One of the books I’ve long found most compelling is So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I’ve re-read it twice, and I re-visit sections of it often. The title comes from a Steve Martin quote from a 2007 interview Martin was asked how an aspiring performer could succeed in show business, but today I want to highlight another great idea from that same interview. When describing his strategy for learning the banjo, he said:
[I thought], if I stay with it, then one day I will have been playing for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it.
Cal Newport adds:
To me, this is a phenomenal display of patience. Learning clawhammer banjo is hard, and because of this, Martin was willing to look forty years into the future for the payoff—-a recognition of the frustrating months of hard work and mediocre playing ahead. In his memoir, Martin expounds on this idea when he discusses the importance of “diligence” for his success in the entertainment business. What’s interesting is that Martin redefines the word so that it’s less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you.
It’s this last part that seems most important, but it’s also the hardest part for me. I am interested in just about everything. My stance has continually been, if a subject sounds boring, it’s only because I haven’t looked into it enough. Following my own advice, I have spent countless hours researching an conceivable thing I might want learn.
As a result of this mindset, I know a lot about a lot, but I am not an expert in anything besides (maybe) flying fighter jets, which I did for 20 years in the Navy. That dedicated focus on one area of expertise literally paid off, and it’s a skill that continues to provide for my family, but I want to go deep on something else now that I’ve retired from the Navy.
I’m taking my time figuring out this next thing, because I need to make sure I am committed enough to block out all distractions. There’s no need to hurry. I’m not expecting payoff for another forty years.
Banjo balm. pic.twitter.com/eQ6jUkHSHm— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) March 21, 2020