American poet Charles Bukowski wrote a poem titled, "So You Want to Be a Writer." In it he describes the passion necessary to write, or presumably tackle anything, at a high level. The author beautifully expresses the fervor and courage required from within for a writer striving for greatness.
Regardless of whether your quest is to write the great American novel or to build an enduring business, many parallels exist between paths to the respective destinations. So, if you want to be not just a (insert career), but a brilliant one at that, there are many important takeaways from the Bukowski poem.
"If it doesn't come busting out of you in spite of everything, don't do it."
To reach the rarified air that is greatness, you will undoubtedly face obstacles and challenges insurmountable to anyone who doesn't have the kind of internal fire that cannot be extinguished. Bukowski encourages us to follow our passion -- and only our passion -- because with it comes the courage to persevere through anything that gets in our way.
This doesn't mean if you dreamed of being an astronaut when you were 7 years old that you're a failure if you aren't one today. However, without an emotional investment in what you are doing, you’ll never unleash your full potential. If you're toiling away at something you don't love, take immediate action towards changing it up.
"If you're doing it for money or fame, don't do it."
What is the primary driver of your motivation? It should be something that if not pursued, would haunt you. While money, fame or other typical trappings of success can be a welcome byproduct of achievement, rarely will it be fully satisfying by itself. There's nothing wrong with seeking a career that provides you with a good living; just don't let money become your leading motivation. If you're great at something you love, it's a feeling that can't be matched -- and oftentimes other rewards will naturally accompany it.
"If you're trying to write like somebody else, forget about it."
Many people are fortunate to have had mentors throughout their lives. Whether a parent, coach, boss or otherwise, there can be tremendous value from learning from others or even modeling yourself after them. Every discipline requires certain fundamentals one must master. But beyond that, staying true to who you are is paramount. The "greats" at anything are great because they bring with them a palpable authenticity. They possess qualities that are so true to themselves that they can never be doubted or duplicated. In other words, make sure you bring to the table what makes you and only you special.
Bukowski's tombstone is engraved with two distinct markings on its otherwise nondescript surface. One is a symbol of a boxer, perhaps alluding to his pugilistic-like approach to life. The other is the brief epitaph, "Don't Try." A literal interpretation may lead one to suspect the author meant life is too short to care too much or to work too hard. His wife Linda, described it in quite a different way. "Yeah, I get so many different ideas from people that don't understand what that means. Well, 'Don't Try?' Just be a slacker? Lay back? And I’m no! Don't try, do. Because if you're spending your time trying something, you're not doing it….'Don't Try."
In other words, if you want to be a world-class (_____), don't just attempt it…go after it until you get it done.