I never watch American Idol, or other talent shows. I think I got my fill of them in the 1970s, watching year after year of the mind-numbing Miss American pageant. But there was too much hoop-la with Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, so I had to see what I was missing. I ended up watching her audition fifty times. Because every time I'm feeling slow or unmotivated or depressed, the clip cheers me up.

Last night she sang in the semi-finals, and what struck me most while watching her is how much we can learn about our own careers from watching Susan Boyle's. For example.

Everyone loves to be a shepherd of talent.

The act of finding a mentor is actually the act of showing someone you have talent and they can help you find it. It's very, very hard to land in the limelight on your own. So many studies of success — from Fortune 500 executives to startup entrepreneurs — all show that a key factor is finding people to help you navigate a system that requires many more skills than any one, single person could have.

If you ever wonder what you bring to someone who is mentoring you, look at the faces of the three judges when they realize (after four or five notes) that Susan is phenomenal. The joy on their faces is contagious. That's a big reason people like to watch that video clip: the moment when you see someone is very talented is so rewarding. It's a moment full of excitement and promise and you get to be a part of it because the person is asking you for help.

This is why mentoring is magical and electrifying to both sides. And seeing the moment on Britain's Got Talent reminds me that I should continuously seek out mentors and show them I perform well with the help they give me.

You can only shine if you set the bar high.

Susan sang a very hard song: I Dreamed a Dream, from Les Miserables. Not that I know anything about opera. But after watching the video of her at least 50 times, I got curious about how other people sing the song, I Dreamed a Dream. Then I started seeing all the places the song can trip up a singer.

If you watch the clip 50 times, you catch Simon Cowell saying, “That's a big song.” It's an important thing — that she picked a big song. Because if you want to be seen as someone doing something big, you have to pick something big to do.

Seth Godin writes about The Dip. It's the time when things look too hard. It's the time when you are trying to do something big, and it is not happening, because doing something big doesn't happen right away, it takes work. And it's very hard to do a lot of work if you don't know what will come of it.

Most people quit. That's Seth Godin's point: That you have to try something big, and you have to accept that anything big and huge requires you to have a dip — a point when you are wondering if it is worth it. And that's where most people quit. For the most part, you cannot do something big without going through this process.

I think I'm in a dip right now. With my company. I am lucky, because I have Ryan Healy reminding me that we're in the dip, doing something big, and we can't quit. And I'm lucky because I have been in the dip twice before — when I struggled to get on the professional beach volleyball tour, and when I was trying to finish my novel and still did not know that I would eventually get a publisher.

So this is what I know about the dip. There is no big win if you don't suffer through it. And the first part of the process is to pick a big song.

Settling for a day job does not destroy you.

We all love stories of early success. Child actors discovered in Mumbai, three-year-old girls whose singing makes you cry. In the tech industry, being a young founder is so legendary that founders have lied about how old they are. And in mathematics, it's always news if someone discovers something later than age 30 because it so seldom happens.

We love the stories of early, magical success. So when we find ourselves having to take a day job we don't love in order to do what we do love on the side — this is not the narrative we hope for in life.

But Susan Boyle is evidence that this narrative works as well. Huge talent can shine through at any age, and the world will respond. Susan Boyle did what so many people do who are not getting paid to do what they love. She kept singing, while she worked day jobs. She sang because she loved singing, and she got better and better and better.

A hallmark of talent is loving to practice. And Susan Boyle's story is the narrative of the hard work that talent takes. Our lives are first, and foremost, about getting up every day and practicing what we love. What you get paid for, what you get honored for, that is secondary. And success comes for those who work hard.

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  1. Paul Tonkin
    Paul Tonkin says:

    The Susan Boyle experience has tickled me because it explicitly shows how the media is obsessed with people who are at polar ends of the scale to Susan Boyle.

    As per usual, when Susan Boyle walked out on stage
    her appearance = no talent.

    What delight to see someone with “no looks” but an amazing talent, rather amazing looks but completely talentless and shallow personality.

    As for depending upon others, my favourite is the old Japanese proverb “none of us is as smart as all of us.”

  2. win
    win says:

    Love the last words you’ve written “And success comes for those who work hard” I do agree and That’s definitely true. Very inspiring quote…

    P.S. Love Susan boyle also, not only me but my whole family.

  3. savings not shoes
    savings not shoes says:

    What’s the take away lesson now that she’s had to have a stay in a psychiatric unit due to the overwhelming nature of her fame and the let down of losing? Perhaps we have other lessons we can learn from Susan Boyle.

  4. Acai
    Acai says:

    She lost to Diversity with absolutely great performance because it was the same song. Everybody expected new great surprise. She played safe and gave improved but the same performance while her competitor gave great fresh new performance – €“ new surprise – €“ new step.

  5. Adirec Torytski
    Adirec Torytski says:

    Having goals is a very important part of any career and if you don’t aim high you have nothing to aim for. Aim for the top and push yourself, but make sure you are sure this is exactly what you want otherwise it can never work.
    Adirec Toryski

  6. Phil
    Phil says:

    What has happened to Susan Boyle now? The last I heard she had a tantrum in a hotel and was being taken somewhere for treatment.

    Is she OK?


  7. Brad
    Brad says:

    Susan Boyle has one of the best voices I have ever heard. I remember watching her audition on youtube a while back. Did so again just now and it has had over 76 million hits. If she records a song and places on mp3 file for sale off her website and only 10% of these people buy one she will be rich.

  8. alice
    alice says:

    It was just a week ago that Susan Boyle performed I Dreamed a Dream from Les Misérables on Britain's Got Talent. And in that week over 35 million people have viewed her singing the song on YouTube. By anybody's measure this has been a true viral success. Indeed, this video has achieved much greater success than many videos designed and seeded as part of viral campaigns for big brands. Many of them would be delighted for quite so many people to have viewed, commented on, shared or talked about their video. Even more would wish for the kind of brand recall that Susan Boyle is now getting from her video, or indeed the access to the lucrative US market that happened in a matter of just days.

    So what makes this video so special and what can we learn from it about social media. The answer is probably quite simple – €“ people watched, commented on and shared this video because the content is good. This is often overlooked when people talk about social media. Too much time can be spent trying to find the right people to seed a video, or working out the optimal viral strategy. And too little time may be spent on making the content good in the first place. Susan Boyle's performance is good content, and that's why it has spread so much and so quickly online. Why people think it is good may vary – €“ because she is a good singer, because her performance is a surprise or because the attitude of the judges before she sings highlights the way human beings can make prejudices based on appearance. The reason people think the content is good does not matter, that they do is all that counts.

    Of course, this leaves us with a dilemma – €“ if we cannot tell what people will think is good content then how do we make such content in the first place? Well this is one of the benefits of social media but also one of the problems for brands and marketers. The proliferation of shared content online means there is more for us to choose from and more for us to enjoy. There is great content out there and now it is probably easier for us to share it. But good content is in the eyes of the person who views it, and it can be difficult to predict what will be good.

    So Susan is not only a good singer, but also teaches us a lot about social media. The key to making a good viral video is to have good content in the first place, but what makes good content can be difficult for us to predict in advance. The best we can do is to understand our target audience and then create something we think will appeal to them. But maybe we'll never be as successful as an unassuming singer from Scotland.

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