“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Thank you Bruce Lee for your fast tortoise wisdom to becoming a badass.
But if you aren’t blessed with fists of fury nor don a Gi to your workplace, what repetitive steps can you take to level up your career and get that coveted promotion?
In her hilarious and heartfelt memoir Buy yourself the f**king lilies, longtime RadReader Tara Schuster recounts her days as a “lowly intern” on the Jon Stewart show. At an intern lunch, Stewart was asked the mandatory question about how he got his “big break.” His response:
“There are no big breaks. There are only a series of tiny, little breaks. The key is to work your hardest and do your best.”
Now I’m no Jon Stewart, but in my old Wall Street days I had an even unsexier answer for our crop of interns: “your most important job is to make your boss’ life easier.”
And for Schuster (who’s now the Executive in Charge for Lights out with David Spade and formerly Key and Peele) her version of 10,000 kicks, involved the coffee machine.
Be the best at the worst
While her fellow interns internalized that advice by dropping comedic bits in “misguided attempts to get discovered” (uggh, we all know that intern), Schuster focused her sights on the unsexy task of cleaning the capsule coffee machine.
She noticed that Stewart had an afternoon iced coffee ritual – but there was a problem. The machine was “often dirty, out of water or broken” which is where her first little break presented itself. Under her watch, she’d ensure that Stewart would always get that well-deserved afternoon delicacy.
Now there’s drive… and there’s drive:
I treated that machine like a precious object, cleaning it, refilling it, pulling it apart, putting it back together, making sure it was perfect. I read online how to fix the machine and practiced at home by buying a similar model. I spent a good part of my day making sure the thing was in order so there would never be a time when Jon couldn’t have a little coffee.
It never occurred to her she was being “intense-bordering-on-psychotic about the machine,” and instead instead she saw it as a way to:
Make a contribution to a show I loved. If I wasn’t going to be a writer on the show, if I was just a lowly intern, at least I could be the lowly intern who could be called upon at any point to fix the single most important item in any creative environment: the coffee machine.
Today, as an executive at Comedy Central, Schuster dispenses the following advice about getting the “big break:” be the best at that worst. This guarantees you a win-win, because
In a best-case scenario, someone cool will notice. In a worst-case scenario, you will notice and feel pride knowing you are doing a good job, even if the task sucks. Simply put: Start where you are without worrying too much about how far you have to go.
Do you want to be the noun or the verb?
And whether it’s karate kicks, coffee or career breaks one thing is for dang sure: there are no shortcuts.
The writer Austin Kleon warns how “lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb.”
They want to be writers before they write.
Creatives before they create.
Runners before they run.
They want “the job title before the job.”
Thankfully, kick… is both a noun and a verb.