If you want to make a living from work you enjoy doing, you need more than just passion. You need skills. You have to be good at what you do, and getting good requires practice. Practicing means repeatedly performing an activity to improve your proficiency.
When you first start out at anything, you’re not going to be very good. On average, it takes five to seven years of practice to reach what could be considered mastery. This is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it can feel discouraging, especially when you’re first starting. No one is born with skills. Skills are acquired. Everyone has to start at the beginning.
In the beginning, you have an idea of what you want something to be. It could be your hilarious stand-up routine, a beautiful work of art, the perfect photo, or a nothing-but-net shot from the three-point line. You can see what you want in your mind’s eye. You know the perfect, wonderful result you’re striving for. You know exactly how you want it to look. You have this vision of what you want to share with the world—if only there were a way to download it from your mind and print it out. Of course, there isn’t a way. You’ll have to create the result yourself. You’ll have to transpose it from your mind into reality, and this is where the difficulty sets in.
Fail, Rinse, Repeat
You make your first attempt, but what comes out doesn’t match the picture in your mind. Your friend doesn’t laugh at your joke, the artwork looks disproportionate, the photo is overexposed, or the basketball shot hits the rim and bounces out. In fact, the act of doing it didn’t feel natural at all. This isn’t your first time, but it’s also not your hundredth time. It felt awkward and you’re frustrated.
Do you just not have it? Do you just not possess the innate ability required? You see others doing what you want to do, and they make it seem effortless. They hardly even try and the result is flawless every time. Do you lack talent? Maybe they’re born with it. You don’t know, but you know that you’re tormented.
You’re not alone. It bears repeating: everyone goes through this. On the one hand, the good news is that you’re not crazy. Everyone struggles with this, so knowing you’re not alone is comforting. On the other hand, you now realize that those who seem to practically sneeze greatness didn’t get there by accident. In most cases, they’ve spent hundreds upon thousands of hours practicing. It’s simply that we rarely see what goes on behind the finished results.
If there is such a thing as talent, it’s like someone having their toe over the line at the beginning of a race. Yes, they have a small head start, but in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter? That small head start isn’t enough to carry them through. They’re going to have to run and put one foot in front of another. Hard work is still required no matter what.
If a person has talent but they don’t work hard, you can easily surpass them. If they’re resting on their advantage, they’ll win only if you never try at all. Of course, it’s not really a competition since you’re not competing against others—you’re competing with yourself! Your goal is to be the best version of yourself you know you can be.
Are you committing to practicing daily?
Are you willing to put your head down, do the work, and not compare yourself to others?
Are you willing to make no excuses?
There’s good, better, and best. Always choose best. Dedicate yourself to excellence in every area. Commit to becoming the best in your field. Choose to see it as your duty to fulfill your potential.
Schedule Deliberate Practice
You must commit to practicing daily, but not all practice is equal. A basketball player who plays a weekly game of one-on-one might get better slowly. But if he shoots a thousand free throws a day because he’s identified that as his weak spot, that’s deliberate practice.
Doing your normal work is not deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is a separate act from your main work. It’s focused on bettering one specific aspect of what you do. Unfocused practice is broad and general, and while it may help you improve in some areas, it can also result in cementing bad habits. Deliberate practice is purposeful. If you want to intentionally get better, you need deliberate practice. The key is that it’s objective-oriented. You’re not just doing work; you’re setting a specific goal for a given practice session. You’re going in with a desired outcome in mind. Deliberate practice is setting aside time to specifically improve individual facets of your trade.
If you don’t audit yourself, edit what you’ve written, listen back to recordings, study your drawings, or watch your performances on video, you’ll have no way of knowing where to improve. This is part of the value of a great coach. When you work alone, you’re fully responsible for identifying what you need to work on and then scheduling deliberate practice sessions to work on those things. Coaches make it their job to watch you and point those issues out.
In the beginning, someone recording an audio program may not have a very large team working for them. They might have to edit their own recordings and do a lot of the work that more established broadcasters with teams no longer have to do themselves. The good thing about this is that it forces them to listen back to themselves. This provides an opportunity to recognize vocal tics and filler words that might otherwise go unnoticed. Once noticed, you can remove those issues with practice. The established broadcaster who delegates the recording and editing of their shows may never need to listen back to themselves. This is why many famous broadcasters still have vocal tics—at some point they stopped practicing deliberately.
