of the year, all those 15 minutes add up.

The Olympics have given us story after story of athletes who hustle: the soccer player who has a bad game and then turns in 10 straight days of four-hour work sessions to prove to her coach that she’s ready for the Games; the gymnast who takes an extra job as a teenager so can he support his family while he works towards London.

Hustle is one of the true game-changers in this world. Hustle is the physical manifestation of passion. It’s the way you show how hard you’re willing to go to do work you love.
 

Skills

What skills do you already have? And what do you need to learn in order to do better work?

The greats go and practice their skills every day, and they get better. Over time, skills get honed, refined and perfected.

Skills can be learned. You have no excuse: To do great work, you must make learning a priority.

If you’re not constantly evaluating your own skills, you’re not thinking about what you can do to do better work.
 

Time

Time cannot be accrued; it can only be lost.

So do you have time to do the work you need to do? There’s a reason many of the greats preach the virtues of saying “no” to time-consuming requests. There’s a reason the greats say something like this nearly every day:

But we can’t. We get the time we have. And every day is one less day.

Great work requires all the time you have. Start immediately.
 

Tribe

The final piece of the work, and the least obvious. Your tribe encompasses the people who believe in you and support you. They are your friends, your family, your co-workers, your mentors. They are the people who love the work you do.

Everyone who does great work has a tribe. Together, with your work and their support, you can make things happen that you alone cannot do. Work is best shared.

But you must be willing to ask for help, and you need that tribe there to help you find the answers.

Find your tribe and show them how important they are to you. They will give it back to you ten-fold.

¶ ¶ ¶

So that’s your equation: Passion + Hustle + Skills + Time + Tribe. Put those five together and — I promise you — you will do great work. Some of it will break through, and some of it will not. Luck and timing will play a role.

But if you have those five things, you have the formula.

Now it’s up to you to make the work happen.

Today, I urge you: Do great work.

That photo of the work getting done comes from @pyensan.

The August Edition of The Awesome File.

Last month, I published the first edition of The Awesome File, a list of 10 awesome things that you should make time for each month.(1) It’s August, and that means The Awesome File is back, with 10 new awesome things for your month ahead.

Inside this month’s installment of The Awesome File: Stories of Olympic awesomeness! Feats of tremendous hustle! And sexual decadence!

Read on — and be awesome this month:

1. READ: Joe Posnanski on Rulon Gardner

Like everyone else, I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics lately. To keep you in the spirit of the Games, here’s the craziest Olympics story you’ll ever read. (If you’ve never seen the event that inspired that story, you can watch it here.)

2. PAUSE: Nike’s Find Your Greatness Ads

My personal favorite part of the Olympics? The ads. Per usual, Nike’s produced a whopper. This one’s about all the Londons and all the greatness in the world:

3. HUSTLE: Here’s How Hard You Have To Work To Make Things Happen

And now that you’re inspired, here are three amazing tales of hustle. The first is a basement-to-breakthrough kind of story. The second is a tale of full on hustle. And the third is about an awesome portfolio site that got big — and rightfully so. Inspiring stories, all.

4. APPLY: The New York Public Library’s Wikipedian-in-Chief opening

And while you’re thinking about work, here’s something you don’t see every day: A job opening involving Wikipedia. It’s unpaid, yes, but doesn’t the thought of putting the words “Wikipedian-In-Chief” on your resume make you want to apply just a little?

5. WATCH: Charlie LeDuff Golf Across Detroit

Great things start with baby steps, not big leaps. And here’s Charlie LeDuff proving that by golfing across Detroit. One man, 18 miles, 2,575 strokes — and one great story.

6. CONSIDER: Robin Sloan’s Javascript-Based Book Review

Here’s something I’ve been asking a lot lately: Why do we do things the way we’ve always done them? Mostly, this has involved me digging into a more specific question: Why do we tell stories the way we’ve always told stories?

And then I see something new and awesome, and I get all excited. Per evidence, I would like to submit this book review by Robin Sloan. You have never seen a book review quite like this before.

7. READ: “Dear American Airlines,” by Jonathan Miles

On that note: You also probably haven’t seen a novel quite like this before. It’s called “Dear American Airlines: A Novel.” It’s the story of one man’s miserable trip through O’Hare International, and anyone who’s flown to Chicago knows what this guy’s talking about.

8. LOOK: National Geographic’s Traveler Photo Contest 2012

Of course, once you get outside of the airport, you might find some amazing things, too. Like these fantastic, reader-submitted photos from trips abroad.

9. LAUGH: “One Bed, Two Girls, Three Bottles of Wine,” by Hayes Carll

Apropos of nothing: One day, I want to write a story as good as this. The song title alone is worth the price of admission.

10. LOVE: “How to Manage Your Time”

Simple things can be powerful things. A simple story, a finite focus — that’s often what’s at the root of great work.

Here’s proof, from the awesome Amber Rae:

If that’s not the kick in the pants you need to start focusing on great work, I’m not sure what’ll do the job.

That’s it for this month’s The Awesome File. Got something you’d like to share for next month’s edition. Tweet at me with your suggestions.

  1. And that I hope will inspire you to do great work.