Why Slow And Steady Always Wins The Race
“Slow and steady wins the race.”
We’ve heard this phrase before. But so few of us actually live by it.
What would happen if we actually accepted that we can achieve everything we’ve ever wanted?
Perhaps, we’d be less stressed and enjoy life more. Perhaps we’d realize that it’s all about the process.
Why We Are Not Patient
I see two reasons.
We’re too young. When you’re in your twenties, you’ve lived just 20–25% of your life. It’s impossible to think in decades when your whole life is just two. (One of which you don’t even remember.)
We’re spoiled. As a generation born in the age of the internet and rapid growth, we expect everything to be instant or, at the very least, extremely fast.
The world around us only supports this narrative — we’ve accelerated dating (via Tinder), purchasing groceries and things (via Amazon Prime 24 hour delivery), building a website (via Shopify), incorporating a business (via Stripe), streaming our favorite TV show (via Netflix, Hulu), so on.
Everything is fast, except for the fundamental life things, like building a fulfilling career or a strong, healthy relationship. These things still take patience, perseverance, and long-term thinking.
The problem is, we have just one brain. And we use the same brain to receive instant gratification on social media, order Amazon Prime deliveries and build careers.
If only we could rewire our brains for long-term thinking, we would achieve so much more.
The Slower You Go, The More Sustainable You Are.
According to the Lindy Effect, the longer the book is in print — the longer is its expected printing age. If the book has been in print for 3 years, its expected printing age is 3 more years. If 50, then it’s 50 more. This explains why the classics are still bestsellers, 100 or even 200 years after they were written.
The same is true for relationships, careers, and businesses.
The time you spend building something is also its half-life.
If you start dating someone, your half-life is one day. But if you’ve been together for 3 years, you’re most likely to date 3 more years.
The longer you build anything — the harder it will be to destroy. The slower you go, the more sustainable you are.
Sometimes, twice as slow.
If You Go Twice As Slow, You’ll Get There On Time.
This happens every morning in every big city on the planet.
Somebody is late. They drive as fast as they can. But the red light stops them. They puff, sweat, curse, and impatiently wiggle their leg. As soon as the green light goes on, they speed up, only to stop at the next red light. This continues indefinitely.
Whereas the person who doesn’t rush (even if they’re also late) and drives calmly, stopping at every red light, gets there at the same time as someone who rushes.
Try it—time yourself.
It turns out, the only thing you buy when you’re rushing is more stress.
The Value Of Long-Term Thinking
“Unless you’re terminally ill, it makes sense to be optimistic,” someone posted recently on Twitter. It’s true.
But when you’re in your twenties, it feels awful to lose a year or two.
Say, you went to get a college degree, and you didn’t like it. You drop out. And you immediately start feeling bad about yourself — all your friends will soon graduate, and you still haven’t even started. You call it “wasting time.”
But I like to talk to older people. And what keeps surprising me over and over in these conversations is how much older people don’t give a fuck about “losing” a year or two in their early years.
In fact, almost all of them — from my 43-year-old dad to my 65-year-old grandfather — say the same thing: it would be nice to waste a year or two and not rush so much.
When you’re young, it feels as if the world will be over at 30 or 40 or 50. But you have plenty of time to realize all your dreams. As long as you live, rushing makes no sense.
This reminds me of a time when Steve Jobs was asked about his attitude towards Bill Gates:
“I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” ~ Steve Jobs for The New York Times, January 12, 1997
It’s all about a broader perspective.
The Process Is All There Is
People say, “focus on the process because it matters more than achieving results.”
But I would go even further and say that the process is the only thing that matters.
From the point of life, it doesn’t matter what you achieve — whether you have a good income or a bad income, whether you live on the beach or in the city — all that matters is whether you enjoy yourself or not.
Time is an instrument created by humans. It doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as “late” or “early.”
And if I had to choose between enjoying the process but not achieving my goals — or achieving my goals but suffering for most of my life, I would choose the former. Honestly.
According to psychologists, your brain creates an illusion of a reward at the end — solely to get you going, to build momentum. There’s no reward. Life is all about the process.
This fact has some fascinating implications for building careers.
Do Less, Achieve More
Let’s iterate a few points we’ve touched on earlier and make a practical takeaway.
a) You are in your twenties, and you have your whole life in front of you;
b) And the process is all there is…
…then, it makes sense to use the 80/20 principle and enjoy life more.
Here’s what I mean.
If you’re building a blog.
You don’t have to maniacally produce 5 blog posts per day and spend a stupid number of hours each day, “growth hacking.”
Perhaps, you could spend just two hours per day — and do it sustainably, over many months, years. You’ll still achieve everything you’ve wanted — just later. And you’ll enjoy life more too.
If you’re building a business.
One way to do it is to subscribe to the startup/ “hustle” mentality and work 14 hours per day, not shower, and eat fast food.
Or, you could relax and take it slower — knowing that you’ve got nowhere to rush, and you’re in it for the long-term.
It’s just like with exercise.
We could rush through it, using force to complete a set of 100 push-ups.
Or we could take it slower, keeping our heart rate stable, building even more strength and power as we go.
But if we can’t help but rush, it might be a wake-up call that we’re in the wrong career.
If You Rush, You’re Probably In The Wrong Career
We often rush to get something painful out of the way, quickly. (Think of workouts in the gym or shuffling documents at work.)
But what if we forced ourselves to take it slower?
We might discover that we actually chose the wrong profession or career.
Two years ago, I remembered watching YouTube business gurus say the following, “You’ve got to enjoy the process.”
What the fuck are you talking about? How am I supposed to ENJOY this?! This is not sex, after all. I want to build a business!
Back then, I was building a video production business, I hated it, and I just wanted to get the client work over to receive cash and go on do something else.
But once I quit that business to start writing, I understood what those YouTube gurus talked about.
I didn’t rush anymore.
In fact, if you were to give me a secret pill to achieve 100,000 followers on Medium in one second, I would probably not use it.
Why? Because it’s not about the external rewards for me anymore. I don’t want to fast-forward the next several years of my life.
I want to watch the whole thing. I want to improve my craft. I want to enjoy the slow climb, pushing myself to sit down and write every day, receiving that psychological salary, refining my character as I go.
If you’re too focused on the goal — it’s a symptom you might be in the wrong career—people who love what they do want to slow down to enjoy the process more.
The moment you start enjoying the process, you’ll realize that this is what life is all about.
My father is a Stanford GSB graduate. I remember being a ten-year-old, living with him in the heart of Silicon Valley. On his graduation day, the dean walked on stage and said something I will never forget.
“Dear graduates from the class of 2009. You will all achieve everything you’ve ever wanted. Trust me. EVERYTHING.
Just not all at once.”
Remind yourself of that whenever you feel you’re not successful enough.
It’s better to go slower and actually get there.
It’s better to enjoy the process.
Slow and steady wins the race.