Don’t Start (The Power Of Playing The Long Game)
Don’t start a podcast.
(There are 630,000 of them already.)
Don’t write a book.
(There are 1,052,803 published…every year.)
Don’t launch a business.
(There are 550,000 new entrepreneurs…monthly.)
Here’s the deal:
Don’t do any of these, unless of course —you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Because I’m here to tell you:
The odds are not stocked in your favor unless your idea of success is putting your entire net worth on Red 27 at the roulette table. In today’s post, I’m going to reveal a crucial concept (and centering question) to ensure you don’t wind up being another statistic.
Because if you’re doing what you’re doing for the right reasons, the worst thing you can do is start with a half-hearted approach. But if you do it right and play the long game, not only can you experience the deep fulfillment that comes with sharing your work with the world…
You can experience world class results and be part of the 5% who seek their goals to completion and never, ever look back wondering where they fell short.
Anyone Can Get Started, Few Can Endure
I remember standing in a crowd of people in Killington, VT at 4:30AM as thousands of athletes got prepared to attack the Spartan Ultra Beast.
As it sounds, this is the most intense race the Spartan brand puts on:
Around 30 miles of hiking the steepest double black mountains in Vermont for two days and one bone-chilling night. And yet, at the start of the race —the energy was palpable. It was also crowded, the music was blaring, and everyone felt amazing.
This is normal for what happens at the start of any endeavor:
Lots of enthusiasm and excitement, but the truth is:
When you look to your left, and you look to your right —two out of the three (including possibly you) won’t be there at the end of the race. This is true for the Spartan Beast (the pass rate at the time of my race was 15%) and mostly anything else in business and life. As Angela Duckworth, author of Grit says:
“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”
So, what does this mean to you?
Don’t waste all of your energy on starting —and don’t celebrate too much. Sure, there is power in making a decision and having the courage to get in the game…
But it’s only the start of what’s going to be a long, hilly and unpredictable path.
Because after you start, you quickly hit the place where 99% of people give up: the messy middle.
Rookies waste all of their energy on starting, while the professional plays the long game.
The Messy Middle Of The Long Game
It hit me at Mile 7 as I wiped another bead of sweat off my face and thought to myself:
This is going to be a grind.
Of course, I already knew this —you can’t have a 15% pass rate on any race and think it’s going to be a walk in the park. Especially knowing how curated the signups are: this isn’t your local 5K.
At Mile 7, the enthusiasm of the early morning fist-bumping EDM music was now a distant and forgotten memory:
I was officially in the messy middle.
Of course I’m using the race as a metaphor, but all of your endeavors will have the point in time you hit the messy middle.
This is where 99% of dreams go to die, and the realization is all the same:
This is going to be hard. Like really hard —like I-don’t-know-if-it’s-worth-it hard.
So, what’s the messy middle look like in different projects, businesses and endeavors?
It’s episode 29 of your podcast when you’re having the worst time trying to make another edit.
It’s 9,200 words in of your book when you’re finding yourself off course with no clarity in sight.
It’s 13 months into your business when you’ve had to fire your first employee —and cash flow is tight.
This is the messy middle, and what you choose next will decide your fate. Because here is where the dabblers and quitters move on to the next idea, project and endeavor.
Only to have the cycle repeat itself.
This is the messy middle, and what you choose next will decide your fate.
Most Success Stories Skip The Messy Middle
I love going to events, and hearing people’s stories of starting, encountering the messy middle —and then experiencing breakthrough. It’s one of the common themes on the podcast: leaning into the guests challenges, doubts and moments of deep questioning.
Except too often at the events I attend, people skip over most of what really matters: the messy middle. Of course, there’s great reason for this: in an 18 minute talk, you can’t possibly explain to the audience what’s really going to happen during the messy middle.
You do your best, of course —but the truth is much more complex than a polished talk could ever create.
And what this narrative does is simplify the messy middle and create an expectation in people’s hearts and minds that it won’t last too long.
But it’s not true, because most of your time in any endeavor will be spent in the thick of your own personal messy middle.
Starting is 5%, the messy middle is 90% and your breakthrough (or achievement) will be around 5%.
Let’s go back to how your fate will be decided.
The Messy Middle Is Hard, And Beautiful
So you may be thinking to yourself: why would I ever want to endure through the messy middle?
In a nutshell: this is where all the magic happens. Specifically, this is where you gain the confidence, skillset and belief that will transcend any “making it” moment on top of the mountaintop.
Most importantly: this is when you discover who you really are.
And trust me: there’s no amount of cold hard cash or shiny toys that will hold a candle to this feeling.
(And you don’t have to trust me, because the research is clear and obvious on what this does for your level of purpose and fulfillment.)
You’re also going to experience all types of breakthroughs during your messy middle: small wins, life-changing ones and everything in between.
So, how do you navigate this crucial aspect of your path? Let’s dig into the four tools designed to help you navigate this part of the path —and make sure you don’t get lost along the way.
Tool #1: Focus On Today’s Step
During the Spartan Beast, there were exhausted bodies everywhere. Men and Women sprawled out and ready to give up. For me, it was very easy to focus on them, and want to rest or slow down.
The first tool is to focus on what you can control today. Often, that’s the most important work in front of you —this step, and the next one.
Personally, as a writer —when I’m in the messy middle of a book, distraction is at its most tempting. It’s easy to focus on anything except the words. But these are the moments that make or break the work, and I focus on my 1,000 words for the day.
In your life, project or goal, what is the one thing you can focus on?
Tool #2: Keep Your North Star In Mind
The second tool is to remember where you’re headed —and why. This is the power of clarity: having a North Star you’re going after. I wrote about this in The 1% Rule: we all must have a North Star to guide us during the tough moments.
All we need are small reminders along the way of the what and the why. If you’ve done the work to know what these are, you’ll be in a great spot during your messy middle.
Every single day, remind yourself of your North Star for at least a few minutes. If you have time to scroll through Instagram, you have time do this.
Tool #3: Smile Through The Process
The third tool to help you navigate your goals and stay committed to the long game is to fall in love with the pursuit. I know this sounds like an Instagram quote, but it’s true:
Playing the long game means you’re going to have to love the process as much as the outcomes, checkpoints and breakthroughs.
Personally and with my clients, I work very hard to shift into a state of gratitude when things get really hard. I remind them that this is when most people quit, and every step they’re taking is cementing their belief, confidence and power.
Remember: there are people who would write you a blank check today to experience the challenges you’re going through. Never, ever forget the power of perspective and gratitude along as you play the long game.
Tool #4: Recharge and Refuel Along The Way
Lastly, it becomes impossible to endure during the long game if you’re not taking care of yourself. What I teach in my programs and coaching is to live at both ends of the spectrum: intense, focused work and plenty of open white space.
If you don’t recover, recharge and re-fuel along the way —you won’t last. We all need a radical self care routine: time for ourselves, being outside, walks, massages, reading a great book, meditating, floating and anything that re-centers us.
Often, this is the last stuff we do until it’s too late. Instead, ensure you are scheduling this work and making it a priority in your calendar.
It’s Time To Get Honest
Before you get started with anything, it’s time to get honest by asking:
Are you committed to this, or are you merely interested? Make no mistake: there is a vast chasm between these two, and 90% of people who start anything are not committed.
Because the average podcast lasts 6 episodes before they fold up shop.
(Don’t let this be you.)
The average book sells less than 300 copies during its entire lifetime.
(Don’t let this be you.)
Most businesses fail to ever get off the ground, and 90% fold up shop.
(Don’t let this be you.)
Are you committed to the long game? I’d love to hear it.
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