This column is by Srinivas Rao, Host and Founder, Unmistakablecreative.com
After 700 interviews with people who are exceptional at what they do, you can’t help but look for patterns and pick up on the subtle nuances of what people say. Below are just some of the character traits that I’ve noticed in people who manage to accomplish exceptional things.
There are few things that are more toxic to your ability to get shit done than a lack of clarity. Without clarity, you feel like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. You put in an insane amount of effort but get nothing done. I only know from having been in phases where I’ve had it and others when I didn’t. When you have clarity, flow, momentum, deep work, and habits are all easy. When you lack clarity, you get mired in excessive consumption and sources of distraction. So that might be the question, how do you find clarity? In my experience, curiosity and experimentation are the keys to clarity, which takes us to the next ingredient.
2. Action Orientation
The gap between where we are and where we want to be is bridged by one thing: action. There’s an interesting thing that the copywriter Dan Kennedy says in one of his seminars. If you haven’t looked them up on Youtube they’re quite eye opening. To paraphrase what he said, it’s not the thoughts that change your life, but the behaviors. In other words it’s action. It’s essential for a thriving creative career. Action results in feedback, which results in iteration, which results in momentum and escape velocity.
If you want to know how to write a book, it’s quite simple. Wake up each day and write until you are finished. It’s simple but not easy. It takes the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time. In a world that is increasingly driven by distraction, the ability to focus on anything for an extended period of time, or even just one focused hour a day is a competitive edge. Cal Newport has even gone so far as to call “deep work” a 21st century super skill. Deep work is a precursor to accomplishing anything that’s exceptional.
4. Life Long Learners
People who accomplish exceptional things never stop learning or growing. There’s no “I’ve made it moment.” They are voracious readers, surround themselves with people who cause them to level up, and remain eternal students.
5. Resilience and Determination
When we study people that are exceptional at risk taking, there are some clear functions that take part. There’s two phrases that guide many of them. One is you’ll do whatever it takes. When something matters to you you’ll do whatever it takes. If you think about being a mother or husband or father, or someone you deeply love in your family structure, and there’s a car coming, you would be willing to do whatever it took to save that person that you love. And that level of conviction starts with great clarity. That clarity is the statement that “I love you” as much as you can articulate in words and I will do in my action whatever it takes. — Michael Gervais
If what you’re attempting to do is exceptional(i.e. start a company, write a book, become a top performer in any field), it’s going to have moments that test you, moments when you get your ass handed to you, and moments when all you want to do is quit. In the words of Michael Gervais, your attitude has to be one of “whatever it takes.”
6. Complete Immersion in a Seemingly Unrelated Activity
When I ask people about a seemingly unrelated experience that had a profound impact on their life, they always talk about some incredibly immersive experience.
- Chris Redlitz, a venture capitalist who teaches prisoners how to write code, spent a year living as a ski bum.
- Chase Jarvis, the founder of Creative Live, started getting paid to take action sports photos, while also being a ski bum.
- In his memoir, Shoe Dog, Nike founder Phil Knight talks about a one-year period in which he sold encyclopedias door to door so he could live in Hawaii and surf.
- Surfing taught me as much about writing as sitting down at the blank page each morning. It’s been so impactful that it’s the organizing principle of my upcoming book.
Immersive experiences like the ones above teach you what it means to get completely lost and absorbed in something, how to lose yourself in the work and in the moment. And often those same lessons, years later are applied to the experience of building a company or doing something else of great significance.
Without a greater sense of mission or purpose around your work, it’s really hard to get up in the morning and actually keep going, especially when things get shitty. A sense of purpose or mission is what will actually fuel resilience. No matter who I have talked to, they seem to have this at the core of what they do. The work is about something greater than the external.
If you want to accomplish anything that’s exceptional, you’ll likely have to adopt the habits and character traits of people who accomplish exceptional things.
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