It was awkward.

A colleague had asked me to revise a sales letter he’d commissioned. He called it “run of the mill.” He wanted me to “bring it to life.”

It was rather ordinary copy, and bringing it to life required changing nearly 30% of it.

But the problem wasn’t the work. It was the fact that the writer, a successful copywriter, was a friend of mine.

I worried that Sarah (not her real name) would be upset I had changed it so much. And that because she was upset, she would “veto” my revisions.

Happily, she didn’t. After reviewing my edits (not knowing it was I who had made them), she sent a letter to my colleague acknowledging the copy was better. She promised to learn from the corrections and “write at that level next time.”

I remember seeing that response and thinking: “Sarah is going to be really, really good.”

This story has two morals:

The first is about pride and its opposite (humility). If you want to accomplish great things and/or learn complex skills, some amount of pride is necessary to push yourself forward. But false or overreaching pride (Aristotle’s term was “hubris”) is a major obstacle.

Sarah was an accomplished copywriter. If I had to rank her against her peers, I’d say she was, at that time, in the top 20%. She’d earned the right to argue with my changes, but she didn’t. The pride she had in herself had brought her so far as a writer already. In this case, at least, she wasn’t going to let false pride halt her progress.

False pride is a very common problem among copywriters — no, among every sort of writer. But when writers believe — or desperately want to believe — their writing is above reproach, they damage their careers because they can no longer benefit from learning from others.

This is equally true for musicians, tennis players, salsa dancers, sumo wrestlers, and CEOs. Those who are willing to say “I am good, but I can learn to do better” do better. Those who say “I am the greatest. Nobody knows more than I” are almost sure to take a serious tumble.

Ego. Selflessness. Pride. Humility. Confidence. Fear. There are so many emotions that play a part in personal development. What you want in your career is the confidence that follows accomplishment, not the pride that precedes a fall.

Or, to put it differently: No matter how good you are at what you do, there’s someone out there who can teach you something.

Think about your strongest skill — the talent or capability that is most important to the achievement of your main goal. Now ask: “Am I willing to acknowledge that there are people in my universe who are better at this than I am?”

If you can accept the possibility that there are others better than you, then you can learn from them. If you extend this perspective, you’ll realize that you can learn specific things from people who don’t have your overall mastery.

And now we come to the second moral of this story: The only good way to improve a skill is to practice it. Reading about it is certainly helpful. Talking about it with people who are experts may work, too. But no amount of reading and talking will do nearly as much as regular, focused practice.

Human beings are designed to get better through practice. Everything we ever learn to do — from walking to talking to writing concertos — gets better through practice. Practice makes our fingers move faster, our hearts beat stronger, our brains think smarter.

Or think of it this way: Nothing in nature stays the same. If you’re not getting better, you’re only getting worse.

And that’s what Sarah should know about her future as a copywriter. If she continues to practice her craft — while taking advantage of everything she can learn from more experienced and skillful copywriters — the likelihood that she will be great one day is better than 99%.

With practice and a willingness to keep learning, Sarah will one day be among the very best copywriters in the business.

So here’s the program for greatness:

  • Have pride in yourself — enough pride to expect that at any given moment, you will do the best job you can.
  • Know that getting better begins with the recognition that there are people out there in the world who know things you don’t and can do some things better than you. Have the humility to seek out such people.
  • As your skills improve and your reputation for skillfulness spreads, resist the lure of false pride. Cultivate humility. Be confident in what you know but open to learning new things.
  • And make learning and improving your skills through practice a lifelong habit.

Editor’s Note: Mark’s offering a free three-day educational training event. He’ll explain the ideas behind his favorite wealth-building methods. And as a bonus, Mark will send you several income-generating project ideas you can start implementing right away. It all culminates with a two-hour webinar event on Thursday.

 

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Here is Why It’s Never Too Late for You to Achieve Something Worthwhile

Have you ever asked yourself if it’s too late to achieve something worthwhile in life. These two most upvoted responses by Marcus and Jim respectively on Quora will help you if you still have doubts about what you can do at any stage of your career.

1. Marcus Geduld, Shakespearean director, computer programmer, teacher, writer, likes dinosaurs.

Too late for what?

If you slept through your 26th birthday, it’s too late for you to experience that. It’s too late for you to watch “LOST” in its premiere broadcast. (Though, honestly, you didn’t miss much.) It’s too late for you to fight in the Vietnam War.

It’s too late for you to go through puberty or attend nursery school. It’s too late for you to learn a second language as proficiently as a native speaker*. It’s probably too late for you to be breastfed.

It’s not too late for you to fall in love.

It’s not too late for you to have kids.

It’s not too late for you to embark on an exciting career or series of careers.

