How deep is your Iceberg?
I am a big fan of a yesteryear TV series called “Seinfeld” — I watched each episode of that series multiple times. It continues to be my “comfort” solace whenever I feel a little down. Of the four main characters in that show, Jerry Seinfeld’s role comes across as the easiest to emulate. — his role comes across so ordinary that I used to think that anyone should be able to play that role with aplomb. Much later, in a podcast interview with Jerry Seinfeld, I finally started to get a sense of the inordinate amount of effort that goes behind such natural performances. For example, he prepares intensely for an hour or two even for a two-minute appearance on a TV interview.
There is this oft quoted metaphor of the growth of a Chinese Bamboo tree which after being sown and even upon watering for five years does not grow an inch out of the ground and then in five weeks, it grows to a height of well over sixty feet. The key message here is that the tree takes a long time in building a network of roots that has the strength to support an eventual stupendous growth of the tree in a very short period.
Great personalities of the world did have to put in hard work before world witnessed their sublime performances. I have compiled relevant reflections from few super achievers who have had a significant influence on my own worldview:
“I think a lot of people, they see you run and they say, ‘aaah it looks so easy, looks effortless’. But before it gets to that point, it’s hard; it’s hard work.”
“I’ve worked hard over the years, I’ve been injured and I’ve worked hard through it, and I’ve made it.”
“Easy is not an option… no days off… never quit… be fearless… talent you have naturally… skill is only developed by hours and hours of work.”
Sweatelite on Eliud Kipchoge
“He is as good as it gets: he’s nurtured his nature sublimely with likely 15 years of quality training. He’s found a striking balance between stressing his body and recovering. It’s not possible for anyone to succeed in training by simply adapting his highly refined structure. You may need 2–3 days between hard workouts where he might only need 1–2. It’s all relative.”
“If you’re efficient, you’re doing it the wrong way. The right way is the hard way. The show was successful because I micromanaged it — every word, every line, every take, every edit, every casting. That’s my way of life.”
“It’s not given to human beings to have such talent that they can just know everything about everything all the time. But it is given to human beings who work hard at it — who look and sift the world for a mispriced bet — that they can occasionally find one. And the wise ones bet heavily when the world offers them that opportunity. They bet big when they have the odds. And the rest of the time they don’t. It’s just that simple.”
“Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Day by day, and at the end of the day if you live long enough-like most people, you will get out of life what you deserve.”
“Patience and discipline can make you look foolishly out of touch until they make you look prudent and even prescient.”
William J. Bernstein
“If you find yourself stimulated in any way by your portfolio performance, then you are probably doing something very wrong. A superior portfolio strategy should be intrinsically boring.”
“The single biggest advantage a value investor has is not IQ. It’s patience and waiting. Waiting for the right pitch and waiting for many years for the right pitch.”
“I think we judge talent wrong. What do we see as talent? I think I have made the same mistake myself. We judge talent by people’s ability to strike a cricket ball. The sweetness, the timing. That’s the only thing we see as talent. Things like determination, courage, discipline, temperament, these are also talent.”
“There is no substitute to taking a lot of a catches as a youngster if you want to do slip catching — you’ve got to catch, catch, catch. And more than doing the normal stuff, you have to vary your catching — you’ve got to take some catches with the tennis ball, you got to take some closer, some further away.”
“Whatever you want to do, do with full passion and work really hard towards it. Don’t look anywhere else. There will be a few distractions, but if you can be true to yourself, you will be successful for sure.”
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and get to work.”
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around those two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Depending on the scale of your goals and desires, be prepared for a long and arduous path of slow, accretive progress before seemingly easy achievement phase picks up.
What does this mean practically on a day-to-day basis?
- While aiming high is good (and important), obsessing over outcome may lead to unnecessary stress and make you susceptible to making errors
- It is better and important to focus on developing systems/processes/methods that are sustainable, in other words, that can be stuck to for long periods of time
- Because good things take a while in their making, building capacity for patience is critical
- Best way to do this is to develop affinity for the process — fall in love with process and reduce obsession with the end result
- Focus on improving the quality of the journey
- Attach strong purpose to the goal so that the long and potentially arduous journey becomes somewhat palatable
- Try to learn from the systems and frameworks of people that inspire you
- Don’t copy others’ systems as-is — create systems that works for you; create personal benchmarks
- Build habits and routines so that you do not have to rely on motivation and inspiration to stick to the process
Behind the calm demeanour of an effortless duck gliding across a pond is the feverish paddling of its legs inside the water. Sublime performances, ability to make complex and highly impactful decisions, ability to compete at the highest levels, ability to invent, ability to create etc — these require talent to an extent but lot more importantly they require tremendous amount of hard work (practice, training, apprenticeship etc). So, be patient with yourself on your path of achieving your most coveted goals — build systems, develop habits and focus on improving the quality of the journey — outcome will take care of itself and in all likelihood, you will find yourself way ahead of your original goal with further capacity for achieving lot more.
Thanks for taking time to read this article. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.
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