- Follow Your Curiosity and Your Intuition
When Steve Jobs attended Reed College he says it wasn't all romantic, "I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms. I returned Coke bottles for the five cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on." It certainly worked out well for him. Actors sometimes relate the story about how they just dropped in on an acting or theater class, got hooked and found their life's calling in the process.
Jobs said that you have to trust that the dots you're following will somehow connect in the future: "You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." So follow your instincts. You'll know when to keep going on the same path, to make a pivot to adjust your course, or just decide that it's time to move in another direction.
- You May Have To Take Some Risk
Finding success often means moving outside of your comfort zone. It doesn't mean that you have to be imprudent to do it. If someone has a reliable job with decent pay and benefits, think twice about dumping it over. It's far more sensible to test the waters first on a part time basis.
Another caution to keep in mind is that if there is a couple involved, it's often better for one party to take the risk and for the other to keep a floor under them. If both take a risk, and get fully involved in starting a new business, for example, and it fails, there's no safe harbor to pull into.
Similarly, problems can arise when both parties work for the same employer, or in the same industry. If things head south, then both parties stand to lose, so it's wise to consider hedging your bets. That being said, moving ahead is always going to involve a certain degree of risk that has to be accepted. That's how people often move ahead. Virgil put it succinctly, "Fortune assists the bold." Just determine what degree of boldness you can handle.
- Great Successes Can Come from Small Starts
Buffet by Roger Lowenstein demonstrates this in spades. "Warren took pleasure in building up his paper routes. While he was still a teenager, he was bringing home $175 a week (a regular adult wage then.) The $6000 he saved was the foundation of his fortune", and today he is among the wealthiest people in the world. So don't think that starting small can never turn into anything. Obviously, it can.
There's nothing wrong with staying small and being successful either. There is no mandated requirement to expand and grow. Sometimes it's wiser not to. While income might increase headaches will too. It's important to give that serious thought before plowing ahead. A small businessperson I know has a very good business. He could easily have expanded into an adjacent building and done even more business. He's a hands-on owner who's always on deck. I asked him why he didn't expand or open another location. He basically said he has all he can handle now and wouldn't want the extra problems that would go with that. Balance is important in any life and he found the balance he wanted. I'm suggesting that you find your proper balance too.
- Disappointment Can Lead To Success, Although It Might Take A While
Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest in British history, being Jewish, faced tremendous discrimination in his rise to political power and to become a trusted confidant of Queen Victoria. He faced many defeats on his difficult rise which he described as, "climbing the greasy pole". He recognized later that his setbacks were great contributors to his success. As he said, "Disappointment is often the stepping stone to eminence."
Keep this in mind when you run into some setbacks yourself. Just learn from them and keep moving forward. Lincoln did. He lost an Illinois race for the United States Senate to the great orator Stephen Douglas, As a result, he thought he was through. But he kept at it and not long afterward defeated Douglas and other candidates and became the 16th President of the United States. I can guarantee you that after he lost to Douglas, he never could have, in his wildest dreams, believed that he would be the American icon he is today.
Roger Lowenstein in Buffet noted that Buffet attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He applied to Harvard for further study and was turned down, even though he was 16th out of a class of 374 at Penn. "This proved to be a blessing in disguise, because his second choice was Columbia, the academic home of Benjamin Graham, the genius pioneer of stock market analysis."
What would have happened if Buffet's dreams had come true and he had been accepted at Harvard? He may never have run into Graham and his life could have been totally different. So be careful about projecting what might be in your long term best interest. Like the ball in a pinball machine, if you get bumped off one bumper, just keep at it racking up points for your side, until you wind up where you belong.
- Success May Sometimes Be Forced On You
When something happens that isn't to our liking, we might wriggle and squeal, trying to get off the hook. Sometimes it pays to try to make the best of the situation - growing where you're planted - and see what happens down the road you're compelled to walk.
