Tag Archives: do the work

Keep Stabbing. Keep Going. Keep Working.

I remember seeing the band Phoenix in Austin three years ago. It was at the Austin City Limits Festival. It was just an afternoon slot on a Friday — not quite primetime –but a massive crowd showed up. Even the band’s lead singer admitted that day that it was the biggest crowd they’d ever played for.

And it showed. They were very good — Phoenix’s songs are layered and powerful and super dancy — but they weren’t electric. Their music was fantastic, but the band didn’t look quite ready to perform on such a big stage.

Then I saw them a year later in Denver. It wasn’t even the same band. The singer was climbing up scaffolding on the stage and singing from high above his bandmates. At one point, the band just stopped mid-song, their instruments still reverberating, and walked off stage. The crowd — this was at another festival, mind you — started to leave the stage. And then the band rushed right back out and kept playing. The crowd flooded back in, a stampede of people jumping and screaming and generally losing their minds.

It was epic.

Maybe they weren’t ready for the big stage in Austin. Maybe they didn’t know what they were doing yet.

But they went out and played anyway. They started before they were ready, and they found themselves through doing the work, night in and night out.

The same holds true for Florence & the Machine. I saw her open for U2 last summer in Baltimore. She was very good. The crowd knew her music. But there was simply no way she was prepared to play for 60,000 people that night.

Then I saw her on Thursday in New Orleans. She blew the crowd away. She looked completely comfortable on stage. Her banter was good. When she told the crowd to jump, they jumped. When she told every guy in the crowd to grab their girlfriends and put them up on their shoulders, 500 women popped up in the air.

It’s an amazing thing to watch someone find who they are and embrace it, and to watch the crowd embrace it, too. But even the best — even the biggest rock and roll acts in the world — struggle to find themselves at first. I’ve seen it with Phoenix, and I’ve seen it with Florence.

It’s only through doing the work that we find our way.

Like Teller (of Penn and Teller) once said:

Get on stage. A lot. Try stuff. Make your best stab and keep stabbing. If it’s there in your heart, it will eventually find its way out.

Go out today and put yourself into the world. Take a step towards doing the work you really want to do.

How to Get Your Ass Moving.

jordan-butler-29125

Some mornings you wake up, and

-You can’t find your keys.
-The gym’s closed.
-The highway’s blocked.(1)
-Oh, and it’s raining, and you accidentally left your couch cushions outside on the porch to dry.

That was the last 45 minutes for me.

And I know from experience: I can let this drag on as long as it wants. There are mornings where it’s an endless parade of things that can and will go wrong. Give it 20 more minutes and I’ll be on the side of the road trying to fix a flat tire. And then it’ll start raining again.

Murphy’s Law rides shotgun, somedays.

So this is a restart kind of morning for me. Things get off wrong, and I have to bring it all back to zero. Turn off the engines. Breathe. Maybe sit down at a diner with a stack of pancakes and find my center again. Maybe I’ll hit the gym, or run an errand or two. I’ll go through what’s wrong and figure out how bad the damage is. Often, it’s just a series of little things that I’ve built into something much bigger.

Bad breaks happen. Bad things happen.

But I can’t afford to lose an entire day of work because things aren’t going my way. That’s why I have to know when it’s time to stop the slide. I have to know when it’s time to restart.

This applies to your work, too. You will do work that goes nowhere. You will have days where you hit dead ends.

Recognize when things just aren’t breaking your way. Step back and give yourself room. Give it a few minutes for something else to take hold in your mind. And then come right back to the work at hand.

Some mornings, it all lines up for you. Every light’s a green. You’re fully in the zone.

Those days are fun.

But they don’t come around every day. And the work has to get done every day.

Know when you need to stop and restart. Just stop. Breathe. Grab some pancakes.

When you’re ready, you’ll find the zone again.

———

That photo of a donkey was taken by Jordan Butler and published on Unsplash.

  1. Here’s looking at you, donkey in the road. And yes, Grandma, he’s the ass I’m talking about in the title. I wouldn’t use that kind of language on the blog otherwise :-)

Better Passes, Better Catches: How To Live Your Life the Bethesda Magic Way.

The year was 1996. OJ went on trial in California. Michael Johnson ran away from everyone at the Atlanta Games. Garry Kasparov lost to an IBM computer in chess.

And, probably most notable of all: The Bethesda Magic recreational basketball team was formed.

