What is the difference between the world's top achievers and us mere mortals? Yes, I am aware that some live their entire lives in the lap of luxury and experience outward success with little effort because of their family connections, but what about those who seemingly rise out of nowhere and achieve great things? What is their secret sauce that makes ordinary burritos into lengendary culinary masterpieces? We can only speculate at the answer to that question, but I have an idea about what the answer may be.
Let me relate a few stories about some very successful people.
John Carmack is known chiefly for being the technical designer of the legendary computer game, "Doom". What, a computer game, is that all? Well, yes, it is a video game, but to software professionals, it is much more than just a game. In the day that Carmack created Doom, it was widely believed by software professionals that it would be impossible to create such a game that would work on the computers that were available then.
Jeff Atwood wrote about John Carmack on his "Coding Horror" blog. He recommends a book about his achievement called "Masters of Doom". He describes how Carmack is known for spending vacation locked in a hotel room tinkering with his computer! That's the level of committment Carmack has for his work.
In a completely separate walk of life, golf champion Jack Nicklaus reportedly practiced his golf swing in his dreams. Billiard champion Jeanette Lee reports on her own web site that the first time she played a game of billiards, she played until she collapsed.
Whether you think his music is an amazing work of art or profanity-laced sewage, Marshall Bruce Mathers, better known as "Eminem", is widely recognized as the top rapper in the world.
Eminem grew up poor, and was raised by a single mother who often depended on public assistance to support him, and became a high school dropout, not the sort of person you would expect to be particularly successful at anything. You can hear him tell his life story to Anderson Cooper on a 60 Minutes Interview . Eminem reports that he has been known to sit and read the dictionary, page by page, looking for interesting words to use for his music, and he says that he "drives himself insane" thinking about it all the time.
Bob Marley is widely revered as the greatest reggae musician. Furthermore, he idealistically thought of himself as a man on a mission to make the world a better place. He was so dedicated to his work that he once played a concert just two days after suffering a bullet-wound from a would-be assassin. When his friends encouraged him to take time off from his music, he simply responded, "The people who are trying to make this world worse aren't taking a day off. How can I?."
Warren Buffet is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, stock investors in the world. His investments have made him a deca-billionaire, one of the richest people in the world. What sets him apart from mere mortals like you and I who may keep a small stock portfolio for retirement? Buffet showed an interest in money from a very early age. As a small child, he asked his mother why they couldn't set up a tool booth in front of their house. Buffett made his first stock investment at the age of eleven with money he earned from delivering newspapers. What's more, he wrote in his personal diary about what he was going to do with his money before he became wealthy; he even wrote in his diary that he was afraid that being wealthy would spoil his children! In other words, he couldn't see any other future for himself except as a wealthy stock investor.
Are you successful like any of the people above? Do you hide away on "vacation" so that others can't disturb you while you master your craft? Do you practice your craft to the point of exhaustion, even practicing it in your dreams? Can you be so obsessed with music that you could spend your time reading a dictionary in spite of having been a failure at school? Would you practice your craft in front of thousands of people just a few days after receiving a bullet-wound? Do you have a dream that you have dreamt all your life that you just can't imagine living apart from?
Thinking about the stories above, I think I can make an educated guess about what makes these legends so good at what they do. These people simply possess a greater deal of dedication than us mortals. These are all people I look up to for their accomplishments, and I ask myself how I can bring the same level of dedication to what I do.
"Obsessed is just a word that the lazy use to describe the dedicated."
I almost forgot. There is one other person in particular I would like to recognize as a top achiever; someone you probably haven't heard of. That person is my wife, Thanawan Langdon. When I met her, she was working as a nanny for a wealthy family. During the first days we knew each other, I saw how she made the baby who was her charge her top priority, and watching how she interacted with the baby, I said to myself that I wanted someone to treat my baby, yet to be born, that way. We've now been married for six years and have a nearly two year old daughter. Indeed, there is nothing else in the world that she likes as much as being a parent. I would consider it a compliment to call her obsessed, and my daughter is better off for it!
I just wanted to point out that there are other things to dedicate oneself to besides work. These other things might not make you a household name, but they certainly make a difference in the world.