In Never Too Late To Be Great, Tom Butler-Bowdon tells the story of Rosalie Gascoigne who had a lonely life in the Australian desert as a housewife, while her husband was working in the city.. She would spend her time walking around the desert picking up things that interested her. She fashioned them into artistic objects. She later took a course in ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. A visiting master singled out her work for its artistry. "It was the first time, she recalls, I found out that I was good at anything." (Keep experimenting. You'll be likely to find something like that too. We all have "hidden talents".)
She later achieved world fame and was made a member of the Order of Australia. "She might have been 'trapped by circumstances', but they were the circumstances that made her." So no matter what situation you find yourself in, keep your options open and, even though there may be many things you can't try, try the ones that you can. " When she was asked if confidence was an essential ingredient in 'climbing the mountain' of artistic success, she replied, "No, it wasn't - because she never had any. What she did have was need." So what is your need? "She reflects that 'one of the worst things' is unfulfilled potential. You have some. All of us do. Just keep digging to find out what it is.
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. may be a name that is unfamiliar to many people today, but in the '60's, his elegant good looks, mellifluous voice, and his high profile roles in "Seventy-Seven Sunset Strip" and "The FBI" made him a household name. He died in 2014 at the age of ninety-five. A family spokesperson said, "We are heartbroken to announce the passing of our beloved father, Efrem Zimbalist,Jr. today at his Solvang (California) ranch. He actively enjoyed his life to the last day showering love on his extended family, playing golf and visiting with close friends." Sounds as if he had a pretty happy life and a fine finish too.
Zimbalist was a much admired actor best known for his television roles, although that was far from his original goal. (Even as a young man, I always thought that he was such a good actor, I wondered why he spent so much time doing television. Reading his death notice online fifty years later, I found out why.) He said when he was signed by Warner Brothers, he had no interest in doing television. "They showed me a place in my contract where it said I had to... I ended up with my life slanted toward television, and I just accept that. I think you play the hand the way it is dealt, that's all."
Sometimes a decision of how to live our life is made easy. For one reason or another, we might not get much choice. But it shows that even when we might not be able to guide our life as we'd like, it can still turn out to be a good one in the end. A lot of it is about attitude and how we live our lives not only at work, but outside of it.
On a related point, before you sign any contracts, have them reviewed by an attorney competent in the appropriate area of practice. It can have consequences if you don't. Zimbalist was fortunate. Many others aren't. Spending a few dollars upfront might save untold heartache and prevent financial losses.
- Think Ahead and Prepare For The Future
Some circumstances when you might you want to do this:
- unhappiness in your current position
- losing your job might be a possibility
- when your health may force you to make a change
- contemplating retirement
Things are likely to go far better if you do some investigation, test things out ahead of time, gain necessary experience and training, and make a plan for how you intend to reach the goal you set for yourself. This is far better than just jumping into something at the last minute or not making any sensible preparations.
A friend of mine spent many years as a union carpenter, but because of some health problems, he could see that his long term future carrying the toolbox wasn't going to be easy. He's a very bright guy. He oriented himself toward construction management and built his experience in that area, working on some very large projects. He also wanted to do more creative things and he knew that Disney did many things like that in construction projects in Disney World. He communicated with them over several years evidencing his interest. Eventually, an opportunity presented itself. He was among one hundred candidates for the job, but although he had college background, he was the only candidate who didn't have a college degree. What he did have was a strong interest, a highly hands-on resume of managing huge construction projects, a demonstrated desire over time to work creatively for the company, and direct, no nonsense honesty.
He got the job and spent many successful years there. He believed in himself and literally built the proper foundation under himself to be a recognizable first choice for the job. So be a believer in yourself. Take a shot at your dreams. Sometimes we have to know when to hold and when to fold, but at least if you give it a try, you won't be sitting around later wondering what would have happened. You'll know one way or the other. If it works out, that's good. If it doesn't, you can just put it behind you and move on to another area that you'll succeed in.
