“You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another.”
“It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor.”
“A strong will to be yourself is an indomitable force.”
Ken Robinson, Ph.D.
Most people spend a large portion of their lives trying out different activities and experiences. They take up various hobbies, change careers 6-7 times, drift in and out of friendships and relationships, work on their problem areas and try to find different ways to enjoy life while keeping up with the status quo. This results in very few individuals ever identifying, let alone living, their true passion.
On the surface, this doesn’t make sense. If people are dabbling and constantly participating in various enterprises, they should eventually find their passion and continue to ignite it to new levels until they master it. They should be enjoying life and gaining influence. But this rarely happens. Ask yourself how many of your friends, or even acquaintances, absolutely love their jobs and are at the peak of their field. I’m guessing not many. Instead, most people we know have found a niche that they are pretty good at filling and have set up shop in the land of mediocrity. Why does this happen? Why don’t more people find something that insanely fascinates them and then take action to excel? It’s because they are under the influence of the multidimensional myth.
The multidimensional myth is an ether that has spread through your psyche since grade school. It is quicksand that society has disguised as a concrete foundation for you to build your life on. How many times have you or someone you know been praised for being well-rounded, balanced, or diverse? Plenty. From grade school through high school we are encouraged to take classes that cover a wide range of material, from math, science and history, to English, art and gym. If you excel in one area, you may eventually be placed into a more challenging class, but rarely can you opt out of a subject for which you have no affinity. Why? Because we are taught that it is more important to repair our weaknesses than it is to build our strengths. If a 6th grader shows incredible potential in her art class but fails miserably in math, dropping the latter to double up on art instruction time is never considered. Even college students are forced to fulfill several general education requirements, despite the substantial time commitment and incredible cost of each class. The assumption is that human beings need 15-20 years, guided by the academia, to find their passion. This is absolutely not true. The truth is that most people do not figure out their life’s purpose until they are out of the academic system. And many of those who do find their passion will never truly excel because they are still wired to dabble in different subjects and obsess over their insufficiencies.
Everything around you emphasizes the idea that you should cultivate diverse superficial knowledge to avoid having any gaping weaknesses. Examples from antiquity to pop-culture reinforce the dire consequences of not rectifying some elusive weak point. The Martians from H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds, who shrugged off everything the armies of the world could muster, died from the common cold. Achilles was slayed with an arrow through his heel. Superman’s powers were rendered useless by kryptonite. Do you have a fatal flaw…a weak link…an Achilles Heel? Do you spend 3 hours a day worrying about it? Here is a better idea- imagine gathering up all of the time and energy that you have used in your life thinking about your problem areas and attempting to mend them. Now picture yourself dumping that time and energy into the one thing that you excel at naturally and love doing. It’s time to start channeling all of your efforts away from your weaknesses and towards your biggest strength. It’s time to become a one-dimensional success. It’s time to start really enjoying life.
Being a one-dimensional success doesn’t mean that you are only good at one thing, it means that you are phenomenal at one thing. You can still be good at other things, but that’s not the important part. The important part is finding your element- the place where you feel the most like yourself and are consistently inspired to achieve at your highest level. A one-dimensional success is not someone who whittles his life down to a tiny, meaningless niche. No one is truly inspired by the world’s best wastebasket basketball player. Recall that enjoying life and gaining influence are both essential to filling your life with pleasure, so its important that you don’t get stuck in a position that affords you no influence. First, find something you are good at and have an insatiable passion for; and second, apply your talents and drive toward a related field with an unlimited ceiling. Once you let go of the need to fix yourself and be someone your not, you can focus everything on your true passion and utilize your strengths to achieve greatness.
