What To Do When Hard Work And Skill Aren’t Enough

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Every year, the NBA’s fans, players and coaches select 24 All-Stars to play in a mid-season exhibition game.

24 stars.

There’s a smaller group of players — the superstars — who are a subset of that group of stars. Superstars aren’t elected; there’s no criteria for choosing them. But basketball fans generally agree that this list is smaller: 5-8 players, total.

What’s the difference between an All-Star and a Superstar?

Most people, thinking linearly, have a simple answer: the superstar is just better than the star.

Some, going a level deeper, explain that the superstar works harder than the star. That extra hour in the gym every day starts to add up!

Others, defending the superstar potential of the mere star, cite opportunity: if the star was to switch teams with the superstar, the star would be scoring all those points too!

All solid arguments in certain contexts.

All wrong.

Seth wrote a great post on supermodels years ago that still resonates with me to this day.

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When everyone in the room has skills, talent, a track record, and whatever else people think they need in order to “justify” a higher standing, it’s not 1% more skill that separates you. It’s not the extra hour of work, either.

Most people can’t discern a 15% skill difference between people, let alone 1% (or any number in between).

No one knows (or, for the most part, cares) how much you’ve practiced.

It starts with your own decision making.

The way you decide to see yourself determines how you show up and present yourself, and what you expect of and for yourself.

All of that determines your actions: what you do with your time. Where you go. What you charge for your goods. The audience you attract. Whom you associate with. What you accept and what you refuse.

The way you present yourself, along with those expectations and subsequent actions, set the standard for how everyone else sees and responds to you — and who sees and responds to you.

All of the above creates a mix that eventually produces an outcome: you’re either a (metaphorical) superstar, regular star, role player, bench player, or spectator sitting in the stands.

This applies across all industries.

If it’s that simple, Dre, why do we have so few superstars?

Here’s why: the leap from star to superstar is not a straight line.

You can’t make people see you as a superstar until they’re ready to do so. You can provide supporting material to sell them on the idea, but they must, at some point, make the decision to accept it and you.

Until then, you’re in No Man’s Land, waiting in limbo for your “big break” that may or may not happen.

This can be nerve wrecking, time consuming and generally disconcerting. Most people eventually stop trying and accept the role that they have, rather than trying to make a jump that possibly will never work. And we can’t blame them.

As Seth said, you don’t walk there. You leap. A leap can come up short. And that fall hurts.

Once you have skill and game, the game changes.

You’re not trying to out-skill and out-work everyone anymore. Skill and work still matter, but they’re no longer the differentiating factors.

Now, the game is: taking the right elements of that skill, applying and packing them in such a way that people’s perception of you changes.

Then, working hard on optimizing that skill package for its intended audience until you hit on the winning formula.

Starting on this requires space.


Deep, undistracted and uninterrupted thinking about who you are, what you have, where and why it matters.

Then, presenting it all in a way that maximizes the effect of your work and thusly the way people see you.

And, one more thing: ALL of this might fail.

Good luck.

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PS – I’m doing a FREE, live event at Books And Books Coral Gables (Miami) on June 22: It Takes More Than Hard Work. I’ll be discussing my book Work On Your Game, autographing any books purchased on-site, taking photos and answering questions in a live Q&A. Register for the free event here.

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