You’ve decided you want to do something in this world. You’ve internalized the fact that you can do anything you want. How do you succeed?
Let’s say your goal is to be a millionaire by age 30. What do you do?
Focus on becoming the type of person that can become a millionaire at 30.
Why? Because focusing on the process – rather than the outcome – increases your chances of success.
Most people would say to explore your options. Look at the landscape of potential jobs and evaluate which career paths could lead to a $1mm payoff by age 30. To try and get a job in an industry that could get you there, invest in high-risk, high-reward investments or take a shot at starting your own company. That’s one approach. It leads to very binary groups of people: those who have achieved their goal, and those who haven’t. And, most likely, the failures will far outweigh the successes.
Now, compare this with someone who focused on becoming the type of person that can be a millionaire at 30. What does that person look like?
Smart. Probably reads a lot. Well-networked. Has several successful mentors. A killer skill set (programming, sales, etc.). Deep knowledge or experience in one area. An ability to lead others. Willing to take risks. Willing to fail.
This is someone who – regardless of whether she achieves her goal or not – is set up to succeed. I don’t know many smart, skilled people searching for jobs or struggling to get by.
Let’s say you want to win this archery trophy. That trophy is the most important thing to you. So how do you get it? You have to be good at archery first, in order to hit the bullseye and ultimately get the trophy, right? And how to you get good at archery? By focusing on archery, not on the trophy. That’s the paradox; you’re so focused on the outcome that you never learn to enjoy the process, which ultimately sets you up for failure. But if you focus on archery (the process), you’re more likely to hit the target, and win the trophy.
Getting hired by a successful person to an internship/mentorship position is the same thing. Focus on the process, and you’ll reach your goal. Focus on the goal, and you’ll compromise the learning process and ultimately come up short. Whether you win the trophy or not is irrelevant — the process is what matters.
– Tucker Max, How to Find a Mentor
In other words, don’t focus on the outcome. Don’t focus on being the 30 year old millionaire. Focus on becoming the type of person that can do big things. On the process, not the outcome.
This works because there are opportunities for feedback and improvement when you approach success like this. You can look at the characteristics you need to develop to reach your goal, evaluate where you’re weak and focus on those.
For example, most successful people I know read a lot. So, you focus on reading more. That’s an easily quantifiable goal: just track how many books you read, and double it. Boom, you’re reading more – you’re succeeding! Progress is measurable, and you’re happier for it.
Compare this to focusing entirely on your goal of $1mm by 30. Every day you wake up not a millionaire is a day you’ve failed. It also lends fewer opportunities for feedback: how can you know whether what you’re doing today is getting you closer to your goal? It’s much harder.
One of my mentors is the perfect example of this. He focused on his skills and network, learned how to build and grow companies, and became one of the sharpest people I know. He was completely focused on process, on becoming an incredible founder and leader (which he is).
He made his first million at 31. Six years later, he’s worth more than 80x that.
Focusing on process pays off. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame calls this focusing on systems vs goals – creating systems that get you closer to success, rather than setting goals that may change or move as time goes on.
In the end, most of what I think about succeeding comes down to just three things. Develop self-confidence and internalize the fact that you can do anything you want. Find people you want to be like, then emulate them. Make improvement a system, not a goal. And, enjoy the journey and gains along the way, as you get closer to succeeding.1