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4 Things You Need To Be Good At Anything

2010 October 10
by Greg Satell

I started Digital Tonto a little over a year ago to get my views out about media and advertising.  I’ve always tried to say not only what I think, but why I think it and substantiate my views with facts.  For the most part, my efforts have been well received.

Lately though, I begun to feel like I’ve been cheating a bit.  In my quest to put my ideas on solid ground, I’ve dealt largely with issues that lend themselves to an evidenced based approach.  However, core beliefs can not be demonstrated in the same way that technical issues can.  Sometimes you just have to say what you think.

Therefore, here are four things that I think are truly important if you are going to succeed at anything.  I can’t prove them, but believe them to be true.


We all have some things that we like to do and  that we’re good at.  We can usually impress people with our talents, so there is a self reinforcing effect.  We are encouraged to do what we do best, therefore we do more of it and get better at it, which earns us even more admiration.

Much less is said about what we don’t want to do.  That could be getting to the gym when we feel tired, making it to meetings on time, sending thank you notes or learning a new skill.  These things are hard to do consistently, when we’re tired or depressed, day after day, decade after decade.  It’s a dreary business and others rarely notice our efforts.

Yet it’s the small, hard earned victories that are really important.  The things we struggle to do when no one will notice and for which we are unlikely to get credit.  That’s what separates mere talent and true excellence.


We all have ideas and can usually find some facts to support them.  Moreover, we can often get others to go along us.  Of course, the more people who agree with us, the stronger our beliefs become.

Unfortunately, we’re often wrong.  Usually, it’s a minor error, but sometimes we’re just wildly off the mark – absolutely mistaken.  This is hard to realize when those around you are cheering you on (the problem gets progressively worse as you move up the ranks).

This isn’t a problem that can be avoided altogether, we’re all prone to it.  The important thing is to constantly ask yourself, “What do you think you know and why do you think you know it.” Go out and test your beliefs, continue to uncover facts that could disprove them and get as much exposure as you can to people who think differently than you do.

As the great physicist Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”


We don’t like to think very much.  Most of our tasks we perform without thinking.  They are routine and while we are doing them, we are often thinking about something else.  We only notice this when our routine changes, such as when we change jobs and have to take a new route to work.

It is because we don’t think that we need good processes.  They guide us, increase our efficiency and help coordinate our actions with others.  Much, if not most, of what we do is fairly standard and we need standard ways of dealing with our everyday challenges.

Some processes are amazingly simple, such as preparing written agendas for meetings and following up with contact reports so that what was agreed upon actually gets done.  Other processes, such as building a web site, can be incredibly complex.

That’s not to say that processes should be set in stone.  We need to continually improve them.  Nor should we try to fit everything we do into the same box.    However, by learning to do common tasks efficiently, we free up time and energy to tackle the really interesting and important problems.


Probably the most important factor for being good at anything is having a real passion for what you do.  In fact, I think that discipline, rigor and process are all subservient to having a true romance with your life’s work.

In my travels, I’ve met many capable, highly intelligent people who had long ago lost their excitement for what they do. It always shows.  They tell themselves that they’re just being practical, even responsible.  The irony is that by simply “doing what needs to be done” they undermine their own efforts.

By resigning yourself to doing what you have no feeling for, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to do something you really love and would probably be more successful doing.  By taking comfort in familiar misery you avoid the pain of a difficult transition, but condemn yourself to life without meaning or accomplishment.

It is passion that makes the difference between your life’s mission and just a paycheck.

– Greg

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Stefano Tempesta permalink
    October 10, 2010

    I like the closing “It is passion that makes the difference between your life’s mission and just a paycheck”.

    How many times do we compromise our career for a safe job instead of following our real aspirations and ambitions?

    What do we need to make our “dreams” happen, work-wise speaking? A big bank account, a good idea, a supporting environment, being at the right time in the right place? Most of the probably, in my opinion, and passion above all, we’ve gotta to believe in what we do!

    Otherwise it’s just for paycheck’s sake.
    Inspiring and positive post Greg, thanks.

  2. October 10, 2010

    Ciao Bello!

    Thanks for commenting Stefano! Also glad to hear that your greatest passion will be returning this week with her mission accomplished:-)

    – Greg

  3. October 13, 2010

    Wow, Steve – great words – great motivation!

    Thanks for the “catch-all” wisdom – rings true on EVERY level!


  4. November 26, 2010

    Well said Greg!! Great points! Thanks for the words of wisdom!

    – Vijeesh

  5. November 26, 2010

    Thanks Vijeesh!

  6. November 26, 2010

    Dearest Greg, hi!

    PASSION is what makes the difference at the end of our days! PASSION is what puts a smile on our faces when accepting the inevitable part of growing old…PASSION is what makes ordinary people call some A FORCE OF NATURE! Yes, Passion drives success when young!

    PASSION drives with a certain attitude…

    May you have an incredible 2011 Greg!!!


  7. November 27, 2010

    Greg, Very well said! You have written a crisp and well structured blog!

    – Raja Bavani

  8. November 27, 2010

    Thanks, Raja!

  9. November 27, 2010

    Hi Greg,
    Thank you for your post and I could not agree more. When it comes to our work passion is just so important. Most of us have to work so you may as well find something that your excited and satisfied doing, beyond simply a pay cheque. I like that you talk about “cheating yourself of the opportunity to do something you really love.” Not only are you cheating yourself, chances are you are also making those around you miserable if you are doing a job you do not enjoy.

  10. November 27, 2010

    Thanks, Kelly. Best of luck with

    – Greg

  11. November 27, 2010

    Thanks, Gertrude. Nice to see you back:-))

    – Greg

  12. Mai Le permalink
    December 5, 2010

    Great idea!

    Passion plays a very important role in what we are doing.

  13. December 5, 2010

    Thx Mai Le

    – Greg

  14. December 7, 2010

    I just love the last line, “It is passion that makes the difference between your life’s mission and just a paycheck.” I concur Greg, great article!

  15. December 7, 2010

    Thx Julie!

    – Greg

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