Neil Gaiman gave a brilliant speech with ten pieces of advice for young artists. I found it applicable to business or just about anything in life.
Some of my biggest successes in business were where I had no clue that what I was trying to do was probably impossible. I just went ahead and did it. Sure it was hard, but it often worked because I was the only one who tried. Gaiman captures this perfectly:
When you start out...you have no idea what you're doing. This is great. People who know what they're doing know the rules, and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible...were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don't know it's impossible, it's easier to do. And because nobody has done it before, they haven't made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.
In our materialist world, money is seen as the key motivation for people. Steve Jobs dispelled this famously with, "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me... Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful... that's what matters to me." Gaiman agrees:
Nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was for the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. Usually I didn't end up getting the money, either.
But how do you start out? Before I knew anyone or had any experience, I used to have a 10:1 ratio -- for every ten calls I made, I wouldn't be discouraged if I could just get one person to call me back. Gaiman uses a metaphor of being stranded on a desert island, and every career attempt is like putting a message in a bottle and dropping it in the ocean. You may have to put out hundreds before the bottles start coming back. Eventually, they do.
Soon enough, however, you face the problems of success. When you do finally make it, the world starts coming to you -- the bottles start washing in -- and ironically that can prevent you from doing the things that made you successful in the first place.
The world conspires to stop you from doing the thing that you do because you're successful. There was a day when I realized I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails and found I was writing much more.
And why you should continue to take big risks:
The things I've done that worked the best were the things I was least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work or more likely be the kind of embarrassing failures that people would gather together and discuss until the end of time…. Looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes, and when I was doing them I had no idea. I still don't. And where would be the fun in doing something you knew was going to work?
Exceptional advice for anyone who's ever had success or sought it.