I have studied the guitar for most of my life. After almost 5 decades, I’m a pretty good player. I’ve studied classical guitar techniques, fingering techniques, jazz progressions, and every chord imaginable. I’ve learned how to play the banjo, drums, and bass. I collect acoustic guitars (at one point, I owned about 100). One of the best in the world is sitting behind me as I work on this post. I can pick it up and play any of a few hundred songs. I just kept learning one thing after another to try to feel more confident as a player.
What I really wish is that way back at the beginning of this adventure somebody had said to me, “Larry, do you really care about classical guitar? Do you really care about that fingering technique or all of these other things? Focus on what you want to play.”
Guess what my favorite music is? Rock ’n’ roll. Guess what part of it I would most like to play? Lead guitar. Guess what I don’t know how to play? Lead guitar. I wasted a whole lot of time on learning that I could have spent playing the kind of guitar music I love the most.
Anybody who knows me will tell you that I’m a pretty focused person, and the years I’ve spent learning guitar certainly show that. I figure out what I want to achieve, figure out how to make it happen, and then go for it with everything I’ve got. I don’t do things in half measures (which I suppose is why I owned 100 guitars).
But here’s the thing:
I let myself be distracted by the belief that I had to learn one more fundamental, one more basic technique, one more way of learning a song, before I could start doing what I really wanted.
For the late great Stephen Covey, it was his second habit: begin with the end in mind. Others have similar advice. What everybody is really saying is this: Decide. Be clear what it is you really want to do and focus on it because that’s the first step to actually making it happen. Be definite. That’s the reason it’s the first action I shared in Serial Winner—it kicks off the Cycle of Winning.
If you want to wake up one morning feeling like you’ve accomplished the thing you really wanted, you have to make a point of figuring out what it is you want, and then find a way to focus on what you want by concentrating your knowledge, skills, and efforts to get it.
How a Universal Rookie Mistake Can Keep You from What You Want
What is the universal rookie mistake? Thinking that you need to know everything about everything. As soon as you do, you won’t feel so insecure, right?
Not really. You can’t learn your way into confidence. You can’t get rid of insecurity with knowledge.
The truth is that if you decide what you really want, what matters, you can pinpoint those things that you actually need to master, start using them, and that will build your confidence. You don’t need to know everything about everything to
- be successful
- start accomplishing things
- be happy in your work
If you focus on what you want to do the most, and the things you need to learn to do it, you can get your feet under you fast, start achieving goals, and get closer to your bigger goals today. Over time, you can learn more, improve in related areas, and keep growing. But you’ll be happier doing all of that if you are already closer to what you really want.
I believe that the ABI Principle—always be improving—is what sets true winners apart. But you have to be improving with a purpose and improving what you do, not just trying to be smarter or better informed about everything.
Specialization Might Be Just What You Need
When I started building my business in financial services, I made the universal rookie mistake. I tried to learn everything about everything. I was full of questions. It took four years going round and round in circles before I finally realized I had to change if I wanted to get anywhere.
I looked around to see what the most successful people were doing. They all said focus on one thing—recruiting. So I decided I would become a master at that one thing, because it was key to getting what I really wanted. And that’s exactly what I did. Up until that time, 1980, I was making between $3,000 and $4,000 a month. A year later, I was making over $20,000 a month and was achieving the kind of career and financial success I had always dreamed of.
I could have focused on any of a million things that go into building a business (and I had). I could have become better at products or training or something else that seemed important in the moment. It wasn’t that I was bad at those things, but I didn’t obsess over them either. And I outsourced or offloaded them when I could.
If I hadn’t focused on the one thing that would make the biggest difference, I would never have achieved what I did.
The pundits go back and forth about whether or not it’s better to specialize or generalize in your career. It’s smart not to lock yourself into only one very specific kind of work, because you never know how things will change over time. But the way to build your value fast is to specialize, to become known for being an expert at something. Over time, you’ll learn the rest.
What to Do if You Don’t Know Yet
When I talk about the action of deciding with people, the number one thing I hear is, “But I’m not sure what I want most.” Yes, that’s a problem that most people have (which is why I’m spending a lot of time on it in the Serial Winner course that I’m developing).
I always say the same thing: “Do whatever seems like the best idea given what you think you want most right now.” At least you’ll be moving forward.
If you keep moving, you’ll keep learning and you’ll be able to gradually focus on what you want. BUT … that won’t just happen. You have to be proactive. Regularly ask yourself, Is this what I want, and am I spending my time on the right things to get me there?