Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: How can I be in the top 1% of the world in any given pursuit? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
When I was 17 years old, I was in the top 1% of World of Warcraft players in the world.
So your question is: How do you get there. Right? You want to know how to go from the big pool of people who start at the beginning of the race track, and how do you end up at the finish line among the few?
OK. It’s not an easy road, but I’ll lay it out step by step for you. Here are the 10 things you need to do in order to be in the top 1% of the world:
1. Start With What You Love
Before you head off to the races, you need to get to the heart of what you love—you will never be part of the 1% unless you are doing something you are deeply, madly, obsessively in love with. And sometimes you won’t know this right off the bat. To give you some perspective, in the World of Warcraft there are a bunch of different classes you can play (and there are studies out there done to show how different personalities choose different classes). For the first year of my playing the game, I played what is called a Shaman. The Shaman class is no expert in any single domain, but rather a “jack of all trades.” As a result, I wasn’t that great of a healer, I wasn’t that great of a damage class, and I wasn’t really fit to tank—but I could do all 3, so at best I was a support class.
After a year of playing I realized that even though my class was a hybrid, I was playing it as if I were a 100% focused damage class. And I realized that I would never truly be a successful damage class as long as I stayed a Shaman. So what did I do? I deleted my character and started over. I now had a clear grasp of who I wanted to be and what I loved doing—in the World of Warcraft, I loved doing “damage.”
START WITH WHAT YOU LOVE.
2. Explore Your Potential
Before you can find your “sweet spot” of talent, you have to explore the extremes. Sticking with gaming here, I had to explore my new class (a Mage) and understand just how far I could take it, both offensively and defensively. I had to know how long I could survive playing very aggressively, and how long I could survive playing very timidly and defensively. And once I knew those two extremes, I could begin to create a style of play that blended the two.
The only way you’re going to find this is to ignore the concept of “mistakes” and explore, explore, explore. Try new things. Test your skills, combine strategies, do anything and everything that comes to mind so you can better understand the frame of your own potential.
Another great way of putting this is, as a musician, you have to know the dynamics of your voice when you’re screaming at the top of your lungs, and when you’re wispily whispering. Once you know where those extremes lie, you can begin to shape your voice within the two and float in that space in order to create emotion and dynamics.
Never mistakes, always lessons.
3. “Starting Over”
Everyone thinks the path to mastery is a clear shot. It’s not. At any moment, you have to be willing to throw everything out the window and start over again. But the more times you are willing to do this, the more times you can “reinvent” yourself, the more you will know and the better you will be.
To give you a sense of what it took for me to truly learn and understand my World of Warcraft class, a Mage, I leveled three (3!) separate characters to level 60 within my second year of playing. My reason for doing so was because back then you couldn’t pay to move your character to different servers, so in search of better competition I would have to level a new character every time. Each character, 1-60, probably took me a few hundred hours—especially back then when the game was still “hard.” And every time I started over, I learned something new about the class. It was never something big or flashy or monumental, but rather a simple understanding, a small fix, that allowed me deeper control over my character and to have a more profound sense of the game and how I could maneuver myself within it.
4. Find A Mentor
Nothing, nothing, NOTHING will make you grow as fast as learning beside someone who double, triple, quadruples you in skill. I swear to you, the learning doesn’t even come from direct “now do this, now do this.” It comes from being beside someone bigger, faster, smarter than you, and you soaking up their knowledge—like a growing tree beside an aged oak, learning how to reach towards the sun.
When I turned 16, I decided I wanted to take World of Warcraft seriously. I was starting to see signs that the game was going to be bigger than anyone had ever anticipated, and I wanted to be part of whatever it was going to become.
There was a Mage on another server named Cachexic who had made some gameplay videos that I absolutely loved, and I wanted to play just like him. His style was the style that I wanted for myself. So I made a character on his server and asked if he would teach me. Thinking I was just some fanboy, he said, “Sure kid. If you level a character here, I will teach you. But I doubt you’ll make it to level 60 without giving up.”