It’s not too late for you to read the complete works of Shakespeare; learn how to program computers; learn to dance; travel around the world; go to therapy; become an accomplished cook; sky dive; develop an appreciation for jazz; write a novel; get an advanced degree; save for your old age; read “In Search of Lost Time”; become a Christian, then an atheist, then a Scientologist; break a few bones; learn how to fix a toilet; develop a six-pack …

Honestly, I’m 47, and I’ll say this to you, whippersnapper: you’re a fucking kid, so get over yourself. I’m a fucking kid, too. I’m almost twice your age, and I’m just getting started! My dad is in his 80s, and he wrote two books last year.

You don’t get to use age as an excuse. Get off your ass!

Also, learn about what economists call “sunk costs.” If I give someone $100 on Monday, and he spends $50 on candy, he’ll probably regret that purchase on Tuesday. In a way, he’ll still think of himself as a guy with $100—half of which is wasted.

What he really is is a guy with $50, just as he would be if I’d handed him a fifty-dollar bill. A sunk cost from yesterday should not be part of today’s equation. What he should be thinking is this: “What should I do with my $50?”

What you are isn’t a person who has wasted 27 years. You are a person who has X number of years ahead of you. What are you going to do with them?

* What I’d intended as a throwaway comment, about the difficulty of second-language acquisition after childhood, has generated interest and disagreement. I will admit upfront I am not an expert on the matter, and was mostly informed by research I’d read about.

It claimed there’s a window of childhood, after which the brain stops being able to hear certain sounds—one’s not used by a child’s native language—which is why it’s so hard to learn to speak a second language without an accent.

Some people may master it, but not many. (How many people do you know, after 25, learned a foreign language and can speak it so well, natives have no idea they’re listening to a foreigner?) It’s also challenging to learn all the idiomatic expressions that native speakers have known since they were small children.

However, since having written this answer, I’ve learned that the Science behind this is very controversial. As I’m not an expert, let me refer you to the wikipedia article (and it’s linked resources).

“In second-language acquisition, the strongest evidence for the critical period hypothesis is in the study of accent, where most older learners do not reach a native-like level.

However, under certain conditions, native-like accent has been observed, suggesting that accent is affected by multiple factors, such as identity and motivation, rather than a critical period biological constraint (Moyer, 1999; Bongaerts et al., 1995; Young-Scholten, 2002).”

2. Jim Lawrenson, Still driving…

Unfortunately for ‘real’ people, the media is obsessed with the tiny minority who succeed early and display this very publicly.

This is then amplified by the high profile ‘subject’,  for PR purposes, to perpetuate their success.

Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, River Phoenix, Justin Timberlake, Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Jobs, James Dean, Richard Branson, Whitney Houston, One Direction, Amy Winehouse, Mark Zuckerburg. Need I go on.

Notice a trend in there somewhere?

You are probably being influenced, (like all of us), in how you assess your own progress, compared to these people. It can be a dangerous game to play.

It takes a tremendous amount of luck, as well as talent, to get into the right position at the right time. Not many people who make it will tell you that, often preferring to put it down to their hard work.

That is because they believe that this is the case, not because they are intentionally misleading you. I know that because, to an extent, I’ve done it.

You also may not have considered that even if you were on the list of young successes. It is very hard to follow that early success later in life. Your expectations of yourself are higher and based on that youthful virtual reality you experienced once, you can never improve on your past.

That can be a tough pill to swallow and despite all the money in the world, many struggle with that.

Look at any list of young successes from just 10 years ago and count the number who have disappeared, died or been in rehab. Lots.

Half the list of super successful people above are dead for a start off.

This is not an excuse for you to give up trying however. 

Try to think of life as a long road journey.

The journey can be as exciting or as boring as you choose to make it.

Wherever you are on the journey, there are new experiences, as long as you welcome them and seek them out. Some you can plan in advance.

Often, you need to get out of the car to experience them. Otherwise, you will see them flash past the window and feel like it is too late to stop.

  • Do something every day which contributes to your progress on the journey and always be learning and experiencing new things.
  • Don’t put off experiences which can be done today by getting out of the car, for a tomorrow which may never arrive.
  • Build a vision of where you want to get to in 1, 5 and 10 years and then think about the steps you need to complete in the next 30 days to move towards it, but don’t set deadlines that are too harsh. Do the first step on the list today.
  • Like any long journey, you will hit diversions, obstacles, traffic lights, speed bumps, closed roads and all manner of other problems. There will be crashes – you might be involved in them. Like any long road journey, if you want to get the destination enough, you won’t turn back, you will reroute. The car might break down or need repairing. Just accept it will happen now, and carry on.

Most importantly, don’t wait for all the traffic lights between your house and your destination, to turn green at the same time, before you set off.

They won’t!

Get in the car and start driving.

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