Screw it: On finding your “it” thing

April 7, 2015

Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.
– Ron Swanson

Our guide stood near the mash tun, a glass of Belgian triple resting in her palm. “We used to have a restaurant,” she said, swirling her amber truth serum. “But one day, we said screw it. Because we wanted to be the best at brewing beer, not the best at flipping burgers.”

I raised my own glass in heck-yes-solidarity. Clearly these brewers were graduates of the Ron Swanson School of Whole-Assing, people who really get what it means to chase your own definition of success. You’ve heard me say it before: FORGET FINDING YOUR PASSION. It’s all much simpler than that – but first you need to start with the basics.

Sip, don’t chug.
You have a lot on your plate, I get it. Multitasking has recently become the “binge drinking of the workplace.”

When a bartender sets a beautiful flight of craft brews in front of you, what would you do? Dump them into a giant stein and consume them all at once? Of course not. You’d swirl, sip, and savor. You’d likely finish in an appropriate amount of time for the ABV (or in this case, difficulty of the task).

Keeping 20 tabs open in Chrome doesn’t make you more productive, it makes you Dug from “Up.” It makes you a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none. If we learn to concentrate, one task at a time, we can really begin to focus-in on our work – and we learn which parts of the work are most important to us. This is where you figure out if you should be brewing beer or flipping burgers.

Prioritize. Focus. Finish. Break. Rinse. Repeat.

“We said screw it. Because we wanted to be the best at brewing beer, not the best at flipping burgers.”

Sip, sip, pass.
In our culture of busy, we talk about our out-of-control-workloads and use them to measure our professional worth. Quite often, the load is in our control. That is, if we choose to say “no” more often and delegate smarter. Some of the most productive workers are masters of delegating. I have been (and still am) guilty of hoarding menial tasks because it’s “easier if I just do it myself.” Don’t listen to this voice. It’s the voice of a micromanager, the voice of someone who doesn’t have time for bigger picture items. It’s the voice of someone who will never find that “it” thing, because they’re too busy fixing a paper jam.

Do you have administrative staff, interns, eager-to-learn-employees who are able to help? Pass left, let them have a taste.

Adopt a signature style.
Most small-batch breweries have a specialty beer that is always on tap. This is the one they’ve brewed thousands of times over. They’re known for it. Whether it’s an IPA, lager, oatmeal stout, or Scotch ale – they know which of their brews are the strongest and most popular. It’s like StrengthsFinder for beer.

So once you learn to delegate and have someone else fix the fax-machine-from-hell, you’ll have more time to spend on the good stuff. Now you can hunker down, prioritize, and get in The Zone. You will begin to experience work flow. The more you focus your time and attention on a particular task, the better you will get at doing it. And a beautiful thing will happen – you’ll begin to develop your niche and you’ll find more purpose in your work.

Takeaway: You can’t get good unless you suck it up and do the damn thing (and do it a lot).

Get better with age.
One of my favorite success quotes comes from the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” So to clarify, you can’t just wake up one day and decide that you’re going to open a brewery. First you actually need to brew beer. When my partner and I embarked on our own home brew journey, we thought it’d be a piece of cake. I mean, how hard could it be?

Um, pretty difficult, you guys.

Our first batch, despite the love and care we put into it, was a disaster. The inaugural sip of Stout Baby was pretty good – we were giddy, confident. So we wrapped up 50-or-so bottles to give away as Christmas presents. Later on, we learned that we botched the bottling process and many of our gifts were skunked. Friends don’t let friends drink crappy beer, and ours said, “Merry Christmas, we hate you.” 

In order to get better at brewing, we need do do it more often and learn from our mistakes. We’re no experts, but the brews get a little tastier each time.

The same should be true of your work. Find something that you want to get good at and that will give you a sense of purpose. Dive in with the expectation that you might bite it hard in the beginning. Dive in with the expectation that you’ll spend many hours struggling – Malcolm Gladwell also says that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master something. The trick is to pick yourself up and keep going.

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” -Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

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