3 Rules high achievers never break

In case you were wondering what happened to the 20,000 bulbs I planted, here they are. But don’t worry that this is going to be a post full of happy spring cheer. That sort of post would embarrass me.

First of all, these bulbs didn’t come up until after spring. Partly because it was 50 degrees in Wisconsin this spring, and partly because my bulbs probably have some sort of photosynthesis version of schizophrenia since I planted fall bulbs during a blizzard in Janurary. But even those came up.

But first, look. When you plant bulbs in a blizzard, it is too cold to put the bulbs at the right depth and make each bulb point up so it’s ready to sprout. I ended up planting some bulbs in the muted moonlight of thick snowfall. I shoveled snow until I hit dirt, then I dug a little deeper and dropped handfuls of bulbs into piles. And even those came up.

Which goes to show you one more case where you should not follow rules. But you don’t need another blog post on not following rules, because I think we all agree that this blog is a monument to not following rules. But there’s no rule that always never applies, so here’s when you need to follow rules.

#1 Rule to never break: Love your process, independent of outcome.
You know why people don’t do stuff like that? Because they worry about outcome. But I was obsessed with the process—I just liked planting bulbs. I liked learning about all the different kinds. I can identify hundreds of bulbs just by their shape. I liked learning about the bulb industry. (Really, do not buy bulbs if you don’t know where they were raised. Bulbs are like chicken: for sure it’s the worst-case scenario.)

This is how I got through all my startups: I love the process. The likelihood of a huge grand exit is so small. But the process of building a company is so fun. That’s how you think about anything you are doing with all your heart. You love the process more than anything, even the outcome.

I saw it when I played pro volleyball. I had so few years of playing compared to the women from California who had played all their lives. I was incredibly focused in practice, though. And I loved to practice. I practiced as much in six years in California as some people practiced in their whole life. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers gives great data about how important it is to love the process of practice if you’re going to be great. At anything.

So back to the flowers. I never really saw them. I was driving back and forth for cello. Spring is recital season, and we spent most of May in Chicago with me telling my son he could quit cello and him crying that he doesn’t want to quit but he wished we lived in Chicago and me taking another Xanax.

There were the good days. Like when we bought a scooter.

But mostly it was a month of too much travel. Jeanenne, my assistant, took the pictures of the flowers because she worried I’d miss them. And because when builders put on our addition they realized the whole house needs re-siding and when we replace the siding, we will destroy my garden. So it’s good I like the process of planting since I’m going to have to do it all over again.

#2 Rule to never break: The difference between crazy and innovative is how far from the box an out-of-the box thinker resides. So stay as close as possible.
So we are in Chicago and out of Chicago and I was telling myself that it’s okay that I’m never home because my son loves cello and I love planting more than celebrating my success, so everything is fine. And then I fainted and it was bad.

Back story: We were supposed to stay overnight at a hotel but I got this idea that we were going to drive home because I’m sick of hotels. But then, as I was on my way back to Wisconsin I started doing the math and we would get to Wisconsin at 2am and have to leave again at 5am and even if I could physically handle it, my son would notice that it was stupid. He would demand to know why we went back home that night. And I’d have no reason that made sense to him, and I try very hard to look like a normal person when I’m parenting.

So I am on the highway and thinking that, and then I am thinking of my very favorite article about startups – about how venture capitalists like to bet on innovators who are just shy of crazy. Then I’m scared I’m in the process of crossing the line to crazy, so  I pull over and get a hotel room.

So we end up in Hampshire, Illinois. Don’t bother Googling that. The only important thing to know is that it’s near Elgin, which has a really nice, new hospital, which has a team of neurologists who specialize in people who faint.

So we go to the hotel, and even though it’s the middle of the night, I make my son wait in the hallway while I check for bedbugs. After sleeping in too many hotels, I’ve become a fiend about bedbugs.

He tells me this is a bad hotel.

He’s right. Is there an award for a seven-year-old who can judge a hotel quality from the carpeting and the door to the room? Can I put him on a reality show or something? Oh. Wait. I forgot. My family is too normal for reality TV. (I’m going to say that a million times. Like, how can you judge me when I’m like you — too boring for TV?)

We stay anyway. He falls asleep in one second. I read The Best American Food Writing from 2011. I would never have bought this book, but the publisher, Da Capo Press, sends me their catalogue every quarter and I get to pick any books I want. That is so fun. So I try to pick books that force me to read out of my comfort zone. I read story about a Korean immigrant family assimilating with a Thanksgiving turkey and kimchi. Then I go to bed.

Then I wake up, get up, and faint.

I wish I could tell you what else I did, but when you hit your head as hard as I did, you get amnesia.

I realized, later, that I woke up and sent some emails. Because when I got home from the hospital there was a brand new four-poster bed, and my husband asked where it came from and I realized I told the delivery guy to just open the door and go in the house. Anyone will do that, even though they are not supposed to, once they drive as far away from civilization as our farm. People think rules don’t apply when you get that far away.

What I remember is thinking to myself: that was the biggest hit to my head that I could ever imagine. Then I laid there. On the bathroom floor. Then I tried to get up, and I couldn’t get up. Then I crawled to the hallway and told someone to call 911.

My son told this story: “Mom was on the floor with blood everywhere and I yelled to her are you okay and get up please get up, and then I went to the bed and cried.”

Okay. So I never taught my kids to call 911. It’s a failing. It didn’t occur to me because what would come to our house? A helicopter? I don’t see how 911 works if you don’t live in civilization.

Enough people have asked my son if he called 911 that now he just says yes. He’s a people pleaser.

So the ambulance comes, and the whole time I’m telling people, when I’m conscious, to please make sure my son doesn’t see me. It will be too much for him. Tell him I’m okay.