Focus on One Item; Repeat it Hundreds of Times
You will cement bad habits if you do not practice deliberately. Make a list and write down the problem areas you recognize when studying your work. This could be a mistake, a bad habit, or simply something you want to improve. Again, deliberate practice is different from your normal work. This is an extracurricular activity. Outside of your work, you need to set aside separate time to deliberately practice if you want to get better on purpose.
Once you’ve set aside time for your deliberate practice, pick one of the things you wrote down and start doing hundreds of iterations. Work at this thing over and over and over. You’re training your muscles and your mind. Practice the fundamentals again and again. The fundamentals are not just for beginners. Even professionals practice the fundamentals. For instance, practicing scales on the piano is what allows you to effortlessly glide over the keys during parts of a song that call for a chromatic run.
A deliberate practice session should be simple: Look at your list of areas to improve, pick one, and set a tangible goal for improvement. Practice that problem area over and over. If you don’t have a list, make one. If you already know your problem areas, write them down. Make a list of everything you struggle with.
If you have no idea what your problem areas are, you need to study yourself. Look at the results of your last effort. What are the areas you’re not happy with? What went well and what didn’t? Study your work and yourself. What habits do you have? What are the things you do automatically without thinking? Are those things good or bad? Are they helping or hurting? Depending on the kind of work you do, recording yourself with audio or video can provide valuable insights. The good thing about recording yourself is, while you can reference it to identify problem areas, this recording can also be sent to a professional for expert feedback and advice.
Seek Feedback on Your Practice
A coach is worth their weight in gold. If you can afford one, it’s almost always worth it. Like we talked about in “Increase Your Focus,” you want to avoid switching zoom modes as much as possible. Doing deliberate practice is zoomed-in mode. You’re focused on the details and improving one specific thing. However, identifying, planning, and scheduling practice sessions fall under zoomed-out mode. This is where you’re noting things you need to work on in a future deliberate practice session. You can do both jobs yourself, but know that this takes time. Time spent identifying areas to work on is time you’re not spending working on those areas. Investing in a coach means you can delegate this to a professional and maximize the amount of time you spend improving.
If you can’t afford a personal coach, or you’re having trouble identifying things to work on during your deliberate practice sessions, ask a friend or trusted peer for feedback. Ask someone who does what you do if they can critique you. Take notes on their feedback, or have them provide their feedback in writing. This will inform your future practice sessions.
Joining a community of like-minded people who can provide critique and feedback doesn’t cost as much as a coach but can often be nearly as beneficial. Sure, you can get feedback for free from anyone online, but the likelihood of it being good, valuable feedback is low. Some communities are free to join; others are paid. Why join a paid community? Because professionals don’t hesitate to invest in themselves. This means the kinds of people inside a paid community are serious. These are exactly the type of people you want giving you feedback. When you feel yourself hesitating to invest in your career by joining a paid community of like-minded people, realize that hesitation is exactly what filters out the undedicated people and keeps the group quality high. That’s also why the things you can access for free are typically low quality: they’re frequented by people who aren’t serious and don’t see the value of investing in themselves. Every person inside a paid community is someone who overcame the hurdle of choosing to invest in themselves.
Have you ever heard of a compliment sandwich? It’s where someone tries to butter you up with something nice about your project before they deliver a critique. They mean well, and they’re trying to be polite, but it wastes time. Go to someone who is good at what you want to do and ask them for feedback on your work. Tell them you want absolutely no compliments. Find someone to give you uncensored feedback specifically on the things you can improve, but do this only if you’ve been practicing daily for at least six months. Seeking help from a seasoned professional without having put in the work is a waste of their time and valuable insight, and it’s just disrespectful. Put in the time and then make it incredibly easy for this person you’re soliciting feedback from to give you advice. Make it clear you’re not looking for any compliments. You’re not going to get better from people telling you what you did a good job on.
Always be willing to examine and consider the feedback you receive—even if it’s unsolicited. This doesn’t mean you have to apply everyone’s advice, but keeping an open mind is healthy. There may be a gold nugget in a critique even if it stings. Remain objective and thank everyone who takes a moment to offer advice, even people who do so with malicious intent. Yes, thank your haters and the people mixing valid critique in with negativity. They won’t know what to do with themselves or how to react. Simply say, “Thank you for the feedback. I’m always trying to improve.”
Plan Your Practice
While gathering feedback is useful, remember that the sole purpose of doing so is to inform your deliberate practice sessions. The only way to get better is by doing—not by reading other people’s guides, articles, books, or even their stories. You can read tutorials all day, but you’ll improve only by doing.
