Messy.

Messy.

It’s time to replace the Italian espresso machine in my upstairs kitchen. I rarely spend much time researching options. I’d rather make a decision and adjust as I go, but the current machine served faithfully for 10 years so I feel a little obligated to replace it with something as durable.

Tasked to my personal assistant, already knee-deep in the process of replacing two other commercial coffee machines in our dental offices, my only instruction was to make sure it’s durable. “Commercial grade,” I remember saying. Why not kill three birds with one stone?

She came back with options from the distributor that were “much less messy” than my current machine. They all looked like glorified Nespresso machines.

“Messy,” I asked. “What’s messy?”

She explained, “Well, with your current machine you have to grind the beans and then put them in that thing over there and that makes a mess.”

“Yes,” I patiently smiled, “But freshly-ground espresso doesn’t taste like dirt.”

I didn’t ask for a neat little Nespresso, all I asked for was commercial grade, as in real espresso. The options she brought back to me were cheap. The machine I’m looking for costs more than her car. The options she recommended all use cute little pods of coffee that was roasted sometime in the Nixon administration and ground months in advance. The machine I’m looking for requires a separate and very expensive grinder, which I already own, and it requires the operator to know what the hell he is doing, and yes, it can get a little messy.

Effort equals result. There is much to teach this young grasshopper.

I tried to use an analogy that she would understand. She loves to bake and is hell-bent on giving my kids diabetes and/or 20 extra pounds of cellulose before summer break. Every time I turn around, there’s some freshly baked muffin, pie, pastry or cookie in the kitchen for the boys. She knows I throw most of it away, but that hasn’t deterred her yet.

“Listen,” I said. “Do you think the best homemade pie crusts come in little Keurig pods, pre-made months in advance in some far away factory?”

The lightbulb clicked on. “Got it,” she said. “So I still need to get fresh coffee beans each week from Broadway Roasting Company, correct?”

“Correct,” I replied.

She’s coming along slowly. Very slowly, but she illustrates a teaching concept that most multi-millionaires and success stories of any kind assume you know but won’t come right out and say it unless you ask them privately.

Success is cooked up in a messy kitchen.

Sure, the “4-hour-workweek-make-money-in-your-swim-trunks-sitting-on-the-beach-without-any-effort-whatsoever” gurus will have you believe you can enjoy mega success without getting your hands dirty. Just like coffee-pod brewers think you can enjoy the same experience as a well-crafted, perfectly roasted and freshly-ground espresso without getting your hands a little dirty.

As an interesting aside, when I was in Italy, my friend Dave D’Angelo recalled interviewing Tim Ferris when his book “4 Hour Workweek” launched and pointed out to the audience that Mr. Ferris had been sitting in a recording studio for eight hours straight without a lunch break in order to promote a book that had taken him over a year to write. Tim smiled and said, “Yeah, but this isn’t work, it’s fun, so this doesn’t count.” Smart guy, quick on his feet and a decent comeback but don’t miss the lesson:

Watch what people do to become successful, not what they say.

For every high school phenom that catapults straight to the pros, there are tens of thousands that never make it, spend years in the minor leagues or overseas, in and out of physical therapy and surgery, scraping and clawing to get to the main stage. A family friend and major league ball player for nearly 20 years, now retired coach with two World Series rings, saw this up close and personal with his own son, an unbelievably-talented ball player who spent nearly a decade working his way to the top, never quite making it to the big leagues. He told me once that even with a signed contract from a professional baseball team, the chances of ever seeing the light of day in the MLB is less than one in one thousand – and that’s with a signed contract. Most stay in the minors for their entire career.

For every high income earner who catapulted straight into the stratosphere based on some algorithm or invention, landing them a multi-million dollar salary or even larger buyout in Silicon Valley, there are tens of thousands who started as an assistant manager, worked their way up to regional manager, vice president and eventually into the C-suite. Bob Iger at Disney, currently one of the world’s smartest businessmen and likely to go down in history as one of the best ever unless he screws something up, started off doing the weather on a local ABC affiliate in Ithaca, NY. That was 1973.

It took 20 years for Iger to claw his way to the top of ABC and another 11 years for him to work his way to President of Walt Disney International, then Chief Operating Officer, then named as replacement for Michael Eisner in 2005. In less than a year, he orchestrated the purchase of Pixar, then Marvel Entertainment, then Lucasfilm including Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. He became a Director on Apple’s board after Jobs’ death and last year acquired 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion, making Disney the undisputed powerhouse of all things entertainment.

Iger wasn’t an overnight success and his path was not cooked up in a clean kitchen. In talks with high-level leaders at Disney, like Lee Cockerell, my guest speaker at last year’s Customer Service Summit and President of Walt Disney World in Orlando with over 76,000 employees under his leadership, Lee describes his own path as a bit of a roller coaster. “There are times you don’t think you’re going to survive, then there are times where you can seem to do no wrong,” he said.

Another family friend and mentor started off as an assistant manager at Wendy’s hamburgers, making less than ten bucks an hour. He clawed, scraped and fought his way to purchase his first franchise. He now owns over 45 Wendy’s restaurants and a dozen Buffalo Wild Wings and other franchises to boot. He has over 900 employees. From the surface, his wild success story might look like a fairytale. I can tell you the countless hours, blood, sweat and tears that went into building that empire.

Here’s the lesson, if you haven’t gleaned it already.

Stop wishing for things to be easy. Stop insisting there be no mess in your life.

I realize you were probably at the top of your class in dental school. I realize you have been a lifetime student and failure is scary to you. I know you’re a perfectionist. Think about it. You put things in a straight line for a living. You’re wound tight, don’t like it when things don’t go your way, have a place for everything and everything in its place. Fine. I’m not sure I’d want my teeth straightened by someone who didn’t have most or all of these tendencies. But stop pretending like everything is going to be perfect from today forward.

If you want a mega success story of your own. If you want endless referrals, respect in your community, a net income that puts you in the 0.1% and an exit strategy that leaves you with over $10 million cash in the bank, you must be prepared to get your hands a little dirty. There is no Keurig pod for instant success. Embrace the mess.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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