Dark gray clouds loom overhead, sleet and rain come down in sheets, and I’m bundled up in my puffy black down jacket, ready to brave the cold final days of winter in Cleveland. But that was Friday.
Today, mockingbirds mock and a chorus of birds greets the cheery warm sunrise, which is helping sprout baby greens on giant trees on this pleasant spring Sunday in Austin. Perched on the back porch, I’m sipping my hot coffee — not needing it just to keep warm, which is nice for a change. Looking out over my hilly land from my red Adirondack chair at the distant blue mountain and my little brown clapboard art studio in the distance, I’m happy to be home again.
Wednesday carried me to Cleveland for a mastermind group meeting and chance for a “hot seat” with the world’s number one marketing guru, who worked with me on my business.
Why do I spend several weeks a year traveling, losing valuable family time, to attend conferences, mastermind groups, consulting sessions, and training, when I could coast on what I’ve built? When is enough enough?
It took me 50-plus years to realize that enough is never enough. Stagnation is death.
When I first entered the world of mastermind groups, where we share ideas CEO-to-CEO, I found that the best of the best are always learning and growing. There are dozens of multi-millionaire CEOs in my group. They could rest on their past accomplishments; most of them probably never need to make another dollar, yet they are focused on continual personal growth. That’s why we’re all there.
Being around these people has taught me some powerful lessons — the biggest being that if you’re not learning, you’re going backward, because the world changes so fast.
This is not only a practice of top CEOs, I’ve noticed it’s a practice of top artists, top doctors, and other professionals who want to be the best in their field.
At our recent artists’ convention I noticed that several of the biggest artists were sitting in on the sessions of other artists to learn. They NEVER STOP LEARNING.
Put Me In, Coach
Another eye-opener is that the best of the best have a coach, a mentor, or a consultant who helps them see things in themselves that they cannot see, and helps them see opportunities they didn’t think of. No man (or woman) should be an island.
Wisdom from Amazon
Recently Jeff Bezos of Amazon told the story of a friend who wanted to get good at handstands. After weeks of practice in a class, she was not making fast enough progress, so she hired a handstand coach. The coach worked with her on perfecting the handstand, but also managed her expectations of mastering it quickly. The coach said, “Most people think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.”
The value of a coach is that they understand what it takes, and though they can give you corrections and possibly shortcuts, they will also give you reality, best practices, and encouragement.
We live in a world of instant gratification, yet we all need to realize that excellence in anything requires time and practice. Not only do you need to recognize what the highest standards look like, you need to understand what it takes to accomplish them and not give in too soon. Far too many people give up and lose a world of opportunity because of their impatience.
Painting is a great example. Though I teach shortcuts and a simplified program in my Easiest Way in the World to Learn Painting video, any good painter will tell you that excellence comes with an investment in “brush mileage” and great mentors. You can learn to paint fairly quickly, but everyone needs to understand the investment of time required to get really good at it. If you go into it knowing time is required, you won’t get frustrated when perfection does not come instantly.
I wish I had learned these lessons when I was younger because they would have served me well. I was always looking for shortcuts, trying to beat the system, and, though sometimes that is possible, there is nothing like concentrated learning until mastery is accomplished.
Setting the bar to have high personal standards will serve you well. Others are drawn to high standards; people want the very best.
The Excellence Lifestyle
Though this is sounding like a business discussion, it is really about a lifestyle of excellence. I see it every day in the people I meet. While one person will “phone it in” to get a project done, another person will keep working on it till it’s right, because excellence is the only thing they know.
Not Good Enough Until It’s Great
I am working on a giant project and had to make a presentation with another organization. I sent it off for feedback, and they said, “It’s good enough.” But that made me realize it was not. So I worked on it for two more weeks, had a designer and an editor perfect it, and the feedback I got was “This is the best presentation we have ever done.” It may be only a 2 percent difference, but the outcomes are typically much better.
The way we approach life matters. If you’re going to do something, why run with the pack?
Why not find a way to be the best in the world at what you do?
Why not study the best in the world and see if you can be better than the best?
God has given us all opportunity — why not make the most of it?
Why not be the best auto mechanic in the world, the best hairdresser, the best doctor, the best artist?
Why not hold yourself to the highest standards and find ways to meet them?
Can You Believe?
The starting point is self-confidence and mindset. Believing that you can learn to be the best. Believing that you have the strength, the time, the intention to study the best, emulate the best, master those skills, then look for ways to out-best the best.
Here’s a clue: This does not come naturally. Your brain and your belief systems will fight you on it. They will tell you it’s impossible and not worth the effort. You must push those negative thoughts aside.
Why not take the easy route and just get by?
