Nearly every day I wake up and ask myself, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Then I ask myself, “Is this bagel day?” (I only get a bagel on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but that’s a topic for another column.)
For many years, the answer was “Tilt-A-Whirl operator,” until I came to grips with my limitations and aversion to tattoos. Now I usually answer “A success!” However, this pursuit of success has been a persistent distraction in an otherwise placid life. Judging by some other guys my age, I soon might be forced to rank success below being able to drive at night. Regardless, I have discovered the key is planting the seeds of success early.
What are those seeds? I’m so glad I pretended you asked.
1. The Seeds of Doubt. While uncertainty would at first seem like something to avoid, eradicating all ambiguity in your actions will lead people to have “expectations.” No good can come from this because they will inevitably have higher ones. A niggling worry you might not be up to the challenge will help you fade into the ranks of the semi-reliable.
Early in relationships, work situations, community interactions and tax audits, introduce
a tiny degree of randomness. For example, complete the occasional task not just on time, but early. By occasional, I mean biennially, which is either twice a year or every two years, so you’ve got that confusion rolling. This act of deliberate chance will keep everyone guessing, “Maybe John’s not a total dweeb; he did get the trustee budget done before the deadline once.”
The seeds of doubt can be nurtured into a bonsai of bafflement that will keep you from popping to mind when projects are assigned.
2. The Seeds of Pacing. Left unmanaged, lives can spiral into a breakneck rush of activity. Soon you are working several hours a day, many days per month and having to keep up with personal hygiene to boot. Something will have to give. Taking the time to establish a rhythm to your life that soothes and de-stresses is important to promote well-being and sufficient time with your smartphone.
That rhythm is not an aerobics sound track or a funeral dirge. The correct pacing to life is virtually undetectable from no timing at all. It’s not enough to simply march to a different drummer; true success means meandering to the beat of a whale song. You will always possess the illusion that under dire circumstances, you could “take it up a notch,” while the hard chargers are already maxed out.
3. The Seeds of Self-Knowledge. Aristotle summed it up best in his second most famous saying, “Know thyself.” (His most famous was, of course, the “What’s a Grecian urn?” joke). While this pithy statement is dreadfully over thought to make high school essays come out to 350 words, it still has merit.
Coming to grips with who we actually are is essential to success—otherwise we won’t know how to delude ourselves that we are someone better. Too many of us depend on flimsy fantasies easily dispelled by passersby who note whatever talent we think we are showcasing is noticeably absent. Playback of the inevitable video makes it impossible to ignore the moves were busting us, not the other way round.
4. The Seeds of Delay. Too much emphasis has been put on rapid responses. Somewhere there is a study showing 30% of the time your initial reaction is wrong, 30% it is wrong and backfires badly, and 50% of the time you didn’t really need to react at all. Developing a pattern of benign hesitation can prevent rash actions, make you look thoughtful and cut back on unneeded effort. This raises your chance for unearned success through dithering.
These seeds are free, but they must be planted early. You can push the population and even double crop if you wish. Soon you’ll be reaping a whole mess, of success, mostly.