I was so motivated by the prospect of getting to learn from such a talented gamer that that day, I created a character on his server, and I deleted my Level 60 Mage on another server—a character I had poured probably 1,000 hours into. I knew that as long as that character was still around, I would probably give up like Cachexic had said and resort to what was “easy.” So I removed that option. I deleted that character and leveled a new one on Cachexic’s server. When I hit level 60 4 months later, he was shocked. He went on to become my mentor and best friend for the following 2 years, and I attribute my success in that game largely to our friendship.
5. Be The Small Fish In The Big Pond, Not The Big Fish In The Small Pond
The prelude to the story in #4 is that the server I was on prior to playing with Cachexic, I was the big fish. I was known as the #1 Mage on the server and every single player knew my name—I was a mini celebrity. But was I really all that good? Nah, not at all, actually. I was the best Mage on that server, but that server wasn’t really full of top-tier players. When I saw videos of players on other servers, I could tell that they played quicker than me, they were faster and more intuitive. Those were the players I needed to learn from and play against.
This involves letting go of your ego. I could have stayed on that server (Wildhammer) and sat at the top, but then I wouldn’t have gotten any better.
Cachexic’s server, by contrast, was a top tier server. Some of the best players and best guilds in the world played there, and the day I hit level 60 and entered their arena I realized how little I knew and how talented I wasn’t. But after I made that move, I forever saw the importance. After becoming friends, Cachexic and I made it a habit to move servers every few months, always in search of better players and better competition. This principle is what allowed us to stay in a constant state of growth.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Look, I cannot say this any more clearly: You have to practice more than you think about practice.
A lot of people think about practice. I remember I used to download dozens of Mage videos made by other players and watch them, study them, trying to figure out how I could be like them. But one day, it clicked: I was never going to get better by watching. I had to DO. Again, I made the sharp pivot. I replaced all the hours I spent watching other players with simply playing myself.
Building off that: Do you know how much I practiced that game as a teenager? I practiced, minimum, four hours per day. MINIMUM. And that wasn’t 4 hours after school when the sun is still out. I wasn’t allowed to play on my computer during the week because that was the family rule. So I would pretend to go to sleep at 10pm, then sneak back to my computer and play until 2 or 3 in the morning, get a few hours of sleep, go to school, literally hold my eyes open through every single class, sleep through study hall, take a nap after school, barrel through my homework with my dad after dinner, and then repeat the cycle.
I had to violate so many family rules in order to play that game. I had to practice at odd hours. I had to play with guilds and teams that were in Australia because those were the only players awake and online consistently in the middle of the night. I had to live in a constant state of fear, afraid that at any moment my mother or father would peek into my bedroom and see me playing at my computer in the pitch black. But that is what it took for me to hit my goals in that game. I was willing to do WHATEVER IT TOOK to get back to my computer and practice.
Practice like your life depends on it, because if you want to be in the top 1%, it does.
7. The SKILL
My goal was to be the best Mage in the game—skill. I didn’t care about the epic items. I didn’t care about how much gold I had. I didn’t care about being in a prestigious guild or raiding the high-end dungeons or how many quests I completed in the game. The ONLY thing I cared about was how skilled I was against another player.
In order to do that, I had to give up everything else. I was poor and rarely had gold to spend on cool, rare items. I didn’t have the best gear because I didn’t spend time raiding or killing bosses. I didn’t really have that big of a “friend” group in the game because I kept largely to myself and my close, competitive friends who shared a similar goal. And do you see the real life parallels here? If you want something specific, you have to be willing to let go of the other stuff. You have to give up chasing the money, chasing the validation, chasing the rewards, etc., and you have to focus on the SKILL. You have to spend ALL of your time (95%+) on developing your SKILL. I cannot stress how important this is. I gave up instant gratification and validation to invest in myself and my talents as a player for the long-term benefit.
No matter what you want, whether it’s money, a title, status, it doesn’t matter. Don’t focus on the END, focus on the PROCESS—the SKILL. SKILL is what will get you to the 1%.
