Last week, I went to see My Fair Lady live at the MasterCard Theatre at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. As a fan of the film, I have long been charmed by Eliza Doolittle’s spunk and determination but something struck me as I was listening to “Show Me.” In the duet between Eliza and her paramour Freddie, she exclaims, “Tell me no dreams, filled with desire. If you’re on fire, show me!” Of course, Eliza sings about love here but this catchy tune is a great reminder for wannabe go-getters to just do.
There is no formula for success, and many struggle at the intersection of planning and doing. Laying the groundwork for action is essential but too often this can feel overwhelming. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg spoke of the “Impostor Syndrome” and feeling like a “fraud,” which resonated with me and many other young professional women I know. Not wanting to act a fool is often a key reason why smart women overthink and underact.
But Eliza didn’t do this, and I think a lot of her success can be attributed to her ability to seize opportunities, understand the importance of urgency and be okay with extremes.
Planning and research are necessary but often the opportunities we want come via unexpected meetings. For Cockney flower girl Eliza, an evening trying to sell flowers to theatregoers turned into a chance meeting with renowned linguist Henry Higgins who asserted he could soften her harsh accent; in class-conscious London, this meant an opportunity to move off the streets and into the middle class. Although he then brushed her off, she dropped by his home unannounced, impressed him with her determination and got to work.
While it can be tempting to try and control every minute, remember that sometimes a chance meeting is the spark that ignites a flame. You never know when your big opportunity is at that event you are missing for a cozy night in with your laptop.
What we can learn: Make room for opportunities to happen. When they do, seize them and go after what you want.
Understand the Importance of Urgency
Think of the people who excel in your chosen field. I’d bet they burn with passion for their work. Ambitious go-getters are always aware that time dwindles quickly. Goals, both long-term and short-term, can help keep track of progress and keep you motivated. Eliza viewed her six months as the greatest chance she had ever been given and worked obsessively to perfect her accent. She may not have passed for a well-bred lady during her first try, but she learned from her mistakes and continued on. All the late nights she spent reciting, repeating, and re-arguing with Henry were worth it when it clicked.
Without the gut-burning desire to succeed, it can be too easy to let distractions fill up time. Be like Eliza and treat your opportunities like they are portals to your dream life.
What we can learn: Six months from now your greatest goal could be a reality. Decide what it will take to get you there and start working.
Be Okay with Extremes
Being different isn’t easy. Society can value business, where the most successful person appears to be the one attending multiple events, organizing charity hikes, getting ready for a book tour and documenting it all on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The next time you feel overstretched, think of Eliza who wrote the book on extreme focus. After deciding on her goal, she immediately moved in with her tutor and didn’t event stop to tell her dad. Her entire schedule worked around perfecting her pronunciation of A-E-I-O-U. For the chance of a lifetime, she made the decision to close herself off to distractions…with the occasional break.
There will always be distractions vying for your time. Know what matters to you and make time for them, but don’t let FOMO drag you out when you would rather be writing, coding, or [insert the language of your passion here].
What we can learn: Learn from Eliza, and focus like a laser on what you want. Control your FOMO, work on your goals, and believe life-changing events can happen to you.