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Nine Ways to Be Extraordinary

Being extraordinary doesn't mean becoming a freak, a publicity hound, a person forever trying to 'get attention'. It means, really, becoming more like your destined self. Being various, individual, your own man, does not require costly and extravagant endeavors. It does require finding out what makes you happy; it also means being unusually clearsighted about how to achieve what makes you happy. Most people aren't. They have too many competing plans. They are too greedy. To be extraordinary you will have to sacrice the warm and wooly headed feeling of giving no thought for the morrow. You will need to make plans and stick to them. You will have to avoid anything that threatens to derail your project.

1. Be polymathic.

Don't get too specialised, even if you are a specialist. There are specialists and specialists. Nobel prize winning scientists are TWENTY FIVE times more likely to also sing, dance, perfom magic tricks or do photography as a serious hobby than regular scientists. (Source: Dr Robert Root-Bernstein)

2. Think big, start small.

The classic self-help book Think Big by David Schwartz is great as a boost when you are feeling down. Thinking big is essential, if only to give your own ideas some sort of perspective. But it's easy to get carried away, so carried away you don't know where to start. Or you become victim to what I call the book/the movie/the app/the board game. This is when you have a good idea and you really think you're doing REAL WORK when you suggest turning it into a book/movie/app/board develop it across all platforms. That's the easy part! Make it work in one place only before you try and make it massive. Which doesn't mean you shouldn't think big, it just means beware of megalomania, when the desire for greatness runs frictionless and free, spinning in a vacuum and driving you slowly insane..

So, start small. You want to direct Hollywood films- great- start by making a film on a handycam about your postman or your cat or even your postman and your cat. Do something, anything, that actually gets you closer to where you want to be. Do something like that everyday, except on your designated rest day. Even Amundsen rested one day a week in his headlong race to the South Pole, Scott didn't...

3. Create your environment

When I was at university I noticed that those who got first class degrees hung out with the people who got first class degrees. The people who got third class (or worse) degrees - as I did- hung out with the thoroughly delightful people who got third class degrees. Never underestimate the effect your everyday environment has on you- which means your friends and family. As my good pal Fat Frank says: if your life isn't going where you want it to go: change your friends; if it still isn't: move. I will add to that the intriguing possibility of changing your name. Actors do it, and some artists tweak their names. Why not? if you can create yourself you may be able to create something else. And, finally, get a shed/room/workshop/office/shop. It's OK to run a business from home but it seems to work better when you have a purpose designated location.

4. Enrich others.

Don't think about making yourself rich all the time, think about all the others you'll make rich. It's a useful change in perspective. Think about working with people. Building teams. Even a writer can spread himself through helping other writers, teaching others what he has learnt. This is very different from getting people on board so that you can do less work, avoid responsibility. Enriching others means viewing them paternalistically, not parasitically. 

5. One thing at a time.

If you can stick to this you will achieve more than you could ever imagine. Here's a little experiment which will indicate how: imagine you have twenty million dollars, now imagine the next twenty years. What will you do? Five years going round the world? Five years making documentaries in remote places? a year learning Spanish? another year studying cordon bleu cookery?

After a while you’ll run out of things you can imagine doing. Because in your imagination you are doing them exclusively and one at a time. Do them all at once- which is the way most people approach multiple goals and you won’t achieve any sort of level in any of them. You’ll sort of muck about for twenty years and then it will be gone. John Lennon presciently wrote, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Well that’s true- but only when you are doing lots of things at once including making plans. If you are doing one thing at a time, full on, full time then there is life, being lived. 

There is a reason why five years of French lessons leaves most school kids unable to even order a coffee in France whereas an intensive course for a month would enable them to order just about anything on the menu.

To do things one at a time, full time and full focus, is the most powerful ‘success’ technique there is. Worth knowing even if success is not your ultimate goal…

6. Meet your needs, just.

No one needs a nice car, a hot shower, a well sprung bed…not unless they are ill. If you’re alive and well, make do with less if it means you can do more of what you want to be doing.

7. Learn to love pain.

This is connected to the above. Life involves pain. Even easy peasy modern life with ibuprofen and codeine involves pain. Emotional pain, physical pain. You won’t get through life without a certain amount of both. But, hell, they’re only chemicals coursing through your veins, chemicals that with a little effort bear a slight resemblance to their supposed opposite: pleasure. Pain and pleasure share the same characteristic: they both hog lots of brain space, using up millions of connections. They both demand attention. But if you can connect pain with the idea of making progress- which as an athlete you must do, and as a hard worker you probably must do too, then you are well on the way to making pain, if not your friend, at least a willing accomplice and welcome acquaintance.

8. Go where the energy is.

This advice was given to me about writing. When you feel there is energy in a certain area of writing- go there. You’ll find out about yourself if nothing else. If a scene doesn’t interest you, has no energy, go where there is one.

But in life this also applies. People, who, when you leave them, leave you with energy are to be treasured. Those who leave you drained, to be avoided. Subjects that seem to be where the energy is- for you- are places to investigate. Countries too.

9. Set yourself challenges, not goals.

Man is a goal following creature. No goal means you’ll be setting up someone else’s, someone you may not even like or respect. But giving yourself a goal is a bit bloodless. It’s also a bit easy. My goal is to be CEO of BP, there, decided, now I can get back to playing with my Xbox. A challenge, like a bet, has more life, more edge. You challenge yourself because of a certain self-disgust with past failures. You accept a challenge from others because you want to ‘show them’. Both are more powerful motivators then simply deciding on a ‘goal’.


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