The Snowball Effect of Success

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You’re more attractive if you’re already in a relationship. You’re more employable if you already got a job. In fact you’ll make a lot more money once you have lots of money. It seems to me that in life, all you have to do is make a name for yourself just a few times before you can take advantage of the snowball effect of success. You can then sit back and reel in opportunities that feed off of each other.

Future Blindness

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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.

When Talent Isn’t Enough

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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.

A Culture of Rat Racers

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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

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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.

The 7UP Story

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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.

The Only Things We Need

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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.

Failure Humbles

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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.

On the Shortness of Life

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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.

How to Get a First Class Degree

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In my final year of University, I managed to go out 2-4 times a month (in terms 1 and 2), co-founded and run an entrepreneur’s society where I acted as the Vice President and despite maintaining a fairly active social life and being involved with organizing numerous society events, I still managed to graduate with a first class degree in Accounting and Finance (2010), taking home the prize for the highest dissertation mark, as well as sharing a prize for the highest mark in a challenging Finance module.

Could it be that I am some kind of super-smart-naturally-talented-student? Not really. My IQ is only slightly above average and on numerous topics, I had to ask my classmates for help, whereas in other areas I resorted to 12 hour days in the library in the final term to really grasp the more difficult topics. To a number of friends, the fact that I got a first was surprising because in my first and second years (where I had a lot more non-academic pursuits), I actually averaged a mid-level 2.1.

Some people think that to get a first, you either have to be naturally very smart, or you need to spend every living hour in the library. I would argue that both of these premises do not need to hold and that a student of average intelligence can do extremely well without leading a boring student life where they spend every free moment studying.

Reflecting back on my time at University, I have identified a number of behaviours, ideas, and principles that helped me succeed, and I believe that if other students adopt them, their chances of achieving a first class would be greatly enhanced. These are as follows:

1. Choose the ‘Right’ Degree.

This is perhaps the most important of all the points but yet also the most ambiguous. The ‘right’ degree could be a subject area you enjoy, one where your strengths lie, or one you believe will help you enter a certain field of work. Either way, you should do a degree in which finding the motivation to work your ass off is not a problem. To me, this is a key factor in determining the ‘right degree’.

2. Have the ‘Right’ Mindset.

When people ask, what are you aiming for, you may lie and say; “I am aiming for a first so that worst comes to worst, I will get a 2.1”. But when you talk to yourself, never beat around the bush. If you want a first, you must believe that by putting in the effort, you will get it. As corny as it sounds, positive self-talk works. Believe that by putting in the effort you can do it, and you will. Think otherwise, and you will probably not get a first.

3. Get Study Buddies.

What worked really well for me was that I had a core group of friends with whom I went to the library and study zones with on a regular basis; not necessarily to work and study together in a group (we only did this once or twice a month for 2 hours to discuss some topics), but to know that we were not at it alone. We would go into the library and sit in a quite zone to work solo, only getting up to ask each other questions when we were really really stuck. The main advantage of having such buddies is that they can motivate you to work harder and to focus again if you start to get lazy. For example in the final term, there were days when I would get up to leave the library early, only to sit back down after being mocked by a friend: “You only been here 6 hours and you are leaving already?!?! You are getting lazy man!”. Having study buddies also means you can moan about how hard things are and do a bit of venting about the struggle from time to time, which is healthy.

4. Don’t Study at Home; Study at University.

80%-90% of my studying was done at University in a quiet zone. You have to get yourself in a good environment to study effectively. It’s like going to the gym. You work harder there than you do at home because in a gym you see other people sweating it out on the bench and treadmills and automatically you are motivated to push harder. Therefore, stay at University as long as you can to cover all the work that needs to get done such that when you get home, you can relax and enjoy the rest of the night.

5. Attend All Lectures in the Final Year.

I will admit, I did not attend all of my lectures and missed quite a few in years 1 and 2. But in your final year, you should aim to attend all lectures and take as many notes as you can. When taking notes, it does not matter if understand them at the time or not, write them down anyway. As you return to revise, armed with more knowledge, those once illusive notes will begin to make sense. Also, by attending all lectures, you will pick up hints as to what could come up in the exams. The lecturers usually emphasize these topic areas, or say things like, “this would make a nice exam question”. If you have to miss a lecture, then ask a friend to record them for you on a usb recorder to listen to later, or at least copy some notes from a friend.

6. Have a Healthy Body.

Tony Buzan, a world leading expert on the brain and learning who has experience advising Olympic athletes suggests that having a healthy mind requires a healthy body. This means that you should aim to get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and minimize the amount of junk food in your diet. In terms 1 and 2, I would hit the gym 3-4 times a week and in term 3, I cut it down to 2-3 times a week. Spending time on the treadmill and lifting weights made the crucial revision period near the end of the year less monotonous and boring, and I felt much more energized after breaking a sweat.

7. Maintain an Active Social Life.

In the first and second terms of my final year, I went out on most Saturday nights and hardly ever said no to invites to parties, as long as they were on days that did not result in me missing lectures. Human beings are very social animals and it appears that the more we lock ourselves away to study all alone and isolated, the more we become miserable and this ends up affecting our work. If you are not the going out type, there are many other things you can do with friends and family on the weekends. Having a day, once a week, where you can simply relax and enjoy the company of friends and family can do wonders for your efforts in achieving a first.

8. Always Do More.

Do more than is expected in all the work that you do. For example, do more reading. This is particularly important in subjects that involve essays and a fair bit of writing. I recommend however that you first understand and learn all that is taught within the syllabus and then complement that information with additional knowledge that you may not be expected to know. For example, when I was revising certain topics in my final year, I would go the the eLibrary and search for all journals and articles related to the topic, pick out the interesting ones and with a pen in one hand, start to read them while taking notes. Lecturers are always impressed by a student who mentions relevant knowledge not taught directly in the lectures.

If you made it to the end of this rather long article and found it useful, perhaps you can help me assess whether it would be appealing to write a much more extensive purchasable guide as an eBook.  This would be over 100 pages long and consist of more detailed strategies, ideas and motivational tips to greatly increase your chances of getting a first class. By voting below, you can help me identify the level of interest.

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