I was one of the original Magic. There are many things I could say about Bethesda Magic basketball. I could tell you that in 1999, one of our players played an entire game in blue jeans. I could tell you that for several years, more players on the team owned Rec Specs than basketball shoes. I could mention that for several seasons running, a player on our team attempted to score on the wrong basket.

I should probably also mention that we were not very good.

It wasn’t until our 15th game as a team — the final game of our second season — that we won a game by anything other than forfeit.

But we ended up playing for 10 seasons. In our final three seasons, we actually won more games than we lost. By the end, we started to actually learn things. We didn’t totally suck.

I remember that decade of rec basketball fondly. Most of all, I remember the lessons that our coach — Coach Dinerstein — taught us. He was not a very good coach, by pretty much any metric through which you measure basketball coaching ability. We all probably knew more about basketball than Coach. But in his own way, he taught us a lot about basketball.

And if I may be bold enough to say: Some of his lessons remain true today.

Master the Fundamentals

If there’s one thing that I’ll always remember about Coach, it’s that he spent more time talking about passing than any coach I’ve ever seen. Our practices were 65 percent passing drills. We practiced bounce passes and chest passes all night long, with Coach walking around yelling, “Throw better passes! Make better catches!” This was rather necessary, because when we started, none of us could pass. I was particularly fond of throwing behind-the-back passes from the high post. The problem was that nobody ever caught them.

So we spent a lot of time practicing our passes and catches. We were determined to be more fundamentally sound than any other team in our league.

And by 12th grade, we were! Nobody threw a bounce pass like the Bethesda Magic. Our passes were crisp, our catches were clean.

Coach knew that great teams start with great teamwork. The best teams share the ball. So that’s what he made us do, every practice for 10 years.

Understanding What’s Important

Of course, there’s a catch to the all-passing, all-the-time practices: We didn’t really practice shooting. So we’d pass it beautifully in games. But then somebody would be open, and we’d yell, “Shoot!,” and that player would be forced to actually heave the ball at the basket. It rarely went in. And that’s kind of an issue in a game where scoring points matters.

Ultimately, you have to know what’s most important in your quest to do the work right. If you’re a small business, it doesn’t matter if you’ve mastered social media and if you’ve got a YouTube video that’s gone viral. If your product stinks, you’re not going to be in business very long.

We were a basketball team that couldn’t shoot, and if you can’t shoot, you can’t win. This was a fairly big hole in our overall basketball strategy.

Whenever I master a new skill, I try to ask myself: How does this change the way I do my work? If it doesn’t bring me a step closer to doing better work, then I need to refocus on different skills.

Keep Things Simple

In about sixth grade, Coach decided we were ready to add set plays to our game plan. We had two plays. Coach decided that when we ran Play no. 1, our point guard would yell out the name of a fruit. When we ran Play no. 2, our point guard would yell out the name of a vegetable.

In games, our point guard was fond of yelling out, “Tomato!,” which typically led to the team running both plays simultaneously.

We didn’t score very often.

There was one team in our league, though, that ran a play well. This was kind of amazing, actually. Sixth graders aren’t typically smart enough to do anything well that requires mass coordination.

This team’s play was called “UConn.” They ran it after every basket they scored. “UConn” was the call to set up their pressure defense.

Here’s how it worked: Their entire team swarmed the ball in the backcourt until our point guard turned it over. Then they took the ball and shot a layup.

It was a stupid play. It was painfully simple. It was basically five guys running at the ball simultaneously. It wouldn’t work on any team with players taller than 5’3”.

But none of us had hit puberty. So it worked. Every. Single. Time.

Simple things can be effective things, too.

 

Remember to Enjoy the Work

We were not very good. And if we had taken ourselves seriously, we wouldn’t have made it past the first season.

But we loved our teammates. We loved playing together. We were happy playing basketball together — even when we didn’t win.

And while other teams were in their huddles, yelling at each other, we were goofing around in ours.

Work should be fun. It can sometimes be stressful, and agonizing, and difficult.

But if it’s never fun, that’s a problem.

We lost more than we won. But nobody ever looked at us after a game and thought that we weren’t enjoying ourselves.

All these years later, my teammates from the Bethesda Magic are still some of my closest friends. We made a hell of a team.

Were we any good? Not really.

But we were everything I want from any team I’m a part of. We had fun. We knew our roles. We played together. We learned a lot.

Although I’m not sure if any of us will ever be totally sure whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable.