The Dalai Lama's interviewer in writing the book The Art of Happiness at Work observed him at a Washington,DC reception:
"The older and more established guests seemed to be so secure in their positions, and so overwhelmed by their own self-importance, that they seem to take little interest in anyone else. When they were introduced to someone, they looked right through them, barely acknowledging that there was another human standing in front of them. They seemed to have a talent for sizing you up -- within 16 nanoseconds, they could determine if there was any way that you could be useful to them. If not, they were soon off, jostling their way through the room to meet someone more important." (People who act this way are often insecure, competitive or frustrated, which causes them to act in this manner, or even arrogantly. Never feel inferior to them. Those who are truly successful are typically more gracious. Use them as your models.)
"Observing the way The Dalai Lama engaged them-- with a sincere handshake, warm, guileless smile and direct eye contact-- it was apparent that as always, he was relating to them just as one human being to another, with a complete lack of pretense."
A State Department security agent in charge of The Dalai Lama's security who had observed him frequently, and who was inspired by him, said:
"I guess the main thing is that I've noticed that he likes to talk with the drivers,the janitors and waiters, and the service staff wherever he goes. And he treats everybody just the same."
(I read long ago that the best test of a person is to watch how they treat someone who can do nothing for them.)
"So here was the answer -- since he had no need for pretense, for acting a certain way in public or while at work, and another way in private, and could just be himself wherever he went, this made his work seem effortless." (Of course, most of us have a long way to go before reaching that level of integration, but the more we can reduce the gap between who we are and what we do, the more effortless our work will become.)
- You Only Have One Life To Live
Dr. Gordon Livingston is the author of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need To Know Now. He writes very direct, down to earth books. Anyone can recognize themselves as they read through it. His principles are an extremely effective as a guide for living and for finding happiness. I recommend it to you very highly. ( He's also written How To Love, a wonderful and instructive guide to finding happiness in love. I read that too. It's great.)
In Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, Dr. Livingston says, "To ask people to be brave is to expect them to think of their lives in a new way. But any change requires that we try new things, risking the possibility that we might fail. We can all be somewhat reluctant to move forward at times like that. He says, "The greatest risk is not taking any." He says he often asks patients, "What are you saving yourself for?" It's a good question for all of us to ask ourselves.
John C. Maxwell in How Successful People Grow says "Growing can be a messy business. It means admitting you don't have the answers. It requires making mistakes. It can make you look foolish. Most people don't enjoy that. But that is the price of admission, if you want to improve. If you want to grow, you need to get over any fear you may have over making mistakes."
Maxwell points out that another obstacle to growth is being a perfectionist, " the desire to find the 'best way' to get started in a growth plan. That's what I thought when I started working on my personal growth. But what I discovered is I had it backward. I had to get started if I wanted to find the best way...If you want to see more of the way, then get moving." Then the road ahead will become clearer. Maxwell has an entire series of about forty books on leadership, attitude, relationships, and equipping. They contain many good suggestions in small, pithy volumes.
All throughout this site, researchers and writers have emphasized the importance of being happier and more successful by being kinder and providing service. This small example is from my book Your Unfinished Life that can be found in Appendix A. I've included it here, just in case you don't read the book. It is one of the forty ways mentioned as examples of how to be kind. It's one of my favorite stories in the book. It touched me no end. Kindnesses don't need to be monumental. Simple ones can do just fine. I call this one:
"A Parisian Story":
How making a little extra effort produces happiness for receivers and givers alike.
Take Visitors Where They Need To Go
When visiting Paris, my companion and I took the Metro to Montmartre to see the area and the Sacre Coeur Basilica. Its front steps offer stunning views of Paris. As dominant of a building as it is, I thought it would be obvious where it was, once we exited the Metro station. It wasn't. I asked an elderly lady which direction it was in. She didn't speak any English, and my "French" is pathetic, but she gestured for us to follow her. She led us down the street about three blocks to a point where the church was clearly visible. I nodded and thanked her, but she motioned insistently several times that we continue to follow her. We went about twenty more steps and she gestured with her hand for us to look up. Before us was a stunning, carpet of green grass and an unobstructed view of the basilica she wanted us to see, one we would have missed if we hadn't continued to follow her. We thanked her and then she turned and went on her way, down the same little street she had probably walked for decades before. She wouldn't settle for doing a partial kindness, but only the fullest one she could offer. Such sweetness and concern for strangers for us to emulate.