A Funny Thing About Greatness

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Photo by mike nguyen _ Unsplash

“It’s more than just ‘started from the bottom now he’s here’ — Curry wasn’t even rated as a high school recruit. Forget the bottom of the list, Curry wasn’t even on it.” -Lucy McCalmont, Stephen Curry’s Journey From Unwanted College Recruit To NBA MVP

When Lebron James went back to Cleveland for the 2014-15 NBA season, the Cavs were the pre-season favorites to win the title. Some even predicted they would win 70 games that season because of their talent. Some called them a super team. No one called Golden State a super team at this point. In fact, they weren’t even in the Top 5. Vegas listed 6 other teams with better odds than Golden State that year. Golden State defied those odds and won the title.

For the 2015-16 NBA season, the Cavs were the pre-season favorites to win the title once again. Even though they were the defending champs, Golden State was not even considered by many experts to be one of the top two teams that season. When NBA GM’s were surveyed before the season, they picked the Cavs first, the Spurs second, and the Warriors third to win the title. For the second year in a row, there was talk of the Cavs winning 70 games that year. Golden State defied the odds again and won 73 games during the regular season. No one expected the Warriors to win 73 games because there were no good reasons to expect something like that until they shocked the world by actually doing it.

After having such an amazing season, The Golden State Warriors added one of the best players in the game to their roster. This brought on a lot of heat from critics. The main criticism was this: “The Warriors already had the best team in the NBA and then they added one of the best players in the NBA. It’s not fair.”

But here’s the one simple thing those critics miss: The Warriors weren’t a great team because of what they had. They were a great team because of what they did.

Lebron James was nicknamed “The King” before he ever played an NBA game, but no on ever expected Steph Curry to be this great.

Kyrie Irving was the #1 draft pick, rookie of the year, and an NBA all-star before he teamed up with Lebron James. Draymond Green, on the other hand, was the 35th draft pick who surprised everyone with his later development.

Kevin Love was a top 5 NBA draft pick and a proven all-star before he ever teamed up with Lebron James. Klay Thompson was not even a top ten draft pick. And at one point, the Warriors considered trading him for Kevin Love.

The Warriors weren’t a great team because they had all the advantages. They were a great team because of how they developed their talent, realized their potential, built their chemistry, and executed their plan.

But greatness is a funny thing.

When people don’t expect you to succeed, they say nothing about all the unfair disadvantages you have to climb through or all the odds you have to overcome. They simply expect you to do your best with what you have without making any excuses. But once you choose to work your butt off, make the best of what you have, and rise above the odds, everyone pretends like they always knew you would do those amazing things. They shrug their shoulders and say “Of course, you had all the advantages.”

Is that fair? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you want to overcome incredible odds and do great things,  sometimes you have to focus more on what you’re fighting for than on how the rest of the world defines “fair.”

You can give yourself a headache by trying to prove to people that your life is unfair or you can give yourself a shot at greatness by playing the game to the best of your ability in spite of what others think.

Your Mission Statement Won’t Save You

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We all have our own definitions of success, but that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of forgetting what those definitions are.

Just as there is a force called inspiration that motivates us to get out of bed in the morning, there’s an enemy called resistance that tempts us to sleepwalk through life.

The promises we make to ourselves during moments of insight and inspiration are only as good as our ability to maintain them during moments of distraction and difficulty.

Having a beautiful mission statement will not save you when the creative process gets ugly. And from time to time, the creative process will get ugly.

It’s not enough to philosophically define your why. You also have to adopt strategies that pragmatically reinforce your why. Passion can get you started, but it’s the combination of planning and perseverance that gets things done.

Don’t Get Drowned in Data

markus-spiske-207946.jpgRelative to your mission, most things don’t matter.

We can state that more precisely and formally in the following way:

For any clearly defined goal, the amount of information that will be useless towards producing the desired outcome is far greater than the amount of information that will be useful.

If you’re trying to assemble a new bookshelf that you just purchased from Ikea, for instance, you’ll find great value in the instructions that come with your product. The millions of instruction manuals that come with other products, however, will simply not be useful in helping you set up your new bookshelf. The latter pool of data (all the instruction manuals for all the things that need to be assembled) is much bigger than the former pool of data (the one instruction manual for the specific thing you’re actually trying to assemble).

In order to be effective and efficient, you have to manage your exposure to data and protect yourself from the power of alluring distractions.

The information age has made it easier than ever before to become awash in aimless activity. We are now free to engage any personality type, any product, any point of view, and any practice we wish simply by logging on to the internet and diving into the sea of data that instantly surrounds us.

I have no desire to go back to the mythical “good old days” when everything was supposedly better without technology. I like the abundance, opportunity, and the creative challenges that change brings. Nevertheless, the possibilities before us, however promising they might be, will only seduce us into mediocrity if we don’t learn how to separate the signal from the noise.

