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Whether Or Not You Did The Work

Success as a lagging indicator is a phenomenon that holds true across most areas in life.

When I look in the mirror and I’m a little flabby, that is a lagging indicator that, for weeks and months, I’ve slacked on eating healthy and exercising. When I’m grouchy and frustrated and anxious or short with my wife, that is usually a lagging indicator that I need to eat (in 2014, Researchers from Ohio State University found that most fights between couples are because someone is hungry). When I’m getting sick a lot, that is a lagging indicator that I have not been taking care of myself, working too hard, not sleeping enough.

Your retirement accounts are a lagging indicator of whether or not you have your financial act together—earning enough, saving enough. Pulling an all-nighter is not a sign of dedication but a lagging indicator of the exact opposite. It means you plan poorly, you procrastinate, you aren’t proactive enough, you don’t know how to effectively manage your work and your time.

Not being able to fully disconnect from your devices on vacation is a lagging indicator that you don’t have good systems in place. Hitting a personal record on the bench press is a lagging indicator of a lot of discipline and hard work. Receiving a promotion is a lagging indicator of a lot of quality work. Delivering a keynote with confidence is a lagging indicator of a lot of preparation.

All my books are lagging indicators. They are a culmination of years of work. That’s actually Robert Greene’s definition of creativity. He says, “creativity is a function of the previous work you put in.” Creativity is not mysterious or romantic. It’s tedious, Robert says. “If you put a lot of hours into thinking and researching and reading, hour after hour—a very tedious process—creativity will come to you.”

But so are their sales. The Obstacle is the Way sold in its first year what Discipline is Destiny sold in a week. How? Because day after day after day, I worked to build a system, a platform, that has become a flywheel that day after day spins faster and faster. Combined, over a million readers have subscribed to Daily Stoic, Daily Dad, The Reading List Email, and this RSS email lists.

In other words, I’ve filled a dozen football stadiums worth of “true fans” who I have built a relationship with.

This is what keeps me moving—knowing that I have to keep filling and refilling the creative well. Knowing that creative output is a lagging indicator of a lot of hours of tedious work. Knowing that if I want to publish more books in the future, the only question is, am I doing the work now?

It’s what keeps my priorities straight as a parent. I want to have a relationship with my kids as long as I am able to—which means investing in it now. In twenty years, attendance at Thanksgiving will be voluntary. Attendance will be a lagging indicator of who I was as a parent today.

It’s true as a spouse too. Fifty years of marriage is a lagging indicator of how quickly arguments are resolved today, how mistakes are handled today, the pressure of (or better yet, the lack thereof) today.

And it’s true of fame and celebrity—at least the good kind, not the famous-from-a-sex tape kind. Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden would say in an interview that “fame is the excrement of creativity, it’s the shit that comes out the back end, it’s a by-product of it.” It’s a lagging indicator of years of making stuff that people like and get to know you through.

Even this article is an example. It’s a lagging indicator, a byproduct of a process that started with an idea on a notecard, to an idea I kicked around with others in conversations and with myself on walks, which led to a first draft I spent time on across several days, which I returned to across several weeks whenever I had tweaks and improvements, which was edited by a team, and then finally published.

Nothing comes from nowhere. Not success. Not inspiration. Not the muses. Not writer’s block. Everything is a lagging indicator. Of whether or not you did the work.

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