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Sprezzatura: The Italian Art of Perfecting Imperfection

· Psychology

Wake up at 8am.

Get dressed.

Eat a full, balanced breakfast by 8:30am.

Get on the bus for school.

Arrive by 9:15am.

Decompress.

Meticulously unpack, fold and put away your belongings.

English class begins at 9:30am: the focus is immersion Math and Language Arts.

11:30: Korean: Ballet and Science.

1:20: English again: Phonics and Creative Writing.

2:40: Chinese.

4:30: Advanced Math in Korean.

By the end of the day, you’ll have taken Ballet or Gym, Art, English, Korean, Chinese, Science, Math, and Social Studies – in two languages, at minimum.

7:00pm: Piano lessons.

9:00pm: Ballet academy.

10:00pm: Homework in three languages.

Bed by midnight.

This is your schedule, 5 days a week. On Saturdays, you leave school early at 4pm. School is year-round – there are no three-month summer breaks. By the end of the school year, you will have completed over 30 textbooks.

Is this the schedule of a high-school overachiever aiming for Harvard or Princeton?

No, this is the schedule of kindergartners at a private school in South Korea.

Now, Americans have plenty of criticism about this model.

“Kids should play.”

“There’s more to life than studying.”

This is binary-thinking.

You can work hard and still have time to play.

There is a mile of middle-ground between keeping kids in school 100 hours a week vs. 20 hours a week.

Kindergarten is when a child’s brain is most plastic and malleable: neuro-scientifically the perfect times to expose them to creativity, languages, and start expanding the brain functions responsible for discipline and willpower.

Say what you want about this model. But it’s undeniable that many of these kids will grow up, attend top universities, integrate into workforce, and have unparalleled achievements, focus and discipline.

And the irony? After years of training under these conditions, some people will oversimplify or attribute their success to: “They are just naturally smart.”

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Let’s be honest: most people (let’s say 95%) don’t want to do the hard work that’s required to be at the top of their game or achieve something significant.

They’re constantly looking for a shortcut, a get-rich-quick scheme, or an elevator to overnight success.

They want a million dollars (or two or three or five million) so they can cash out and lay on the beach for the rest of their lives.

And that’s fine for them. Everyone doesn’t have to be remarkable. Some people just want to lay on the beach with margaritas in their hands.

But I get asked a lot of questions, like:

  • How did you save so much money?
  • How do you stay so fit?
  • How did you make so much? How can I get in on it?

And as soon as the 95% realize my answers to these questions aren’t just short “oh I just watch what I eat” or the equivalent, their eyes glaze over.

95% of people don’t want to hear that I actually:

  • Spent 7 years maximizing my income while simultaneously doing things like taking the bus instead of buying a car and grilling my own healthy lunch every morning. 
  • Walk a minimum of five miles a day and don’t buy soft drinks, juice, or even keep junk food in the house.
  • Dedicated 2-3 years exclusively for positioning myself to get an offer from a top Management Consulting firm.

But you know what? That's okay. Because 5% of people lean in and want to know more. And that 5% is my focus.

If you want to be exceptional, you have to work at an exceptional level. There is no shortcut to doing the work.

The top 5% of performers and achievers internalize this.  

When the media talks about Steph Curry, they talk about how effortlessly he sinks baskets: from tunnels, backwards, and even with his eyes closed. But what they don’t highlight is that his father was a professional basketball player, and he’s likely had a ball in his hands since he had the fine motor skill development to hold one. We don’t talk about the fact that this is his diet, and that he still practices shooting, a minimum of 250 balls, every single day.

I get the appeal of being effortlessly anything: cool, stylish, brilliant, talented, and successful. And not just in work - but in everyday life.

The Italians have perfected “sprezzatura” in their fashion - the art of looking effortlessly stylish, or casually nonchalant.

Photo Credit: www.mydapperself.com

I’ve even perfected my “no makeup” makeup look. And who doesn’t love a good fake candid Instagram picture where you look accidentally gorgeous and happy?

You don’t have to fight the attraction to that effortless je ne sais quoi, but never forget to do the actual work behind it.

Because counterintuitively enough, you can’t pull off sprezzatura, in any context, without first mastering the fundamentals.

  • Someone who has no sense of style that leaves their collars unbuttoned, shirts untucked and randomly puts on pink shoes doesn’t look cool - just sloppy. 
  • “Just watching what you eat” comes after both understanding how to ensure you’re eating all of the right things, and building the habit and creating systems to do so, in order to move to a state of monitoring. 
  • My career is the result of thousands of hours over years, dedicated to identifying and then learning the most highly sought and valuable skills.
  • I have three businesses (and one emerging) but this isn’t my first go-round: I’ve had 7 or 8 entrepreneurial ventures so far in life, and my dad is a successful serial entrepreneur who owned, ran, and exposed me to dozens of businesses throughout my life, holding as many as 10 at one point.

It takes thousands of hours to achieve a level of mastery that allows you to look effortlessly successful. Happy, Healthy and Almost Wealthy is dedicated to learning, dissecting and sharing the secrets of elite performance, in all fields, but if you want to be remarkable, start here:

  • Avoid the 95% of eye-rollers who scoff at hard work. 
  • Lean in to the 5% when they share their secrets. 
  • Start doing the work.
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