'Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.' -- Thomas Edison
In his most recent blog entry, Jeff Atwood shares his secret on How to Achieve Ultimate Blog Success In One Easy Step: set a goal to write x blog entries per week, and then do it. It doesn't, Jeff claims, matter whether you have any writing talent, whether you have any audience, or whether you have anything interesting to say - just start blogging and keep blogging regularly, and good things will come.
Jeff's advice is a bit trite and does come off as sounding a little like one of those motivational speakers that gives talks to high school students in a Thursday afternoon assembly. The problem is that Jeff makes it sound like persistence is all you need in order to succeed at blogging, but that's not true. In mathematical terms, persistence is a necessary, but not sufficient condition. Taking things to a logical extreme, if persistence trumped quality and content, then surely someone would have created a computer program by now to generate ham fisted essays and would have this generator pumping out a new entry a day for thousands of blogs, and each blog would have a loyal readership in the thousands or tens of thousands, and this clever soul would be richer than Google.
I don't mean to discount the importance of persistence. Persistence will make you better at what you do and will help you stand out from the crowd, but persistence alone is not enough to achieve 'ultimate success' in any field.
But who needs to be an 'ultimate success' anyway? I think most people are content to be a 'success,' and persistence and practice will dramatically increase your chances for success in any given task. You may not be the smartest programmer in your workplace, but I am positive that if you read a new book each month relating to the technology you use, if you put in one extra hour a day to review other programmers' code, if you just make a repeated and consistent effort to be a better programmer, then you will become a better programmer and your improvements will quickly become noticed by others. You may never be the best programmer in your workplace (although you might), but persistence and hard work will unquestionably improve your skills and value to the company.
The main reason why persistence is such a hallmark of success is because very few people have the motivation or drive to make a schedule and stick with it. The very act of sustained effort already puts you ahead of 90% of the crowd.
Finding the motivation to stick with a schedule can, of course, be hard (otherwise everyone would demonstrate a level of sticktoitiveness. The easiest way to keep at a particular task is to, obviously, choose a task that you thoroughly enjoy. So if you are considering taking on a new job or avocation, make sure you choose something that you love to do! I can't stress this enough. Too many people choose a career path based on what other people want them to do, or based on how much money they think they can earn, but you will ultimately have a higher quality of life if you instead find a job in a field you love. You will do better at your job, your days will be more interesting and rewarding, and you'll likely make more money in the long run than working in a job you dislike.
This 'do what you love' concept also applies to hobbies. If you are going to start blogging and want to become a blog superstar like Jeff, first of all make sure that you like writing, and second, pick a topic that wholely interests you.
Another tip: remove distractions. With so many entertainment options it's easy to procrastinate, to find an excuse, to move on to something else, to Alt+Tab off to something more interesting. By removing distractions you lessen this likelihood. For me, one distraction I've kept out of my life since 2001 is a rich TV experience. Yes, we have a TV, but it's an old 19 inch cube with an antennae that can pick up about seven fuzzy English-speaking channels. I've often contemplated getting cable or a satellite, and once had gone so far as to have a technician come out and do an initial visit for DirecTV, but in the end I have stuck with our current television situation because I know upgrading would just introduce one more distraction into my life.
Of course, there are times when we must work hard on an activity that is not enjoyable (for, hopefully, a short time). In that case, start by identifying the end goal, the reason for the struggle. Next, make a written schedule outlining what days and times the undesirable task will be performed. Then stick with it. Each day remind yourself of the end goal, and take note of your progress. Know that tomorrow is one day closer to that goal.
Let me close with two more quotes by Thomas Edison, who really had some great insight into hard work and persistence:
'Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.'
'I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun.'