I started out as a “do the minimum” kind of person. I was lazy, not industrious, and would rather hang with my buddies and play all the time. But I found the company I was keeping was holding me back — I found out that I was becoming the same kind of person as those I was hanging out with, and I did not like it. I was not satisfied. My life was not rich; my friends were not progressing, and neither was I.
The Rewards of Excellence
This may not work for you. I’m not judging. I’m trying to make it work for me, and so far the rewards are incredible.
I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about experiences.
Attracting Seekers of the Best
For instance, last week I was having a party in the giant two-story Governor’s Suite for the VIPs and faculty at my convention. I walked upstairs, looked down on the crowd, and thought, “I’m hanging out with the top artists in the world. How cool is that?” I then went down and enjoyed it. It only happened because I worked like mad to create an event that would be so good that it would attract the best in the world. And I have to keep working like crazy to improve it every year so the best keep coming back.
My friend and former advisor Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED conference and author of probably 60 or more books, used to talk about making his conference the ultimate dinner party he would want to have. It gave him access to the likes of Bill Gates, Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Google founders, and the biggest names in tech, entertainment, and design (thus the name T.E.D.). He attracted them because he is the world’s best at what he does, and the best want to hang with the best.
You’ve been given a life — why not live it richly by spending your time with the best of the best? Why settle for less? Rich experiences make extraordinary lives.
It’s rarely about the money. I have a billionaire acquaintance that no one likes. He sent out invitations to his 50th-birthday party, and nobody showed up. Yet I know people who have no money but are the best in the world at their craft, and they are surrounded by other greats who respect their work.
Even if you’re not the best, people are attracted to people who are always growing, learning, trying to be as good as they can be, and to those who are interesting.
Last week I heard from a reader who was super shy and has been “in a shell” for her entire life. She was “awakened” by something I wrote that made her realize she had missed decades of opportunity because she allowed her shyness to control her. One sentence, I’m told, woke her up and made her take immediate action to overcome her fears.
In the past I wrote about how I was invited to take comedian Red Skelton shopping, and I turned him down because I was shy and did not feel worthy. I was also once invited to party with the Bee Gees after a wedding I photographed, but because I was shy and did not feel worthy, I turned down an invitation to their home.
The only difference between then and now is that I always say yes, even when my instinct is to say no, because I’m still shy inside and sometimes still feel unworthy. Some may find this hard to believe, because I’ve learned how to be outgoing and learned to not allow my reptilian brain to “protect” me.
I say this because you may think that the leap is too big to go from where you are today to being the world’s best at what you do. But, like the moon landing, it’s “one small step.” Movement is more important than sitting still. One step leads to another, momentum builds, and with determination, the most shy, sheltered person can do anything. Trust me, I’ve lived it and watched it.
It’s Lying Dormant
You have things inside you you don’t know are present. You have strength you don’t know you have. You have abilities you’ve not yet discovered. You have amazing, unstoppable power within you.
I believe in you.
Now it’s just a matter of you believing in you. Things may seem impossible. The roadblocks may be massive. The pain and fear may be so intense that you would rather hide. I get that. I’ve lived it. But hidden deep inside of you is a desire to do something great, something you may daydream about, but don’t really believe is possible. Yet it is totally possible.
How to Get There
You have to start with a question or two.
Am I happy with my life as it is if the things I dream about never happen?
Am I going to look back and wish I had tried harder?
Are the things that are holding me back real, or can I find a way to overcome them (maybe with professional help)?
Do I want something so badly that I’m not willing to allow fear to stop me for one more day?
You have inside of you a phoenix that can rise from the ashes of your past.
Yes, you have wounds. Yes, you have past pain. Yes, you have fear. Yes, people could try to hurt you. Yes, people may look at you differently.
So what? If it’s worth it, then those things can and will be overcome. You just have to pull the trigger with one tiny action in that direction. Then another and another.
I’ve watched acquaintances and friends who were total wallflowers become amazing peacocks. They amazed themselves. You have the power within you.
What do you dream that you think is silly and could never happen?
What do you envision yourself doing in your wildest daydreams but don’t believe you can do?
Grab those things, run with them, and muscle up the strength to plow through walls of negativity and self-doubt because you know you are deserving and worth it. If you tell yourself you’re not deserving, stop it and tell yourself, “That’s unlike me. Of course I deserve it.”
Excellence deserves time, yet one year from today, you will be well on your way to being the best in the world at what you do. It is taking action that matters.
Today is the day for that first step. I’ll be rooting for you, and I’ve got your back.
PS: My new book has officially hit Amazon. How cool is that? I feel like the impossible just happened. Of course, I am driven to make it a bestseller, and you could be really helpful. So, though I hate to ask, if you know someone who does any form of art, photography, crafting, sculpting, or frankly, even anyone who owns a small business and is seeking a way to grow or sell more, I’d appreciate your referral.