The 2 things to avoid to achieve greatness

Article by Colonel Nogov on July 27, 2015


I used to be a perfectionist.  You’d think that would be a good thing.  Always trying to make things perfect.  Well let me tell you, it’s the exact opposite.  Perfectionism is a debilitating disease.  It’s a miserable existence.  You see, in the eyes of the perfectionist, nothing is ever perfect.  Nothing.  And if it’s not perfect, it’s unacceptable.  Perfectionism was the key ingredient to some of my most heartbreaking failures when I was younger.

Perfectionism prevents you from doing anything that you might be criticized for.  Want to write a book?  Want to be a rock star?  Perfectionism will stop you cold.  The book is never good enough.  The songs you write are never good enough.  They’re not perfect.  And because they’re not perfect, you don’t allow anyone to see them or hear them.  Even when the work is good or even excellent.  It’s not good enough.  It’s an endless cycle.  You keep polishing to make them perfect, but they’re not perfect, in your eyes, they’ll never be perfect.  The fear of ridicule.  The fear of imperfection is always there.  The unrealistic self criticism is the worst.  Eventually it becomes unbearable and you give up.

I conquered my perfectionism many years ago and have had a lot of success since.  It’s hard to break the perfectionism disease.  I think a lot of people have some amount of perfectionism in them.  Hopefully yours is not as bad as mine was.  I developed a few techniques to overcome perfectionism and keep it at bay.  It basically boils down to three things.

Make things imperfect
Imagine the worst
Think about the greats

When you think of Shakespeare, what do you think?  Genius, Master, One of the greatest playwrights of all time.  Well, Shakespeare wrote over 50 plays(There’s some debate, some say less, some say more, I’ll generalize).  Today, only about 5 or 6 are really famous.  So 10 percent of his work was great.  The rest was mediocre or even bad.

How about The Rolling Stones?  They’ve put out a ton of songs over their long career.  Most of it is mediocre.  Some of it is bad.  But man, some of that shit is gold.  Some of my favorite songs of all times.  Sympathy for the Devil, Miss you, Beast of Burden, I can’t get no satisfaction.

Why didn’t they just put out the good stuff and throw the rest on the garbage heap?  Because it just doesn’t work that way.  How would they know which was their best stuff?  If they attempted to only put out their best stuff, they would have suffered from perfectionism too.  They just produced and produced and produced.  If they hadn’t we probably wouldn’t enjoy the small percentage of amazing things they did put out.  That’s what you need to do too.  You’ve just got to produce and put it out there and suck it up if you get criticized or ridiculed.  Which brings us to the next technique.

Imagine the worst.  Accept it and embrace it before putting out your work.  There is a great example of this in the HBO series “Band of Brothers”  episode 3 Carentan, when Lt. Speirs is counseling Pvt. Blithe.  On D-day Blithe had hidden in a ditch instead of trying to find his unit to fight.

Speirs:  You know why you hid in that ditch, Blithe?
Blithe:  I was scared.
Speirs:  We’re all scared.  You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope.  But, Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead.  And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier’s supposed to function.  Without mercy, without compassion, without remorse.  All war depends on it.

Obviously, as a soldier in a war, death could come at any time without warning.  If you constantly worried about that, you couldn’t function.  Speirs advice was to imagine that the worst had already happened and accept it.

The same advice goes out to anyone trying to produce some original work.  Accept the fact that you are going to be ridiculed.  You are going to be criticized.  You may even be hated.  Imagine it.  Embrace it.  Accept it.  And realize, it’s not that bad.  In other words, the “So what” doctrine.  It’s not life and death like the example of the soldier above.  The worst thing that will happen is you might feel some embarrassment.

Leave it imperfect.  To a perfectionist this is unimaginable.  But it really helps to break the perfectionist in us.  I write things and I edit things.  If I’ve got a piece that I think is better than average, I’ll edit it maybe 2 or 3 times.  But that’s it.  After that, it’s done.  If it’s a piece that didn’t turn out as well as I thought it would originally, I’ll only edit it once or twice tops.  After that, it’s done.  I send it out warts and all.  This way, I don’t become obsessive and revert back to some level of perfectionism.

