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The Real Secret to Success is Showing Up

It’s not about how many shots you miss, it’s about how many times you try. The more you try, the better your chances are of succeeding.

Written BY

Peter Burns

Owner of the Renaissance Man Journal.

All author's posts

March 27, 2020

Imagine two teams playing a basketball game. One side makes 100% of its shots, while the other makes only 10% of its shots from the field.

Which team is going to win the game? The team that makes all its shots, right? Not necessarily. It’s all a matter of how many shots both sides take.

The way basketball works is that you get two points every time you make a basket from a short distance, and three points if you score from long-distance (beyond the so-called three-point line).

If the first team is timid and takes only two short-distance shots, then they have scored four points. However, if the other side takes a hundred shots, even if it makes just 10% of them, that’s still twenty points (more if some of the shots came from beyond the three-point line).

Do you see what I am getting at? The first team had a perfect record but only shot twice. The second team made only a small percentage of its shots, but since it took so many chances, they ended up scoring more points and winning the game.

Just Show Up

Sometimes, success is not a matter of being perfect, but instead, of showing up every day. You can’t affect luck, but just putting up more shots on goal, you have a higher chance of scoring.

One thing is for sure; you will never score if you never shoot — and much less if you spend your entire life sitting on the bench.

Even the people who are considered geniuses failed more times than they succeeded. Dean Keith Simonton is a researcher who has dedicated his life to studying the world’s most creative performers.

What he noted is how many times they put up things that no one even noticed. In a chapter of the book The Road To Excellence (edited by Anders Ericsson), Simonton wrote:

“What is especially fascinating is that creative individuals are not apparently capable of improving their success rate with experience or enhanced expertise. Creative persons, even the so-called geniuses, cannot ever foresee which of their intellectual or aesthetic creations will win acclaim. All they can do is maximize their productive success by maintaining prolific output across the life span.”

The Secret to Success From People Who Have Been There

You might know Jerry Seinfeld. In the 1990’s he had a hit comedy series on TV. He was on top of the world.

However, what most people watching the show didn’t know is how many misses he had before. In a 2002 documentary, he showed the world the gruelling process that goes into becoming a comedy star.

“I do probably 60 concerts a year in the States. And I go out to clubs in the week. I’m doing new stuff all the time.”

While watching the big Netflix special routine, you think to yourself how perfect the jokes are, yet you don’t know about the process that went into crafting that routine.

These comedians spent countless hours in tiny, smoky comedy clubs telling a lot of jokes, most of which turned out to be duds. They put up a lot of sets to discover which ones work well with the audience.

That’s also the advice of the most successful writers here on Medium. Just write a lot.

The ones who have had success on the platform say that they were surprised when their article went viral. They just wrote, wrote, and wrote some more, and one day it happened.

Even now, they usually have no idea which article will hit it big. A lot of times, it’s not even their best article that blows up. An article that you spend weeks researching and writing might get zero views, while the one you cranked out in five minutes will break a record.

What’s My Strategy?

I started my blog back in 2013 when I was recovering from an operation on my ACL. I was experiencing pain that I never experienced before, and my year in the gym was over.

Yet, I decided to turn it around and use my misfortune as an opportunity. I created a blog, initially dedicated to fitness, but eventually incorporating all my interests. It’s called Renaissance Man Journal.

For blogging, I decided to use the same strategy that I had initially applied to start my fitness journey: just showing up. I used to be a skinny guy, but through my efforts, I ended up gaining healthy weight and lots of muscle. Thanks to my dedication, I achieved my goals.

The thing about blogging is that here you have a lot less control over your outcomes. With fitness, you set up a plan, and then show up. You execute, and you will see results.

With writing, things are different. Here you have no control over the success of your endeavours. However, what you do have control over is your output.

There is a classic metaphor that Cicero, one of the ancient world’s greatest minds, used to say.

Imagine yourself being an archer. Your goal is to hit the bull’s eye in the middle of the target. However, whether you hit it is out of your hands and mostly a matter of luck. Many things could impede you from doing so.

What is in your control is practising, and showing up; standing, drawing the bow, and then releasing the arrow. All those things are within your control.

That’s how life works.

Luck is outside your control, but you can do things to make it more likely that success does happen for you.

With blogging, I have made zero money for more than six years. Month in, and month out, I was cranking out content, that very few people were reading. I gave myself a target of publishing at least one article a month, even if it’s terrible.

However, to be able to do something like that, your motivation cannot be extrinsic. You cannot be driven by money or fame. Otherwise, you will give up easily.

My drive for writing those posts was always intrinsic. It was knowledge, self-improvement, and the need to express myself for myself.

Those are the keys to persistence. Those are the keys to drive.

When your motivation is intrinsic, you can sustain the effort that is needed to get through challenges. That’s what you need in order to show up consistently.

This is also the mindset that many of history’s geniuses had when they were starting. Einstein was interested in discovering how the world works. His theories only came out as a result of thousands of hours of consistently showing up.

James Hutton, the guy who made remarkable insights into geology, and whose work changed humanity’s view about our planet, was laughed at.

Before Hutton, people thought the Earth was only 6 thousand years old. Hutton’s work opened up their eyes to reality and the fact that the Earth has been here for millions of years.

It didn’t happen within his lifetime, though — only after his death were his findings accepted. Yet, when he was alive, he persisted even if no one believed him.

The same thing with Gregor Mendel, who discovered genetics. His works were forgotten and rediscovered only decades after his death. Yet, when he was still alive, he persisted.

Many others who did become stars in their lifetimes toiled in obscurity until Lady Fortuna one day pulled them out of the gutter. Their main trait was persistence, and a love of their art.

Failure is always part of the process. However, by failing consistently, you might entice success to come in through the backdoor!

Guys Who Score The Most, Also Miss The Most

Do you know who the guy who missed the most shots in the NBA is? The answer might surprise you. It was Kobe Bryant.

He’s remembered as one of the greatest NBA players, carrying the Lakers to several championships. Michael Jordan is 6th on the list.

Both are legends.

However, like any superstar, not only did they score the most points in the league, they also missed the most shots. That’s something people don’t think about when they talk about greatness.

Both would never have gotten where they are without showing up in the gym, day in and day out. Sure, they had talent, but their persistence outdid other guys who had similar abilities as them.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan
Further Reading
This is Why People Aren’t Reading Your Articles
As an owner of a viral publication, there are three vital mistakes I see writers making.
March 28, 2020
7 Productivity Superpowers Few People Have
I don’t work that hard at all, I really don’t. But I bet I’m more productive than you. You spend more literal hours working than me, but I get more done than you.
March 23, 2020