Everyone has something to show us or sell us, to teach us or tell us. At every second of every day, someone is spending a great deal of energy trying to inspire you, inform you, or incite you. And if you allow your attention to be dictated by a fear of missing out, then you’re guaranteed to miss out on the one thing that matters most: the opportunity to live deliberately, the chance to direct the course of your life with creativity and intention.

It’s quite possible that every piece of information is important in some mystical or deeply profound sense. It’s not possible, however, to create value or achieve any progress if you treat all pieces of information as if they are equally relevant at all times.

Living a life of purpose and personal growth is not only about being curious enough to take the world in, but it’s also about being judicious enough to know when to tune the world out.

Who are you tuning out?

If the answer is “nobody”, then a “nobody” is exactly what you’ll eventually become.

Be Free (Even When People Disagree)

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Photo credit: Tortured Mind via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Character is how you react when someone tells you that your product or philosophy is not for them.

“I see what you’re saying, but I don’t agree.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I’m not interested.”

“I appreciate the invitation, but I have other priorities at this time.”

When you hear these kinds of statements, do they make you feel defensive? Do they make you feel the need to attack the integrity or intelligence of the person who utters them? Do you find yourself needing to make others look bad in order to feel good about what you love?

If your answer to any of the above questions is “yes”, then you may be guilty of trading away your power for the sake of protecting your ego.

Lots of people know how to be cool and confident as long as everyone is nodding their heads in agreement with them. It’s a lot harder to be cool and confident when someone listens to you and says “Sorry. I’m not buying anything you’re saying.”

Lots of people know how to be powerful when they’re standing up in the front of a room waxing eloquently about how amazing their products or perspectives are. It’s a lot harder to respond powerfully when someone falls asleep or walks out during your sales pitch.

What does it really mean to confident? What does it really mean to be powerful?

I’ll give you at least one condition that’s necessary for both: It’s the ability to stand in the presence of people who are unimpressed, uninspired, or unconvinced by you without feeling threatened and unsettled by their reaction.

Ram Dass captured it well when he said “you can be right without being righteous about it.” That is, you can be free to act on your own knowledge of what’s right for you without needing to push your view as if it’s the one right way for everyone else. You can be free to get value out of whatever you want without wasting time worrying about those who don’t “get it.”

If you want something, is it not enough for you to want it? Is it really necessary that others want the same things in order for your desires to be regarded as valid? If you feel something, is it not enough for you to feel it? Is it really going to make things better if you try to debate everyone else into feeling the exact emotions that you feel? If something works for you, is it not enough that it works for you? Is it really necessary to be angry or condemning towards those who don’t find it to be useful?

What difference would it make if the whole world were on your side anyway? If everyone told you that you were right, would that somehow liberate you from the hard work you need to do in order to create the results you want? Will other people’s declaration of your rightness magically make your challenges and responsibilities disappear?

I learned a pretty basic distinction from Carl Frederick many years ago: “you can be right or you can get what you want.”

Sometimes you don’t have to choose between those two things, but sometimes you do.

Sometimes the cost of doing what makes you healthy or happy is accepting the fact that someone else is going to label you as irrational or immature. Sometimes the cost of creating a good life is dealing with the fact that your concept of good is someone else’s concept of stupid, silly, or selfish. Our unwillingness to live with this fact holds us back from living authentically more than anything else. We need too many people to like us, respect us, or be approving of us and this traps us in a self-defeating cycle.

My colleague Isaac Morehouse offered the following insight about what it truly means to be a sell out: “It’s rarely about the money” he said. “Most people sell their soul for nothing more than not having a stranger get mad at them.”

We say we want to be free, but what we really want is to be praised by others for being a great freedom fighter. So when someone threatens to take away that praise, we give away our power by focusing more on their reactions than on our goals. We say we want to make a difference, but what we really want is to be seen as a hero who makes a difference. So when our efforts to help someone are misunderstood, we give away our power by losing our cool and lashing out.

Power is a terrible thing to waste. And there’s no quicker way to waste it than by losing your sleep or your sanity over people who don’t share your point of view. At some point in your life, you have to take the risk of living as you believe.

“But what if some people find my beliefs to be boring?”

They most certainly will. You will survive. Own your power and move on.

“But what if some people misunderstand me?”

They most certainly will. You will survive. Own your power and move on.

“But what if some people talk about me behind my back?”

They most certainly will. You will survive. Own your power and move on.

“But what if some people get rude, or mean, or unfair about the way they express disagreement?”

They most certainly will. You will survive. Own your power and move on.

Anybody can complain about the negative reactions that others have towards them. It takes great character however, to stay motivated and keep moving in spite of it.

Stop chastising and chasing after everyone who disagrees with you. You have better things to do. Exercise your integrity and refuse to be distracted from what you’re committed to creating.

Learn how to be free even when some people don’t agree.

