by Niall Doherty

“[I thought], if I stay with it, then one day I will have been playing for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it.” – Comedian Steve Martin on his strategy for learning the banjo.

I’m asked pretty regularly nowadays how to succeed at blogging. I don’t consider myself some big, hot-shot blogger by any means, but it seems quite a few folks are starting to perceive me that way, as evidenced by the emails I receive.

I always tell people though that anyone can succeed at blogging if they just stick with it for long enough.

I’ve been blogging at ndoherty.com for more than three years now. Before that I spent several years working on a basketball blog. I “succeeded” with both blogging projects simply because I stuck with them for a long time. With this current blog, I’ve never really had any massive publicity or big breaks to launch me from obscurity. It’s just been relentless tipping away and word of mouth and writing about things that scare me and which I believe will be of interest to others. That’s what got me to where I am.

But this isn’t the answer people want to hear. They want success now, or next week at the very latest.

I think my answer should be a relief. I find it reassuring to know that if I just stick with something for the long haul, chances are excellent that I’ll succeed at it. I don’t necessarily have to be the best at anything. I just have to have patience and persistence. I have to have staying power. Most people lack staying power, especially these days when we live in a world of instant gratification. Nobody wants to stick things out for very long without a reward. So if you can be one of the few people who do stick it out, you’ll end up with a disproportionate amount of the rewards. Very few others will still be around to challenge you for them.

The big question you have to ask yourself is this: What do you really want to succeed at? And then: Are you willing to work at it for ten, twenty or thirty years to get there? It probably won’t take that long, but you need to have the mentality that you’ll stick with it for the long haul if that’s what it takes.

Don’t get me wrong: Overnight success is definitely possible. Learn a language in three months? Possible. Add 34 lbs of muscle in four weeks? Also possible. Examples like that are great and inspirational and mind-expanding and everything, but I’ve also come to believe that such goals can be dangerously ambitious. They can easily lead to frustration, thinking you’re stupid or just not good enough when success doesn’t materialize as fast/easy as expected.

I’ve tried to learn a language in three months. I’ve tried to add significant muscle in a matter of weeks. In both cases, I made fast progress, but not as fast as I’d hoped, and then I let the disappointment creep in and lost motivation to continue. I haven’t studied Spanish seriously in about a year. I’ve had just one proper gym workout since I ended my muscle-building experiment five months ago.

I can’t help but wonder: What if I’d started out believing it would take years (not months) of study and practice to become fluent in Spanish? What if I’d started out believing it would take years (not months) of gym sessions to add all that muscle? Maybe I’d still be tipping away at those goals regularly. Or, maybe I’d have never taken them on in the first place, the time and effort requirements proving too daunting.

Hmm.

Here’s what I do know: Ambitious goals and short deadlines are great initially. They get me excited. They inspire me to dive in. But beyond that they’re pretty much useless. Once I’m out of the starting gate, I’m better off forgetting about the finish line and focusing instead on enjoying the journey, the process, the day-to-day practice. I have to fall in love with that. I have to make it a habit. Otherwise, I’m screwed.

By all means, explore the hacks and learn the shortcuts, but always keep that long play mindset. Adopt the perspective that you might not break through for years, and commit to going at it anyway, day after day, week after week.

More tortoise, less hare.

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