The Keys to Life (and Stuff)

I’m not a big fan of motivational posters. For one thing, they are rarely motivating. For another, the messages tend to be dumb. I’m reminded of one I saw years ago depicting eagles soaring high over a mountaintop. The caption read, “They can because they think they can.”

That’s not technically true. They can because they’re birds. I knew a guy in college who thought he could. (I believe some type of hallucinogen was involved.) He came very close to proving my point.

The reason I mention this is because I finally saw a poster that makes sense. It was hand-lettered and hung crookedly in a client’s break room. What it lacked in artistic flair, it made up for in sheer brilliance. Here’s what it said:

  • Commit
  • Focus
  • Work Hard
  • Bounce Back

If there was ever a formula for success in business (and in life), this is it. Six words that, might possibly, hold the key to everything. Let’s take a look at each.

Commit – I know plenty of folks who flit from project to project, idea to idea. It’s tempting because the next thing on the horizon is always more enticing than the one you’re currently working on. It’s a trap, of course. Once you decide on a course of action, you’ve got to throw yourself into it 100 percent. (Not 110 percent. I’m no math whiz, but I don’t think that’s even possible.) As Goethe may or may not have said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. … Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Focus – There’s a great line in the recent “Karate Kid” remake, in which the Jackie Chan character tells his young charge, “Your focus needs more focus.” That could be true of all of us. I’ve noticed that when I focus on one thing at a time, I accomplish all kinds of cool stuff. Multi-tasking may be my natural inclination but focus is where the real work gets done.

Work Hard – Like Columbus searching for the New World, I’ve spent my whole life seeking a shortcut for hard work. Sadly, I’ve come up empty. Malcolm Gladwell is right; it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to achieve proficiency at anything. And that’s just the beginning. On the other hand, it’s nice to know that increasing the amount of effort is something completely under our control. Like a basketball player in a shooting slump, we can still dive for every ball. And, over time, we’ll come up with our share.

Bounce Back – Here’s one you rarely hear about. But I believe it’s the most important of all. I happen to come from a very resilient family. As Chris Berman says on Sports Center, “You can’t stop them; you can only hope to contain them.” Through some combination of nature and nurture, I’m like that punching bag clown that keeps coming back for more (although not necessarily sporting that dopey grin). The main lesson here is to expect setbacks. Nobody skates through life unscathed. The math is basic; you just have to get up one more time than you get knocked down.

That’s it. Great lessons learned from a home-made sign. On the other wall, the client had posted another that said, “Be nice or leave.” Maybe I’ll write about that next time.