The Four Types of Haters You’ll Meet. (or: Beware The Wrath of The Rainmakers!)

I’m a member of a local Toastmasters club(1), and one of our members gave a talk last week that was so good, I begged him to let me republish the key themes here on the blog. The talk was by Kenny Freeman, a Columbia, Mo.,-based communications specialist. The talk was titled, “The Wrath of the Rainmakers.” I’ve adapted his words for the blog.

So here’s the secret: If you decide to do the work and take on your own dreams and ambitions, you’re going to hit a few walls. Building something from nothing — a song, a book, a company — takes a lot of work and a lot of persistence. If that sounds hard, it’s because it is.

You will run into walls when you’re doing this work. The biggest wall comes in the form of the doubters and the haters. They are out there. And if you’re doing really good work, they will find you. They will come at you with all the hate and negativity that can shut down good work before it even begins.

Call these people The Rainmakers. These are the people who will rain on your parade — if you let them.

There are four types of Rainmakers in our world. They are:

The Pirates: These are the people who exist to steal your dreams. They see what you’re doing and want it for themselves. They’ll try to get to you with their jealousy and their anger. Ward them off. They want what you have — but they’re not willing to do the work themselves to achieve it.

The Guardians: These are your friends and family, who want to protect you from embarrassment or failure. They’re often going to try to keep you from doing things that might be risky. But in the process of protecting you, they’re also keeping you from trying something that might succeed — or at least lead to growth. They’re not rainmakers in the traditional sense — there’s no hate here — but they are holding you back. And they’re an obstacle between you and the work you want to do.

The Gatekeepers: They represent the status quo.(2) They do not want to see anything in their world change. Their life is comfortable, and what you’re trying to do will affect their routine. They want to stop you before that happens.

Yourself: There is no greater hater than the one inside your own mind. It is so easy to convince yourself of the reasons not to do something. You can crush your own dreams with self-doubt and fear.

It takes insane courage to do good work. Believing that you can do it – and do it right — is so crucial. Don’t be afraid to take the first step. It is better than no step at all.

So don’t fear The Rainmakers. They only have as much power as you give them.

Give them nothing. Just do the work you need to do. Go prove them wrong.

  1. Toastmasters is an international organization devoted to helping people practice their public speaking and leadership skills.
  2. Kenny jokingly referred to them as the “status crows,” and now I’m never going to be able to see the crows from “Dumbo” without thinking of his speech.

The Importance of Believing That It *Can* Get Done.

When I was three years old, I found a red pan in my preschool classroom. I used to walk around with this red pan and pretend to play guitar on it. There is a photo of me that my parents still hang onto. I have big, fat cheeks, and goofy, green overalls, and I’m soloing away at a red, plastic pan.

As I got older, I got rid of the pan, but the air guitaring remained. When I was a kid, I was always pretending to play guitar.

But weirdly, I never actually learned to play. I tried the recorder in third grade. Mom offered to let me play clarinet in fourth grade, but I didn’t even consider that an instrument.

Guitar? I never played guitar.

And then I got to college. Freshman year, there was a kid down the hall named Nate. Nate played guitar. He played in bands. He asked me if I wanted to live in his off-campus house sophomore year.

I agreed on one condition: He had to teach me how to play guitar.

So I bought a Martin guitar that year — dark mahogany, a deep sound. I spent the first three months playing three chords, over and over: C, E minor and D minor. In that order. Over and over.

My roommates grew to hate C, E minor and D minor.

Dan, air guitaringBut I kept playing.(1) By the end of the year, I had a few songs under my belt. I couldn’t play with rhythm. I messed up often.

But I could finally say I could play guitar.

I kept going. Junior year, I started to gain rhythm. Senior year, I actually figured out how to use a capo and play different sounds.(2)

My first year out of college, I accidentally discovered how to correctly play bar chords. That took me a year or so to master.

By the time this year came around, I wasn’t all that bad. I could play harmonics. I could play semi-complex rhythms. You could yell the words “Free Bird” at me and I could sing the guitar solo while simultaneously playing the rhythm.

But as far as my live guitar playing experiences were concerned, it was still pretty much limited to a lot of me, in front of the bathroom mirror, belting out Springsteen(3), and occasional fireside guitar sessions at the beach.

Which is why I decided to give a TED talk this year in which I would play guitar while simultaneously leading a group sing-along.

Here’s the thing: I love TED talks. They’re inspiring, and they’re right on that line between entertaining and informative. That’s the line I’m always trying to toe.