Here are 4 resolutions that will help you become a one-dimensional success this year:
Resolution #1 – Avoid Groupthink
In order to find your passion, you need to focus your life, and in order to live your passion, you need to keep yourself insanely motivated so you can swim long and hard against the tide. Creating a place for yourself in the world requires overcoming self-doubts and rejecting the opinions of others. You have to stop listening to the group’s answers and start answering life’s questions on your own. How to enjoy life? How to gain influence? Can you answer these questions for yourself? Whether or not you realize it, your family and friends powerfully influence the decisions you make. In particular, your friends and peers can exert tremendous pressure on you. This is because, unlike your family, you have freely chosen to associate with your friends as a way of expanding your identity. The problem is that the pressure to conform to the standards and expectations of your friends, peers and other social groups can result in groupthink, which is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity and individual responsibility
The most famous study on the effects of groupthink is the Solomon Asch conformity experiment. This experiment was first conducted in 1951 when Asch, the psychologist, brought together small groups of college students for a “visual perception study”. Here is the important part- every student but one was a plant who knew the nature of the experiment and was instructed to give incorrect answers to very simple questions. The real subject, who was the only one not prepared, answered each question after hearing most of the other planted subjects answer. For the experiment, Asch held up a card with a line on it, then another card with three lines of different lengths on it. He then asked the students which line on the second card was the same length as the line of the first card. One of the lines was a very obvious match but the planted students purposely answered incorrectly. Believe it or not, at least once during the session, the real subjects answered with the group and against clear visual evidence. In the below video, for the second question, watch the participant in the red jacket give the answer he knows is wrong.
Some people will stand outside and say the sky is green if the people around them say it is green first. Don’t be one of those people. Don’t let others keep you from living your passion just because it doesn’t fit their definition of success. There will always be little support for those that follow unbeaten paths. The nail that sticks up usually gets hammered down by the group. Choose to be the nail that wrecks the hammer. Choose to be a permanent eyesore.
Resolution #2 – Enter Your Element
Finding your passion is not as easy as it sounds. Our minds have been cluttered with so many thoughts and theories, so many different ideas about success and fulfillment, that it can be hard to sift through the wreckage and find the one thing that we are truly meant to do with out lives. That one thing that continually fascinates us and makes us come alive daily- a magnificent obsession. But how do you find it? Identifying your element requires retrospection and introspection. Look back at your life and pinpoint the subjects and areas of interest that you have naturally excelled in, which fields seem to turn your brain into a sponge capable of sopping up massive amounts of information effortlessly. Conversely, ask yourself which fields seem to shut down your brain, putting you in a state of frustration or exhaustion no matter how much time you spend psyching yourself up beforehand. In Graduate school, anytime I tried to read a scientific article in the field of cell signaling, especially papers on cell adhesion or the secretory pathway (don’t ask), my brain would shut down about two paragraphs into the introduction and I would fall asleep. Seriously, it would be lights out every time. Yet, if I was reading a paper on nutrition, physiology, psychology or immunology, my mind would automatically absorb every detail. My entire body would become alert. Think about your past- which subjects, activities and pursuits have always brought you to life? What were you doing when you were enjoying life and being productive at the same time?
Now take it a few steps further and ask yourself, where were you, who were you with and how were you feeling when you were at your best? Did things tend to flow better when you were standing, sitting, in your living room, in an office, at a coffee shop, alone, around people, having a conversation, in silence, with music playing, feeling content, hurried, on a deadline, relaxed, angry, calm? It all matters. My 3rd year of college, I shelled out almost two thousand dollars to take a Kaplan Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) course. The MCAT is like the SAT for medical school, but it used to be done in pencil and take 6-8 hours to complete. The average pre-med student would spend about half a year intensely preparing for it. After several months of specialized courses, team tests, and a variety of other activities guided by the Kaplan officials, I scored just a few points above the national mean (not good). Boom. Splat. Two grand down the drain. The next year, I retook the exam, but this time I studied alone in a library for 2 weeks using one Princeton Review MCAT workbook that I bought for 25 bucks. On the physical sciences section alone I went from the 70th to the 90th percentile. All because I rejected other people’s opinions about how to learn and found my own zone. Once you identify your natural interests and figure out your own personal patterns of productivity, you can enter your element at will.
Your zone is a heightened state of awareness, specific to you only, where you become focused and intent, and live completely in the moment. It is where you get lost in the process of your pursuit and perform at your peak. Your breathing changes, your mind merges with your body, ideas come more quickly and you achieve tasks more easily. Dr. Ken Robison, author of The Element, describes the zone as a meta-state where you have unified your energy with the process and the efforts you are making. Being in the zone, or entering your element, centers you and fills you with energy. While most tasks suck energy way from you, activities connected to your passion fuel you and make you more vigorous. The key is that your zone is connected to your individual strengths and talents, as well as your personal interests and passions. It is in this exclusive arena, your element, that you are best able to manifest your true desires.
