Have you ever heard the saying: ‘there are no crowds lining the extra mile’?
It’s the place where you’re on your own. Just you and the road. Just you and the challenge, or vision, or goal you’ve set yourself, professionally or personally or both!
It’s the work you do behind closed doors, when no one is watching.
It’s the extra rep in the gym, when everyone else has left.
It’s the extra lap around the track, when it’s pouring with rain.
It’s the practice, the habits, the mindset you adopt, to make YOU the best YOU can be.
Every day, you decide how much effort you’re going to put in. A little, or what’s expected or the extra mile. I promise you, few choose the last option. It’s certainly not a crowded place. But it is often the place where the difference between good and great is made.
When someone’s great at something we’re in awe of it and them. It’s easy to assume they’ve got there because they’re special or lucky or have the right contacts. Usually it’s none of those things. It’s simply they put in the extra effort, willing to do more than was necessary. They went the extra mile.
Masters of their craft, whatever their specialist field of endeavour, are part of a select group of people who really live the saying: ‘there are no crowds lining the extra mile’
Because the extra mile is where they spend most of their time.
They don’t subscribe to the tribe of life; the herd mentality. For them, a life of mediocrity is not an option.
Instead they invest their time every day in being the best of the best, raising their personal standards and chasing perfection. Even though perfection isn’t truly attainable, they know by going the extra mile they may just catch excellence on the journey.
Famed Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray put it rather beautifully:
‘Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.’
The difference between being good, or even great, and being masterful is immense.
Because there is no short cut to mastery, and anyone who has committed themselves to the time and effort required to achieve it, simply exists in a different category; an easy, often lone occupant of the extra mile.
So how can you get there?
Perhaps you’re familiar with the theories of author Malcolm Gladwell and his book Outliers: the story of success, in which he suggests that becoming a master of anything is a matter of practising it for ten thousand hours.
If this is new to you, let me break it down a little bit, because this is a really compelling idea, and one that has had a dramatic impact on leadership training and ideology since it first made its appearance around 2008.
One example he uses to illustrate his point is The Beatles.
The Beatles were rejected early in their career, but it seems all the more remarkable when you consider just how firmly on the track to superstardom they already were thanks to a random twist of fate.
The Beatles were clearly an unusually talented act and the song writing capabilities of John Lennon and Paul McCartney are surely not open to any credible challenge. But the world is littered with talented men and women who haven’t had the success the Fab Four had, leaving Gladwell to speculate that there must be something entirely different going on.
Enter, the ten thousand hours’ rule.
You see, The Beatles burst onto the scene in 1962, gaining prominence in 1963 and really hitting the big time from 1964 onwards . . . but they had been playing together since 1957. That’s significant for reasons that I will share in a moment.
It adds some context to an interesting fact about The Beatles however: their greatest achievement according to many Beatles fans is the album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was recorded just three short years after their breakthrough . . . but actually, it was fully ten years after they formed. Far from being an unusual artistic achievement, could their talent have been an act of purposeful design? Let’s look at their back-story.
In 1960, after they received credit as a club band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. It wasn’t a traditional concert tour they were contracted into however: the terms of their agreement were that they would play for eight hours per day, seven days per week, as a permanent musical act at a club. Customers would come and customers would go, so the boys made every song they played last 20 minutes with 20 solos in it.
It couldn’t have been better practice for The Beatles. That daily repetition meant they learned to read each other, to work together predictably, and to play their instruments and the music they made, with increasing skill.
John Lennon had this to say about it, according to The Beatles: The Authorised Biography by Hunter Davies:
‘We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with all the experience playing all night long. It was handy them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into, to get ourselves over. In Liverpool, we’d only ever done one-hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing’.
In Hamburg, between 1960 and 1962 alone, The Beatles played nearly 2,700 hours together on stage. By the time they had their first success in 1964, they had played more than 1,200 times. It’s an almost unheard of number; most bands never play that many times in their entire careers. The Beatles did it before they even made it big.
Philip Norman, who wrote another biography of The Beatles, titled Shout! said that Hamburg was the making of them.
‘They were no good on stage when they went there and they were very good when they came back . . . they weren’t disciplined on stage at all before that. But when they came back, they sounded like no one else . . .’
Mastery takes time, and dedicated pursuit.
Choosing mastery is about choosing to dedicate your focus to constant improvement, and finding that extra fuel in your tank, even when you think you’ve arrived, to kick on to the next level and squeeze that extra potential from within.
The masters in their chosen fields are never okay to be just okay; excellence is the game they play and the extra mile is their arena and where they spend their time.
So, what now? As I see it you have two choices:
First, you can continue as you were, letting your ideas fade into memory, waiting for the perfect conditions which will never come. I hope you don’t. I want to see you realize your personal and professional goals and ambitions now.
Which brings us to choice number two: you can actively implement continuous improvement. It doesn’t have to be grand sweeping gestures that last for a day, just small, incremental changes over time.
Business and life is about marginal gains. Marginal gain can be technical, physical, practical, operational and even psychological. In the film Any Given Sunday, the Al Pacino character calls it ‘Inches’:
‘You find out that life is just a game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small…on this team, we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch…because we know when we add up all of those inches that’s going to make the difference between WINNING and LOSING.’
So, to all of you who are pursuing your specialist field of endeavour, whatever it may be, I salute you.
Going the extra mile, which doesn’t come with a pay cheque, or sick leave or recognition is getting you closer to where you need to be, one inch at a time.