The cord that tethers ability to success is both loose and elastic. It is easy to see fine qualities in successful books or to see unpublished manuscripts, inexpensive vodkas, or people struggling in any field as somehow lacking. It is easy to believe that ideas that worked were good ideas, that plans that succeeded were well designed, and that ideas and plans that did not were ill conceived. And it is easy to make heroes out of the most successful and to glance with disdain at the least. But ability does not guarantee achievement, nor is achievement proportional to ability. And so it is important to always keep in mind the other term in the equation – the role of chance.
Excerpt from The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow
Two friends are hiking in the woods and come to a river. They take off their shoes and clothes and go for a swim. As they come out of the water, they spot a hungry bear that immediately starts to run toward them. One of the men flees immediately, but the other pauses to put on his shoes. The first man screams at the second, “Why are you putting on your shoes? They won’t help you outrun the bear!” To which the second man calmly responds: “I don’t need to outrun the bear; I just need to outrun you.”
Excerpt from Connected by Nicholas Christakis & James Fowler
This prediction error works as follows. You are about to buy a new car. It is going to change your life, elevate your status, and make your commute a vacation. It is so quiet that you can hardly tell if the engine is on, so you can listen to Rachmaninoff’s nocturnes on the highway. This new car will bring you to a permanently elevated plateau of contentment. People will think, Hey, he has a great car, every time they see you. Yet you forget that the last time you bought a car, you also had the same expectations. You do not anticipate that the effect of the new car will eventually wane and that you will revert to the initial condition, as you did last time. A few weeks after you drive your new car out of the showroom, it will become dull. If you had expected this, you probably would not have bought it.
Excerpt from The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can freely write novels no matter what they do—or don’t do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Occasionally you’ll find someone like that, but unfortunately, that category wouldn’t include me. I haven’t spotted any springs nearby. I have to pound the rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of creativity. To write a novel I have to drive myself hard physically and use a lot of time and effort. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another new, deep hole. But as I’ve sustained this kind of life over many years, I’ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening a hole in the hard rock and locating a new water vein. So as soon as I notice one water source drying up, I can move on right away to another. If people who rely on a natural spring of talent suddenly find they’ve exhausted their only source, they’re in trouble.
Excerpt from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.
Photo credit: familymwr.
The reason why we see so many rat racers around is that our culture reinforces this belief. If we get an A at the end of the semester, we get a gift from our parents; if we meet certain quotas on the job, we get a bonus at the end of the year. We learn to focus on the next goal rather than on our present experience and chase the ever-elusive future our entire lives. We are not rewarded for enjoying the journey itself but for the successful completion of a journey. Society rewards results, not processes; arrivals, not journeys.
Once we arrive at our destination, once we attain our goal, we mistake the relief that we feel for happiness. The weightier the burden we carried on our journey, the more powerful and pleasant is our experience of relief. When we mistake these moments of relief for happiness, we reinforce the illusion that simply reaching goals will make us happy. While there certainly is value in relief—it is a pleasant experience and it is real—it should not be mistaken for happiness.
Excerpt from Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar.
Photo credit: James Clar.
Select your niche. It is very difficult to succeed in a crowded field. I have found that you can move more rapidly if you select a segment of that crowded field and become an expert in it. For example, the field of law is very crowded. A new attorney entering as a general business attorney will find slow growth. But a new attorney selecting a niche such as sports law will have the opportunity for rapid growth.
Search out that special growth segment in your field and become an expert. You will grow more quickly than you can imagine.
Excerpt from If I Knew Then What I know Now by Richard Edler.
My father used to tell us this story about a guy who loved soda, so he went into the soda business, with a product called 3UP. It failed. So he started again with a soda called 4UP. It failed, too. So he decided to name his product 5UP and worked just as hard to make it work, but sure enough, it failed again. He realized that he still loved soda, so he tried again with a product named 6UP. It failed, and he gave up completely.
Then, a few years later, someone else came up with a soda product and named it 7UP, which became a huge success. When I was young, I couldn’t understand why my father kept telling us this story. He told it many times. Later, I realized he was telling us to never give up.
Excerpt from Why We Want You to Be Rich by Donald Trump.
We use the word “need” much too casually. The only things we truly need are the basics of physical survival—air, water, food, clothing, shelter—and everyone reading this book already has these. We also need the basics of intellectual and emotional well-being—love, family, friendship, satisfying work, hobbies, faith—each reader has his or her own list here. But it’s a short list, and it does not—or should not—include the $500 jacket or the $100,000 car, because there are other jackets and cars. It should not include this particular job or sale or deal, because there are other jobs and sales and deals.
Excerpt from Start With No by Jim Camp.
Every creative person has to learn to deal with failure, because failure, like death and taxes, is inescapable. If Leonardo and Beethoven and Goethe failed on occasion, what makes you think you’ll be the exception?
I don’t mean to romanticize failure, to parrot the cliche, “If you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risks,” especially if that view “liberates” you to fail too often. Believe me, success is preferable to failure. But there is a therapeutic power to failure. It cleanses. It helps you put aside who you aren’t and reminds you who you are. Failure humbles.
Excerpt from The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
Life is sufficiently long, and has been granted with enough generosity for us to accomplish the greatest things, provided that in its entirety it is well invested; but when it is dissipated in extravagance and carelessness, when it is spent on no good purpose, then, compelled at last by the final necessity, we realize it has passed away without our noticing it passing. So it stands: we do not receive a life that is short, but rather we make it so; we are not beggars in it, but spendthrifts. Just as great and princely wealth, when it falls into the hands of a bad owner, is squandered in a moment, while wealth that is by no means great, if it becomes the property of a good guardian, grows by use, so our span of life has ample measure for one who manages it properly.
Excerpt from a letter to Paulinus titled: “On the Shortness of Life” as translated in Seneca: Dialogues and Essays by John Davie.