My 3 Fundamentals of Success

And why titling this article “The 3 Fundamentals of Success” would violate these fundamentals.

This week I spent a lot of time thinking about what it will take for me to be successful – in my work, in this blog, my life goals, my frisbee playing, everything. In contemplating this question, I thought back to reading The Art of Learning by chess prodigy and Taiji world champion Joshua Waitzkin.

In the book, Josh mentioned that when he was a chess player as a child, other young players would focus on memorizing powerful opening moves that could elicit a quick victory over an opponent. Josh, on the other hand, focused on developing his fundamentals: truly understanding how the pieces interacted with each other. Once Josh weathered the strong opening attacks of his opponents, he was at his best navigating the chaos of the middle game whereas his young opponents were completely lost.

There are two key takeaways here. First, our ability to navigate the mess is what determines our success (you know it’s true because it rhymes) and second, strong fundamentals are the key to developing this ability. In this post, I want to share the fundamentals that I find to be essential to success.

1. Keep moving forward

Last week I listened to an episode of the Finding Mastery podcast with Bob Bowman, who you may know as the coach of 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. In the podcast, Bob is asked how he helps his top swimmers achieve high output over an extended period of time. For Bob, a coach who is renowned for pushing his athletes to the brink, the key is recognizing when to keep pushing his athletes through the struggle and when to back off because they are struggling in an unhealthy way.

In the past, I pushed myself relentlessly and I was extremely hard on myself when I didn’t achieve my goals. As a result, I would get off to a great start on most of my endeavors, but burn out when I failed to meet my own impossibly high standards. Recently, I’ve come to understand that “keep moving forward” doesn’t just mean pushing yourself and picking yourself up when you’re failing. It also means knowing when it’s time to back off, take time to recover, show yourself compassion, and analyze where you can do better.

For me, one area where I need to back off is wasting time obsessing with perfection when functionality is what is needed to move me toward my goal. For example, I could spend three extra days working on this blog post and trying to make it absolutely perfect. But given that I want to write one blog post every week and that I have other goals to work on, I cannot afford to spend that much extra time on this post. As Rey puts it in The Force Awakens it’s important to recognize when “the garbage will do.”

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2. Be authentic

One of my goals in writing this blog is for people to read it (seems obvious enough). One challenge I face here, which is also a challenge I think about as a marketer, is how can I convince people to read this blog while maintaining authenticity?

Marketing has developed a negative connotation in the world today and with fair reason. It feels like our emotions and psyche are constantly being manipulated by people trying to get us to buy products or consume content that we don’t really want. Personally, I never want someone to feel like I “tricked” them into reading one of my posts with an overly clickbaity headline because that would directly work against my goal of creating more authenticity in the world.

I almost titled this post “The 3 Fundamentals of Success.” The difference might seem subtle to you, but calling it “The 3 Fundamentals of Success” implies that I am sharing a universal formula for success. I have no way of knowing if these 3 fundamentals will work for you, so I feel like it’s inauthentic to imply that claim. By titling the post “My 3 Fundamentals of Success,”  I’ve done all I can to ensure that anybody who reads this post and doesn’t agree with my three fundamentals will not feel swindled out of something they were promised.

I feel like Bruce Lee puts it best (check out this episode of the Bruce Lee Podcast to learn more about authenticity):

“We realize that manipulation and control are not the ultimate joy in life, to become real, to learn to take a stand, to develop one’s center to the support of our total personality, a release to spontaneity, yes, yes, yes.”

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3. Help others

In Money: Master the Game, Tony Robbins discusses the six human needs we are really after that we think money is going to give us. The need he discussed that stood out most to me is Contribution. As he put it:

“Life is really about creating meaning. And meaning does not come from what you get, it comes from what you give. Ultimately, what you get will never make you happy long term. But who you become and what you contribute will.”

Part of the beautiful paradox of giving is that in order to reap its full benefits, one must give from a place of genuinely wanting to help others and not from a place of wanting to reap those benefits. It’s sort of like the Sorcerer’s Stone in Harry Potter. As Dumbledore says, “Only a person who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it.” In terms of how giving generates success, there’s no way to measure the return on investment or ROI of that one time I gave someone $5 for the subway. But I know that maintaining an attitude of helping others over an extended period of time is the only way to achieve my goals and be my Authentic Self in the long run.

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