The Inspire Me series of posts consist of other people’s works I have found extremely valuable and insightful. I will quote extensively from these works while adding my own comments as to why these works are worth reading and re-reading (in this case: watching and re-watching). I share these posts in the hope that they, too, can inspire you as much as they have me.
Eric Thomas was a nobody. He lived in one of the poorest cities in America, dropped out of high-school, and became homeless. Today, he’s got a PhD in Education, super-rich, and one of the greatest teachers on how to become and stay successful. His recorded speech to a classroom of students is literally what inspired me to start this blog a few years back. These are the videos of that speech.
He shares 3 principles he learned throughout the years that were directly responsible for his success.
1.) When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, you will be successful.
Of course, the context of this first principle is you have to first imagine yourself drowning. It should thus be reworded to: When you want to succeed as bad as a drowning person wants to breathe: then you will be successful. I think the main idea here is really really really desiring success. You got to be absolutely beyond thirsty.
A corollary idea, and one that is not talked about in the video, is having a clear picture in your head of what that success actually looks like. Having a clear, concrete goal in mind must be a precondition to wanting to achieve it. If you don’t know where you’re going, how would know how to get there, and also, how would you know when you have arrived? The drowning person knows exactly what he wants (to breathe) but most of us either has no idea what success looks like or only a vague sense of what it may entail (for example: an unreasonable amount of money). For Eric himself, his idea of success was finishing his education, being in a successful marriage, and making money by making a difference in people’s lives. He knew exactly what he wanted. I think it important to remember that one’s success may not look like another person’s success. You got to clearly define what success means to you.
Eric further expands on this principle as wanting success more than wanting anything else (partying, sleeping etc). Basically to be able to forgo short-term pleasures in order to obtain long-term goals. This brings us to the next principle.
2.) To be able, at any moment, to sacrifice what you are for what you will become.
This principle reminds me of the psychology study where they tested children’s ability to delay gratification. They were put in a room with a marshmallow (or another similar treat like a cookie), and told they could eat it. But they were also told that if they wait until the researcher came back in 15 minutes, then they can have the treat and an additional extra one! Some children ate the treat right away but some children were able to wait until they can get the extra treat. Years later, a follow-up study showed that the children who were able to wait for the extra treat grew up to be more academically successful.
The idea here is that to obtain success, we have to able to sacrifice the distractions to that success. It means we have to take a hard-look at our life and drop the very things that are preventing our success. If you want to be healthy, it means you have to give up smoking. If you want to save money, you got to give up mindless spending. If we want to achieve something significant, sometimes we just have to give up something else in order to get it. This is something I personally struggle with constantly. I love sleeping. And I spend an absurd amount of time browsing reddit and facebook even though most of it are what are affectionately termed “shit posts”. What blogger and procrastination expert Tim Urban calls “spending a lot of time in the Dark Playground“.
At one point in the video, Eric talks about giving up sleep. Obviously no one is giving up sleep entirely, like I’m positive that is physiologically impossible… Yeah, I get it, you should spend time working hard towards your success. But you also have to work smart. I think that includes taking reasonable breaks and making sure your psychological and physical needs are met. In Japan, where people work harder than probably anywhere else in the world, there is a term called Karōshi. It is a well-documented phenomenon where an employee dies mid-work due to continuously working under high-stress conditions. Make sacrifices for your success, but don’t sacrifice your basic needs, please! Moving on…
3.) Pain is temporary: it may last a minute, an hour, a day, or even a year. But eventually, it will subside and something else will take its place. If you quit however, it will last forever.
I strongly agree with Eric when he says we are a “soft generation” and we all “spoiled”. We don’t fundamentally understand the value of hard-work and enduring pain. At least, I didn’t. I never really worked hard for anything in my life other than chasing girls. And I sucked at that. School was easy for me, I liked to read and my marks hovered between an A and a B. I had both parents and lived in a comfy suburban neighborhood in a town called Richmond Hill. Looking back, however, I think there were definitely painful moments of my life. Like moving to a new school mid-semester in another country, betrayal of close friends, a car accident etc. Pain never seemed like a good thing to me.
But the pain Eric talks about is the pain you must endure in order for your dreams to come true. The pain that accompanies hard-work, frustration, and failure. All the great artists and thinkers I truly admire, every single one of them worked their asses off to get themselves to be where they are now. Greatness cannot be obtained without hard-work, period. It’s hard to grasp this because hard-work is something we do not directly see in the final product. When we encounter something utterly incredible in our lives, we see something polished, elegant, and sometimes even looks effortless. But I can assure you that amazing piece of work has gone through several major revisions prior to its current form. How “effortless” something looks is in direct proportion to how much time was spent practicing and perfecting. The fruit of labor is always bright and sweet, but the roots will always be hidden and bitter. One major obstacle we all have to get past is the fear of failure. Just remember, no one is super good at something in the beginning. Adventure Time cartoon character Jake said it best: “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something”.
I hope Eric has moved you somewhat closer to your success. The following is a bonus video of him visiting his home town several years later.
Eric Thomas is now the author of many books and continues to inspire people across the world. For more information on Eric Thomas and his material, you can visit his official website [http://etinspires.com] and his youtube channel.