You know the feeling. You’re watching a Youtube video or reading a book, and in a sudden moment of clarity, you realize you just heard the truth.
Of course you agree, but it also forces you to admit something, because it’s not just any truth – it’s an ugly truth.
Not ugly in general. Ugly for you, because you’re not living in alignment with it. Over the past few days, I’ve had plenty of these moments.
Most of them came from reading The Dip by Seth Godin. If I could recommend just one book for you to read, this would be it. That means something, coming from someone who’s written over 365 book summaries in 2016.
His words are still ringing in my ears.
“Mediocrity is for losers.”
And then he explained how to be the best in the world.
It’s powerful when you hear it. It’s even more convincing once he explains why being average is for losers. Here, have a listen:
Google is a great example, but it doesn’t show you how big the gap between being number one and being average really is. Even being second might not be worth your while.
For example, 37% of all pizzas ordered are plain cheese. If pepperoni comes in at number two, and makes up another 30% of all orders of pizzas with toppings, that’s still just 18.9% of all orders – so just about half the sales of plain cheese pizzas.
The same with ice cream. Vanilla is the most popular flavor in the world. Number two, chocolate, comes in at around 8%, less than a third…and it just gets worse from there (good luck “Cookies ‘n’ cream”).
(Image taken from Seth’s blog)
Why is this exciting to learn, yet painful to listen to? For me, it’s because it made me realize something important.
This blog is average…and so am I
When I look back on the past 18 months, I see a lot of good things, but no great things. Why is that?
- It takes longer than 18 months to build something great.
- It’s impossible to build something great when you’re working on 18 things at a time.
When I say “a lot of good things” the emphasis is on a lot.
Here’s a short excerpt of the things I’ve done (feel free to skim or skip):
- Took an email list building course and got my first 1,000 email subscribers by:
- Running 3 giveaways, 1 exclusively on Facebook
- Writing 10 massive blog posts with content upgrades
- Guest blogging on half a dozen high profile blogs
- Scoring several number 1 rankings with SEO
- Hosting 3 webinars with great co-hosts
- Getting on Lifehacker, Lifehack.org and Elite Daily
- Started to coach on coach.me and building that business to a consistent $1,000/month over 12 months
- Opened my own translating & freelance writing business, working my way up all the way from 15 €/hr to 50 €/hr and beyond by:
- Ghostwriting for a top 10 online marketing blog in the world
- Interpreting live at international meetings, going back and forth between German to English and English to German
- Helping a local business completely revamp their corporate identity with new logos, business cards, stationery, a new website, and even a slide deck
- Creating some of the best online marketing content & web design case studies around (in German)
- Doing outreach & content marketing for a San Francisco based startup
- Launched a Patreon campaign, where people now support me and my causes with $84/month
- Built Four Minute Books, where I publish a book summary every single day, collecting another 1,000 email subscribers in a third of the time it took me before (~60-ish days)
- Created an Instagram account and took it to 1,000 followers in 11 days
If you just look at that list, without even reading a single point, you can already tell what the consequence must be.
It makes everything I do average work and therefore it makes me average at everything I do.
This blog is average. I’m an average freelancer. I’m settling for mediocrity, when I could actually be great at some of these things. Not all of them and definitely not at once. But I wonder where I would be, had I spent all this energy on just one of the items on that list.
Real winners quit – all the time
On May 2nd 2016, I woke up and didn’t want to get out of bed. There was nothing to look forward to. Just another day of playing a pointless game of catch up (with the things I’d failed to deliver when I was sick in March).
Welcome to the Dip. It’s what lies between starting and becoming the best in the world. It’s the phase where you have to put in more and more effort, without getting anywhere.
The long drought after the initial exhilaration of starting, the failed exam after your Mum’s praised you for deciding to go to law school and the steep downward curve of your blog’s traffic after finally getting published in The Huffington Post.
(Image taken from Seth’s blog)
We all have limited time and energy, but if we use all of it, pick the right thing to focus on, then maybe, just maybe, we can make it through the Dip – and become the best in the world.
But that’s assuming you’re just facing a single Dip.
What happened in my case was that instead of me catching up with things, the list above just caught up with me. Not only did I struggle to find the time to work on Four Minute Books or this blog, let alone exercise or grocery shop without feeling rushed, it also became impossible to meet every client’s demands.
I wasn’t facing just one Dip. I was facing a whole bunch of them.
How the hell are you supposed to get through all of these? You can’t. And you shouldn’t.
You have to quit. Even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. Actually, especially when it’s uncomfortable.
