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Rate of Change, Part 2: Hard Work

Industry1

It’s somewhat obvious when sitting at one’s computer writing or reading a blog post but much harder to own in a way that matters when making moment-by-moment decisions about how to spend one’s time and structure one’s life: industry is the key to most measurements of success or even lasting, life-affirming change. I haven’t figured out exactly how to magically make my incredibly lazy bones start working hard every day, but I’ve come across a few concepts that seem to be key. I’m not sure this post has it just right, but these parts rang true:

Self-help books and workshops arm us with ways to trick ourselves into doing things we perhaps should, but generally don’t want, to do. I ask whether this lack of will might actually be the universe trying to tell us something? What if the missing part of the puzzle is not a lack of willpower, but instead a lack of love?

The same blog later observes:

If you want to find something you love, you may need to change your search criteria.

Finding an endeavor that fulfills you, is like finding a good friend or life-partner. It doesn’t “happen” to you, nor does it arrive with an announcement. Instead, it presents itself quietly and develops over time.

Fellow Dallas technology entreprenaur Garrett Dimon recently referred to tenacity:

The problem is that on the surface, we only see the success. We don’t see the work that went into achieving the success. We see the culmination rather than the 10 or even 20 years that went into getting there.

The hours they put in. The family events they missed. The vacations cut short. The travel. The times they were borderline bankrupt. The career-ending injuries that didn’t end their career. The nights they were homeless. The amount of bet-the-company decisions they made. The uncertainty they live through. The fear of letting down hundreds or thousands of employees. The mornings of waking up at 5am and practicing in freezing cold weather.

Attention

The ability to focus on the task at hand is vitally important to industry and increasingly difficult to achieve in our ever-connected, distractions-at-our-fingertips world. My inspiration in this area is my grandfather.

I’ve thought often about how he was able to maintain focus the way he did. I’ve blamed the internet and other circumstances for my own focus issues. But in the end I think he really was simply that enthralled and engaged with the things he worked on.

It’s interesting to observe how my focus changes as I context switch between the (still far too many) things I have chosen to do: cycling, music, coding, writing. Sunday I was in the studio and this week I find myself stopping to more intentionally listen to the music I normally play just to drown out my coworker’s conversations. I find myself contemplating my next record, what songs need to be learned, which people need to be recruited. I find myself blown away by new music that—mysteriously—crosses my desk during this time.

It seems that one of the ways to succeed despite all the distractions and context-switching required by modern, connected life is to be able to focus quickly, and on the right things. I feel like I’ve said this exact thing before, and while I couldn’t find that post in the archives, I have quoted and written a lot about attention in the past.

But John Lilly recently stated something close to what I’m thinking:

I’m coming to view intentionality, depth of thought and connection, and the power to focus as the central developmental challenges of our society today. We’re going through an incredibly rapid transformation into an always connected, real-time, perma-entertained, ever stimulated world—and it’s becoming clear to me that, somewhat ironically, it’s the people who can take advantage of all of that, while also ultimately staying within themselves, will be the ones who make the most profound and positive changes in our world.

Most of us, however, especially those who were not born into the Internet age, will continue to struggle with the many tools of distraction at our fingertips, particularly when we find so many things so very interesting:

We now inhabit an environment (at least in much of the developed world) of abundant options and boundless, inexpensive information. That has triggered our dopamine-seeking instincts to pile too much onto our professional plates — which in turn has produced an entire infrastructure to help us avoid gorging ourselves.

But maybe the trick is to just relax and somehow find ways to be productive despite ourselves. Web and game developer extroidinare Shaun Inman recently confessed:

I’m not sure that I [stay focused]. I’m kind of all over the place, with my attention split between web apps, iOS games and apps, and Safari extensions. I’m not especially disciplined. I use plain old text files for todo lists. I try to limit my time on Twitter and in my inbox. If I feel my focus waning, I let it wane.

But that key ingredient of love comes up again as he concludes:

Curiosity or that unpleasant feeling of leaving something unfinished usually draws me back to a problem or task before too long.


The potential down side of extreme focus is the possibility of concentrating on the wrong things and missing out on what is truly important. More on that in future installments.


  1. It is difficult to keep a post about hard work and concentration from becoming just a list of aphorisms. My hope for this piece was if I were to at least just write out some of my struggles it would help me find ways through them (and perhaps make for more interesting reading for those patient enough to continue with this series). I ended up–somewhat ironically–down many rabbit holes in the process. I hope I have compiled what I’ve found in an intelligent manner.

Previously: Contentment

Next up: Intention and Habit