I have a Google Alert set on the word Entrepreneur and every day Google sends me a list of pieces published around the globe on this topic. If I get another story about the Zuckerbergs and the Bransons of this world, I’ll scream. Anyone would think there are only a handful of success stories and role models in our world and that they are all terribly wealthy.
I was chatting this through idea with my pals in our virtual book club. Someone brought up the New York Times Bestseller List and there we go again. Yes, awesome what those best-selling authors achieve, but is that an inspiration to me as a writer? No! Does it mean I wouldn’t enjoy being on the list? No to that one too. But I don’t believe the best seller lists and the trailblazing entrepreneurs and those on the Rich List offer any real inspiration to those of us slaving away every day at writing, wealth creation and entrepreneurship.
So we moved onto talking about 10,000 hours of mastery and how off-putting that would be to you if you knew at the beginning how much work you had to put in to master anything. Does that mean the journey isn’t enjoyable, or that you won’t enjoy your learning along the way? No again. But the pursuit of world-class excellence isn’t necessarily encouraging or inspiring to those of us who are more “ordinary”.
Actually I don’t think those of us who work for ourselves are ordinary at all, but I think we do need more accessible targets to achieve and then build upon than aping Zuckerberg and Branson or appearing on the Rich List or the Best Seller List. So who are our real heroes in our own communities? For me they are people who DO something and achieve anything to which they can point and say “I did that”.
There was a programme on TV right a while back called Hidden Talent. All sorts of people who thought they were ordinary discovered that actually they have a natural aptitude for orienteering, rock-climbing, free-diving, language learning and more. Those sorts of people are inspiring to me because they are closer to my norm. They look real. They are real. And their success requires a bit of effort and conquering their fears and learning to see themselves in a new light.
They speak to me in a way which makes me think “I could do that”; not necessarily learning Arabic in 20 weeks and appearing on TV in the Middle East speaking it fluently, but they inspire me to believe that if I pick something and persevere at it, I could become that good at it too.
I was debating the 10,000 hours of excellence with my nephew, the theory put forward by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. If you work at nothing else for 40 hours a week and take two weeks holiday a year, it will take you about five years to become excellent at your craft. That’s not much in your working life, all things considered. And most of us don’t have any choice but to put those hours in.
So it could mean that you could become a master at your Thing every five years, and then switch to another and another and another, which gives all of us quite a lot of opportunities to taste our own version of success in a number of different fields.
Nothing is as easy (or as hard) as it might first appear and no doubt those best-selling writers work hard. I know it isn’t all tapping away peacefully on your laptop in arty seclusion in your garret. Its editor’s re-writes, and agent’s opinions, and book-signings, and endless slog and travelling, and negotiations, and deadlines, and interacting with your fans on Facebook, and lots of other duties which are far away from the actual writing. It’s an heroic endeavour, some might say, in order to be able to enjoy your chosen career.
One of my favourite heroes is a guy who, in 2012, ran with the Olympic torch for his few miles. He was in his Eighties and had raised £250k for children’s charities. His viewpoint was that he had enjoyed a long and happy, healthy life and the least he could do was to fundraise for children who hadn’t. We could all do a bit of that. Or perhaps even a lot.
All we have to do is pick something, anything, and without reaching necessarily for stratospheric heights, just get on with it until we achieve the 10,000 hours, or the fundraising milestone, or the rock-climbing summit. We each have an ordinary hero inside all of us just waiting to be sprung, if we will just keep on keeping on.
Who’s your ordinary hero? I hope it’s you because you definitely have the potential to be mine.