Resolution #3 – Build A Core
Maintaining your individuality and your willingness to upset the herd are critical to being a one-dimensional success, but connecting with people that have similar desires is also important. Many people might not understand your passion, but there may be some that do. Interacting with a few like-minded individuals brings the luxury of bouncing ideas around, sharing and comparing techniques, and indulging in your enthusiasm and hostilities for the same things. Think of these people as your core- a pack that you run with. The important thing is that the members of your core inspire you and guide you. This guidance is not forced upon you or used to inflict self-doubt. You initiate the guidance you receive and the connection that is made in the process is mutually beneficial. Often, interacting with your core in this way will help you zero in on your central goals and shake loose your dominant strengths. My freshman year in college, I struggled adapting to wrestling at the Division 1 level, particularly in the area of finishing takedowns. Towards the end of the season and into my sophomore year, I started coming in for a 2nd or 3rd daily practice with our assistant coach, Patrick Flynn. We talked about my strengths and weaknesses and decided to ignore everything except my most successful scoring move, a high-crotch takedown. Starting at noon each day, for 30-45 minutes, he would line me up on a strip of mat tape and have me shoot a high-crotch takedown on him full-speed, from start to finish, over and over and over again. That’s all we did during our sessions together, which lasted for nearly 6 months.
By the time wrestling season rolled around my sophomore, I could take anyone down with a high-crotch. In fact, it’s just about the only shot I ever took. Throughout the rest of my wrestling career, even if I wrestled an All-American that went on to win a match against me, I scored at least two points with a high-crotch takedown. It could be argued that I would have won more had I been more well-rounded, but the truth is I would have won less. Remember, you gain more from building your strengths then you do from trying to repair your weaknesses. Collaborating with a core of people that are intensely focused on similar goals can generate explosive amounts of energy. It can also produce a profoundly rewarding sense of camaraderie. This synergy and fellowship can be a phenomenal tool for discovering your biggest strengths and finding different ways to enjoy life.
Connecting with a core of people, finding your zone, and escaping the snare of groupthink are only productive if you apply them to a pursuit of mastery. There is no value in the above three resolutions unless they are used to help establish your command over a particular domain. Remember, the goal is to become a one-dimensional success, not a one-dimensional Average Joe. Of course, only you can define exactly what success means for your life. But when it comes to your life’s passion, the level of success you pursue should be nothing short of mastery. What a shame it would be to go through your entire life having never mastered anything- to have never achieved greatness in any area. Sadly, too many people never experience the joy and satisfaction of being an expert in a particular field- they never become the virtuoso of their magnificent obsession. Why? Because growing and excelling require continual effort.
In order to achieve greatness, you must practice- perfectly. In Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, he reviews numerous experiments and individual case histories which support the conclusion that mastering any domain comes down to one thing and one thing only- the number of hours you spend in deliberate practice. Some of the aspects of deliberate practice include performing an activity perfectly (exactly as you would when it counts), repeating the activity an unthinkable number of times, having access to advanced instruction, and constantly pushing past your current level of comfort. My practicing of the same high-crotch takedown in college is a good example of this. The problem that most people eventually encounter is that once they become pretty good at something, they coast. For example, consider the times in your life when you have trained for a new job. At first you were very motivated to learn, so you focused your efforts and worked hard to increase your knowledge base and improve your skills. Then, as you became proficient in this new field, you started to ease back a bit. Finally, once you achieved a safe level of competence, free of any fear of being fired, you started to coast You stopped excelling with intent.
This year, resolve to keep pursuing mastery. Keep your internal spark lit and stay motivated by refusing to let other people’s opinions and definitions negatively affect you. Identify your biggest strengths and leverage them towards your passion. Enter your element and practice deliberately within your zone. Interact with people that will keep you hungry for the next level. Take the advice of this lifestyle blog and go all in on your magnificent obsession. Be one-dimensional.