Real winners know this. Seth says they quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt. That makes the ideal scenario one where you quit most things before you even start them. But if you’re stuck in the same quagmire I now find myself in, your only option is to look closely at all of your Dips.
You’ll realize, some aren’t Dips at all. They’re dead ends. Cul-de-Sac, as Seth calls them (French for “dead end”).
A Cul-de-Sac is when you keep working and working, without feeling overly enthusiastic about it, nor getting anywhere.
You know, the job you keep long after you’ve realized you’ve reached the end of the promotion ladder. The volleyball team you keep showing up to practice for, even though you’ve long missed your shot to join the big leagues. The extra projects you took on, where you afterwards seriously ask yourself whether a few extra hundred bucks were worth the stress.
All of a sudden, it’s now my turn to decide what to keep doing and what to quit – and boy, do I have to quit things.
The myth of diversification
Here’s another one of those ugly truths: Unless you’re trying to build a solid stock portfolio, diversification is a myth.
This Facebook post captures it quite well:
Every big evolution, or rather, revolution, is followed by a major depression among the first few generations that have to live through it. When the Industrial Age began in the early 20th century, people had a lot of trouble dealing with their new riches.
All of a sudden, everyone made a ton more money with the same, or even less work, thanks to the power of machines. But what the hell do you do when you suddenly have more money and way too much time to spend it?
You get depressed.
Alcohol abuse skyrocketed in the 1920’s. It’s what led to the great depression. Oh, and stuff like this:
It looks fun at first, but when you ask why these things happened, you’ll realize that people were overwhelmed with life.
By “our generation” Daniel means millennials. Right now, we’re living through our very own great depression. The Internet Age has begun. If you’re waiting for the next big thing…don’t. This is it. We’re 20 years into a 100+ year revolutionary technology, this thing is only just beginning.
The media now tells us that we can have everything, be everything and do everything we’ve ever wanted. You can finally make money without having to be picked. Whether you’re a comic strip artist, air guitar player, or Start Trek fan fiction writer – you can now get paid for it.
Many 20-somethings react exactly like me when they first realize this: they try to do it all at once.
When the car first hit the scene, over 100 car manufacturers suddenly emerged in the US alone. Guess how many of those are left today: three. The exact same thing is happening again right now, but on an individual scale. Billions of people start online businesses, but only a few million will eventually make it through their Dips.
I totally get it. I feel the same way. Having to pick one thing is depressing, especially when so many things are dangled in front of your nose. But whether industrial revolution or internet revolution, the path to success stays the same.
How to be the best in the world
Here’s where most of us can learn from our parents. If you were raised in an (upper) middle class family, chances are, your parents picked their career paths like this:
- They chose something they liked or could at least tangentially relate to at the time.
- They stuck with it for 20, 30, 40 years.
For example, here’s how my Dad became the best in the world. Originally, he wanted to become a pharmacist. But access to the pharmacy college program was restricted – he didn’t get in. So he chose the next best thing at the time: chemistry.
By the time he could’ve made the switch, he was already knee deep in chemistry, and which got him to liking it so much, he stuck with it. After getting his PhD, he spent a few years in the lab with one company, before switching to a job he’s now held for over 15 years.
What is he the best in? Marketing and managing the product portfolio of a medium-sized company that manufactures industrial adhesives and sealants (glue).
What’s his “world“? Small- and medium-sized German businesses who need adhesives and sealants for their products.
That’s an incredibly tight definition of both “best” and “world” – and it still took him 15 years to get there. How do you feel about starting a Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat account all at once now?
Let’s hope you don’t hear from me for a while…
…because it’ll mean I’ve finally picked a Dip worth pushing through. A dip that makes it worth to fail along the way. I highly encourage you to do the same. Take a close look at everything you’re doing. And then quit 90% of it.
I’ll leave you with some of the questions I’ve picked up from Seth, which I’ve been churning in my head over and over and over again, to get to the root of what matters.
Start by asking yourself these for everything you’re working on.
- What is this for?
- Is this something that might not work? If it works, will I be glad I did it? If it doesn’t, can I keep going long enough until it will?
- Is what you’re doing remarkable? That means, will people make a remark about it to other people?
- Does it bring people together around a shared cause, goal or purpose?
- Do you make a group of people feel respected, who might not have felt that before?
- Would you be missed if you were gone? If you didn’t send out that email, would people actually ask for it?
- Are you changing people? What’s the transformation you’re providing?
And lastly, but most importantly:
Can you be the best in the world at this?
I don’t know what best means. I don’t know what my world will look like. But I’ll try. I’m out. Because average is for losers.