Staying Ahead Of The Line.


Here’s another hard truth about doing the work: It’s largely about setting goals and accomplishing goals. And accomplishing goals is really freaking hard.

The work usually goes like this:

1. You set your goals.
2. You start accomplishing some of your goals.
3. You feel great about how much you’ve accomplished already.
4. You feel like you’re accomplishing so much so fast!
5. You look at the calendar and realize that it’s almost the end of the year and you’ve still got a million things left to do.
6. You flail wildly and struggle to the end of the year.

And this is in a good year.

As soon as you set your goals, you basically become Missy Franklin, the swimmer in this GIF:


The yellow line represents the world record pace. In order to beat it, she has to stay ahead of that line. And no matter how fast she goes, she can’t seem to get ahead of the yellow line.

This is the nasty secret: You won’t ever really get ahead of the yellow line. You rarely get to feel like you’re way ahead your goals, because — and this is really, insanely annoying — as soon as you do beat your goals, you’re going to set new, more outrageous goals. And then you’ll flail again in hopes of catching up to those.

You set the bar, hit that new height, and reset everything. But you never really get ahead.

Mentally, it’s a massive adjustment — there are no true end goals, just carrots that you’re forever chasing down the road. But over time, you learn to adjust. You learn to celebrate your smaller victories, and to cherish the really big accomplishments.

And then you go and chase the next big goal. That’s just how it is.

That GIF of Missy Franklin breaking the world record in the backstroke at the 2012 London Games comes via this YouTube video.

Once You Display A Skill, You Own It.


My new favorite thing comes from — of all places — an ESPN article about the Kansas City Royals. Writes Jonah Keri:

“‘Once you display a skill, you own it.’ Fantasy baseball guru Ron Shandler coined that expression, which essentially means that once a player shows the ability to do something in baseball (hit home runs, strike guys out, etc.), he maintains the potential to show that skill again in the future. That applies to displaying a particular skill in the minor leagues. While phenoms like Mike Trout can spoil us with their ability to dominate almost from day one in the big leagues, the reality is that even minor league superstars can take several years to truly blossom in the majors. Still, those dormant skills often resurface over time.”

I freaking LOVE this idea. I’m obsessed with it.

“Once you display a skill, you own it” means that if you can write, if you can dance, if you can play the piccolo while juggling, the expectation is that you’ll be able to show off those skills in the future — and can even get better at it. Maybe you won’t be incredible at it right away, but with work, you could be.

And “Once you display a skill, you own it” also means that the sooner you show off those skills, the sooner the people you want to work with are going to invest their time and money and energy into helping you develop — and eventually own — those skills.

But it’s not enough to say you have the skills. There’s a difference between telling me you’re a photographer and showing me. I’ll put the time into working with (and maybe even coaching) the latter, but the former won’t get much more than a courtesy glance.

Show me what you can do. Even if it’s just a glimpse at what you can do. The sooner, the better.

That photo of former Kansas City Royals pitcher David Riske comes via Flickr’s @flyfshrmn98.

The Frame Matters.


Seven years ago, The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten conducted an interesting experiment. He took one of the world’s best violinists, Joshua Bell, and had him perform on a Friday morning during rush hour at a subway station in Washington, D.C. He didn’t tell anyone who Bell was. As Weingarten explained in his article:

“His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

The simple, shocking answer: No.

As Weingarten went on to point out, maybe the end result wasn’t all the surprising. If he’d told passerbys that Bell was a famous violinist, would they have stopped? Probably! But they had no context for Bell, other than that he was playing a subway station. And playing a violin at a subway station isn’t exactly a indicator of fine musical talent.

Which leads to another big question: How do you recognize what is great if you don’t have the proper frame for it?

That’s the challenge for anyone who wants to product amazing work. It’s not enough to merely create the work. You also have to include the context to show everyone why it’s so amazing. You have to answer certain questions: What’s it an improvement on? How does it help me? And showing that can be a real challenge.

But it’s an essential challenge. Without it, there’s no context — and without it, your work might just go unnoticed.

That photo of a picture frame comes via Flickr’s LUH 3417.