Apprentice to My Own Competition

My day? Well it began at 4:30 AM, when I awoke with my host, indulged in an hour of reading and discussion, drove 30 minutes to the gym, worked out for an hour, showered, bumped into two celebrities on our way out, and walked two blocks to the CNN building, conveniently located at the corner of Cahunga and Sunset Boulevard in L.A., where, I’m now stationed for the next two days. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying. Honestly, if I had been on my own, I would have gotten up an hour later and went to bed an hour earlier. I’m merely making a point about successful people and their habits. You see, I’m conducting an experiment regarding best practices, personal environments, and their immediate results on one’s life, and I couldn’t think of a better place to do this than Los Angeles; the land of amazing opportunities and tremendous missteps. So, the people I’ve surrounded myself with for this experiment work directly with the richest, most famous and most elite of the world. The best of the best, and we bumped into two of them on our way out of the gym.

Whether you’re competing with others or yourself, life, is a competition. It’s difficult and rarely clean, and if you want to be the best, it helps to surround yourself with the best people.

Even stars need influence, and besides, you don’t know what you don’t know. Take Frank Lloyd Wright for example. In 1932, he began to take on talented apprentices due to his recent lack of spark and professional progress. His work with these genetically anointed apprentices led to what many deem to be the greatest piece of architecture in modern history, the Fallingwater House. Yet, even his plan for re-discovering architectural genius was externally inspired. It was his wife, Olgivanna’s idea.

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, in 1994, Harvard conducted a study where they examined people who radically transformed their lives. We’re talking about a complete makeover here; lazy, good for nothing, two timing, four flushing, waste-of-spaces suddenly getting fast tracked to partner, and deserving it. And guess what Harvard attributed this new found success to? Social immersion in groups of people who made change feel possible. That’s it.

But for good measure and originality, I’d like to spice things up a bit and sprinkle a little friendly competition into this recipe for success. While Mike Tyson has been quoted saying many things, he once graced the world with the following enlightening words, “No one wants to get up at four and run when it’s pitch-dark, but it has to be done. The only reason I do it so early is because I believe the other guy isn’t doing it and that gives me a little edge.” But remember to keep it friendly, because “a rising tide lifts all boats.” So, get out there and get better.‍‍‍

You Don’t Have Time For Balance

You don’t have time for balance.

That’s right. You heard me. All that stuff about how you gotta balance your work life and home life is garbage.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Of the two of you reading this, one of you is saying, “Y‍‍‍eah! That’s right, man. I’m never gonna get anywhere if I take my foot off the throttle. Work while the other guy is sleeping. That’s how I get ahead.” And the other one of you is saying, “Hold on there, buddy. I have a family. Balance is important. I refuse to be a workaholic, gain-the-whole-world-lose-my-soul kind of guy.”

You’re both missing the point.

Reader number 1, I like your drive, and you’re right to an extent. You’ll probably get ahead…for a bit. And then you’ll burn out. People don’t come back from burn-out.

But more importantly, I don’t think you know where you’re even heading. Sure, you’ve got a goal. But since you don’t even have time for sleep, you most assuredly don’t have time for reflection. Because if you did, you would realize that you’re just trying to prove to that voice in your head that you’re not a loser after all. Good luck with that.

Reader number 2, you’re a little more self-aware. You understand that life is more than just amassing accomplishments. You have good intentions. Kudos. But it’s your fault that we’re having this whole balance discussion in the first place.

Now, I understand why balance is such a popular concept. When we think of a balanced person we think of someone steady, even-keeled; someone who won’t embarrass everyone at family gatherings. We don’t want to be “extremists”, after all. I can get behind that. But the problem comes when we try to actually apply balance to our lives.

Think about it. How do you become more balanced? Well, you start by thinking of some area in which you feel like you’re a little too [whatever]. Then you try and be less [whatever]. But you have to be careful, lest you become too [whatever-is-the-opposite-of-what-you-started-trying-to-avoid-in-the-first-place]. So balance isn’t really a thing. It’s just not being two opposite things. It’s avoidance.

Let’s look at the example that started this whole thing – work:life balance.

You don’t want to be a workaholic (you’ve got a family you want to spend time with), but you don’t want to be ineffective, or seen as (gasp!) lazy. So in order to find balance, you teeter back and forth as you try varying proportions of work:non-work time allowances. But regardless of the proportion, you find yourself sometimes feeling guilty about still being at work late at night, and sometimes feeling guilty for not answering your work phone while your kid tells you about her day at school.

Just gotta find the right balance.

That’s no recipe for success. That’s a recipe for guilt, no matter what you do.

And you know what else? It’s not inspiring. No one says, “You know what I’m passionate about? Balance.” Because it’s not a thing! We want to be something, to do something meaningful. We don’t want to just avoid bad attributes.

“Ok, ok. I see your point,” says Reader 2. (Reader 1 already stopped reading long ago; he had a meeting.) “But what do I do, then? If not balance, then what?”

Exactly.

You haven’t answered that question. You haven’t decided what it is that you want; you only have some absolutes about what you don’t want. You’ve got to take some time and describe for yourself the life you do want. Then, do Toyota’s famous “Ask why 5 times,” to get to the root motivation. Once you know where you’re going and why, then you can make decisions about how much time or effort you devote to this or that, with greater clarity and resolve.

Continuing with the work example, you can think about how your work fits into the broader vision of your life. Rather than asking yourself questions like, “Is it lazy to stay home this Saturday?” or, “Is it overworking to go in?” you can ask, “Will working this Saturday do more to contribute to, or detract from the life I want?” That’s a very different approach, much less binary and way more 3D.

So forget balance. Live in 3D.