By Jon Isaacson 

Bruce Lee is regarded for focused-based innovations, such as his one-inch punch which he could release with speed and power. Lee rose to icon status in the 1960s for ushering in a new generation of interest in the martial arts. He is viewed as a person of profound focus who made karate cool through his movies. Behind his public persona was a quest to develop a martial arts system that elevated beyond the status quo of stale practices that did not reflect real-world combat. Lee worked tirelessly to develop his brand of martial arts which he called Jeet Kun Do.

You can imagine that someone like Lee had to prioritize his efforts. Lee balanced his Hollywood big screen projects and small screen appearances with developing his system of fighting, instructing students, writing, and more. As a result, his work made a lasting impact.

Writing for Time magazine, Joel Stein noted, “With nothing but his hands, feet, and a lot of attitude, he turned the little guy into a tough guy.” Stein elaborates on the impact that Lee made in a broader social context: “He was the redeemer, not only for the Chinese but for all the geeks and dorks and pimpled teenage masses that washed up at the theaters to see his action movies. He was David, with spin-kicks and flying leaps more captivating than any slingshot.”

Prioritize and focus

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” —Bruce Lee

Lee approached martial arts with the thoughtfulness of a philosopher. He was intentional in his actions and his intensity brought a brilliance to everything that he did. Many of his thoughts on martial arts are applicable to personal and professional development as well. Let’s look at four key takeaways from Lee’s philosophy that can help us prioritize our efforts with a growth mindset in order to reach our goals.

1 | Rabid practicality

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” —Bruce Lee

Lee wanted Jeet Kun Do to incorporate “practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency.” Personal development is a paradox. To achieve we must be practical as well as rabidly ambitious. This is best expressed as being led by vision. You should have Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) but to achieve you must break those down into 10-year, 3-year, 1-year, quarterly, monthly, and daily goals. Build your confidence by breaking your dreams into goals and get to work.

2 | Voracious hunger

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.” —Bruce Lee

Lee was well-read and had an extensive library dominated by martial arts subjects and philosophical texts. Your professional development must be applicable to your vision, but this does not mean that you can only study what others in your industry produce. Lee learned from other disciplines as broad as fencing and boxing to develop his art. Learn to discern between what is helpful and what is not. Prioritize your professional development to continue making progress in your process.

3 | Aggressive reduction

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” —Bruce Lee   

How often do you have multiple browser tabs open or too much clutter in your workspace? When we realize it is better to have a few things that are completely done than several things that are only partially done, we start to win the battle of prioritization. Author Stephen Covey frames it this way: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Start your day with a plan and work your plan rather than just winging it. Live your life with intentionality.

4 | Unrelenting belief 

“Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man. But sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” —Bruce Lee

In her book, Unqualified Success, author Rachel Stewart shares personal and practical tips for “bridging the gap from where you are today to where you want to be.” What is unique about her book is that she walks the reader through portions of her own professional development where she felt unqualified. Stewart came to realize that we all start out unqualified, which should be motivating rather than deflating. Cleaning out your thought closet and taking ownership of your thoughts are keys to unlocking your potential.

In summary

Whether your goal is to build something new as an entrepreneur or to improve your organization’s performance as a manager, start by leading yourself. Time is limited so make sure you are using it effectively. Open up a can of intentionality by prioritizing your efforts and resources towards making progress on your goals. There are no short-cuts or secret sauces. Every dreamer can be an achiever. Open up a can of motivation by remembering this encouragement from Bruce Lee: “The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”


Jon Isaacson is a freelance writer, business coach, speaker, and 17-year veteran of the property restoration industry. He writes a monthly column, The Intentional Restorer, for Restoration & Remediation Magazine. His organization, The DYOJO — The Do Your Job Dojo, specializes in helping individuals, teams, and organizations to Develop Intentionally. Recent resources for growth-minded professionals include a free E bookvideos, and articles