Success is a Broad Spectrum

A teacher once said to me, “Always look straight ahead, never side to side.” He told me to ignore the competition and just focus on what I was trying to achieve. It was great advice. I’ve obviously remembered it.

But here’s the thing. The longer you look straight ahead at that finish line, mountain peak, career goal, etc., the more likely you are to start seeing people—your competition—already reaching it.

Here’s an example. You’ve written a book and you want to get it published. You start shopping it around to agents and editors. Meanwhile you do all the things you’re supposed to do. You subscribe to a couple of industry newsletters so you can stay up-to-date on all that’s happening in the publishing world. You attend some conferences and follow a bunch of agents, editors, and writers on Twitter. You familiarize yourself with the world you’re trying to enter.

The next thing you know, you’ve read about an unknown writer, who with his first novel, just landed an agent and book deal all within twenty-four hours. You read about another writer whose book was acquired at auction and got a record-breaking advance. Someone else just sold the movie rights to her YA novel—isn’t that wonderful! These are the types of things you’ll read about. In fact, they’re probably the only types of things you’ll read about. These items are news, the stuff worth talking about. You read them and you become hyper-aware of all that is happening just beyond where you currently are in life. Meanwhile your book has been rejected by twelve agents, and you’re feeling miserable.

We basically have access to just two groups of people. On the one hand is our own social group, and on the other are all the people at the top—newsmakers. But there’s hardly anyone in between. When we think about actresses, we don’t think about the woman in the wireless commercial. We think about Jennifer Lawrence. We don’t care about the guy who’s had a long career playing in the minor leagues; we care about A-Rod. And forget about the dude who makes money singing at weddings; he’s not Bruno Mars.

But success is a very broad spectrum. Most actors can only dream of being in an actual commercial. That commercial might not seem like much, but I assure you, the actress beat out a LOT of competition for that part. Hardly any baseball player is good enough to join the minors. And the wedding guy? He’s getting paid to sing. Stop and think about that for a moment—really think about it. He’s getting paid money. To sing.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to go as far as we possibly can, because we most certainly should. However, there’s a lot to be said for ignoring the goal every once in a while. Sometimes I like to focus on what I’ve done rather than what I still need to do. I walk backwards, focusing on where I started. And I watch it recede into the distance.



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