I’m fascinated by the people who dominate our pop culture. Athletes, actors, and musicians, while arguably paid and idolized more than they should be, exemplify a kind of work ethic we can learn from. What do they share in common? How do they achieve such greatness? Among all of these groups, I’ve identified a basic pattern which I believe can be reproduced:
THREE PHASES OF A GREAT PERFORMANCE:
Before they even begin preparing for their performance, they train. Whether it’s hours in the gym, practicing their instruments, or sculpting their bodies and minds for their parts, there’s an extended period of training. Sometimes it involves extreme weight loss, or gain, or muscle development, or hundreds of hours of playing the same few notes over and over.
It’s not sexy. The crowd never sees it, outside of an occasional behind-the-scenes documentary. But everyone who performs does it– even the crappy, talentless hacks– work their asses off behind the scenes.
They also have a specific, well-defined job to do. The scope is super tight. You play a specific position, or a particular instrument.
In the months, weeks, days, and hours before a performance, great performers prepare. This is often a continuation of the training, but now with a focused regimen. Playing guitar now becomes practicing a set list. Training in a gym now becomes practicing specific plays and watching game tape of your opponents. Specific lines are memorized.
One thing doesn’t happen during preparation: screwing around. You might see photos of Carmelo Anthony at a fancy club, or diving fast sports cars or whatever, but you won’t see him doing any of those things the night before a big game.
What’s Melo doing the night before a big game? He’s asleep. He’s dreaming of game tape. He’s dreaming of muscle movements. He’s dreaming of killing it.
He can go kite surfing when the season’s over.
Great performers have a reverence for their craft. They survey their scene. They visualize all of the circumstances around them.
And when it’s time for them to perform, they focus every ounce of themselves on the task at hand.
Watch the post-game interviews when a team loses. Why did they lose? They didn’t have it in them, they weren’t focused, they weren’t feeling it. Why did the other team win? They wanted it more. They were hungrier. They came out on fire.
When it’s time for the curtain to come up, or the tip-off, or the cameras to roll, great performers are ready to rock the hell out of what they’re about to do.
Performances occupy specific, small periods of time– usually no more than a few hours. Sporting events are about two to three hours. Stage performances two to three hours. Musical performances generally no more than three. These time constraints exist for a reason: you can only perform at an extremely high level for a finite period of time.
APPLYING THIS TO OTHER CONTEXTS
I run a coworking space. I also help run an online masterclass in community building. I do a bunch of other stuff too, but those are the main things.
Aside from the occasional karaoke competition, when do I get to employ the above?
I want to be the Carmelo Anthony of what I do. I want to be the Daniel Day-Lewis of what I do.
I want to rock the hell out of what I do.
How do I do that when I don’t have the same sort of constructs?
The theory I’m working on is to manufacture similar constructs, and approach them with the same methodology.
1. Define your role
It starts by defining the scope of what you’re going to rock at. Carmelo Anthony is a Power Forward (when Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t busting up the lineup, but I digress). He isn’t going to practice being a Point Guard or a Center. He’s going to practice only what he has to be good at.
(Carmelo Anthony is a bad example because he is good at everything.)
What does that mean for me? I know I’m good when I’m leading, when I’m organizing, and when I’m generally getting people excited about things. When I step outside of those bounds, things get pretty hit-or-miss. But when I’m doing my leaderly organizerly thing, I know I can rock. So I’m going to focus on that role. I’m going to organize something.
2. Conjure a performance
I don’t have a basketball game to play, nor a tour date to rehearse for. What does a performance look like for me?
When I run an event, or otherwise gather people for some reason, I’m employing a lot of my core skills and strengths. So I should focus on setting up and preparing for gatherings as if they are my performances.
This performance should occupy a specific period of time, so I’ve set a specific start time and end time. Monday morning, 10:00 to 11:30.
3. Train, prepare, and perform like star
Now that I have a date and scope for my performance, I can treat it like a great performer treats their gigs.
Because I have a specific date and a particular performance in mind, I can rearrange my life accordingly.
My performance is Monday at 10:00am. That means I’m arriving at New Work City by 8:00. I’m doing my warmups. I’m preparing the scene.
The night before, I’m not staying up late. I’m not going out. Hell, I’m not even going to watch Homeland. And I love Homeland.
I’m heading back to the city early from my parents’ house in the suburbs, when normally I’d stay for dinner, just so I can spend some time setting the stage at NWC. I’m going to do a dress rehearsal, maybe.
I’m going to get a good night’s sleep, dream about my performance, get up early, and listen to my “Get Pumped Up” playlist on the subway ride in.
And I’m going to rock the hell out of tomorrow.
I have no idea what’s going to actually happen or if this is going to work, but I can tell you this: I feel a lot more excited about my Sunday night than I usually do. And I’d wager a guess that I’m going to feel a hell of a lot more like I know why I’m getting out of bed tomorrow morning when my alarm goes off than I might have otherwise.
Tipoff is at 10:00 tomorrow. Game on!