I was 5'4" when I graduated from high school. Or maybe I was 5'3". I told everyone I was 5'6" because, somehow, that made me feel better.
You learn a lot of things when you're short. I learned to cut 2x4 blocks, paint them black so they'd blend with the carpet, and bolt them in as lifts under the bucket seats of my 1968 SS Camaro so I could see over the dashboard. I learned how to be quick-witted and funny so I could joke my way out of a fistfight, and I learned to be scrappy and full Irish if that failed.
I also learned to hustle.
I was jealous of guys who were taller and naturally athletically gifted, but refused to stay on the sidelines. There hasn't been a week since I was 12 that I haven't lifted weights, if only to stave off black moods. And while that practice never has netted the physique promised by Charles Atlas, it always serves as a reminder: Short guys have to hustle.
I finally got my growth spurt in college but never lost that outlook. And I've found that in business, hustle is the quality that most separates leaders from laggards. (And a hat tip to Tom Peters, co-author of "In Search of Excellence," who gave me those distinctions.)
The world is full of people with higher IQs than you. Who went to better colleges. Who have better connections in the industry. Who look, on paper, like they could wipe the floor with you.
And they will. Unless you hustle.
It's not about selling or moving your feet. It's about putting in the work and not resting on laurels. Doing the tasks others think are beneath them or will take too much time. Showing up early to the breakfast meeting even if you were howling at the moon the night before. Viewing obstacles as opportunities. Embracing the entrepreneur's mantra: Today is the day.
When my wife and I started our consultancy in 2010 after years in corporate and executive jobs, we started from scratch. There's no end to the minutiae when you run a small business, from legal registration to do business in multiple states, payroll, tax filings, occasional DNS attacks, chasing down clients that owe you money, dealing with multiple bureaucracies with multiple ways of processing contracts, you name it. It's easy to get overwhelmed by it - it's tedious shit - unless you see it as another opportunity to hustle. An opportunity to say, Today is the day.
I keep an Evernote file on reminders and inspirations for focusing on hustle and reminding myself of that mantra. Here are some of my top go-to quotes and tactics.
- Always shine your shoes the night before a speech or presentation. My friend, close-up magician Alfonso Acetuno, taught me, "Magic is all in the feet." Even though people are looking at his hands, he is mindful and precise about where they're not looking.
- Alfonso also kept a Post-It note on his three-way mirror, where he practiced for hours each day. "When you are not practicing, remember: Somewhere, someone is practicing. And when you meet him, he will win." - Peter Bergman
- "You can worry, you can pray or you can do something." - Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Steven Berglas and author of multiple books on entrepreneurialism and overcoming burnout.
- "People who are busy make time. They don't find it." - Anonymous
- "Always know what your attack is going to be, but have three or four other attacks you can do without thinking about it." - My friend and former coworker Michael Fibison, who wrestled competitively. His advice works equally well on the mat and in the workplace.
- I once asked author Tom Robbins his writing routine. "I sit down every morning at 10 o'clock. Sometimes my muse shows up. Sometimes she doesn't. But she knows where I'll be if she decides to come."
- "Success is never owned. It's rented. And the rent is due every day." - Anonymous
- I used to drive by Stephen King's house on my way to work at The Bangor Daily News. He'd stop by the newsroom occasionally to razz the sports editor over Boston Red Sox coverage. The prolific writer - and my seasonal neighbor in Southwest Florida - said, "Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work."
- On my first journalism job out of college, I asked my editor at The Evansville Courier how I could get more front-page play. (This is what consumed all print journalists.) She told me, indirectly, that it was a numbers game. "Three stories a day, plus briefs, and always be working on a Sunday story."
- "You can't drown in sweat." - any one of my baseball coaches
My father gave me the best example of being the person who does the work when I was in middle school. My dad ran a Chevrolet dealership in Southern Indiana and was the most powerful man in local politics. One day, I was sent home from school for, shall we say, an obedience transgression. My dad picked me up and drove me to the dealership, where he informed me that I was acting a little big for my britches, thought some things were beneath me, and so I was going to spend the day painting the mechanic's filthy and porn-ridden bathroom.
A mechanic we knew only as Weird Richard came in, saw me covered in paint inside the stall. He said, "You're Larry's boy, right?" I nodded. "The General Manager's son?" I nodded again. "And you're painting the shitter?" Another nod.
Weird Richard smiled approvingly. "That's awesome."
That's learning to hustle.