Don’t Sell Your Soul By Seeking Sainthood

“It’s rarely about the money. Most people sell their soul for nothing more than not having a stranger get mad at them.” -Isaac M. Morehouse

If you’re not ready to have any villains in your life, you’re not ready to do heroic stuff in anyone else’s life.

If you’re not ready to have some haters, you’re not ready to be a creator.

If you’re not ready to let anyone down, you’re not ready to lift anyone up.

If you’re not ready to be called an idiot by “the other side”, you’re not ready to be an inspiration to the people on your side.

If you’re not ready to be seen as a loser by some, you’re not ready to be a leader for anyone.

If you’re not ready to annoy the world, you’re not ready to alter the world.

The only way to become a saint is by giving up your need to become a saint.

Seeking sainthood is a trap. The moment you become obsessed with being seen as a noble or heroic person, you become a slave to the unyielding demands of a whimsical world. Your need to be loved, liked, or lauded will reduce you to being a puppet pulled by the strings of anyone who happens to not be in the mood for your mission or message. If you need to be canonized or crowned, you’re guaranteed to become somebody’s clown.

Changing the world for good requires power. And if you want to maintain your personal power, you have to refuse to put it in the hands of other people’s approval. Forget about making someone else’s hall of fame and focus your energy on changing the game. Forget about getting a standing ovation and focus your efforts on spreading innovation. You don’t need anybody to give you a celebratory speech. Let your work speak for itself. Let it reverberate across the hearts and minds that are transformed by your relentless devotion to irrefutable results.

Crowds will fickle and fade, but the fruits of your labor will never spoil if you remain faithful to principles.

You can’t win the hearts of everyone, but you can positively influence someone from every generation if you commit yourself to the work rather than the glory.

That’s how you make a difference. That’s how you create a legacy that lasts.

Change the World for Fun & Profit

Howard Thurman wrote: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

And yet, that is precisely the opposite of what most people do when they strive for social change. Contrary to Thurman’s advice, societies tend to tackle problems by either legislating solutions into existence via politics or by pleading with the rich and powerful to share their resources via philanthropy.

Doing things like starting a business or pursuing a career in the arts is usually regarded as selfish and greedy. And even when we do support the people who pursue these things, we’re still hesitant to think of them as revolutionaries and freedom-fighters in the same way that we’d think of politicians and philanthropist.

As materialistic and consumeristic as everyone says our country is becoming, we’re still by and large a nation that thinks a little bit less of those who do what they do for fun and profit. While we may not believe that money is evil, we certainly don’t regard the pursuit of it as being on the same plane as ventures that claim to be “not for profit.”

As odd as it may seem to someone who understands the economics of customer accountability, telling someone “I won’t make or lose any money from this transaction” is still a more effective way to build trust than saying “I care very deeply about my bottom line.”

As odd as it may seem to someone who understands public choice and the nature of incentives, telling someone “I’m running for office” or “I’m going to work for a think tank” is far more likely to make you sound like someone who’s interested in doing good than saying “I want to follow my dreams” or “I want to work for a cool start-up.”

This weekend I’ll be giving a talk at the Young Americans for Liberty Denver Spring Summit about “Changing the World for Fun and Profit.” In this talk, I’ll make a clarion call for young people to return to the wisdom of Thurman’s advice. I’ll dismantle common arguments about why profits are bad and I’ll show how our individual passions and priorities are more of a powerful force for liberty than what we’ve been previously taught.

The optimal path to creating a freer society lies in following your own self-interests. If you want to change the world, stop trying so hard to change the world and start paying attention to the things that fire you up. That’s the punchline with which I’ll begin tomorrow’s talk. If you’d like to see where I take it from there, come join me at The Summit Conference & Event Center at 2pm. You can find out more information about the summit here

To learn more about how I’m changing the world through fun & profit in my everyday life, check out the work we’re doing at Praxis.

Also check out some of the links below to see some previous talks by my colleagues and I on how to adopt this strategy for changing the world:

Criticize by Creating – Derek Magill

People Over Politics: How to Change the World | Isaac Morehouse

Education 2.0: How Philosophy, Not Tech, is Disrupting How We Learn (TK Coleman)

Entrepreneurship As A Theory of Social Change: T. K. Coleman

Have A Little Pride

Never ask someone to buy your product or be your friend as if they would be performing some great act of charity in doing so.

As an alternative, get clear on your own value and come back with a proposition that’s based on the conviction that you have more to offer people than a mere plea for unmerited favor.

The problem doesn’t lie in your requests for support. The problem lies in the assumption that you don’t have any value to reciprocate. Treating yourself as if you have nothing to offer always results in more of the same until you break the cycle and start respecting your value.

If what you’re offering people is truly worthless, then you shouldn’t make their lives worse by burdening them with things that have no value.

If what you’re offering is actually worth something, however, then walk and talk like it’s actually worth something.