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April 8th, 2022

Visibility controls and warps understanding. For the person who toils away in obscurity for months and years working through each and every little task and problem associated with a goal has all of that in mind when it looks like a big win finally arrives. But the onlooker who only sees the flood of success can interpret it all much differently in the absence of all that backstory. Another person’s “big win” can look like a whole lot of unfair luck.


Certainly there is some luck involved. It’s possible to work away for months and years on a project that turns out to be a total and complete dud. I’ve done this, and it can be demoralizing. But it’s also likely got quite a few lessons embedded in the failure from which we can learn. The fruits of hard work need a little luck to really bloom and ripen. But more importantly, hard work expands the surface area where luck might be encountered. It’s still possible to encounter extraordinary amounts of luck without hard work, but it’s just far more rare. Hard work just makes luck a little less rare, but by no means does hard work guarantee luck.


The big win that sometimes comes with a big project or goal is a bit of a mirage. It’s like the montage in a movie, where all the training and transformation for the hero happens in the span of 40 seconds with fades and jump cuts, like when Rocky gets in shape to be a fighter. The big win is a mirage because when the backstory is taken into effect, it looks a lot more like a likely event. Truth is, there are only small wins.


It’s that first tiny task completed a thousand days before the big win. It’s a little detail that takes an entire day to get just right, it’s the countless hours of research and troubleshooting, of brain storming and iterating, and asking for feedback. Small wins compound if they are linked together in just the right way.


And to make that a little more clear, think about it this way: a person who rides their bike for a few hours everyday, leaving home and riding around town and returning home seems to have a far different outcome than someone who doesn’t ride their bike in a loop but rides in the same direction everyday. The first person might be a little more fit after a couple of months, but the second person will have ridden across a continent. It’s entirely possible they both ride the same distance, but one looks like an enormous accomplishment, simply because the direction of the riding was different.


The theory of small wins is good news. It means that no project is ever that big nor that daunting. The only thing that we ever face in terms of what actually needs to get done is simply a small task that we can get done to create a small win.

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