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What Every Successful Person Knows, But Never Says

What Every Successful Person Knows, But Never Says

Ira Glass is the host and executive producer of the popular National Public Radio show, This American Life.

Each week, This American Life is broadcast to more than 1.7 million listeners across 500 different radio stations. For Glass, who is featured in almost every episode, the show has led to a wide range of opportunities including book deals, feature films, and appearances on popular television shows.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way.

What Every Successful Person Knows, But Never Says

Glass started out at NPR as a 19-year-old intern. The next decade was filled with a lot of hard work and very little payoff as he worked as a reporter.

Fifteen years into his career, Glass finally began co-hosting his first show, which was called The Wild Room. The show was his idea, but Glass would later describe it by saying, “One show would be horrible and two shows would be decent.” The Wild Room aired during a particularly unpopular Friday evening slot. Interestingly, in Glass’ own words he says, “It deserved its time slot.”

After struggling through two years of The Wild Room, Glass finally pitched the idea for This American Life and received meager funding to get it started. Over 15 years and millions of listeners later, the rest is history.

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But here’s the part that I find really interesting.

Check out how Ira Glass describes his long struggle to create something noteworthy.

From Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.”
— Ira Glass

If you’d like to hear Glass say it himself, listen to the audio clip below.

The Thing That Got You Into The Game

We all have reasons for being pulled to the things we love.

When he was just a 19-year-old intern, Ira Glass had a taste for journalism and storytelling. He knew what good journalism looked like when it was done well. However, it took him 17 years of work before he could start to do it well himself. As he says above, that was rather frustrating.

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I think you and I face a similar type of battle.

  • Spend a year or two in the gym and you’ll start to recognize good technique, even if your own could use some work. This is something I’m struggling with right now. I know a great clean and jerk when I see one, but when I grab hold of the bar it’s still hard for me to pull it off.
  • Start writing consistently and you’ll begin to take notice when you read great work. That said, good luck trying to produce your own brilliant words. In the beginning, it can be difficult just to get something on the page. Even when you can hammer out sentences, young writers quickly learn that all words aren’t created equal. Even with consistent writing each week, I still feel like I fail to produce something of note.
  • Watch a dozen TED Talks and you’ll be able to point out what you like and don’t like about certain presenters. However, if you were to jump up on stage yourself, the difficulty of captivating an audience — even for a minute or two — would become quite apparent.

And so it goes for virtually any skill. There is always a gap between being an apprentice and being a craftsman. The apprentice has the taste, but not the skill. The craftsman has the taste and the skill.

It’s easier to recognize beauty than it is to create it. You’re good enough to know that what you’re doing isn’t good, but not good enough to produce something great. When you find yourself in this frustrating limbo, the challenge is to never forget what got you there in the first place. Remember that thing that got you into the game.

Your love. Your passion. Your taste. That’s the reason you’re here. You still belong, even if you don’t feel like it right now. Your taste can be killer even if your ability is questionable.

Commit to the process and you’ll become good enough, soon enough. Put in a volume of work. Close the gap.

What to Do Next

Developing skills that are as good as your taste comes down to habits. The ability to “fight your way through” – as Glass says – hinges on your consistency to show up and do the work. Can you build the habits required to make small improvements day after day?

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I don’t claim to have all the answers, but my hope is that I can help a little bit. I’ve spent the last year writing and researching the science of habit formation. Much of what I have learned (including strategies for becoming more consistent and improving your performance) is covered in my free 46-page guide called Transform Your Habits. It’s available for free to anyone who subscribes to my weekly newsletter.

If you haven’t already read it, you can download a copy here.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

 

References:
1. Ira Glass interview.

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Featured photo credit: Ricky Montalvo via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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