To say that I’ve lived an unconventional life is an understatement. Growing up on the gritty streets of the South Side of Johannesburg, South Africa in government housing (similar to housing projects in the US) taught me early on that how smart you are means nothing and how tough you are means everything.
I was bullied relentlessly as a kid, to the point where I had to have ‘secret’ routes from school and within my neighbourhood just to make it home safely. But home wasn’t safe either. My mother a raging alcoholic would fly into fits of anger, smashing things against the wall — or more frequently, my head. When I was 17, during yet another one of her drunken rages, she kicked me out of the house. Destitute, alone, and with less than $20 in my pocket, I found myself sleeping on a bench in the park where I used to play as a kid.
My future, if I even had one, consisted of a giant neon sign blinking, ‘FAILURE.’— Rodney KingMy future, if I even had one, consisted of a giant neon sign blinking, ‘FAILURE.’ It seemed I was destined to become another statistic, eaten up by poverty, poor parenting, and lack of education. But I beat the odds and proved everyone wrong. Although I didn’t know it then, through my passion for boxing and the lessons learned in the ring, it would enable me to reach the pinnacle of personal and professional success.
If someone asked me today what was the most important lesson I learned in all my years of boxing (and martial arts) it would be this: perfection is an illusion, and perfection never leads to success.
Perfection Is An Illusion
Naturally, we want everything to be perfect in life. However, as the French philosopher Voltaire wisely observed: “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” Or, as Confucius said: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” My version: “being kicked out of the house, lets you know how imperfect life can be.”
The truth is while you wait for things to be just right, life will continue to happen around you, with or without your permission. The sooner you come to grips with this, the sooner you can achieve personal success.— Rodney KingMy first lesson sleeping on that park bench was this, you will never achieve your goals as long as you hold out for everything to be perfect. The truth is while you wait for things to be just right, life will continue to happen around you, with or without your permission. John Lennon said something similar: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” The sooner you come to grips with this, the sooner you can achieve personal success.
In Japan, this idea is captured beautifully in the phrase “wabi-sabi”—which, loosely translated means “the beauty in imperfection.” Now you may be thinking the Japanese have been sniffing way too much wasabi, but the idea of beauty in imperfection — if you are willing to take that stance in life — changes how you see the world and more specifically how you view success.
When I started boxing at the age of 16, everyone was far more skilled at it than I was. I was training at a boxing gym in the midst of the city, and everyone there was hungry to succeed as a way to get out of their impoverished neighbourhoods. My coach, Willie Toweel, didn’t take kindly to slackers either, so I knew right away that in order to not only survive the training but also the sparring matches in the ring, I had to develop a plan to improve.
I didn’t leave my success to chance. I got to the gym earlier than anyone else and when I didn’t have to be at school, I was the last one to leave. To be truthful, I often skipped school just to stay at the gym. When I was kicked out of the house, I still continued to box. Things weren’t perfect, but one thing you learn quickly in boxing, not only doesn’t the perfect game exist, consistency beats perfect when it comes to winning any day.
As simple as this may sound, what allowed me to succeed was focusing on the journey, the process. I knew that I had zero talent for the boxing game. Hey, I was the kid who was never chosen for a sports team in school. I had two left feet. I also knew that as insurmountable as it seemed to become good at boxing, the one thing I could do was to break the process down as best I could and start with the things easiest to succeed in.
The secret to succeeding
Decide what you want most, be completely pragmatic about it, and break it down — as best as you can — into steps that lead up to the end goal. The first steps you create should be focused on the things you know you can do.
Following this strategy in my boxing training, I knew that I could start with the jab and cross, move to my footwork next, then learn to defensively block punches thrown at me, and focus on evading punches later on. I didn’t begin by targeting my evasiveness on day one. Why? Because that’s a skill that can only be developed once you know how to move, aren’t afraid to hit back, and have the confidence to deal with punches being thrown at your face.
Sadly, most people fall short of success because they want to start either where success happens or one step away from where success is certain. That would be like me going into a boxing gym at age 16, and having never boxed before in my life, turning to the coach, with sheer grandiosity and asking, ‘Who’s the champion here? Put me in the ring with him.’ What do you think would’ve happened? I probably would’ve gotten seriously hurt, beat up, quit that very day, and abandoned my dream of mastering the sweet science of boxing.
The opposite of the grandiose mindset, is the “I will wait for perfect” mindset. Unlike those of us who jump in the deep end too quickly, just as many people wait for things to be just perfect. They spend so much time trying to make everything perfect before they launch into the unknown that they never achieve anything because they never actually go out and try.
This is why I’m a huge proponent of deciding on a goal, breaking it down into logical steps, and starting with things you know you can achieve first. In other words, start with the steps you absolutely know you can complete. Yes, it is still going to take work, but this is nothing like waiting for perfection before you make a move. It is setting an intention (as in you intend to do it) each and every day, an action plan, to work on things you know you can achieve, and then as soon as you feel yourself getting it you move to the next step.
Here is where my 70/30 rule comes in. When I work on a specific step to a goal, I work on that step until I feel it is about 70% complete. I then immediately move to the next step. Remember 100% is likely an illusion anyway. I have learned that even as you move to the next step towards your goal, you never stop working on the one that came before. If you keep moving to the next step on your list each time you reach 70% completion when you add up all those small steps, before you know it, you’ve achieved your goal.
Setting an intention to work on a specific step towards a goal requires accountability, and it needs to be time sensitive. When I set an intention for the day and decide to focus on specific first move or step to reach my goal, I complete what I intended to that day, no matter if it takes 30-minutes or 3 hours — no excuses. This is the kind of tenacity that success requires. When you sleeping out on the streets, you quickly realize today is the only day that counts. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. The lesson: make today count.
So, what you waiting for?
Pull out a piece of paper, write down your end goal, and begin reverse engineering the process.— Rodney KingPull out a piece of paper, write down your end goal, and begin reverse engineering the process. If you don’t know what that would look like, ask someone or, better yet, ask a bunch of people who’ve already achieved the goal you’re striving for. What steps did they take, right them down from the easiest, and the most attainable — to the ones to that are the most complex, and the hardest to achieve. Then, set an intention each and every day to work though the steps on that list, starting at the bottom and progressively moving up, week by week, until (before you even realize it) you’ve arrived at your goal. Once you’ve achieved it, choose your next goal and repeat the process.
A Maverick entrepreneur, Rodney King created a modern martial arts lifestyle brand, that now has branches in over 15 countries around the world — all from starting with only $20 in his pocket. He coaches entrepreneurs and success minded people all over the world how to master their inner game for business and life success. You can take Rodney’s complimentary online video course at www.fullcontactliving.org, or to find out more about him personally go to www.coachrodneyking.com.