3 Boring Elements of Success

Jane at AWP 2011
Jane moderating AWP 2011 transmedia panel

I don’t think my age is a secret, but just to be clear: I’m 34.

Sometimes when I speak at conferences, people say they expected someone older. I’ve been hearing this since 2002.

I think there are a variety of reasons for this—not least among them that many decision makers in publishing are younger than what you’d expect—but I did attain a significant position by the age of 30.

How did that happen?

It’s not talent or smarts.

No, the conclusion I’ve come to is that it has been about these 3 things:

1. Being extraordinarily focused and stable in my career direction
I stayed in one place for a long time (F+W Media, 12 years). I outlasted a lot of other people and gained more responsibility as the years passed. I focused on developing my skills in a very specific area, and I didn’t waste energy on anything but that one, single passion: publishing (or: writing/editing).

 2. Being dedicated and consistent. This is nearly the same as No. 1, but relates to what I pushed out to the world, or my external-facing career. When I started a blog, it wasn’t immediately successful. But I stuck with it, and I improved my skills. Same with speaking at events, same with Facebook, same with Twitter, same with other stuff that isn’t yet fruitful.

Not every effort can be a winning one, but most ventures require patience for them to pay off. Given that we live in an environment of instant gratification, people who can see things through are often the ones who get a return on their time and energy.

3. Being aware of trends & industry
I’ve always loved reading news and opinions about the publishing industry. I seek out stories about who’s succeeding, or who’s pushing the envelope. When you read trend stories year after year after year, even if you can’t articulate it, you’re learning something fundamental about how the industry operates, and where it’s going. You’re soaking up the DNA of the industry, the texture and context of every decision, success and failure.


What I’m Still Missing
I have a mile-long list of things I’ve wanted to do, but haven’t. Why? Here are the 2 biggest weaknesses I battle.

1. Discipline
I am the most undisciplined accomplished person you will ever meet. I procrastinate, I waste amazing amounts of time (e.g., watching 8 episodes of Battlestar Galactica in one night), I am rarely strategic with projects since I wait until last minute.

2. Time to really think about breaking the rules
My blog is called There Are No Rules, yet I find myself short on time—due to No. 1!—which means I will rush without having time to truly think about how I can do something innovative. For me, meaningful, groundbreaking work takes solitude, quiet time (to write/sketch), focused reading across diverse fields, experimentation. It requires time to fail (planned time to fail).

All that said: I make it a point to enjoy myself. So I seek gentle self-coercion tactics to be more disciplined, so I can plan more carefully, so I can fail in time to be more effective and innovative.

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