I Got This Advice from a Mentor: I never found out how it got to me.

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
4 min read
Photo by Frame Harirak on Unsplash

Igot this advice from a mentor I traveled to see early in my career and studies. I received this message as a letter as I was traveling home. I picked it up at the front desk of a hotel where I hadn’t planned on staying. I never found out how it got there.

Here are the contents. I have tried to live by this advice. I hope you find it helpful on your journey.

Be fair, and work hard. Stay focused on creating and maintaining good habits to be focused and productive over the long haul. Running a business is not a sprint; it is an ultra marathon, so it is imperative to be self-disciplined and create a sustainable pace. You can’t do everything in a day, a week, or a month.

Try to be aware of developing a consistent cadence and rhythm to your work and progress.

Fabius Maximus

In the Second Punic War, Rome was getting its ass kicked by an invading army from Carthage that famously came over the Alps on elephants. Hannibal led that army.

A Roman general named Fabius Maximus conceived what we now call the Fabian strategy. He used an inferior Roman Army to defeat the superior army of Hannibal’s Carthage.

When Rome resumed the offensive against the invading Carthaginian army of Hannibal, Fabius waged a war of slow attrition and avoiding direct engagement.

Fabius used small skirmishes, avoided big battles, and harassed the Carthaginian supply chains. For battles he couldn’t win, he retreated. This strategy wasn’t popular, but it was practical. He practically won by not directly engaging Hannibal’s army and taking his time.

Fabian’s strategy has come to mean a gradual policy.

Using the Fabian strategy means not giving up. It also means working strategically, so you don’t give up. Pace yourself. Take breaks. Avoid advice all over the Internet that tells you to rise at 4 am every day and get some. If you don’t want to, forcing yourself won’t be sustainable.

Consistency beats Intensity

You need a plan, and you need systems and routines. You need to know how to take breaks and refresh yourself. There are diminishing returns to working 14-hour days, seven days a week.

Creating a work/life balance, so you don’t feel torn and split by competing demands is crucial. It’s about creating that sustainable cadence.

It would be best if you also had strategies to deal with stress. Some stress is a good thing as a motivator and to create a sense of urgency.

Some good stress can focus the mind on the tasks at hand. Too much stress is toxic and corrosive and will wear you down and wear you out. You want to work hard and smart, and you want to enjoy the ride!

Another aspect of reducing work and stress levels lies in knowing how to delegate and develop systems that take you out of the information flow, so you are not responsible for making all the trains run on time and putting out all the fires. It is ineffective for you to be a rate limiter on decision-making.

Dialing in the proper balance is a constant mindfulness exercise of priority setting and course correcting.

Get the Easy Things Right

We tend to spend a lot of time searching for the secrets to success. According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of causes result in 80% of effects. Getting the easy stuff right is that 20%.

Here are two of those things:

Show up.

Eighty percent of success is showing up.

- Woody Allen

Show up.

Don’t be reluctant, and don’t be distracted. Show up and be present and mindful.

If you are reluctant, trust your instincts. Instead of committing to something half-heartedly, say no.

If you can’t decide, say now. Don’t agree out of a feeling of obligation and then sleepwalk through things or sabotage them with passive aggression.

Be punctual.

If you aren’t early, you are late. Try to shoot for being ten minutes early to everything. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi was even more aggressive, “If you are five minutes early, you are already ten minutes late.”

Being late acknowledges that you find it acceptable to make others wait on you. Tardiness is an act of selfishness. If you are regularly early to events, you will notice that you still are on time when things go wrong. Being early is a sign of respect and forethought.

There you have it.

Barack Obama said, “My greatest strength? Probably that I’m always early.” He famously likes to turn up early for every meeting. He has made a conscious commitment to being early. When I first heard about this, I started to give it a try.

I find when I am early, I can count on having my best conversations and networking.

It gives me a sense of control. I also don’t arrive stressed from trying to rush.

And I started to realize how I consistently underestimate how long it takes to get somewhere.

Give it a try. Be consistent and play the long game. Commit to getting the easy things right. Decide to show up. And show up early.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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