With the help of your personal studies, coaches, and trusted peers, identify and compile a list of areas where you’re weak and schedule individual practice sessions to improve each area. You should practice deliberately every day.
Spend no time wondering what to practice. Instead, plan ahead and schedule every session in advance. Know what you will practice going in. Do you struggle drawing people or faces? Stop shying away from including people in your artwork and commit to deliberate practice. Is there a code language you’re weak at? Embrace it and commit to deliberate practice. Do you find yourself staying away from playing in a certain key with your musical instrument? Take the time to break it down and commit to deliberate practice. Are you avoiding certain settings in manual mode on your camera? Decide to learn and master the things you don’t know by committing to deliberate practice.
Improvement is not going to happen overnight. You have to be consistent with this. Everyone in your family needs to know, too. You should be so committed that the people around you say, “If I can’t find her, I know she’s in her room practicing.” Make a reputation for yourself and become so reliable that people can set their watches by your practice sessions.
We all know someone who only sometimes shows up to the party when you invite them. “Sure, I’ll be there!” they say, but you know there’s maybe a 20 percent chance they’ll actually come. How is it you know there’s only a small chance they’ll show up? They have a track record. They have a history of not keeping their commitments. It’s a scary thing to make a commitment to show up consistently. It takes real guts. It’s easy to believe that those who show up consistently have some magic power or inherent ability. You might think it comes easily for them, while for others, like you, it’s hard. Here’s the reality: it’s not easy for anyone, even the people who make it look easy. In fact, if someone is making it look easy, they’re probably working all the harder.
Show Up Every Day
Do you want to win? Show up every day for two years. That’s the golden answer right there. It will build your skills, make you money, give you an audience, establish you as an authority, help you develop the tenacity needed to survive in this world, and solve most of your problems. It will teach you that those who are successful aren’t successful because of a nicely edited story you heard about them, but because they made a commitment to show up every single day when it was hard, painful, and looked like nothing would ever come of it.
Show up every day.
“I know, I know, Sean. I heard you.”
Well, hear me again. Hear it a second time. Hear it a seventh time. Hear it a seven-hundredth time: show up every day.
- Show up when it hurts.
- Show up when you’re tired.
- Show up when you’re not feeling it.
- Show up when it’s early.
- Show up when it’s late.
- Show up when everyone else is giving up.
- Show up when it’s the first day.
- Show up when it’s the 731st day.
Show up every day for two years and don’t expect any results in that time. Any results you get in the first two years of showing up are a bonus. If you want to win, you need patience. You need consistency. Keep showing up. Keep showing up when your friends have given up. Keep showing up when everyone you know has decided it’s not worth it anymore. Keep showing up even when you feel like the results aren’t coming as quickly as you want them to.
There is no quick path to success. There is no quick path to becoming known. There is no quick path to sustainable wealth. There is no quick path to winning. You have to be relentless. Nothing can stop you. You have to make sacrifices and say “No.” You have to go to bed early so you can wake up early and own the day.
Everyone else is playing. Everyone else is living it up now with no regard for the future or their goals, but you will win the long game. You have to find that drive. Dig deep. You have to want it. You have to want it more than you want the lesser things that will keep you from accomplishing it.
You have to show up every day. You have to put in the hard work now so you can see the results later. The benefits you’re reaping now are a direct result of the investments you made two and three years ago. If you’re not seeing the results you want in your life right now, it’s because you haven’t made the right investments. Invest in your future and do the work because it’s not going to do itself.
Define success by whether or not you showed up today. If you showed up today, that’s success. It doesn’t matter whether you see noticeable improvements. Today was successful if you showed up.
Great work takes time. Masterpieces are the product of relentless pursuit and consistent action over time. You have to do something a lot—sometimes a thousand or ten thousand times to create a single masterpiece.
Of the five hundred most popular symphonies ever made, 497 were completed after the composer’s tenth year of work. Your best work is ahead. Be excited and press on.
- If you want to make a living from work you enjoy doing, you need more than just passion. You need skills.
- Success requires hard work and showing up daily. Commit to showing up and putting in work (even if it’s just thirty minutes a day) for the next twenty-one days.
- Your goal must be to build a habit of daily practice—and not just any practice: deliberate practice.
- Practice the fundamentals again and again. The fundamentals are not just for beginners. Even professionals practice the fundamentals.
- If you can’t afford a personal coach, or you’re having trouble identifying things to work on during your deliberate practice sessions, ask a friend or trusted peer for feedback.