And I’ve always wanted to play guitar in front of a large group of people. I’m not a musician. I don’t play in a band. I don’t get a lot of moments to feel like a rockstar.

So a TED talk about U2 in which I play guitar and lead a sing-along? Hell yeah! Let’s do this thing! No sense in getting in the ring if you’re not going to throw your weight around, right?

I mean, I asked myself: Did I care enough to put myself behind something I’m really passionate about?

I love playing guitar. I’ve always loved it. I was obsessed with it long before I actually started playing.

And here came a crazy opportunity.

So I stepped up to the plate.(4) I was going to speak at TEDxMU — the independent TED event being held at the University of Missouri — and we figured out the logistics. We asked: How long would a sing-along take? What happened if the crowd didn’t sing? What happened if my guitar strings broke? What happened if the crowd watching the live stream at home couldn’t hear? What if I tripped over my guitar cable?

I was worried about everything that could go wrong. So was the TEDx team.

But I started thinking about what’s come before. Life’s always been a series of escapes for me, one larger than the last. Every few months, I do something stupid, get myself into trouble, and then figure out how to get out of it.

And slowly, I started to learn that I was just dumb enough to consistently put myself into strange situations, but I was also just smart enough to come out of them okay. That time my sister and I walked across the Moroccan border? We ended up having an amazing trip. That time I went to China with the wrong visa? I fixed it and got to experience the Olympics.

That time I my Ford Explorer nearly caught fire on I-70? I still made it to the game.

I’ve been in enough trouble that I started a series on this blog titled “Things That Comfort Me When Every Fucking Thing Goes Wrong.”

So I know: Whatever I get myself into, I can get myself out of. I try to stay in over my head at all times, but I always go into it knowing that I have a history of surviving whatever goes wrong.

Then TEDxMU came around. I had the guitar tuned. I had the thing mic-ed. I was ready for disaster.

It never came. I started singing. The crowd started singing. I started playing.

The talk ended, and I saw this:

I don’t know how I pulled it off. But I knew going in that I would. I believed fully that somehow, on stage, I would do what I had to do to survive the talk.

That was all I really needed to get up there and give a crazy thing a try.

  1. I kept up my air guitar skills, too, for what it’s worth.
  2. Some of my friends didn’t realize I had learned guitar until much later. One friend saw a guitar case at my apartment and asked if I had, as a joke, purchased a case for my air guitar.
  3. The acoustics are always excellent in bathrooms.
  4. I know, I’m mixing all my sports metaphors together, but just roll with it.

There Are No Off Days. (Jean-Ralphio and I Agree On This, Actually.)

Two things caught my attention last night and got me thinking about the work I’m doing right now. The first was this Instagram photo of the rainbow at the end of the road. (More on that photo in a second.)

The second was Jean-Ralphio.

Okay, not actually Jean-Ralphio, one of those strange, lovable TV characters on “Parks and Recreation.” It was actually Ben Schwartz, the actor who plays Jean-Ralphio on “Parks.”

I was just reading an interview with Schwartz from a few months back. He said something I especially loved about his own career so far:

“At the very beginning, I was a page at Letterman, and I freelanced for any place that would let me write any word. I wanted to do this so badly. Then when I got a tiny bit of success, I was petrified that I was going to lose it. I still feel it. House Of Lies finished filming, and I don’t know when I’m doing Parks again. The second that happened, I thought, “Fuck, I have to start writing. I have to keep myself working, because why else did I move to Los Angeles? If everyone else is working 9 to 5 every day, why shouldn’t I?” I wrote those postcard books, I’ll do short films for free, I like to keep myself creative. But there is an essence of “When does it end?” That drives me, and also gives me terrible stomach problems. The anxiety of not knowing what my next gig is keeps me hungry. I’m doing exactly what I’m doing, and I don’t want to fuck this up. There will be days where I’m not writing, but I’ll think back to when I was a page. I’d wake up at 6 in the morning, write monologue jokes as a freelance writer, go work the first page shift, sleep in the security office, work the second page shift so I could get some money, then I’d go take classes from 7 to 10 at UCB, then watch every show I could and take the last train home. I’d get four hours of sleep, and I did that for about two years. That guy would hate me if I took the day off today.”

That’s a hell of a fine reminder that there are no shortcuts. You do the work yourself. You finish what you start.

There is no plateau. There is no easy road. This life is not about a little bit of hard work and then a whole lot of coasting.

