The Numbers Game, part 1
Any technique will work, so long as you relentlessly work it. It’s a numbers game. That is, success is a pure function of the law of large numbers. – Nick Murray
The Universe likes to play with synchronicity. Ok, not really, but our brains like to pretend it does, and so I like to think it was kismet that led two respected colleagues of mine to say the same thing in two different ways. First was a colleague who doesn’t even know I exist: Steven Pressfield. His books on creativity, his tales of the publishing world, and his ongoing blog have been a major inspiration for me. Recently he wrote a blog about The Game of Numbers. It’s a reference to a business book of the same name, and the principle is so simple that it’s unsexy:
The rule is: Pick a constructive aim that you can control; then do it and keep doing it, regardless of immediate success or failure. In the end, the law of large numbers will kick in and you will win…Do not judge yourself or your work. At the end of the day, ask yourself one question only: “Did I do my pages today?” If you did, you have succeeded. Simple as that.
“Simple” is right – simple and absolutely dreary. It falls right into the “do the next thing” idea, though it focuses it a bit. Before writing this post, for example, my brain tried telling me “the next thing” should be installing a new theme on my word processor. Or responding to that comment on my blog. Or checking for interesting tweets. Or doing pilates. Or anything but what was really the next thing: writing this post.
Making the Calls
A few days after reading the blog post by Steven I was having a great talk with a new/old friend named Tom Kastle. He’s a musician and sailor, and travels a lot. We were talking about the various aspects of being an itinerant professional, particularly along the lines of lining up gigs. That’s the thing they forget to tell you when they talk about the romance of working for yourself: there’s always this ineffable cold darkness on the horizon, just past your last scheduled gig. It’s traveling towards you quickly, and the only way to push it back is to line up another gig. Tom’s to the point where he doesn’t have to worry about it much – people are happy to have him all over the world, because he’s both talented and professional. I’m almost to the point of not worrying about it much – because I can fake professionalism and talent pretty well while I work on actually developing both. But Tom told me of another friend, a friend who was actually kind of annoying. He didn’t seem too pleasant in manner, in voice, in personality – but he was immensely successful. In fact, Tom said, he’d once claimed to have done something like 267 gigs in one year. “I told him he was crazy,” Tom said. “No one could have done that many. Especially being his own agent. He looked at me and said ‘Yeah? I made sixteen booking calls before breakfast today. How many did you make?’” The Law of Big Numbers doesn’t play favorites. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s a sure-fire way to succeed, as long as you show up.
How to Become an Overnight Success
That’s the measure of my success here at Love Life Practice: three posts a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. There is no big end goal, no expectation that there will be a big payoff at the end. There are smaller payoffs, like my Patreon supporters and getting closer to completing my Defining Moment book. There’s a podcast now, which has been downloaded a whopping fourteen times; that’s three times the last time I checked! It’s ok. I don’t need to have Oprah notice me, or suddenly go viral (when, exactly, did that word become a good thing?). If you need a practical reason why you, too, should pick something to persist at, maybe the story of Darlena Cunha will help.
I wrote daily, on my own blog and for outfits like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog and McSweeney’s, for free, lucky if a few hundred people read it. I was working my fingers off, even as my loved ones started to suggest I try something else. It had been five years, after all. Just as I was about to give up: boom.
That “boom” was her post not only becoming popular, reprinted, well-read – it became the most-read story of all time in the Washington Post. Think about that, next time you feel like quitting your creative endeavor, shutting down that blog, giving up on your dream, whatever it is. Really, though, I prefer to think of the term “overnight success” in a different way – back to that idea of numbers. Today I needed to produce a certain number of videos; to write a 500-word flash fiction piece; to consume less than 1500 calories; to create this blog post. When those numbers are hit, I can rest easily in the successes of the day overnight. Tomorrow is another chance to become an overnight success all over again.