In Praise of Obsession
Obsession beats balance.
Mr. Beast was so obsessed with YouTube that he talked growth strategy with friends on Skype every day for more than 1,000 days. By the end, everybody in the group had more than 1 million subscribers. The group was his obsession: “We were very religious about it… they say 10,000 hours to master something, but we probably put in 40,000-50,000 hours."
Thomas Edison was famously opposed to sleeping. In an 1889 interview in Scientific American, the inventor of the lightbulb claimed he never slept more than four hours a night. He thought sleep was a waste of time. Instead, he napped while holding a ball in each hand. As he fell asleep, the orbs would fall to the floor and wake him. This way he could remember the sorts of thoughts that come to us as we are nodding off.
John Carmack, creator of Doom and one of the greatest programmers to ever live, says:
“I like working a 60 hour work week. I like being productive… I like building things, I like creating things and making forward progress, this sense of in some small way I’m helping build the future... There are people that think there literally should be laws that should prevent people from working that hard, and I always have to argue against that. There is a power to obsession and being able to absolutely obsess over something…I think its great when people throw themselves at it beyond the point of what even other people think is reasonable. They have free will. They’ve chosen to do that. And if that’s what they think is going to help get them closer to their goals, I’m not going to try to make that impossible for them.”
Obsession > Balance
Parents and schools praise balance and moderation. Balancing school work, sports, and a healthy social life was the holy grail growing up. It’s the key to achieving in all of these areas. But balance is overrated.
Great work appears to be a combination of many things, but the most important is obsession. People that do great work are so intensely interested in what they're doing that the world outside of that appears to stop.
If you want to be the leading voice in your field, start great companies, or build cutting-edge technology, balance won’t get you there. It might make you good, but it won't make you great.
Balance means focusing on two or more things. It creates a tradeoff and makes it difficult to be truly excellent at either one of them. Obsession lies at the heart of genius.
Edison, Carmack and Mr. Beast did phenomenal work because they approached it with extreme intensity. Do something that stretches you, that forces you to focus every ounce of your being on it, and notice how it makes you feel. Obsession is electrifying.
It’s okay to need and want intensity—we praise moderation and balance but it’s pretty evident that some people crave a high level of intensity throughout their lives, and that intensity feeds their creativity and productivity and growth.