What Really Moves the Needle.

I generally try to cite studies, quotes, facts or some other sort of background provided by a legitimate source in my posts. I do this to avoid “bro” theory. I do it to avoid furthering those beliefs that everyone loves to talk about, but that they can’t actually back up with numbers tested between an experiment and control group. Jim Collins is a man who managed to find a way to make a very abstract theory tangible in his book “Good to Great.”

Collins’ critics exist, but he managed to legitimately prove that the people who elevate organizations to new heights are those individuals who are extremely humble. They are the ones who serve the individuals who work for them as opposed to requiring subordinates to serve them. If life has taught me anything, it is that the existence of critics means you are doing something amazing. Regardless, he did manage to prove the existence of an abstract concept (humility), as a factor that improves organizations, with research and data to back up his point. I say this all to make it very clear that what I think moves the needle has ZERO data to back it up, yet.

Many people sit in their ivory towers and judge those people below them, working hard to carve out a space for themselves in the world. They wait to watch how the “strong man stumbles” and they seek to be the one who says, “I told you he would never make it.” Good for them. I pity those people. Their need to judge others at every moment of every day means they use the same level of judgement when considering their own actions. If we are hard on others, we are 10x as hard on ourselves.

I am constantly reminded of this when people talk about men like Elon Musk. People discuss everything about him from his business actions and relationships all the way down to his sleeping habits. People talk about how he must work so hard because he is trying to run away from some tough upbringing that he had in life. As far as I am concerned the man’s actions speak for themselves. Those who sit in judgement and discuss his actions are moving nowhere while Musk goes out to change the world.

Musk has identified three industries with markets ripe for disruption. The auto-industry, space, and the banking industry. His actions in Paypal, Tesla, and Spacex are all changing the world. The man is building infrastructure to support his desire to move the needle from Zero to one. I for one, am extremely grateful for his actions and find him to be inspiring. His actions are the motivation for this post, because Musk has figured out what actually moves the needle. He concocted that secret sauce that everyone wants a taste of, he cracked the code, and I’m going to share it with you all right now.

He works hard. That is it plain and simple. The unfortunate thing is that no one wants to hear that. We all want the four hour work week that doesn’t exist. We continuously try to convince ourselves that there is a free lunch out there. What we need to remind ourselves is that there isn’t one. All of the people you meet who made it far in life, put in the hours, and they counted the reps on their way to success. There are exceptions to this rule and good for those people. I would argue they are less happy and have less appreciation for what came so easy to them.

Regardless, hard work can’t be the only thing to move the needle. If it was there would be a lot more billionaires out there. What really moves the needle is the ability to be pushed to your absolute limit; to be in a situation where you are barely holding it all together; to literally be on the verge of losing it all, and through it all, finding the ability to maintain your composure. These are the things that push us past our peers and elevate us to new heights. How do we do it though? How do we develop the ability to maintain that amazing composure in the moments when the rest of us are losing their heads?

We push ourselves into extremely, EXTREMELY, uncomfortable situations. Hopefully, we fail in those situations. Hopefully we reach our breaking point from trying so hard. Finally, we reflect. In a moment of complete and utter honesty with ourselves we reflect. We see the things we did that forced us to break. We examine those self-defeating ideals and actions that we accepted in ourselves and we have an honest conversation with the man or woman in the mirror.

Doing this allows us to realize our weaknesses. It allows us to mask them in the future when we are wounded. It makes others believe that we are the ones to look to in times of struggle. This is the difference between the people who lead and the people who follow. This ability to maintain composure is one of the few remaining areas in life where experience is a highly valued commodity. I can’t teach you to go out and identify your weaknesses. I can try, but I will never get as close to that real conversation that you one day have with yourself about where you are a failure. Identify that and you will surely maintain composure in future endeavors. That is how you will move the needle.

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