A final thought on perfection.  If only perfect things were sent out into the world, the world would be a very dull place.

2nd cousin to perfectionism is realism.  Realism can have a debilitating effect in a different way.  Obviously, we all need to stay grounded in reality, but being grounded in reality and being a realist are different things.

The realist believes he is simply staying grounded in reality, but what he really is doing is limiting the world around him.  Limiting his abilities.  Limiting what he can achieve.  He sees what he thinks to be impossible and no longer strives for it.  He begins setting goals that are reasonable and realistic.  The shortening of the goal post becomes a habit.  Precisely because it’s realistic.  The goal post becomes shorter and shorter until it’s meaningless.  The realist has achieved his goal, but the goal means nothing.

The following is going to divulge a bit of my private life.  I generally don’t like to do that for various reasons, but I couldn’t conceive of another way of portraying the concept.  It’s a rags to riches story meant to inspire.  I sincerely appreciate advise given to me.  I take it to heart.  I hope my advice can inspire others as they’ve inspired me.

After conquering my perfectionism, I had success in Real Estate.  I was dirt poor and had a job with a lower middle class income.  I saw the only road to wealth, at the time, was through Real Estate.  A realist may have said, “you don’t have any money.  How are you going to buy Real Estate?”.  But the dreamer, for lack of a better word, said, “There’s a way.  You just have to figure it out.”  So, I set my goal, which I thought was impossible, at owning an apartment complex of several hundred units and I set out to achieve that goal.

Before long, I owned a single house.  Then two houses.  Then several condos.  Then some more houses.  By the time I was in may late 20’s, I owned several houses, several condos, and a couple of fourplex apartment buildings.  I began flipping properties in addition to properties I held solely for rent collection and quit my job.  I was accomplishing amazing things.  Friends, family and acquaintances couldn’t believe it.  It never really hit me that I was doing anything out of the ordinary until one day my regular air conditioning guy, who was many years older than me, was doing some maintenance at one of my properties when he made the comment, “Hasn’t anyone ever told you, you’re too young to own as many properties as you do.”  At this point, I probably could have bought a medium to large size apartment complex.  Realizing that, I reset my goal even bigger.  I would own a hotel/casino.  I imagined myself as Steve Wynn owning casinos along the Vegas strip.

Have I achieved that goal?  No or not yet, depending on how you want to look at it.  The point is, looking back at what I’ve accomplished, I can hardly believe it.  I owe it to setting seemingly impossible goals and then trying to reach them.  Had I been a realist, I could well be still working that job and maybe owning one or two houses because that was a realistic, achievable goal.

Today, I have a new goal.  Two new goals actually.  The first goal is to grow this website to be as large as Huffpo consisting of nothing but anarchist thought.  The second is to play a part in abolishing government on the entire planet.  Are these realistic goals?  Not by a long shot.  But the dreamer in me says, “hold on there slim jim.  It could happen.  If you had a couple dozen writers, or a couple hundred or a couple thousand and anarchism grows as exponentially as it’s growing today, just maybe it’s possible.”

I imagine future historians talking about me as being instrumental in ending the plague upon humanity known as government.  Is this likely to happen?  Once again, not by a long shot.  Yet I keep this fantasy in my head, it’s unrealistic and I strive for it all the same.

Will I be depressed if I fail to achieve these goals?  Not at all.  Because in a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, looking back I know I’ll be amazed at what is achieved.  I don’t know what will have been achieved, but I know I will be amazed.

If I achieve nothing more than getting a few men and women to not join the military or police force from articles or memes I’ve made, or inspired a few parents to pull their kids out of the government schools, or discover a future leader of anarchist thought, I will be satisfied because that is something.  Those would be realistic goals and some of those things have probably already happened.  But those aren’t my goals.  By setting the seemingly impossible goals, the little accomplishments are all but guaranteed to happen.

A lot of people will snicker at these goals.  To those I say, “Please go about your mediocre life.”

To the rest I say, “Set unrealistic goals and then try to realize them, and mind the perfectionism and you will accomplish more than 90 percent of all the people on the planet!”