How playing on the edge will help you tap into your brilliance and produce your best work.
I spent the first half of my 20's making as many mistakes as I could, and the second half learning from my experiences.
What is ‘the middle’ and how do you know if you’re stuck there?
‘The middle’ is a cozy spot nestled between shitty and great.
If you answer “Busy! So busy.” when someone asks how you are, but you’re still not producing your greatest work, you’re in the middle.
Harsh? Maybe, but I’m not here to lie to you, baby boy.
I’ve had my own run-ins with the middle. In fact, staying out of the middle is a daily fight.
About a year and a half ago I decided to get serious about my online business, and steeped myself in digital marketing culture.
I also became acquainted with the most overused buzzword of the last two years.
While applying ‘hustle’ I developed habits that I’m trying to shake to this day.
One of which is the feeling that if I’m not busy, I’m letting my dreams slip away. This has led to a chronic need to be working, no matter how effective that work will be.
If I wasn’t working, planning to work, or thinking about work, my entire world would crumble. So I thought.
I also became reactive to my phone. I was like Pavlov’s dog. That thing dings, and I would go looking for my treat.
This isn’t healthy. And it doesn’t lead to great work.
The chronic need to feel busy is why people are putting out work that falls below their potential.
I get it, it’s like a badge of honor, disguised as a complaint.
Yet it keeps people chained to the mediocrity they’re working so hard to escape.
This is dangerous, because when you don’t turn all the way off, you can’t turn all the way on.
Hard work doesn’t need defending. Without it, nothing gets done.
But everything needs an opposing force, and the opposite of hard work is empty space.
There’s a famous story about Henry Ford and one of his efficiency experts.
His efficiency expert told him that he saw a man sitting in his office with his feet up.
Ford replied with, “That man once had an idea that saved me a million dollars. When he got that idea, he was sitting exactly the way he is now.”
Ford was no stranger to hustle, but he knew the value of empty space as a compliment to hard work.
Empty space is where the mind can dream, imagine possibilities, and process all those runaway thoughts you have throughout the day.
It’s also where some of the best ideas come from.
The problem is when people live in the world of empty space but never execute on their ideas by applying hard work.
Likewise, non stop work, or staying in a work mindset never allows you to wander into that empty space where you can tap into your brilliance.
To access your best work, you need to play on the edges. And you need to play on both edges, which act as opposing forces that compliment each other.
Hustle on one end, empty space on the other.
Playing in the middle, no real hustle or quality empty space, is death.
Train Hard to Rest Hard, Rest Hard to Train Hard
I first encountered this concept in the gym.
I’m an over-thinker, and solving the worlds problems when the lights go off kept me up at night.
I noticed that when I started lifting weights I slept better.
The harder I trained, the better I slept.
It worked in reverse too. The better I slept, the harder I could train.
In other words, the further I pushed out towards the edges the more quality work I produced in and out of the gym.
The Edges In Action- Go Deep to Go Hard
One of the my favorite examples of playing on the edge is a story about Marcello Garcia, who is one of the best grapplers on the planet.
I first read this story in the Tim Ferries book, Tools of Titans, and I’ll paraphrase it below.
Marcelo was in the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu world championship semifinals. He was asleep in the stands, unfazed by all the screaming and yelling around him.
When his match came up, he stumbled into the ring, completely relaxed. He suddenly switched on the intensity to a level unmatched by his opponent.
“He can turn it off so deeply, and man, when he goes in the ring you can’t turn it on with any more intensity than he can. His ability to turn it off is directly aligned with his ability to turn it on…” — Josh Waitzkin (Tools of Titans page 580)
Clouds and Dirt
Gary Vaynerchuk, the current face of business and digital marketing, preaches a concept he calls the clouds and the dirt.
The clouds refer to thinking and acting big.
Things like pursuing meetings with celebrities, trying to get your product featured on CNN, or landing a guest spot on late night TV.
These are big ideas that most people won’t pursue because they feel it’s beyond their ability.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the dirt. This refers to things like replying to every tweet, YouTube comment or reaching out to individuals they don’t know just to ask if they can help them in any way. These are things that most people won’t do because they feel they’re above it.
And that’s because most people are playing in the middle, between the clouds and the dirt.
The edges may be uncomfortable, counter-intuitive, and downright intimidating.
They may feel like you’re walking down the street naked in January.
But the middle is where mediocrity lives. And mediocrity is death.
Avoid the middle. Stay on the edge.