In every generation, there are people who seem destined to change the world. Individuals who by all appearances stand completely apart from the rest of us. What if I told you that these achievers aren’t actually all that different from the rest of us?
What if I told you everyone has the capacity to do great things? No, I’m not talking about creating the next Amazon or Facebook. Nor am I talking about a world-changing invention like the smartphone.
I’m talking about finding fulfillment. About pursuing goals that are ambitious, engaging, and beneficial to the world. See, the thing that causes achievers to do what they do is something we all have.
I’m talking about drive. Passion, hunger, ambition. The raw materials that serve as the foundation of greatness.
Everyone has it, but only a small percentage end up refining it into something truly special and great.
Because drive on its own isn’t enough. It’s a good foundation, but in order to see it through you need to learn how to manifest it externally. That’s a complicated process, and a lifelong journey — one in which I’m still engaged.
Process Doesn’t Matter – Outcome Does.
I’ve been striving ever since I was a teenager. And in that time, I’ve learned something. When it comes to externalizing your ambitions, the process is largely irrelevant.
It’s the outcome that truly matters, even if the process is where you’ll find the most internal joy. To put it another way, the journey doesn’t matter if you don’t finish it. Let’s say, for example, that I want to write a song.
If I only got through 50% of the work, I didn’t achieve anything. I don’t have a finished project. It doesn’t matter how much work I put in or how much I enjoyed that work; I still didn’t get to where I want to be.
By starting a journey, you’re making a commitment to finishing it, lest your efforts be negated. I’ve known tons of creative, driven people who jump from project to project, always getting excited about some new thing when they’ve yet to finish the old. Ultimately, in spite of how talented and capable they are, they’ve done nothing.
That’s a good lead-in for our second key insight — Visualization
If You Can’t Visualize the Journey, It’s Not Worth Taking
Whether you’re angling for money, professional success, or to change the world for the better, it’s easy to see your desired outcome. It’s easy to visualize how you want things to go and what you want to achieve. It’s a lot more challenging to visualize how you’ll get those things.
Not many people can do it.
I’ll give you a concrete example. I’ve worked on many different artificial intelligence projects — Joseki, Mica, Clinc, and so on. Want to know what my work has in common across every single one?
I had to start by visualizing the process. And I had to make sure I saw things through to the end. I want to make products that change the world, but in order to do so, I need to visualize my work from start to finish.
Because if I start something just to see where it goes, I risk not achieving anything. That’s something that takes a lot of discipline — which coincidentally, is the third key component.
Your Work Won’t Always Be Pleasant
Be your own boss. Do what you love. Pursue your passion.
It’s all wonderfully romantic, isn’t it? It’s also bunk. There’s this fallacy amongst people who aren’t entrepreneurs that if you’re doing something awesome, you’ll always feel awesome.
Ask any successful entrepreneur, and they’ll tell you that although there are bright spots, the vast majority of the time, the process is painful. But most people don’t see that pain. They don’t see the sleepless nights, they don’t feel the gnawing doubt, they don’t experience the anxiety and stress.
It’s like watching a Rihanna concert — you see the excitement, glitz, and glamor, but you don’t see all the work she’s had to do to get where she is.
You need to anticipate that the process will be painful. It might, at times, be so unpleasant you’ll want to quit. You need to ignore that urge, you need to understand that everything worth doing is going to suck sometimes.
You don’t instantly gain muscle after a gym workout. You only see results after weeks of grinding. That’s why you need to visualize.
Because that way, you have a strategy to grind through the hurt and ultimately turn drive into greatness.
Your Goals are Fluid and Personal
We’ve all seen the self-proclaimed self-help gurus. They claim they’ve unlocked the secret to success, that they can teach you how to be truly happy and fulfilled if you just follow the goals they’ve laid out. Want to know why it never works?
Aside from the fact that they’re all shysters, I mean.
It’s because goals and values are intensely personal. And more importantly, they aren’t concrete. They will inevitably fluctuate over time, because they’re a reflection of your personality and what you want to see in the world.
Also, throw out the idea that your goals have to be world-shaking and industry-changing.
There is no objective hierarchy here. Satisfaction and self-actualization are tied to realizing your goals, no matter how mundane. Pick your own goals, and know that they’re just as important to you as someone else’s are to them.
As for the how?
- Think about what piques your curiosity. Where do you feel your talents lie?
- Understand that when you commit to an outcome, your goals may change during the journey.
- You may end up hating the goals you had at the beginning, but you still need to see them through.
- Know that sometimes, the smart thing is to give up. For instance, if a new AI engine becomes obsolete or the market no longer wants it, I’d stop working on it, no matter how much I wanted to finish.
I’m not going to lie and tell you this is going to be easy. It’s not — I learned that the hard way when writing my book. It’s stressful and frustrating and daunting and there will be moments when everything seems overwhelming and impossible.
Goals and Purpose Are Inextricably Linked
When people are targeted, they have their identities and what defines them forcibly stripped away. Who they are ceases to matter. It’s a phenomenon I call post-tenure depression.
After you get tenure, you’re a professor for life. Some professors even end up quitting as a result. This is because when someone else defines your identity for you, it’s soul-killing.
You start to wonder who you really are and what you can do to improve the world. You start to lose sight of your purpose.
Goals force you to stare down this monster. They force you to think about your purpose and actually come up with an answer. Even if they’re flexible and ephemeral, they give you something concrete with which you can anchor yourself.
How Will You Define Greatness?
Ambition. Drive. Discipline.
We all have the necessary building blocks to be great in our own way. We all have goals, dreams, and aspirations. And we all have the capacity for self-fulfillment.
So what’s stopping you from pursuing yours?
You can listen to the full podcast here.