Q: What do the Netflix, Uber, and heroin have in common?
The first two cases are generally accepted as good things. The third is not… unless you’re a junkie. Most new technology, products (which, for this example, includes heroin), and services are aimed at giving us low-friction, instant gratification solutions – the answer to my question. For example, Netflix allows you to stream your favorite show anytime, anywhere, on any device.
At first glance, life appears better because of instant gratification. We endure less boredom and enjoy more productivity. Less waiting, more doing. It’s like we’ve paid for a permanent fastpass to the skip the line and go straight to the ride, no standing around, ever. The world moves faster than it did 50, 20, or even five years ago. In most cases, that’s a good thing. Because many of us are used to getting what we want when we want it, the rest of this post may be hard for some to digest.
Short Ball vs. Long Ball
If something is easy to get, the majority of people will get it. That’s why the examples are so popular: they give the masses quick, cheap access to something they want whether it is entertainment, pleasure, or just a ride. When it comes to products and services, we’re conditioned to expect things fast and easy. There’s nothing wrong with frictionless access, but that same ease doesn’t always apply to the work we produce or the projects we work on.
When it comes to your own work, you have to choose between the short ball and the long ball. The short ball is what you want: instant results. You don’t want to put in your apprenticeship, you want to be a master today. You don’t want to come out of college and take an entry level position, you want to go straight into an important (and well-paid) role. You aren’t satisfied with a work in progress, you want finished art. Sometimes this leads to cheating and fraud. But most of the time it just leads to mediocre results because you take shortcuts.
By contrast, the long ball is what you’re willing to work at/on/with for extended periods of time. You’re willing to do the grunt work to understand the craft. You don’t mind delaying gratification and celebrating small wins while keeping one eye on the big picture. You’re okay having a work in progress for years at a time because you know your finished work requires that kind of effort. The long ball is a more difficult path. But you are better rewarded for pursuing it because there are less people willing to pursue the long ball than there are the short ball. As Robert Frost wrote over 100 years ago…
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
Short ball typically means short rewards. If you want to change your body, but you’re only willing to work at it for a month, what you can pull off is limited. A multibillion dollar health and wellness industry has done a great job tricking the masses – a la “8 Minute Abs” type products – for years.
If you want to change your body, and you’re willing to work at it for years, you can accomplish more than you realize. Ask anyone (over 30) with a six-pack if they just decided to get ripped a month prior. Real results take time in fitness, just as they do with art, business, or sport.
If you choose to pursue the long ball, there will be fewer people attempting to do the same thing you’re doing. The masses flock to infomercial-like products promising shortcuts with the same results as proven long-term strategies. And they crush it because so many are willing to believe that a shortcut will work – nobody wants to endure wait if you don’t have to. But that’s the thing, many times you have to.
The divergent – and often the more educated on a particular subject – don’t depend on shortcuts. They put together a long term strategy to get results. Pursuing the long ball, because it’s harder and fewer people are willing to do the work, typically means pursuing bigger rewards. For a (fictional) example, think about Patrick Swayze’s character in the
original only Point Break: he was the only one willing to charge monster waves at the end of the movie and he was the only one who got to enjoy them.
It took Michaelangeo over four years to paint the Sistine Chapel. George Lucas has been building the Star Wars brand since the 1970’s and he’s still focused. God promised Abraham a child but made him wait 20 years before he fulfilled his word. Good things often take time.
“There is no road too long to the man who advances deliberately and without undue haste; there are no honours too distant to the man who prepares himself for them with patience.”
– Jean de La Bruyère
The pursuit is where you find the good stuff. The journey is what teaches you the life lessons you seek. The path to completion is what makes the project worth it, not the finished product. Just ask anyone who has produced a piece of art. They’ll tell you they admire it, but when you ask them about it, they’ll often jump into the details about how it was finished or an unexpected outcome they encountered while they worked on it. Having a bunch of trophies shouldn’t be the goal, getting really good should be.
Besides, shortcuts can be dangerous. Take the popular smart drug Adderall, for example. It can be used as a shortcut to becoming more productive. In the short term, it works. But repercussions of long-term use include everything from sleeplessness, panic attacks, to thoughts of suicide. I can’t speak for everyone, but being more productive for a few hours each day doesn’t seem worth it. You can only cheat your body so long; the shortcuts will come back to haunt you.
Enjoy the journey. Don’t wait to enjoy your project until you’re done. Celebrate progress. When you’re done, you won’t look back and say, “That took forever, I’m glad it’s over.” You’ll look back and say, “I’ve come such a long way. It took a lot of me, but it flew by and it was worth it.”
Long Ball Challenge
Not everything requires an eon to achieve. You can still lose a significant amount of weight in a month. You can still finish a painting in an hour. But often times, if you’re pursuing something more seriously than a hobby, you’re going to have to be patient and put in vast amounts of work for the desired results.
My last post discussed part of my current sales strategy: long ball. Before that, I wrote a book that took two and a half years: long ball. I’m building my kitchen table and it will take at least four months to complete: long(er) ball. But I’m an athlete and I’m an artist. I know from experience that good things, like a good pot roast, take time. There’s no way around that and I’m used to it.
A person who can think long term doesn’t pity herself during short-term setbacks.
– Ryan Holiday, Ego Is The Enemy (excellent read)
It’s hard to delay gratification for these big projects, I get frustrated just like you will. But patience is power, so work on it. If you are impatient, find ways to create smaller milestones while you’re still working on your pièce de résistance. They can be related or not, there are no rules. That’s why I post on the blog. Books take years (for me), but blogs take a few hours (depending on my caffeine intake). It’s practice and it’s fun. Look for little wins along the way and you’ll be more apt to stay the course for the long ball prize.
I want to challenge you. Yes, a personal challenge, to take on something larger than you normally would. Call it a BHAG, call it a masterpiece, call it your life’s work, doesn’t matter to me. I want you look six months/a year/five years down the line and pick something you want to accomplish and begin chipping away at it. You don’t have to knock it out in a day or a weekend. If you do, your sights are too low. This should be something that, by it’s very nature, is going to take you a long time. Some examples might be a body transformation, starting a business, or even learning an instrument. The patience and focus required of you will be transformative among the litany of instant gratifications you receive in your daily life.
If you need someone to keep you accountable, reach out to me, I’d be happy to check in with you. Be patient, persevere, and take pride in your work.