Everyone Starts Somewhere: Why You Need To Measure Your Success In The Long-Term

by Gary Wu

In 1984, a 17-year-old tried his hand at stand-up comedy for the first time at an open mic night in Boston. He jumped on stage and was given five minutes of time.

With three minutes left, however, he realized he had run out of material. He walked off stage discouraged and didn’t perform again for another two years.

Since then, that 17-year-old has gone on to become one of the most recognizable comedians alive. His name is Louis C.K.

How does a comedic genius fail at his first attempt at standup? Often, the greats we admire weren’t born into greatness. We think they can do no wrong, but we simply never see where they started.

Behind every accomplished person, there are countless hours of work and modest beginnings.

As we strive towards our own goals or venture into new waters, we need to keep this in mind. Whether it’s business, fitness or art, remember that the expert at anything was once a beginner, and it probably wasn’t pretty.

Ira Glass eloquently articulates this in the quote below. It takes time before your work truly shines, and I remind myself of this whenever I feel a disconnect between what I envision my writing to look like and reality:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

We’re all amateurs when we start out. It’s the work we do after that slowly turns us into masters. Quitting too early possibly closes a door forever. In Louis C.K.’s case, it would mean he might never had a career in comedy had he quit after his first attempt.

How do you prevent yourself from quitting too early? Try thinking in terms of years. Consider the following timeline from James Altucher:

-Year One: You’re flailing and reading everything and just starting to do.

-Year Two: You know who you need to talk to and network with. You’re "doing" every day. You finally know what the monopoly board looks like in your new endeavors.

-Year Three: You’re good enough to start making money. It might not be a living yet.

-Year Four: You’re making a good living.

-Year Five: You’re making wealth.

Of course, it may take longer; Louis C.K. only released his first half-hour special after a decade. Regardless, keeping a long-term perspective will allow you to make it through the bumps along the journey and stave off the desire to quit too soon.

Speaking of the journey, at times we’re all tempted to compare ourselves to others who are on the same road. We’ll wonder why they have X and we don’t.

Avoid this temptation; at any point, we’re ahead of some and behind others. Comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle serves no purpose, except to detract from the work in front of you.

Sometimes, it just takes time to catch up.

We all have goals to accomplish and dreams to achieve. Some of these aspirations may still be sitting on the metaphorical shelf, gathering dust.

Perhaps now is the time to sweep the dust off and give them a go. Starting somewhere is infinitely better than never starting at all.

Today, you’re just you. Down the road, you’re you the (speaker/writer/entrepreneur/athlete/insert title here). Maybe one day, people will even marvel at your success and ask you how you did it.

At which point, you can tell them, even you started somewhere.

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