In an e-interview, noted blogger Daniel Scocco was asked and answered the following question:
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what advice would you give yourself…?
1. Make sure to create value
2. Focus on one thing
3. Finish what you start
5. Be patient
Boy Howdy! In the words of the immortal Smokey Robinson: “I second that emotion.” Every single item on this list can be unpacked in incredible depth. The items also inter-relate: you can create value by building a network; you finish what you start by focusing on one thing and being patient, and so forth.
To take a step backward, however, I think that all the items on Scocco’s list share a common attribute: discipline. In my experience it is a unifying trait shared by successful people. In this world of endless distractions it seems that we suffer, at some level, from a societal ADHD. Yet discipline seems to have gotten a bad name. Looking back, I can think of a number of ways that I and my generation ignored the benefits of discipline:
- we often hesitated to teach or abdicated completely the idea of discipline in a child’s education (and no, I’m not talking about physical abuse…I’m talking about #s 2, 3, and 5 on Scocco’s list)
- we are in the global financial crisis, in part because many, many people and institutions abandoned the idea of disciplined investing, and were lured into chasing the “quick buck”
- we discovered that giving in to a sweet tooth, dumping our garbage indiscriminately, or watching television 8 hours a day was much easier than eating healthy, or recycling, or cleaning up a neighborhood by working together with our neighbors
- we learned in the 90s that it was often better to change jobs, or specialties, rather than having the discipline to learn deeply about our field, and adapt, innovate, or improve
- we changed life partners ever more frantically looking for the “perfect” mate without being disciplined enough to stick around long enough to find out who anyone was, at the deepest level
I have learned recently that I am what Barbara Sher calls, in her book Refuse to Choose, a Scanner. As a result, I am always going to have difficulty with Scocco’s #s 2-3. But, based upon my experience, when I have been able to focus on one thing and finish what I’ve started, the results tend to be outstanding.
I’ve learned that if I’m working in a team setting, particularly as a leader (like preparing and conducting a large scale work such as the Mozart Requiem), it is critical to the project’s sucess that I fully commit to, and be disciplined about finishing the project. I’ve also learned that, as a Scanner, I get the fun of exploring a whole bunch of things without the guilt (now) of not staying with “one thing.”
So…back to discipline. If I had the opportunity to “teach over” (and I do, because I’ve figured out that, for the most part, at bottom, what I do is teach, no matter what I’m being paid to do), I would (and do) work to instill discipline in the people and the task that have gathered to learn about the subject. The willingness to be disciplined about learning and/or participating generally separates out those who want the glory without the effort. Behind (most) every successful entertainer, business tycoon, nobel prize winner, <fill in your definition of a successful person here> is a period of highly disciplined effort. And, it has been my experience, what separates the “superstar” from the star, is that willingness, or drive, to continue to be disciplined even when life has rewarded your effort so far.
That’s my birthday thought for this year of our Lord 2009…