How to Get Better at Almost Everything
In the last six months I’ve started a new business, a new book, and an album with my band. I got my blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, and learned to draw. We also had another baby. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, and loving every other minute of it.
My new book is about generalism, or how to be better at almost everything. My argument is you’ll have more fun in life, and an easier time getting ahead, if you focus on breadth, rather than depth, of skill. Great at many things, in other words, even if you’re not the best at any one.
This means you should acquire a series of many skills, not just one, and combine them to form a competitive advantage and creative spirit. Some skills you learn to advance your business or career–fitness, writing, marketing, networking, etc. Others you learn for shits and gigs. For me, that’d be music, martial arts, drawing, and so on. Though you’ll often be surprised how skills you didn’t think would advance your career, can come back around in more ways than one.
But as for writing a book about being great at many things, here is my rule: I have to live that existence while writing the book. This project couldn’t be an act of specialization, because specialization, at least to my eye, is the enemy.
Humans are the most adaptable creatures on earth. Our brains have allowed us to become competent at just about anything. And while we may not be AS GOOD as earth’s many specialists–as strong as the gorilla, as speedy as the ostrich–we don’t need to be. We’re at the top of the food chain because we’re generalists, not specialists.
So I simply make the same argument within humanity. Too many people are specializating and becoming pigeonholed because of it. Their perspective is limited, their experience narrow. And they wonder why they can’t get ahead.
Step 1) Start with what you love and become great at it.
Step 2) Layer other skills on top to increase your competitiveness.
Step 3) Create, create, create.
And here’s what I’ve learned, or been reminded of, so far in how to get all that done.
How to Be Better at Almost Everything
#1) Trust the Process and also HAVE a Process
I define a master as someone who has owned a process and can therefore produce results on a consistent and regular basis. In this regard I have gained mastery over almost every above. It means I have a process for building businesses and writing books and songs. I know what I’m doing, because I’ve been there. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for me. The most I can say is I have a process and when committed to the process, results become predictable and repeatable.
A process is essential for any creative process. You need a process for acquiring skill, and you need a process for combining skill and applying skill.
I know if I follow the process for building a business, it will eventually become profitable. I know if I follow the process for writing a book, it will eventually be written. Same for writing or mastering a song.
But there are no shortcuts. There is only process, and so you must learn to trust the process, and keep it organic.
So if you don’t have a process, get a process. That’s step one–it has to be.
So get a coach. Hire a mentor. Do whatever you need to find your process.
#2) Track the Process
When I first started working out I wrote down every workout, and every meal. (I still do.) I tracked my progress from week to week on lifts and muscle and body fat.
When I said a process should be organic I meant it must be willing to evolve. And you can’t evolve something unless you’ve been monitoring it. Tracking the process is part of the process.
As for my business, if you’re diligent, I’m sure you can find posts from years ago documenting my many failures and few successes. I remember writing a post when I was in college to celebrate the month I finally made more than a $1000 online. I am still tracking this process today.
You track the process to inspire yourself and look for ways to grow. And this is what gives you the clarity and confidence to move in new directions when you need. I also track the process to offer inspiration–not only myself, but everyone. I don’t want you to only see the finished product. I want you to see the mess along the way. I want you to see where I come from, and how my process evolved, and how I evolved with it.
For writing and music, the same thing. You’ll find on my Supmuhhumbruh soundcloud account that I’m releasing songs as they’re being written, not just when they’re fully developed. These are hardly perfect, of course. But I enjoy the imperfections, and I want you to see the mess that everyone goes through in the creative process. I want you to see (or, in this case, hear) my Shitty First drafts.
I would happily share my Shitty First Drafts of my book as well, but that might be giving a little too much away. But be assured, I am tracking that process, as well.
#3) A Little Something Everyday
The specialist is someone who spends so many hours on one thing. The generalist is someone who spends one hour on so many things.
When you’re working on many projects, and developing yourself in different ways, you need to stick to the adage of Dan John, “Little and often over the long haul.”
In my book, I say you can get up to 80% good at something with just 1 – 2 hours of practice a day. If you want to be 100% good at something (read: best in the world), I think you’re fighting a war you cannot win. There are hardly enough hours in the day to become the best in the world. Plus, genetics, and all that. Specialization is a snare you should do everything to avoid.
Truth is, 80% good at something is actually great at something. Figure most people are only 5% good at things. 5% good at writing, 5% good at sales, 5% good at taking selfies. 80% is high. Really, you don’t even need to go to 80%. You might only need to go to 20%, so long as you have other skills you can stack on top. (See point #5.)
4) Repetition and Resistance
If you want to get good at something you have to practice that something. There is where Repetition and Resistance comes into effect.
Repetition is the frequency at which you do something. Resistance is the intensity at which you do it. Keep your frequency high. But vary the Resistance. Some days make your practice sessions hard, and other days easy.
5) Learn to Stack Your Skills
Imagine being 60% good at fitness, and 20% good at writing and 20% good at marketing. Because with that “skill stack” you’ll have an easier time getting ahead than someone who is 90% good at fitness (whatever that means) but 0 – 5% good at everything else. Because there will always be somebody who is 91% good at fitness, and then what does that leave you?
Such is the problem with trying to be the best in world. Even if you get there, chances are someone will steal the throne within the next sixty seconds. (Perhaps a Game of Thrones reference would be appropriate? Only I don’t watch Game of Thrones.)
So the whole point of my book is you shouldn’t compete on being “better” or “best”. You should compete on being unique and having skills the specialist overlooks..
6) Learn to Manage Compromise – Another Dan John-ism
You can’t be the best at everything. You can’t even be the best at one thing, statistically speaking. But you can be great at one thing, and good or at least fairly competent and just about everything else. And that’s all you need to find the winning formula in life.
But also know this. I don’t watch Game of Thrones not because I don’t like Game of Thrones. I don’t watch Game of Thrones because I’m starting a new business, writing a new book, recording a new album, etc. All projects come with trade-off. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
So if you want to become a generalist, you have to understand that to become good at something is a matter of compromise. You have to become clear not only on what you’re willing to give, but also on what you’re willing to give up, in order to get there. And the more skills you seek to obtain, and the more creative or entrepreneurial activities you plan to undertake, the more comprises you’re going to have to manage along the way.
Expectations are a part of the process. You need to have them set from the start. All success requires diligence and commitment and pain. And all that stuff, honestly, guys, it sucks. It’s no wonder most would rather binge watch Netflix than commit to a process.
But then I think about how I would feel if I went the other way around, and abandoned everything I’ve begun, and how despicable and disgraceful I would feel. I imagine the futility of specialization, or worse–the snare of sitting on the couch, and slowly deteriorating.
I think about what Marcus Aurelius said, about how you could “leave life right now” and boy does that scare me. Because he’s right. Any of us, at any time, could leave life right now. So every day I just do what I can. I put on my little cap of Stoicism, and commit to the process.
PS – Do me a favor. Comment below and tell me what you’re working on. In fact, tell me what has you ON FIRE right now.
I want to hear what you’re passionate about. I also have some stuff to giveaway – 15 minute phone calls, Very Good Protein, etc.
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