The only New Year’s resolution you’ll ever need

It’s worth reading every word of this VERY NSFW Cracked feature by David Wong, but a few excerpts are worth special notice, starting with this one:

Name five impressive things about yourself. Write them down or just shout them out loud to the room. But here’s the catch — you’re not allowed to list anything you are (i.e., I’m a nice guy, I’m honest), but instead can only list things that you do (i.e., I just won a national chess tournament, I make the best chili in Massachusetts). If you found that difficult, well, this is for you

Here, the author sets the tone for everything that follows: the problem is that we want to get credit for what we are or what we know, when much of the world only cares about what we do/do with what we know. Does that sound harsh? Well, as Wong says…

You don’t have to like it. I don’t like it when it rains on my birthday. It rains anyway. Clouds form and precipitation happens. People have needs and thus assign value to the people who meet them. These are simple mechanisms of the universe and they do not respond to our wishes.

Now, everything to this point has been a slap into reality, but it gets even better with some good advice–actionable stuff–that applies no matter what you do (or aspire to do):

[T]hrow enough hours of repetition at it and you can get sort of good at anything. I was the world’s shittiest writer when I was an infant. I was only slightly better at 25. But while I was failing miserably at my career, I wrote in my spare time for eight straight years, an article a week, before I ever made real money off it. It took 13 years for me to get good enough to make the New York Times best-seller list. It took me probably 20,000 hours of practice to sand the edges off my sucking.

Don’t like the prospect of pouring all of that time into a skill? Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the sheer act of practicing will help you come out of your shell — I got through years of tedious office work because I knew that I was learning a unique skill on the side. People quit because it takes too long to see results, because they can’t figure out that the process is the result.

The bad news is that you have no other choice.

And there’s more–including this, my favorite line in the whole piece:

Do the math: How much of your time is spent consuming things other people made (TV, music, video games, websites) versus making your own? Only one of those adds to your value as a human being.

That’s solid advice for anyone, especially those who spend time with social media. There’s nothing wrong with reading blog posts and sharing what you read (that’s kind of the point of this entire post), but as I’ve said before, there’s a tendency to confuse activity on social media sites with productivity. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn may lead you to some great relationships, but they will not be where you do your best work. Your best work happens when you log off and get things done.

As Merlin Mann says less delicately in his brilliant piece “Distraction, Simplicity, and Running Toward Shitstorms”:

You get better by getting your ass out of your RSS reader and fucking making things until they suck less. Not by buying apps.

Which brings me back to the Cracked piece. I’m old enough that some young people occasionally ask my advice on how to build a career. One of my most often-repeated phrases is that while there a lot of people who might have the ability to do what I do, the difference is that I do it. David Wong puts it this way:

I know dozens of aspiring writers. They think of themselves as writers, they introduce themselves as writers at parties, they know that deep inside, they have the heart of a writer. The only thing they’re missing is that minor final step, where they actually fucking write things.

But really, does that matter? Is “writing things” all that important when deciding who is and who is not truly a “writer”?

For the love of God, yes.

If you ask me, this is the only New Year’s resolution you’ll ever need. Looking to get better at something? Lose weight? Move up at work? Improve relationships at home? What you say doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you do.

So, how am I applying this advice in 2013? A few simple ways:

    • Don’t read when I could be writing, ESPECIALLY if what I’m reading is just another comfortable version of something I already know.
    • Write every day. See above.
    • Stop tweaking my personal productivity system. What I have works, and the hours I spend searching for the latest productivity tool or rule are not offset by the few useful things I’ll ultimately discover (if I’m lucky). In short, I get a lot done and will get more done if I stop trying to salvage one more minute out of the day.
    • Spend less time on Facebook and Twitter. They’re just not where I’m most productive.
I'm still this guy--just fatter. I need to change that.

I’m still this guy–just fatter. I need to change that.

  • Get quality sleep every night, eat well, and exercise for an hour six days a week. The bottom line is that I’ve let myself get out of shape. (I used to run marathons, for Christ’s sake.) I firmly believe, from experience, that you can’t do your best work if you don’t have energy, and the best predictors of your energy level will be the quality of your sleep, what you put into your body, and whether you’re willing to push yourself physically in the short run so you can handle more in the long run. No more excuses.
  • Focus. This is the one word that sums up my goal for the coming year. Don’t get distracted by people and things that aren’t true priorities. Remember that my best work means not saying yes to everything, or even most things. Aim to be great at about three things instead of medicore at ten. Don’t waste a minute, but give every minute its due.
  • Be myself, even if that doesn’t always mean being polite. Listen and learn, sure, but don’t dwell. Life’s too short to let others’ opinions dictate everything I say or do. That’s never really been a problem for me, but it’s getting to be even less of a problem as I get older.
  • Have fun. Yes, this still matters. In fact, if I’m not having fun, what’s the point?

So what’s your opinion of Wong’s piece? If you’ve read it, how do you plan to apply his advice in 2013? Drop a note in the comments, and maybe you’ll just inspire others to become even better in the coming year.

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