I have to keep slamming that into my skull. I’m still just learning how to do the work every single day. It takes discipline and practice, and I’m re-learning those traits, too.

There are no easy days. The work gets done, or it doesn’t. That’s my choice.

Sometimes, I have weeks like this — good weeks. Nothing big has gone wrong this week. I keep doing interviews with potential candidates for these Stry reporting positions, and the response to the project has been overwhelming. People seem to like the project! People seem excited about the idea! People don’t even seem to be insulted by the amount of money I have to offer!

And in a week like this, it feels like maybe, maybe I can just coast for a little. Things are going well. I can relax, right?

Wrong. So, so wrong, Dan.

The work continues. I can enjoy the satisfaction of a week like this, but not for long. The work doesn’t stop. There are new challenges, new opportunities. Shit I didn’t even know would happen is going to happen. I know it will.

There is so much more work to do. Gotta hire the team, gotta train the team, gotta get them out into the world, gotta find great stories, gotta get these live events going, gotta keep my stakeholders happy, gotta build the community.

There’s so much work to do. Either I get it done, or I don’t. There are no off days here.

I know what I’m shooting for. I see that rainbow at the end of the road. That’s what I’m aiming for. But I’m also aware: When I get to that spot at the end of the road, I’m going to find my goals and ambitions and dreams have shifted. The rainbow is a moving target. It’s not as much a destination as an aspiration.

That’s what’s going to keep me hungry. I don’t know what the next thing is for me, but I can’t let up now.

In the meantime, it’s all about staying sane and getting happy along the way. The journey continues. The work must get done.

Good. Better. Done.

springsteen

There’s a Bruce Springsteen anecdote I really love. By the mid-1970s, he had recorded and released two albums — two really good albums — already. But Springsteen felt the pressure to turn in a breakthrough hit with his third album. He feared that if the third album didn’t go big, he might be finished in the music business.

The first song he stepped into the studio to record for that third album was “Born to Run.” Even if you don’t know anything about Bruce Springsteen, you know that song. It is a legendary, epic rock and roll song, and you won’t find a rock critic or a rock fan who disagrees with that.

Except that at the time, Springsteen himself didn’t think so.

He spent six months — SIX MONTHS! — working on that song. He spent six months working on a song that doesn’t run even five minutes long.

Springsteen, the story goes, became obsessed with the idea of making the perfect rock and roll album. He wanted to make rock and roll clichés seem brand new. He wanted to layer sound upon sound and turn it into something grander than anything that had come before.

“Born to Run” was his first stab at that perfect rock and roll sound. So he worked and worked on the song. He tried to make it perfect.

What he almost ended up doing was smothering a classic.

See, Springsteen lost all connection with how the work is done. Later, he’d tell biographers that he’d been hearing a sound in his head, and he’d become obsessed with it. Problem was, he just couldn’t explain that sound in the studio.

Maybe there really were sounds in Springsteen’s head, but I don’t think so. I like to think that Springsteen was just hearing the voices that all of us who do the work hear — the doubts, the fears, the worries.

The things that kill good work.

All of us who are doing the work — you, me, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bruce Springsteen — are all chasing the same thing. We’re all trying to create work that lasts, that has impact and that matters.

But no matter what you’re building or doing, there are only three stages that matter when you’re doing the work:

Good.

Better.

Done.

You start the work. You improve the work. You get the work up to your liking.

And then you decide that it’s done, and you send it out into the world.

I’ll admit that I didn’t always understand this. After all, aren’t we all striving for a certain level of success? Don’t we have personal standards to maintain?

Certainly. And as you do the work, you’ll learn to reconcile “perfect” with “finished.” With time, it’ll make sense.

Just remember for now: You’re not doing the work just for the sake of staying busy, right? You’re doing the work because you want to get it done and get it into the hands of others.

If you keep holding onto the work until it is absolutely perfect, you will be waiting a very long time. Get the work done, and get onto the next thing. You might think that you should hold onto it, that you should chase perfection, but what you’re really doing is keeping yourself from moving onto newer projects and better work.

Imperfect is okay. What isn’t acceptable is idling. When the time comes to decide if the work is done, don’t hesitate.

Stop asking yourself, “Is it ready?”

Start asking, “Is it done?”

Once you start following those rules — Good. Better. Done. — you’ll start creating a lot of work. Some of it will be good, and some of it will not.

