The Easy Answer to Everything

I see it at least 20 times a day. People asking for the “easy answer”, the “quick tip”. In this era of what my buddy Christopher Penn calls “snack sized” information, we’ve become conditioned to want to get all the juicy information in 140 characters or less. We think that one inspiring blog post is going to solve all our problems – if we just do that one easy step, we’ll be on the road to fame and fortune in no time. We want the easy answer. We want those who are more successful than us to tell us their secret to success, so we can go out and replicate it as quickly as possible.

So what is the easy answer? How can you get on the path to living your dreams RIGHT NOW?

You need to realize that there’s no easy answer. There’s no quick fix. There’s no top ten tips. There’s just doing the work. And then doing it some more. And more and more and more until you reach the next level. And once you get to that level, then you need to do more work. In fact, the higher the level you reach, the more work you need to do.

So what’s the easy answer for doing all this work? Thomas Edison said “Success is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.”. I believe that having actual skills makes up a very small part of one’s success (and I’m a teacher, for Pete’s sake!). I have had students come into my class who have not got a clue about using computers, and within 6 weeks are editing magnificent videos. It’s not because they have magically developed mad computer skillz in a short amount of time. It’s not because they found some guru’s secret to learning computers super fast. It’s because they worked their asses off. It’s because they screwed up a lot and had to start over a bunch of times, and sweated it out at 3am the night before the assignment was due to make it the best it could be.

I do things all the time that I don’t know how to do. In 1998, my new boss had nobody else to teach a class on a certain day. So, I learned HTML and Dreamweaver in 3 weeks and then stood up in front of a class of 40 graphic designers for two days to teach it. I’d never taught a class before. Heck, I barely new how to use the stupid software. Did I screw up? You bet I did – to the point where some of the students actually walked out of the class. Did I sweat it out and stay up all night after the first class, and learn all the answers to the things I didn’t know, so I could show up the next day and get it sorted out? You bet I did. I sweated. There were tears. Textbooks got thrown across my office at 2am. But the next day I walked in calm and composed, and I nailed it. 10 out of 10, said my course evaluation. 10. Out of 10.


The reason we want the easy answers is not because we are lazy (well, most of us aren’t). The reason we want the easy answers is because we’re afraid. We are afraid that we’re going to put in all this hard work and effort and at the end of it all, we still won’t be successful. So why waste our time, when we can just ask that really successful person over there what their secret is, and hope for an easy answer? We’ll just keep buying all those “become a millionaire in 2 weeks!” self-help books and dream about what it will be like when success just lands in our lap. We can sit around and compare ourselves to others and say things like, “must be nice”.

Or we can get off our butts and get to work. We can mess things up and start over. We can decide that really, the easy answer is only one thing.

Doing the work.

[image credit: hale_popoki]

The Secret to Success with New Skills
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  • August 10, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Well, there is something to be said about 1) defining success and then 2) leveraging lessons learned from people who have achieved said success.

    Lessons learned are rarely easy answers.

    There is much perspiration in even working towards showing early return on investment, which can drive a project, program, or other initiative to a successful result.

    Gathering “low-hanging fruit” (how I loathe the idiom!), is more a question of efficiently achieving goals (perspiring efficiently) than “ease” of success.

  • August 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Suze: I love this post. How true it is…and I hate to admit it, but for myself, too. Especially when we want to make a change or go in a different direction, it takes a lot of work — and it’s not always fun. I’m using this as a reminder to stop whining, and get on with the work!

  • August 11, 2011 at 2:32 am

    Well said. We seem to live in a society that has created a sense of “I want it all now and don’t want to break a sweat to achieve it”. Have you read the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell? He talks about this topic of how folk become successful and achieve what they want, and as you point out a lot of it is down to the number of hours, blood, sweat and tears put in.
    Reminds me of that saying (can’t remember the source) that goes something like “it has taken me 20 years to become an overnight success”

  • August 11, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Took the words right out of my mouth! As a teacher, I work so hard to give my students all the tools they need to succeed – but ultimately it’s what they choose to do with them that makes all the difference. And there’s no shortcuts – just work.

  • August 13, 2011 at 1:10 am

    Your Dreamweaver example reminds me of the time I was asked to pinch-hit and teach Microsoft Project. I was familiar teaching Word, Excel, and Access; and never knew was Project was, let alone how to teach it three days later. But I asked the boss for a copy of the software and the curriculum, installed it at home that night and perused the book — and, like you, passed the evaluation with flying colors. It became one of my most frequently-taught classes.



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