8. Walk Your Own Path
If you’ve made it this far, you are now in the top 15%. Congrats. That’s pretty good! But in order to get past the next 14% and into the top 1%, you have to be prepared for war and to fight your way through.
The entire time I played World of Warcraft, I was attacked by the real world. I was told that I was wasting my life. I was told that I wasn’t going to amount to anything. I was told that nothing could be gained from playing a video game, that I was on the path to destruction, that I was “an addict.” So as hard as the path to mastery already is, it is made harder by all the voices telling you that you should give up, that you can’t do it, and not just that, but telling you that you’re WRONG and a sub-par human being for doing so.
I didn’t listen.
If you want to be in the top 1%, be prepared to trust your inner voice and no one else. This is where mentors are extremely helpful, because they help make that voice stronger by adding their own. They help remind you of your dream and stand by your side to make it happen. That’s what Cachexic was for me.
Walk your own path. Stay true to your goal. And every time someone tells you to give up or not to press forward, use that as fuel to launch yourself further. Channel your anger and frustration. Turn it into inspiration.
9. Be Relentless
When you get close to the top 1%, you will be able to feel it. It will be just outside your grasp and it will tickle your fingertips, taunting you to stretch just a little bit further.
In the World of Warcraft, this was the title of “Gladiator.” At the end of the season, it is awarded to the top .5% of players in the 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 brackets. (No longer 2v2, but it was back when I played.) I wanted this title more than I wanted to get into college, more than I wanted to lose my virginity. I had worked so hard to get to where I was and I wanted to enter that top 1%. I wanted every single person in that game to know that I was the best.
A few weeks before the season ended and the titles were handed out, one of teammates on our 3v3 team got banned—he got caught using a bot in the game to get gold or something. So we quickly required a new 3rd player and played RELENTLESSLY over the next few weeks to get our team back up into the top .5%. The day before the season ended, we were the #1 3v3 team on the server and were guaranteed not just the title of Gladiator, but Merciless Gladiator—meaning that we were the #1 team on the server, and well beyond the top .5% in the world.
The night before the season ended, our new 3rd player went nuts and disbanded the team.
I had nothing.
I WAS RIGHT THERE. IT WAS WITHIN MY GRASP.
Did I give up and accept defeat?
The next morning, me and my longtime teammate made a quick 2v2 team and played for 7 hours straight (it should be noted that he was living in his mom’s basement and was a coke addict, and much cocaine was consumed that day on his end). We lost something like 5 games in 7 hours and in one straight shot went from a brand new team to being one of the top 20 2v2 teams on the server.
The next morning, we both logged in to find our Gladiator titles. We had achieved the top .5% title after all.
10. “Anybody Can Get It / The Hard Part Is Keeping It”
Ah, so now you have made it. The top 1%—and a title to match! Every single person in the world knows that you are among the most talented, the most successful. In real life, this would be the mansion, the Ferrari, the dapper suit and the beautiful blonde, the fitting title of CEO or your name in the big lights. You have it all.
Now the question becomes: Do you have what it takes to stay there?
This was the most fascinating part of the journey for me. As soon as I had that title of Gladiator, I changed as a player—and not for the better. I was instantly offered everything. I had sponsorship requests. I had the top players around the world asking me to play with them. My gaming blog was being read by thousands of people. But along with that, I started getting complacent. If I made a mistake in a match, everybody would laugh and say, “Man, that was so funny! We’ll get them next time no problem,” not wanting to call me out and always assuming that I was, in some sense, a perfect player—all because of my title.
Over time, this made it easier and easier to make mistakes and not be hard on myself. It made it easier to get rewards and external approval without having to work all that hard. And sure enough, the next kid who was grinding and putting in work started to catch up to me, until I was no longer the best. I had stopped putting in the tough work. I had stopped focusing on the SKILL.
As much work as it takes to get into the top 1%, it takes even more work to stay there.