Disruptive Thinkers is a semi-regular series that features interesting people with interesting ideas about college, achievement, or life in general.
How to Become Good
Marty Nemko is good at becoming good. As he outlined in a recent blog post, when he set his sights on becoming a career coach he eventually logged over 2800 clients. When he decided to parlay this expertise into writing, he landed a career columnist gig first for the San Francisco Chronicle, then the Los Angeles Times, then transformed this into a contributing editor slot at U.S. News & World Report. He wanted to learn the art of rose hybridizing, now three of his varieties are sold nationwide. He wanted to try playwriting and won the “Roar of the Crowd” award for the best Bay Area entertainment of the week. His first screenplay caused a stir. He has a radio show.
And the list continues…
To use Study Hacks parlance, Marty is a finisher. He doesn’t just tackle projects that pique his interest, but he also manages that rarest of the rare skills: to consistently push them into the elite strata of noteworthy accomplishment. Fascinated by his approach, I asked Marty to share some of his famously unconventional advice on how to become good at becoming good.
What do most people get wrong when they set out to become good?
The average person isn’t smart enough to tackle lots of things, yet they try and thus become dilettantes. They need focus, unrelenting focus — until the world has provided sufficient signs that it is interested or not interested in that person’s focus.
What’s the role of talent versus strategy in becoming good?
Strategy is absolutely necessary….but insufficient. Talent and drive (or luck — damn those lucky people) are required.
Many people who focus on something for a long time can get pretty skilled, but have a hard time making that transition to the big-time. How does one make that final push from amateur to expert?
Become an amazing and relentless marketer. That skills is usually orthogonal to (the less accurate term is “incompatible with”) becoming expert at something, yet it is critical, alas, especially in this society where the stupid public responds to marketing hype more than to excellence. Why else would dishonest idiots like Oprah be more beloved than, for example, Christopher Hitchens on the Left or Larry Kudlow on the right..
What advice would you give a young college student looking to make a name for himself in something?
Forget passion unless it’s a rare one. Too many other people will be passionate about it, eviscerating your chances of “making a name for yourself.” Don’t be a lemming. Make a name for yourself in some pursuit that top people rarely pursue: Be the most amazing undertaker, industrial acid broker, advocate for the most under-served and worthy kids (in my opinion: intellectually gifted boys in elementary school.) Even if the field seems mundane, you will feel more rewarded and better about your life being a vanguard in a dull field than a soldier in a “cool” one.