Meanwhile, he follows us into the ambulance.

#3 Rule to never break: Everyone needs a vacation.
In the hospital, I can’t feel my feet, and I ask whoever is poking around at my veins to write instructions for my husband about what to do with the kids. “Tell the kids I love them. Tell my husband he can’t put them back in school. Tell my cousin to help with cello.”

Finally, they put a staple in my head. The nurse washes enough blood off my hand so my son will hold it. Matthew and my older son arrive from Wisconsin. Things are stable enough that my kids are fighting over who gets to place the order for dinner at the hospital.

Then they leave. My son goes with a friend to his concerts. Matthew goes with my older son back to take care of the animals. I am left with neurologists and cardiologists and food services.

I am so happy. I read about burgers in Boston and how to cook without recipes. I meet with the neurologist who says I can’t get an MRI yet because the magnetic force would rip out my staple. I get an ultrasound of my arteries that is like an advanced biology class, if only I could stay awake. I meet with a cardiologist who says I have extremely low blood pressure. I thought it was from being in such good shape from volleyball, but it turns out my brother and mother have been fainting for years and I didn’t know it. It’s genetic. You have to learn the warning signs. Mindfulness. Forced mindfulness. I love it.

So I spent three glorious days in the hospital. Reading and writing and remembering why I like my job so much. I like the ideas. I like the process of synthesizing ideas. I called people to talk about online education business models.

Me: What do you think about the scalability of Udemy?

Them: What is this number? Where are you?

Me: Oh. A hospital. I’m getting some tests.

Them: Mental hospital?

Do you know how you can find out what you love to do? Go to the hospital for three days. My son would play the cello. Matthew would leave, go home, and do chores. I worked on my ideas about my webinar strategy. I was so happy to have time to myself.

I’m home now, but I’m still too dizzy to drive. So I canceled two weeks of cello lessons without feeling guilty that I’m a bad parent, and I’m home with my flowers and my webinars, and really, no one has ever been happier about a staple in her head.

105 replies
« Older Comments
  1. Paul
    Paul says:

    I’m going to disagree about loving the process. Unless you’re the incredibly driven, single-minded, 1%ofthe1%, you are not going to have it in you to love, or even tolerate, the kind of soul-crushing drudgery that is fundamental to seeing anything through in life that is really worth doing.

    99.99% of us are going to have to drag ourselves through everything, a little ways every day. Maybe not kicking and screaming, but glum and determined.

  2. Brad Sealfon
    Brad Sealfon says:

    You know what else is a great process to learn?

    Getting your private pilot’s license. Then you can be maintaining IFR currency and still planting bulbs and it will be safer & faster for both you and your son.

    Getting your license makes a world of difference for hopping around large chunks of the country. It’s cooler AND safer than driving.

  3. Tom Sharples
    Tom Sharples says:

    Here’s a 4th rule: No matter how much of a “renaissance man” you are, don’t try to do everything yourself. Even after a half-dozen startups I’m still learning this one.

  4. Robert
    Robert says:

    I can believe I just wasted 15 minutes of my life reading these ramblings. You should add Rule #4…don’t waste time reading silly articles containing lists like this one.

  5. Robert
    Robert says:

    Add Rule #4: Don’t waste time reading articles containing someone’s inane ramblings (such as this one), as you will never recover those 20 minutes spent doing so.

    • Gary
      Gary says:

      Robert, it took you 15 (or 20, make up your mind) minutes to read this post? You have a point; 15-20 minutes spent reading inane ramblings IS a waste of time. YOUR irreplaceable time, as you noted. At approximately what point during this 15-20 minutes did the inanity of the piece hit you? And you finished it? Or, after some time ruminating over what you had just read, did it suddenly occur to you you had just lost 15-20 minutes of your precious time, your very LIFE, even, that you, alas, would never, ever be able to get back? You should demand a refund of your subscription fee. Oh my, wait a minu, I mean precious minute, you didn’t pay anything. Okay, scratch that idea. Let’s see… I suggest you shitcan this inanity for something truly edifying, such as Spongebob. That may work better for you, particularly when it takes you 15-20 minutes to labor through a <1,000 word blog; perhaps you should have asked someone to read it to you? You find my tone disrespectful and sarcastic? Maybe you should consider the way you're feeling toward me right now, ere you dismiss someone else's real life issues as "inane ramblings", you asshole. Go buy yourself a mirror and some psychotherapy sessions; 30-45 minutes, WELL SPENT. Have a nice day!

  6. peter t
    peter t says:

    wow you have lost it………here are my rules for success (which I have not got from success books)
    1. Relax at all times.
    2. Control your emotions. Really learn to be in a state of knowing there is no such thing as “success” except what you think.
    3. What you think you will see manifest in your life.
    4. What you do you will pay for.
    5. How you visualize all the people in “your” world will determine how they visualize you and your dream of success.
    6. Never ever publish or tell the world of your dreams to anyone – the universe knows your deepest desires and will reward you so.
    7. Believe you are a god and you can manifest anything – but if you have thoughts of a lesser nature – then your success will be of a lesser nature.
    8. Last rule and the most important one – never ever forget what you have already achieved, be very very Grateful for it all, every little bit.

    the rest is up to you, relationship with your son is important in that he will “see” you living a life that he will try to emulate, I am still trying to wash my parents beliefs off my shoulders and these beliefs have held Me back at times, I have lived for 53 earth years.

    Peter T

  7. Mark
    Mark says:

    Although I have never home schooled (at least formally) I am an educator. My daughter has asked me (because we live isolated) if I would consider homeschooling her children (when she has them). I put some serious consideration behind the request and told her not likely: I felt that if I did so properly there would be no life left for me to live…

« Older Comments

Comments are closed.