Even for the mega-successful, there is often a story of struggle behind the scenes.
Before LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman achieved entrepreneurial stardom, he launched SocialNet, an online dating and social network that was a massive flop. Jeff Bezos’s pre-Amazon era featured several failed startups, including online auction site zShops.
Actors know this struggle just as well, if not better, than entrepreneurs. They often attend hundreds of casting calls only to be rejected, or do countless bit parts without achieving what could be labeled by anyone as breakthrough success.
Bryan Cranston, the star of the one of the most binged and binge-worthy series of our times, Breaking Bad, broke through. In his 2016 memoir, A Life in Parts, Cranston shares how he finally got his self-induced break by shifting his mindset.
Early in Cranston’s career he was an auditioning machine for commercials or guest-starring roles, a bevy of high-pressure stabs that might serve as at least a step up to the big time. But he was walking into a slew of rooms where he felt he had no power. All that changed when a mentor suggested a new outlook, and it led to an honest-to-goodness six-word secret to his success:
“Focus on process rather than outcome.”
Suddenly, Cranston felt free. He approached each audition as not an attempt to get something, but to give something–a performance. And giving a great performance requires staying obsessively focused on the process of preparing to be able to give a great performance. He learned that if he overly focused on the outcome (will he get that part?) it set him up for disappointment and left him yearning for validation. Focusing solely on the outcome had also kept him from taking risks, as he didn’t want to lose a potential gig with a misstep.
But this mindset shift, of falling in love with and staying laser-focused on the process, changed everything for him. Soon after he adopted it, he got the role in Malcolm in the Middle, and then the career-changing Breaking Bad starring role.
Here’s why this is brilliant advice.
When you continually focus on the outcome, you can actually keep yourself from achieving it. The fear of not getting the outcome you want, exacerbated by how much time you spend thinking about it, can cause undue anxiety and stress, keep you from taking the risks necessary to achieve it, and rob you of all the joy of the required work along the way. As a result, you don’t relax throughout the preparation process, and you’re far less likely to do your best work.
Example: I give lots of keynotes in front of lots of audiences. I learned to stop fretting about the outcome, “Will the audience walk away having been riveted, inspired, informed, and armed with epiphanies to help them?” When I first started as a professional speaker, worrying over this made the first few keynotes far less enjoyable than they could have been–I was too worried about the outcome. And I held back from some things I wanted to try as a speaker because I didn’t want to risk the outcome I wanted.
I didn’t start giving my best keynotes until I finally relaxed about the outcome and started taking risks and letting my creativity flow.
Relatedly, giving a world-class speech takes an incredible amount of hard work, research, practice, and more practice. And then more practice. It can feel mundane, unless you teach yourself to fall in love with the process of process and all that comes with it.
You have to embrace the suck to stick the landing.
This isn’t true just for professional speakers. It’s true in all occupations and walks of life. And here’s the good news: When you shift your focus to process over outcome, you’ll absolutely get better at all the things that will directly lead to the outcome you want anyway. In fact, you’ll raise the bar on the outcome you expect for yourself because a focus on process builds mastery and confidence, and confidence leads to greater outcomes.
So it’s time to make like Bryan Cranston and start breaking bad. Habits, that is–like obsessing on the end point over the journey.