This post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.
A few years ago, a small book titled Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff became an overnight sensation in the self-help world. The general idea—that you shouldn’t get so bogged down in the details that you lose sight of the big picture—was fine in theory. But it quickly became a mantra that the unsuspecting public applied equally to every aspect of life, using it as a justification for unexceptional, and even careless, behavior.
In practice, the concept proved to be a surefire path to mediocrity.
You see, in reality, the small stuff is what matters. It’s what differentiates the outstanding performers from everyone else. The big stuff is sort of a given. That’s that known requirement. It’s the small stuff—the hidden, extra step that few people see and even fewer actually take—that separates the average person just “getting by” from the person who really believes in the goal and is dedicated to doing everything it takes in order to achieve it.
Success is all about the small stuff.
Another book came out a few years after Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. This one took a dramatically different approach. It’s called 212°: The Extra Degree and that title comes from the fact that water, at 212 degrees, creates steam. Before that, even up to 211 degrees, water is just really, really hot. It’s that extra degree that changes it to steam, and steam can power a locomotive. All it takes it one tiny degree to transform water into something completely different and infinitely more powerful.
This concept is far more useful for those seeking professional success. Micro-movements have the ability to transform the ordinary into the outstanding.
Just ask any competitive sportsman and he’ll agree. The margin of victory in most professional sports is very, very small. According to SimpleTruths.com, at the Indy 500, the average margin of victory for the last 10 years has been 1.54 seconds. In the PGA Championship, the first and second place winners have averaged a difference of just 1.71 strokes—less than half a stroke per day. The difference between the gold medal and no metal at all in the Olympic games is often a matter of split seconds.
The giant leaps allow you to compete but it’s the small stuff that puts you out in front.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the small stuff is unimportant. Yes, it’s counterproductive to obsess over the details so intensely that you lose sight of the ultimate goal. But a little sweat is necessary. Being meticulous is not a character flaw. Use the small stuff to your advantage. Everyone else is ignoring it.