Behind every shine, there is a lot of grind. Everyone wants the shine. The grind? Not so much.
What’s in a name?
Parents name their child after a famous person or character sometimes as a tribute, but often hoping that simply by sharing a common name, the child will somehow inherit a few of the core characteristics of the person they are named after.
In the 18th century, many American parents, inspired by the rebels fighting for independence, began naming their children George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Now, in the 21st century, though, you’ll be hard pressed to find many newborns with the name George Washington on their birth certificates. Not because America’s first president isn’t revered today, but just that parents are probably more sensitive to wanting their child to “fit in” culturally with the times instead of letting their child stand out as a tribute to a relic of the past.
The need to “get with the times” isn’t limited to baby names alone. Our choice of preferred occupations has changed dramatically too. I’m even hesitant to call these career choices because, unlike in the past, where our grandparents had one career, the generations of today are likely to cycle through multiple careers in their lifetime.
So, what do you want to be when you grow up?
In my opinion, one of humankind’s toughest questions that ranks right up with “Who am I?” and “What happens when we die?” is the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s an inherently hard question because the answer changes (as it should) as you get older and wiser. Nevertheless, it is a fun way to peek into the mindset of the young and is a barometer for what’s catching society’s fancy at the moment.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, The Harris Poll (on behalf of Lego) conducted a study of 3000 kids in 2019 and posed the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The most-favored career choice among American and British kids was “Vlogger / YouTube star.” The least popular option was “Astronaut.”
On brand and hardly surprising, right? The rumors are true. A significant percentage of the population want to be influencers and/or famous.
According to estimates, over fifty million people worldwide refer to themselves as “content creators,” making the creator economy the fastest-growing type of small business, right beside the gig economy. Many of them are driven to online platforms by the glamorous lifestyles and seemingly effortless online success of YouTube stars and Instagram influencers.
But what most don’t realize is that the combination of an idea, a cellphone camera, and decent network bandwidth will at most get you five views. Okay, ten, if you intentionally spam your extended family with your “content.” It will never propel you to lasting success or internet stardom.
Unlike baby names and career choices, the formula for success has stayed consistent over the years, and my crystal-ball prediction is that it will continue to do so for a long time.
Sustained success results from perseverance and oodles of consistent, hard work. Okay, maybe some luck too.
Never underestimate the power of the grind.
The Sistine Chapel
In 1508, Pope Julius II wanted to hire an artist to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. The pope had some ideas on what the ceiling should look like; he envisioned a painting of twelve apostles. But when the pope commissioned Michelangelo, a creative genius, to complete the work, the artist walked in with a much grander vision of the project.
Far from just depicting twelve apostles, Michelangelo created one of the most stunning masterpieces of art in the world. The Sistine Chapel painting is over fifty meters long and includes over three hundred dynamic figures painted in incredible detail.
While the finished product gets all the recognition it duly deserves, the effort that went into producing the spectacular piece of art often goes unmentioned, probably because it’s not a glamorous or compelling story to tell.
Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel through years of backbreaking work, often awkwardly lying on his back to paint the ceiling and subjecting himself to significant physical and creative challenges. He once said,
If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.
But perhaps besides the grind, Michelangelo had something in troves that most of us don’t: Talent. We could contort all we want and keep painting until our backs break, but unlike the Sistine chapel, we are more likely to end up creating another version of the Monkey Christ. So, how important is talent is to creativity?
The role of Talent
In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, author and thought-leader Malcolm Gladwell promoted the idea of the “10,000-hour rule.” Gladwell suggests that it roughly takes about 10,000 hours to master a skill. His theory lent credence to the idea that to go from middling to expert in any field, what you need is hard work, channeled in the right direction.
Gladwell’s book was based on research published by psychologist Anders Ericsson, who introduced the idea of deliberate practice. Instead of simply going through the motions, deliberate practice involves breaking down a skill into smaller parts and practicing the sub-skills repeatedly, while also incorporating expert feedback into the process.
So, where’s talent in all of this? Could you have no talent and simply work your way to expertise? The talent v hard work argument is one that has been raging for many years and likely will continue to be debated. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
There is no way to play in the NBA, for instance, if you are 5’6” and physically not wired for athleticism. In that sense, natural talent is essential. But the contrary is certainly true. Even if you have immense talent, without practice, hard work and the grind, the talent can go nowhere.
Talent without hard work is like having innovative hardware with no software to run it; a pretty box with no functionality.
Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. Stephen King.
The writing on the wall is loud and clear. More important than knowing “what you want to be when you grow up” is to understand “what you should be when you grow up” — someone who appreciates the power of the grind.
Whether you aspire to be a vlogger or an astronaut, it’s all about putting in the effort. That means you:
- Embrace the suck: Don’t give up if you’re bored. Even the most exciting-sounding projects are mostly filled with moments of drudgery and copious amounts of grind. Chris Evans, who plays Captain America, said this about filming for the movie: “With ‘Captain America,’ you might have three lines of dialogue the whole day. And there are just a million angles and a million set-ups, and it’s tedious.”
- Do hard things: It means, for instance, waking up to train at ungodly hours day after day when it’s undoubtedly much more pleasant to curl under the covers and stay in dreamland.
- Stop chasing perfection: Seth Godin says, “If it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t count.” You can spend your entire life trying to put finishing touches on your work before the world sees it, but success comes to those who ship and learn from the work they shipped.
- Understand the power of compounding: The concept of aggregation of marginal gains is based on the philosophy that when you make tiny improvements to the parts, you’ll end up with a whole that is more than the sum of the parts. Instead of aiming for major overhauls, target small improvements. You’ll be better off in the long run.
- Don’t let the urgent get in the way of the important: It’s possible to lead an entire life responding to urgent tasks and ignoring the important ones. But that can get us nowhere in the long term.
- Finally. Begin. Already.
When I sit down at the typewriter, I write. Someone once asked me if I had a fixed routine before I start, like setting up exercises, sharpening pencils, or having a drink of orange juice. I said, “No, the only thing I do before I start writing is to make sure that I’m close enough to the typewriter to reach the keys.” Isaac Asimov.