But you won’t really know which is which until you get it out into the world.

———

That photo of Bruce Springsteen was taken by Takahiro Kyono and reused here thanks to Flickr and a Creative Commons license.

When You’re Lost, Don’t Be Afraid to Ask. And Definitely Don’t Be Afraid to Listen.

Let me take you back to 2009. Newspapers were slashing staff daily. Jobs weren’t plentiful. A young, wide-eyed Dan Oshinsky was about to graduate from college.

And in the midst of all this, a strange thing happened: A big newspaper chain decided that they really liked me. They liked my attitude and my skills. They told me, straight up: We want to hire you. We don’t know what for yet, but we want you.

Over the next few weeks, I had a number of phone conversations with one of the chain’s executives. The chain had just launched a big blog project at one of their papers, and they seemed really excited about the numbers. They had an idea for me: Start a blog for our papers devoted to young people and business. We’ll give you $100k and a small team to start. Give it a few days and come up with some potential topics for us.

Understand this: I was coming out of journalism school like most J-school students. I had great clips and great ambition. I was fully prepared to start working for a newspaper on a city desk or a political beat.

I thought I was totally unprepared to lead an ambitious, new journalism effort.

I didn’t know anything about business. I didn’t read business blogs. I didn’t understand the market for business news.

The next week, I told the executive: I’m flattered, but sorry. I’m not your guy for this project.

Looking back, I’m stunned at how stupid I was. I can’t believe that I said no, and I can’t believe that I failed to even produce a single tangible idea for such a blog.

How could I have been so unresourceful?

Over the course of about 72 hours, I was given the opportunity to pitch something really impressive. I had everything I needed to start such a project: I was ambitious, I had blogging experience, and I had a good sense for how to create a voice that was readable.

Sure, I didn’t know anything about business news. But here’s the thing: I knew plenty of people who did.

I didn’t ask for their help.

I could’ve turned to my network — my friends, my former bosses — and asked for input on ideas. I could’ve generated a really impressive proposal for that blog.

And I didn’t even think to ask.

What I’ve learned since is the importance of a really good conversation. You need people who can advise you, guide you and — most importantly — ask the kind of questions that will help lead to you the right answers. When you have an opportunity, talk about it with smart people. It’s amazing how a good conversation can really open your eyes to your full potential.

I was reminded of that last week. I was down in Springfield, taking meetings for my upcoming reporting experiment with Stry.us. And in the course of a half dozen conversations, I started to notice some new themes popping up. I suppose I had been thinking about these changes for some time, but it wasn’t until I started really talking it through with others that I realized how big these changes were.

I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am to have smart people on my side, asking good questions and helping guide this project towards an even more awesome future. Stry.us will be be stronger because of their curiosity and wisdom.

When you’re starting something new, you have to keep your eyes open. You have to listen fully.

And for goodness sake: When you’re lost, don’t be afraid to ask. You don’t have to go it alone.

You shouldn’t.

The ‘Cool Runnings’ Theory of Doing the Work.

I’m going to guess that you’ve seen the movie “Cool Runnings,” simply because I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t seen “Cool Runnings.” It’s one of my favorite films, the based-on-a-true-story tale of four Jamaican guys who somehow qualify for the Olympics as bobsledders. It’s funny, and goofy, and inspiring.

It’s also, it turns out, a really interesting case study in learning how to start doing the work.

Think about the beginning of the movie. We meet our four intrepid bobsledders in unlikely places: Three are trying to qualify for the Summer Olympics in track, and one is a pushcart driver. But when the track thing doesn’t work out, they come together to try to qualify for the Olympics in bobsled, even though they’ve never seen snow, and the Olympics is only a few months away.

And somehow, they qualify for the Games. These four men — through sheer willpower, and also a few classic Disney montages — put in the work needed to learn how to bobsled, and they make the Olympics.

But on the first night of the Games, disaster strikes. They can’t get into the sled fast enough, and the driver, Derice Bannock, has a bad race, and Jamaica finishes the day in last place among all teams.

Then comes the key scene. The whole team is back in their room in the Olympic Village. Derice and his coach, Irv, are talking about what went wrong. Derice suggests that maybe they don’t know enough about the race course. Maybe they don’t know about bobsledding to win.

And that’s when their coach says:

“You know the turns! You know everything there is to know about this sport!”

Think about that for a second, and strip away the fact that this is a Disney movie. Imagine it by itself: An Olympic-caliber coach telling his team, You know everything there is know about the sport, even though you just started learning about it a few months earlier.

