From Good to Great
December 16, 2020
I’ve been thinking about things that bring meaning to life. More specific, how to identify projects that are worth the time and effort.
Time, after all, is our most valuable and finite resource, so a key aspect of a good life is to optimize spending time on the right things. But when it comes to work, which is where we spend most of our time awake, we almost always throw away the biggest chunks of our years down the drain.
The vast majority of people do their work out of necessity. Bills must be paid, families must be taken care of. These people have jobs. They don’t enjoy or find purpose in what they do.
Working on something you actually like is a luxury that only a few of us have. These are the ones with careers. They might have some fun at work, but they don’t necessarily see a greater purpose in the outcomes of that time and effort.
Ever so rarely, though, a few among us get the chance to create something truly special that impacts the world. That’s not a simple job out of duty, and not just a career. These people have a calling.
I reflect about these differences in my own life. I have spent too much of my time doing things out of routine, drifting in an ocean of low or aimless effort that get nowhere. Way too often work was just an escape, a wasteful comfort zone, a fast-forward button so days go by quick and a paycheque arrives at the end of the month. Today I see that identifying when we have a calling in life and responding to it properly is key to make the most out of the time we are given.
I observe some qualities in individuals who answer to such calling. The first quality they have is faith in their pursuits. They truly believe in the potential of the idea they are chasing after. Even when surrounded by criticism and doubters, the ones who end up making a difference are those who don’t give up. They have faith that their projects will make a difference, that they will revolutionize their own lives and in the lives of others.
Another quality I see in innovators is that they don’t settle for mediocre results. Because of their belief of the disruptive power of their ideas, they know they are not quite there unless it is amazing. So they continue to iterate. They are hungry to deliver something truly special. Doing something good is not enough; they are pursuing greatness.
These two qualities combined (believing in your idea and deep dedication), are key for remarkable creativity. Those are the ingredients that creates the flow, that mental zone of high concentration and passion. The kind of work that blurries out professional and personal life borders. You are no longer doing something for the money, or as an escape, but because it is worth your life.
If, like me, you want to make the most out of life, you must reflect on whatever your efforts are at the moment and ask yourself: is this really worth continuing or should I quit altogether? And the answer lies in assessing your commitment to going from good to great. On making something that could change your life, or other people’s lives. If whatever you are pursuing, building, or developing, does not fit a notion of greatness, then it is not worth pursuing.
If you’re doing some average work, something you won’t be proud of, you are simply wasting the most valuable resource you possess: your time in this world. Therefore, filtering out the good and and keeping the great is one of the most crucial reflections we can make in order to optimize our time and effort while alive.
I recall two concepts that help back this rationale. The first one comes from The Dip, from Seth Godin. In it, Godin teaches “when to stick and when to quit”. According o the book, the answer lies in one’s ability to be “the best in the world” in whatever they are doing. Of course, being the best is subjective, as well as your own notion of “world”. I translate “being the best in the world” as elevating your passion in your endeavour to a deep commitment to perfection and success.
The second concept is the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. It states a relationship between outcomes and causes in which around 20% of the causes are responsible for 80% of the consequences. This proportion was observed in multiple fields, from economics to health and safety, and I believe it can also be applied to one’s individual efforts as well. Meaning 80% of your success came from 20% of your efforts and time you spent in your pursuits. So finding your “vital few” is crucial to prioritize and understand the your qualities, talents, and what exactly deserves your time.
Today I celebrate yet another trip around the Sun. I am grateful for everything I was able to accomplish so far, and the opportunities and learnings I received. For my future self, I leave this note of advice: pursue greatness. Focus on your vital few. Keep on dreaming. Be the best in your own world.