What separates the rockstars from the amateurs.

First, I’m using “rockstar” as an analogy for “success,” despite my disinclination to make any attempt at defining what “success” is. Second, my apologies for the clickbait-y title (it sounded good). There isn’t only one thing you need to do to be a rockstar. Obviously there are a variety of factors including genetics and probably luck. However, I guarantee all successful people have this one thing in common.

I won’t make you read this entire thing for the answer. The one thing you need to do to be a rockstar at anything is…

show up when it counts.

Getting to the championship is one thing. Winning is another. Hitting a buzzer beater to win is another still. It’s what separates Michael Jordan from Toni Kukoč. Sports are an easy analogy (more on that later), but this law applies everywhere.

In a previous life I had a brief foray into artist management. There are certain things one looks for in an artist: a look; a sound; a point of view — some indication of an X-factor. As my partner and I began adding to our roster of clients, I noticed one thing that made the successful ones stand out. When we got them a gig, set up a meeting with an executive, or got them in the studio, they showed up and killed it. No second guessing. If something went wrong, they didn’t freak out. Whether they were playing to two people or 2o,000, they brought it.

Along with writing this nonsense, I’m also an actor, and know what it’s like to be expected to perform on command. Auditions are a perfect example. For those who have never done it before, here’s that jovial experience:

  • Memorize lines and find the character with very little (if any) information.
  • Go to a place and wait for a long time with a bunch of people who kind of look like you.
  • Walk into a room cold with some half-interested strangers sitting behind a camera.
  • Act! With someone (who’s probably terrible) reading as your scene partner.
  • Then do it again, differently but better.

Those who can nail that get work.

But then there’s the work! Then you need to be on a set with 10,000 moving parts — cameras, people, lights, equipment, props — and after you’ve been waiting for a couple hours, and gone through hair and makeup, you’re rushed to set. They have 10 minutes to get your shot, and you’re supposed to go through a range of emotion as someone else, while hitting your marks, being aware of what’s going on around you, still remembering your lines… and being natural at it. Then do that eight more times.

I’m being slightly dramatic (that’s what we do!), but that really is the experience. Obviously when you’re Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks they tend to operate much more to your liking (not to mention you’re getting a cool $20 million to be there). But how did they become Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks? They could do what I just described, and nail it every time.

It’s not just artists…

Executives of major corporations, world-renowned heart surgeons, five-star generals… they all got there because they could perform under pressure.

Jack Welch started his career as a chemical engineer for General Electric in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He then rose through the ranks of GE to become one of the most successful CEOs of all time. His personal directive was to make GE the best. So when he was asked to step up, he did in a big way. Now, as I’ve said, it’s difficult to quantify something so subjective as success… but in this case we kind of can. According to GE’s website:

“In 1980, the year before Welch became CEO, GE recorded revenues of roughly $26.8 billion; in 2000, the year before he left, they were nearly $130 billion. The company went from a market value of $14 billion to one of more than $410 billion at the time of his retirement, making it the most valuable and largest company in the world.”

Now, don’t freak out, but I’m going to make a Donald Trump reference here. The simple point is this: he showed up where and when it counted… and Hillary Clinton didn’t (right Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin?) Hey, I didn’t say you had to be qualified to be a rockstar; I just said you have to show up when it counts.

Anyone can be a rockstar.

Success doesn’t mean you have to be at Meryl Streep, Jack Welch, or Michael Jordan’s level. Since “success” is an ambiguous, elusive concept, just ask yourself what it means to you. That being the new guiding principle, how are you going to show up when it counts?

Whatever it is you do for a living, you get ahead by being able to solve problems. The more people it affects, the bigger the problems are. The bigger the problems you can solve, the farther you’ll go… You get it.

In fact, this extends beyond your career. Showing up when it counts the most is how you find and keep a steady relationship! It’s pretty much in the top three of things good boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives do!

So you want the sports analogy… fine.

Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, Mariano Rivera, Alex Honnold… they’re synonymous with greatness because when the biggest games were on the line they were in their comfort zone. They’re great physical athletes, sure, but champions are defined by their mental strength when it matters most.

Confidence is key.

How did these athletes hit “The Shot,” dominate the two minute drill, hit a 15-foot putt for birdie to force a playoff, amass 652 saves, and free solo El Capitan (respectively)? Because they knew they could.

Remember at the end of Hoosiers when Gene Hackman wants to use Jimmy as a decoy because the other teams will expect him to take the shot? The whole team looks uncomfortable prompting Hackman to yell, “What’s the matter with you?!” Then Jimmy says one of the best lines in sports movie history…

“I’ll make it.”

Confidence comes with preparation.

I wrote a post about acting lessons that will help make you more successful. The very first principle was preparation. If I may quote myself: “You know that feeling of knowing how to do something so well you don’t even need to think? That’s the result of preparation.”

I’ll quote someone else now: Steve Martin famously said,“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” What he’s saying is prepare. Practice. Whatever it is you want to win at, make sure you’re the best at it.

In summary, rockstars show up when it counts. They’re able to do that because they’re confident. Confidence comes from preparation and practice. (Wow, that could have been a tweet, not an article.)