That sounds outrageous, and it is. Of course they don’t know everything about the sport! Hell, it’s not even clear that a single member of the team could name someone besides their coach who’d ever competed in an Olympic bobsled event.

But what if I told you that their coach was right? What if I told you that they knew everything they needed to know? — to start, at least.

What do you really need to compete in a four-man bobsled race?

1. A sled
2. A bobsled track
3. Four really big, really strong, really fast men
4. Four helmets
5. Ice

And that’s it. You don’t need fifteen years of bobsled experience to start. You don’t need to know who won the four-man event in the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games.

All you need is a sled, and a track, and four dudes, and some helmets, and some ice, and you can start racing.

Again, here’s the key concept: That’s what you need to start racing.

Yeah, to win a gold medal, it’s going to take years and years of practice. It’s going to take thousands of hours of work, and then some luck, and Jamaica wasn’t even close to having enough practical experience to win.

But to start, they had everything they need to know.

That’s the idea I want to drill into your heads. If you’re thinking about becoming the world’s best painter, well, yes, it’s going to take some time. You’re going to have spend a lot of time painting, and you’re probably going to spend a lot of time studying other painters.

But to start? All you need is a brush, a canvas, some paint and a little free time.

The world’s best basketball players all started with a ball, sneakers and a court. You think Michael Jordan waited until he’d watched a decade of basketball games before he felt he had enough basketball knowledge to pick up a ball?

Hell no.

The truth is, to start, you don’t need to know all that much. So start before you’re ready, because as Travis Robertson once wrote, you won’t feel ready until long after you’ve already started.

Let me give you another example. I was at a startup event in the fall and heard a guy pitch a lending business. He talked about how he’s been studying the field for five years, reading everything he can about lending, and he’d finally decided that he was ready to start.

The judges asked him what he’d actually done for his business idea in those five years.

Well, he said, I’ve read the books, and I’ve…

No, no, the judges said. What have you done? What actual work do you have to show us?

Nothing, he said.

And where do you think you’d be if, five years ago, you’d started building something instead of just thinking about it?, the judges asked.

The man’s face went blank.

You don’t need to know that much to start. You just need to know that you can do the work, and that you’re passionate about doing the work.

You need to start before you’re really ready to start, because that’s when you’re going to learn the most about what you’re doing. What you’ll read about in books is helpful, and important, but it’s nothing compared to the self-discoveries you’ll make along the way. The most important knowledge is what you’re going to learn during the process of the doing.

If you already know what you want to do, then ask yourself: What are the most basic tools I need to start?

If you have them already, then the only thing truly keeping you from starting is you.

The Difference Between Patience and Persistence.

I remember watching my little brother go fishing once. He was in fourth or fifth grade at the time. You have to understand that my little brother is highly allergic to fish. The kid’s face puffs up if he so much as walks past a Benihana.

But he sat on the banks of that river for three, maybe four hours with a fishing reel. Cast one out, reel it back in. Cast one out, reel it back in. He wasn’t going anywhere until he caught something.

Now, I don’t know what he thought he was going to do when he actually caught something, since he couldn’t actually touch the fish. But he’d deal with that when that time came. First he’d reel something big in, then he’d figure out how to get it onto land.

That’s how my family goes about doing the work. We finish what we start — even in situations where the finish line seems quasi-unreachable. We hang around longer than anyone would reasonably expect us to.

Some people call this trait patience, but that’s not quite it. Patience needs to be paired with something else to be worthwhile. By itself, patience is just the ability to tolerate the passing of time.

Patience is for people who don’t have the balls to get what they want.

What you really want is to pair patience with persistence. Persistence is the ability to push and push and push and push. It’s the ability to be stubborn in the best possible sense of the word. It’s the ability to be tenacious in pursuit of dreams.

I had that in mind when I heard this clip from This American Life’s Ira Glass. He says, and I’m paraphrasing here: When you start working on something, you will not be able to do the work like you want to. You have to spend a very long time building things that suck before you build anything good.

Getting good at something requires patience — yes, you have to understand that things probably will go slow, and be able to tolerate that — but you also have to have persistence — that voice that says that just because I’m telling you it might go slow doesn’t mean it has to.

The difference between patience and persistence is the difference between doing and dreaming. It’s the difference between those who get to the finish line and those who quit before the work really begins.

Be patient. Be persistent.

Do the work.