The other day, I talked a friend who was struggling in his business. He is a very talented person with a lot of skill. But he’s working long hours and struggling to keep up. I tried to encourage him, let him know his struggle was normal, and ask a few tough questions.
One of those tough questions was this: Who are you learning from?
It might not be the best grammar, but it really is a powerful question. When we’re stuck in the day to day, we often can’t see a way forward. It’s classic Michael Gerber stuff – we’re so much IN the business that we don’t have time to work ON the business.
We all need people in our life to push us forward. We need people in our lives to pull us forward. Those who push your forward are friends, family members, and inspirational figures. Those who pull you forward have been where you’ve been before.
You need heroes and mentors.
When I asked my friend who he was learning from, he mentioned someone very famous and very successful in his space. Later, it dawned on me. That guy was a hero, but he wasn’t a good mentor.
If you’re leading a church of 150 people, Andy Stanley might be a great hero, but he’s not a good mentor. You need to find someone who has grown a church from 150 to 250 and learn from him. If you’re running a one person law firm, your hero might be the top partner at the biggest firm in town, but you need to be mentored by someone who made the jump from one man show to a small, successful firm. If you’re running a photography business, your hero might be the girl talking celebrity photos and making millions in the process, but your mentor needs to be someone who turned her passion into a lifestyle business with 3-4 freelance employees. Do you see the difference?
It’s great to have heroes. We need them. But we also need to choose mentors who are a few steps ahead of us, people who have been where we are and still remember what it was like. People who can provide practical advice not paint a picture of the ideal.
Learning will always cost you something.
If I had a dollar for everyone who wanted to get together, buy me coffee, and “pick my brain,” I could probably make a good living as a consultant. I hesitate to write this because I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I feel like it needs to be said. When you email that mentor and offer to buy him a cup of coffee, you’re essentially saying an hour of his time is worth $3. As if he’s sitting around saying, “Man, I wish someone would buy me a cup of coffee…where can I find this person.
You don’t need to hire your friends or sister or neighbor to give you advice. They will do that for free because they are your friends. But don’t approach professionals and ask them to pick their brain. It’s like stopping by a doctors office and asking him to take a look at your heart real quick. Or asking your mechanic to work on your car over the weekend.
Most professionals I know interpret “pick your brain” as I’m too lazy to read your blog or book and too cheap to hire someone to really help.
Right now, I’m going through Ramit Sethi’s course Zero to Launch. People say it’s expensive. And it is expensive when you compare the dollar amount to zero. But I’m not comparing the cost of the course to zero – I’m lining it up with my hopes, dreams and lifestyle. I’m looking at the potential and the possibility. On a side note, he told me not to buy it if I wasn’t willing to do the work, because he knows there are no shortcuts or silly guarantees.
It took me a while to learn this (and I actually learned it from Casey, who invested more money in education than anyone I’ve ever worked with, which is one of the main reasons The Rocket Company has been so successful). Learning from friends is awesome, but if you really want to learn, pay for coaching.
Here’s a snapshot of a Dropbox folder of some of the courses and networks I’ve paid to be in over the last couple of years. These folders represent thousands of dollars of learning.
Practice is not enough.
On the weekends, I try to take one of my three children to breakfast. We order waffles or pancakes and then talk about life. They each have a notebook and we scribble down thoughts and drawings. It’s an awesome time.
Recently, I taught my middle child a lesson on how to get good at anything. “Emma, there’s three things you need to know if you want to get good at anything,” I said. “And these three things work for piano, school work, raising chickens, or whatever you want to get good at.” The rest of the conversation went like this…
First, you gotta learn. Isn’t it amazing that people can spend two years of their life researching, writing, re-writing, re-researching and writing a book and you can buy it for $15? Isn’t it awesome there are how-to videos online for how to fix a car or cook rice? There’s so much good information out there, and that’s the first step to getting good at something. You gotta learn.
Next, you gotta practice. You can learn about songs and composers and scales, but if you want to get good at the piano, you’ve got to practice. Experts are really just people who practiced and worked hard. When you see people who are really good at something, remind yourself you’re looking at someone who worked really, really hard and practiced a lot.
Finally (and this is the silver bullet), you’ve got to get a coach. Your piano teacher is your coach. She knows stuff you don’t know but she can help you. All the great performers and athletes and successful people have coaches. This is what will separate you from the rest of the pack, and this is the secret ingredient.
After this, we went back to the strawberry pancakes.
There are no shortcuts.
I’ve bought my fair share of online courses and training programs. Along the way, I’ve noticed something interesting. The products or services that promise shortcuts or easy steps or time-saving tricks rarely work. They sound good and they sell good, but they aren’t real.
When people promote three easy steps to this or offer seven weeks to that, don’t just turn the other cheek – run the other way! This is surely someone selling something. THEIR seven steps starts and ends with getting you to buy something. An article at 99u says it like this:
Having recently concluded four years of interviews for a book on the topic of making ideas happen, I can say one thing for sure: Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage. Ideas don’t happen because they are great. The genius is in the execution, aka the “99% perspiration” that has become this site’s namesake.
Perspiration implies sweat, self-discipline, and (yes) occasional exhaustion. I think this is what Malcolm Gladwell teaches us in his book Outlierswhen he proposes that a true mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours of doing it. There are no shortcuts to lasting success.
Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage.
It’s easy to look at someone else, see their success and miss the hard work parts. We envy their story but forget their backstory. We want their results without their sacrifice. But no matter what the online product promises, deep down you know there are no real shortcuts.
Opportunities are everywhere.
Let’s end with some good news. If you want to learn, grow, get better, change or make something, opportunities are everywhere. There are books, conferences, podcasts, coaching programs, online courses, free webinars, and so much more available to us all. You no longer have to look for information, you have to find the best information.
Investing in yourself is one of the best investments you can make. It will take some time, and it will cost you something, but there are opportunities for growth all over the place.
Remember my friend at the beginning of this article? I’m hopeful. He’s a hard worker and he seems willing to learn. I believe in him and will keep encouraging him to keep going. The journey isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.