When I look at the people I’ve met who accomplish truly great things, stunning things, impossible things, they seem to have two contradictory traits in common. They care so much about what they’re trying to achieve it almost suffocates them. They need to win more than they need air. And yet, at the same time, they couldn’t care less about what you think about them and their singular pursuit of their dream.
It’s the reason why Elon Musk can tweet about taking his company private on 420, get smacked by the FDA, and yet two years later, he’s laughing when Tesla stock hits all-time highs. To celebrate, he sells red shorts in honor of the bloodbath he drew for short sellers everywhere. (Oh, and the shorts sell out in minutes, because he’s Elon Musk).
It’s why Jeff Bezos can launch an online bookstore in 1998, defy all conventional thinking to stay in your lane, get your 10,000 hours in, and turn his bookstore into a cloud company, a grocery store, Twitch, self driving cars, on and on.
They both have a vision, and they’re not calibrating it to what you or anyone else thinks.
Why is that so important? Because when your vision hasn’t been revealed to the masses, then the feedback loop is corrupted. The advice you are getting – or the condemnation – fails to account for the epiphany that has rendered itself to you but not to others. You and you alone have been given the task of manifesting that vision on behalf of civilization, and your cross to bear is to endure the ridicule, the loneliness, the doubt, even the social opprobrium for just being so damn odd.
Remember the reception that 32-year-old Elon Musk received when he declared that we are going to privatize space travel, and we need to colonize the moon? Outlandish musings in 2004. Conventional thinking in 2020.
So how do you cultivate these seemingly contradictory impulses:
1) Be a delusional optimist: Nobel Prize winning psychologist-economist Daniel Kahneman found that so much of the truly amazing progress in the world is driven by what he terms “delusional optimists.” We select optimists as leaders because we want someone at the helm who truly believes that everything is going to be OK. “Optimists are likely to be more successful because they will inspire optimism in others. … If they’re looking for funding for their business, they’ll attract more funds if they’re optimists… So [sincere] delusions to a certain extent are successful.” Give yourself permission to believe in your dream wholeheartedly and fanatically. Cast aside Plan B and go all in with abandon. Don’t worry about what happens if things don’t work out. You’re still a primitive creature. You know how to rub two sticks together to start a fire if need be (or at least you have YouTube). You will survive. Now go thrive.
2) Do your job – love thyself: There are many jobs in the world you will need to learn to outsource and delegate if you are to achieve groundbreaking success at scale. You can’t do everything, nor are you expected to. But there’s one job you can never assign to anyone else, and that is to love yourself unconditionally. If not you, then who? Your worthiness to receive your own love is not open for debate. You were born whole and deserving of your unwavering acceptance and respect. When you come to understand that the only approval in the world that matters is your own, you come to realize you have the power to inoculate yourself from all external scorn and ridicule. You are not perfect, but you are complete – and you are free.
Throughout the course of my life, I’ve had the privilege of being around transformational figures and to consider what makes them special. The pattern I see over and over again is they have a unique ability to absorb the wins and deflect the losses. The losses don’t compound. They just don’t stick or undermine self-worth. Up close, it can look delusional, but taking a step back, it makes sense. They are kind to themselves, and they decouple their self-worth from their own missteps.
So, if you want to do truly great things, care so much you can’t breathe and care so little you float above the naysayers.