There seem to be roughly two approaches to accomplish something great.
One is to put yourself in a position where, if you don’t succeed, you “die.” There is no backup, no plan B. It’s what’s called “jumping off the cliff and building an airplane on the way down.”
Doing it this way is more chaotic, more exhilarating, and also automatically makes you more focused. It also makes your team more tight, because nothing bonds people better than trying to overcome a large shared threat. The high stress is accompanied by high euphoria.
I’ll call this, quite literally, “falling” to succeed. It takes an ungodly appetite for risk and adventure. And often, the fall can literally handicap you for years. But the fear itself keeps you going and squeezes every ounce of creativity and hustle in you.
But there’s also another way, which is to slowly, diligently scale a mountain. Putting one step ahead of the other. Sometimes taking a few steps back too, but overall you’re always moving in the upward direction.
This style is characterized by the “long slog.” Putting in the reps, the work, day after day, getting better over time and letting the compounding effect work for you. A lot of “artist” type entrepreneurs do it this way.
This style (“scaling”) takes tremendous discipline. It’s very easy to get distracted, to lose momentum, or lose faith. It’s also quite deceptive – it’s easy to delude yourself into thinking you’re scaling the mountain, while you’ve been sitting at “base camp” for years and not even making a move, while other climbers come and pass you by.
Putting one more step forward at a time sounds simple in theory, but is the hardest thing to consistently do over time. Of course, you could get lucky and “break out” sooner than later, but you have to keep scaling (producing a large body of work) or the market will “correct” itself and you’ll quickly become a “has-been.”
It would be nice to strike a balance. While the greatest creations of humankind have come from SCALING, it’s good to have periods of steep FALLING once in a while that gets your blood going.
Because I’m more of a “scaling” person (although some risk-averse people would say I’m more of a daredevil, I know I’m not), this post is actually a reminder to myself that a little bit of falling is essential.
The key, is to always be in a position where you can SLIP – even if you’re supposedly trying to scale slowly. If there’s no risk of a fall, you’ll get stuck resting at the same altitude forever. As soon as you reach a “camp” (i.e. some measure of stable success), get climbing towards the next one. The always-present risk of slipping and falling will keep life interesting, and keep you motivated on a daily basis.