If You Want Extraordinary Success, You Need To Overcome Extraordinary Failure


“The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgement in the real world.” -Steven Pressfield

In his book The War of Art, best-selling author and screenwriter Steven Pressfield described the first truly big movie he produced: King Kong Lives (1986).

On opening weekend, he went to a small-town movie theater, and got in line for a ticket. “A youth manned the popcorn booth,” Pressfield wrote. “‘How’s King Kong Lives?’ I asked. He flashed a thumbs-down. ‘Miss it man. It sucks.’”

I was crushed. Here I was, 42 years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal pursuits to chase the dream of being a writer; now I’ve finally got my name on a big-time Hollywood production, and what happens? I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.

He could have quit right then and there.

He wanted to. The pain and embarrassment was so bad, he almost did.

But after a short while, Pressfield thought about the magnitude of what he had just done. He had produced a legitimate big-screen Hollywood movie! Even if it was a box office failure, it was still a huge accomplishment.

“That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.” Pressfield wrote.

A few years later, he went on to produce multiple big-screen movies that saw enormous financial and critical success.

If you want extraordinary success, you must overcome extraordinary failure first.

The Greats Have Always Worked Harder — and Failed More — Than Anyone Else

Ray Allen, NBA champion and future Hall of Famer, became famous for mastering the 3-point shot. He set just about every record and became a legend for his shot.

Towards the end of his career, a reporter wrote an article about Allen’s “God-given jump shot.” Allen took offense. “Listen, God doesn’t care whether you make your next jump shot…only hard work will do that.” The reporter was minimizing Allen’s thousands of hours in the gym practicing his shot.

The greats have always worked harder and failed more than everyone else.

If you want to be great, then start failing a lot.

Kevin Hart, rejected from Hollywood, spent 8 years back on the road, doing comedy shows at literally hundreds of comedy clubs in nearly every state in America. “I needed to bomb to succeed,” Hart wrote in his autobiography. “I knew that if I could find a way to win over audiences in those tough, cold rooms, I’d have no problem with a theater packed with people who were actually there to see me.

Stephen King’s first novel Carrie was rejected by 27 straight publishers.

Anthony Bourdain spent nearly 10 years cooking slop in low-level, obscure kitchens before he became a chef.

Steve Martin spent 10 years performing bad magic tricks and corny jokes at a B-level amusement park before he became the most famous comedian in the world.

The greats didn’t become great because it was given to them (although they did have great opportunities). But they were ready to seize the moment and showcase their talent, because they had spent years trying, failing, making mistakes, and learning their craft inside-and-out.

Although “luck” does play a part, luck doesn’t waste its time with someone who’s unprepared.

10,000+ Hours Isn’t Enough — You Have to Focus on Learning and Growth

Years ago, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000 Hour Rule” — that you need to spend 10,000+ hours doing something before you become a master.

But this is only one-half of the puzzle. You need to spend a ton of time, sure — but you also need to spend your time the right way.

This is where the term “deliberate practice” comes in — practicing the right way. Usually, the right practice involves getting feedback, learning from specific mistakes, and achieving small goals in the process. After all, a mediocre accountant/swimmer/poet/juggler can still be just mediocre after 10 years.

If you want extraordinary success, you have to put an extraordinary amount of time into your craft — and focus on learning, not just putting in the hours.

In the words of best-selling author Hal Elrod:

“Repetition can be boring or tedious — which is why so few people ever master anything.”

The difference between the professionals and the dreamers is that the professionals actually become students of their craft.

They study it. They buy books about it. They ask others about it.

They live and breathe learning and improvement.

Most people will never take the time to ever become great. This is largely because for most people, “good” is good enough.

But as Jim Collins famously wrote:

“Good is the enemy of great. We don’t have great schools,principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

If you’re ever going to be “great” at anything, you need to become a serious,committed student of it.

Most people will never do this, which is why most people will remain average at what they do.

Here’s the Simple Formula to Become a Master of Anything

I spent about 15 consecutive years failing at this one, specific thing:

Trying to stop looking at pornography.

From an early age, I began using pornography as a crutch to help me through my days. I was a quiet “C” student with a stuttering problem, and I discovered pornography could give me relief from my anxiety — if only temporarily.

I knew it was wrong, though. I grew up in church. I felt bad after every single time. I knew I needed to stop, but I failed every time.

When I finally decided to go to counseling for my addictive behavior, I realized something encouraging from my decade of failure:

I had learned exactly what triggered me to want porn.

After a decade of failure, I had become a master of myself. I knew if I felt any of the H-A-L-T feelings (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), I would want porn. If I was anxious. Scared. Embarrassed. Alone by myself at night in my room.

Now, I don’t that stuff anymore. And when I feel tempted (which still happens all the time), I know what to do to overcome it.

Here’s a simple formula for becoming a master of anything:

Fail thousands of times.

Tell Me How You Spend Your Free Time and I’ll Tell You Who You Are

Most people spend their free time with entertainment and distraction.

Unfortunately, humans haven’t kept up with the advent of technology. In 20 years, we’ve gone from carrying a pager to knowing what the entire world is doing at any given moment, in real-time.

For most people, it’s too much too soon. They’ve let screens of information and pretty pictures prevent them from actually having conversations with real people.

Too many people fill their free time with all manner of entertainment, never giving themselves a chance to learn and grow.

Tell me how you spend your free time, and I’ll tell you who you are.

Do you spend it on entertainment and distraction?

Or do you focus on learning and growth?

Growth is hard. Constantly learning and developing yourself can be boring and tedious. Most people don’t stick with it, so they never become great at anything.

Said Darren Hardy:

“There is one thing that 99% of failures and successful people have in common: they all hate doing the same things. The difference is successful people do them anyway.”

You don’t get much free time. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to use it to invest in yourself, using what you have to grow.

Many famous entrepreneurs have commonly referred to this as the “5–7 and 7–9” structure. What do you do between 5AM — 7AM and 7PM — 9PM? Do you sleep in and watch TV?

Or do you invest in yourself so you can have a better life in the future?

Learning and failing isn’t easy.

I’ve been playing a lot of Super Smash Brothers recently. It’s a fighting video game.

I’ve entered into the top 4% of players in the world (geez, just typing that makes me think, “Wow, there’s nothing better that I can do with my life?!” But I love it.)

I’ve had to lose a ton of matches to get where I am. To see what I’m doing wrong, to learn new things the pro’s do, to figure out new strategies I never would’ve thought of.

I couldn’t have gotten here with losing a lot.

You’ll never become extraordinary at anything without enduring an extraordinary amount of failure.

Are you willing?