5. Take Shortcuts, But Do the Work

This essay is part of my 42 Deep Thoughts project.

I strongly believe that many of the best qualities in people and in the world, comes from a tension that balances different opposites.

My last essay was about taking the scenic routes of life. This value of exploration is balanced, in me, by my drive for success.

There are shortcuts in life, some of them are quite worthwhile. There are also things that you cannot take the shortcut for.

By shortcut I’m not talking about sacrificing quality.

The only time sacrificing quality is acceptable is when you’re searching for an answer and need to find the direction before going deep into the solution. Whenever you sacrifice quality, there is an expense — you’re in debt — and will have to pay it back, or the debtor will come…

The definition of shortcut is: a route more direct than the one ordinarily taken.

One of my favorites in New York City is 6 1//2 Avenue in Manhattan.

Shortcuts aren’t always routes, sometimes tools, or ways of achieving things can also be shortcuts.

Having parents or mentors who teach you how to manage your money will save you a lot of time and stress. Being able to go to a highly networked university, like an ivy-league school, will save you the time and effort of making those connections needed to boost whatever you do. Getting help with a first down-payment. Getting help with your resume, or interview questions. Knowing which skills you need to acquire in order to get a specific job.

These are all shortcuts in life.

However, with each of these you still have to do the work.

You can be born into money, but you can still squander it. You can be taught how to save and invest well, but you still have to save and invest. You can get help with your down-payment, but you still have to make the mortgage payments.

You can know all the right people, but you have to ask for help with the right things at the right time.

You can get help with your resume, but you still need to do the interviews.

You can have an idea for a startup, but you still have to execute.

You have to do the work.

In developing mastery over a subject the shortcut is finding out what to learn. You can have 10 years of experience in a field, and it’s the same year’s worth of experience 10 times. Or you can have 10 years of experience where each year building mastery off the previous year. 10,000 hours isn’t enough if you’re doing the same hour over and over.

Mastery comes from doing the work, and doing the right work.

You can read volumes on algorithms, or code architecture, but until you implement those ideas you will never gain mastery over them, you will never own them.

Shortcuts can be unfair.

I’m a self-taught developer. For years I didn’t have peers who could teach me the shortcuts, I had to stumble across them myself. Eventually I did figure out what I needed to study to become an excellent software engineer.

If you don’t have the right role models, you are at a disadvantage. Finding the shortcuts can be difficult. If they were easy, they wouldn’t be shortcuts. So remember that it’s not your fault if you were never taught a certain shortcut.

You can work harder than everyone else in the world, but without the right shortcuts, you may never get ahead.

So if you have an opportunity to be that role-model, or mentor, for someone, see if you can. Not everyone will listen, there’s a lot of bad advice out there. Of those who will listen not everyone is willing to do the work.

Edit: I recently had the pleasure of sharing a Shabbat dinner with some new people and had the opportunity to share the ideas in this essay. One guest had a great framing for it.

He said that the paths we take make up a blueprint of our life, yet even the most skilled architect cannot create a flawless blueprint the first time around.

But as we go through our lives, these shortcuts can provide the benefits of other’s experience, which can help us make our life’s blueprint as good as it can be, the first time.

Getting the shortcuts of others is a privilege, so share your shortcuts, and lift other people up.

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About the image: From the Secret Passageways tour of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.