Developing Your Animal Strength

In Paul Graham’s essay, How to Start a Startup, he describes the type of people you should recruit to build a business as animals. How goes on to define what makes someone an animal:

It means someone who takes their work a little too seriously; someone who does what they do so well that they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive.

What it means specifically depends on the job: a salesperson who just won’t take no for an answer; a hacker who will stay up till 4:00 AM rather than go to bed leaving code with a bug in it; a PR person who will cold-call New York Times reporters on their cell phones; a graphic designer who feels physical pain when something is two millimeters out of place.

Are you an animal? We all are to varying degrees. Our ability to use our animal strength depends on how we apply ourselves. Identifying the characteristics that makes animals successful is the first step to developing your inner animal.

  1. Unreasonableness – You might think the inability to reason would be a negative characteristic, but it’s often the only thing that stops you from giving up. Animals don’t care about obstacles, they already see themselves overcoming them. In cases where a reasonable person would give up, animals power forward and find creative ways to succeed.
  2. Obsession – Animals see work as much more than work. To them it’s a personal quest where failure is akin to death. Even the slightest imperfection causes physical discomfort. Your mind cannot rest until the desired result has been achieved. This may not be the healthiest mental state but it’s essential to overcoming tough competition.
  3. Passion – Animals are driven by passion. It’s the source of their strength. You can’t force yourself to be unreasonably obsessed with a goal you aren’t passionate about.
  4. Purpose – Just having passion isn’t enough to be an animal. That passion must be applied to a definite purpose. Once that purpose has been defined, your animal strength can be unleashed on it. Without definite purpose, we aren’t able to focus.

Do these 4 qualities describe your attitude toward work? If they do then you’re already an animal. If they don’t, then you need to evaluate your situation and consider making a change. If you want to harness your animal strength you need to cultivate passion and purpose.

Cultivating Passion

The first step to becoming an animal is cultivating passion. This is the seed of animal strength. It can’t be forced or faked. Without it you’ll always be an impostor, no match for true animals.

The key to finding passion is observing the activities that activate animal characteristics in you. What makes you obsess? What lights your mind on fire? I knew I had a passion for writing when books and ideas started to take over my mind. Once I had a taste the desire became insatiable. I wanted to read everything. I wanted to learn different languages to better understand my own. I realized that the realm of thoughts and ideas is my natural medium and my only chance to create something remarkable.

Finding a passion isn’t easy and it isn’t automatic. It took me 22 years to get a sniff of it and I’m working on how to apply it. The biggest misconception is that it happens for you. My worst mistake was waiting for passion to hit me over the head. It never will. You need to track it down. When you get a hint of passion follow it, trap it, define it. When you finally find it, you’ll know.

Finding Definite Purpose

Passion won’t develop your animal strength without definite purpose. General purpose isn’t enough. How many people say, I want to make a lot of money, without indicating how they’re going to do it? Definite purpose allows us to focus our energy on a single achievable goal.

The problem with general purpose is that it isn’t actionable. The more narrowly defined your purpose, the easier it is to complete the next logical action. One method for discovering and reinforcing definite purpose that I gleaned from Think and Grow Rich is writing down a definite goal and how you will achieve it. It might seem silly to write down something you already know, but recording a goal makes it tangible. Rather than mere dreams, your goal becomes a concrete artifact.

I’d also recommend reading the goal aloud, once after you wake up and once before bed. Reciting your goal won’t magically make it come true, but repetition builds habit. If you start each day by focusing on your goal, you’ll be less likely to succumb to distraction. This is something I’ve started doing recently I can already notice an effect. My longterm goal has been at the front of my mind. When I start doing something that opposes my goal I’m more aware of it.

The difference between animals and everyone else is that they know who they are and they know what they want. With these questions answered, passion, instinct, and obsession take over. There is no hesitation, only raw animal strength against a concrete goal.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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