The Rest is Never History

You’ve heard a lot of stories that ended with, “And the rest is history.”  It’s not true.

The phrase conveys a sense of well-known, easy to plot steps from where the story left off to where things currently stand.  It’s the part that comes after the crazy, obstacle-filled origin story.  It’s the easy part.

In reality, “the rest” is harder than the beginning.

What about the heartwarming story of the guy who somehow made it through flat tires and lost keys and pouring rain to accidentally end up on the wrong blind date that turned out to be his soul mate?  After the drama of the first encounter it’s easy to treat the rest as history.  They went on more dates, got engaged, and got married.  But anyone who’s gone from first meeting to marriage knows that process is much harder to work through than first date nerves.

What about the aspiring actress who packs up all her things and heads to Hollywood, works as a waitress, auditions every chance she can to no avail, and then unknowingly impresses a big name agent she served at the restaurant?  Sure, the agent gets her her first part, but I assure you the rest is not history.  Countless people get their first part.  It’s not at all obvious or inevitable to them that it will produce a second, third, or Oscar winning fourth part.

The danger of believing the rest is history is that we’ll pin too much on that one big break or chance encounter.  There certainly are defining moments in our lives, but that’s because of the way in which we remember them and the easy identifiers that accompany.  The real story of success begins much earlier, with the choices that define who we are and what we bring to and can do with that big moment, and continues much later, with the way we use the power of the moment and parlay it into sustained results.

That couple had fights, and jealousy, and misunderstanding, and pain, and money problems, and disproving friends and family, and religious differences, and cultural divides, and different taste in food and Netflix shows to overcome.  Love at first sight is the easy part.  Living together and agreeing to the terms of a long term relationship is hard.  The part called history is what produces the outcome.

That actress had roles she hated, and typecasting, and dry spells, and pressure from family, and haters, and creepers, and unreturned phone calls, and money problems, and bad reviews, and stalled shows, and a new agent, and Twitter arguments, and TMZ to overcome.  Getting the agent and the first role is the easy part.  Handling fame, fighting to define a brand, and getting the next job before the current one is through is hard.  The part called history is the battle for continued growth.

“The rest is history” really means the rest is a longer, slower, less interesting slog through every mundane challenge and self-destructive mindset imaginable.  It means the rest of the story is something that can’t fit in a 2o-minute interview and doesn’t make for inspirational story time.  It means the rest is what transformed the subject from the person present at that fateful moment to the person standing before you.

There’s nothing automatic about history.

When we’re tempted to feel bad for ourselves because we haven’t had the big break, or think only in terms of achieving it, it’s good to remember that the break is the beginning, not the end, of the really hard part.  The challenges that follow the break are tougher and lonelier, in part because everyone else believes the rest is history.

Dig into any success story and look for the real process called “the rest”.  That’s where greatness is found.

The Two Things That Trump Talent

One of the big secrets in the professional world is that talent is not the most valuable thing to clients, employers, coworkers, and investors.  I’ve written before about a skill that beats talent every time.  I’m going to expand on that a little bit today.  A combination of two traits will win out over a lot of talent.

Hard work and self-esteem.

Hard work is the ability and willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done.  Be the person who never misses a deadline, never drops the ball, never requires additional prompting, never needs to be checked-in on, never induces worry.  It doesn’t mean someone who just  generates a lot of meaningless activity and sweat, and brags about the all-nighters or the amount of effort.  The key here is the word “work”.  The kind of hard work that will beat talent is really hard-won results.  Work needs to mean valuable outcomes, not inputs.  Tangible value created.

Self-esteem is a deep connection with ones own value and meaning, derived from something other than external circumstances or the approval of others.  Those who can win over a room and keep it aren’t the ones who crave attention or approval for their self-worth, or those who naturally have people skills, but those who don’t fear looking foolish or failing because their self-esteem is much deeper than the opinion of others.  They don’t need to win to feel valuable, they want to win and believe they will because they already feel valuable.

These two traits are very connected.  People are a lot less willing to work their butts off if their identity is wrapped up in external validation.  Working hard – really hard – means being vulnerable.  Being a little too cool to break a sweat shields you from potential embarrassment, but rolling up your sleeves and diving in ratchets up the risk of failing, because people may really pity you or think less if you fail when you were trying your hardest.  Those with low self-esteem experience failure as catastrophic, so they rarely work at 100%.

The good news is, unlike some talents or personality traits, hard work and self-esteem can be built.  You can deliberately cultivate and improve on both of them.  The sooner you stop looking at external measures for your sense of worth, the easier it will be to throw yourself into something the results of which may be judged by others.  The sooner you dive in to your work and resolve to consistently produce, the more you’ll gain a sense of worth from your effort and the less you’ll care what others say.  They feed each other.

Stop worrying about how you stack up talent-wise and become unshakable in your self-esteem and unequaled in your hard work.  These two things supersede all the rest, and will result in the rapid accumulation of opportunity, experience, and yes, even other highly valuable talents and skills.