(From our July 2021 newsletter.)
What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? You hear that question occasionally in self-improvement seminars. Realtors consume a lot of that stuff, so I’ve encountered the question more than once.
The idea is, if you could operate without fear, you’d perform a lot better. Because fear is what’s holdings you back. Fear is why you haven’t become a NASCAR driver, or written a screenplay, or asked that pretty girl out on a date.
Fear of failure is one flavor. There is also fear of success, rejection, the unknown... With your fears quieted, you could sail through life unobstructed. Your screenplay may or may not be a big box office hit--that’s beyond the point of this exercise. But you’d have completed something, and over a lifetime, you might rack up all sorts of accomplishments.
Presumably. So goes the thinking.
Seth Godin is a brilliant business marketing strategist and the author of 20-odd best-selling books including “The Practice.” Godin doesn’t like the “couldn’t fail” question. A better one, he asserts, is this:
"What would you do if you were guaranteed to fail?"
In other words, how would you spend your time if there were no prospect for applause or awards? If the only motivator were steady improvement, how would you spend your time? In which processes would you engage?
Because “process” is where it’s at. Habits, routines, and processes are what drives improvement. Yet ironically you must remain devoted only to the routine.
There is no shortage of good ideas in the world. What’s lacking is the ability to ship the work out the door. That ability comes from process and consistency.
In “The Practice,” Godin says this: “We’d like to believe that showing up to play jazz is fundamentally different than showing up to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.”
But it is not fundamentally different, he says. Any worthwhile endeavor is an act of creativity. Your role is to deliver the goods as creatively as possible. We are all engaged in “the practice.”
When I read that sentence, a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. In my mind it lessened the pressure to perform, replacing it with a simple obligation to show up and engage.
I have been in real estate for 15 years. First as a journalist and ghost writer of investor instruction manuals. Then as an investor, two-time homebuilder, and licensed real estate broker. And for about that long, I have struggled to conceptually connect real estate with my other great passion in life:
Bluegrass banjo picking captured my imagination in 1976. Younger musicians now ask how long I’ve been playing. I tell them when I started playing, Gerald Ford was President. One kid asked me, president of what?
For 15 years, I have felt there was some cosmic connection between playing music and practicing real estate. I just couldn't put my finger on it, and didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it. Still don’t, really.
Readers of this real estate newsletter sometimes ask me, “What’s this subject got to do with real estate?” Sometimes the answer is, “Uh, nuthin.” But I believe this edition—about processes and consistency—relates to everything.
About a third of the way through reading “The Practice,” I made a resolution. I would spend the next four days learning to play a banjo tune vaguely familiar to me, called Molly Bloom. I’d spend at least an hour a day practicing, and each day I’d make a quick video to show my progress.
The four-day exercise would end on July 6, one day before the unchangeable deadline for shipping this this newsletter. I would post the videos here, available for viewing in the July 7 edition.
Again, the objective was not to master the tune, nor even to play it particularly well. My only obligation was to the process; to show up for four days and then post a video.
Having done that, here are some observations.
- Practicing music can be drudgery. In the past four days, it has been more fun than usual.
- Action causes enthusiasm. It is not necessarily the other way around.
- “The Practice” is the most motivating thing I have ever read.
With that, and with neither pride nor apology, I give you “Molly Bloom.”