Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 205, September 2016)
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As you might imagine, I've been asked repeatedly what my assessment is of the factors differentiating the highly successful from the less successful. The comparison isn't against the unsuccessful, which an entirely different dynamic, but against those who do well but aren't the best, the thought leaders, the champions.
You can easily read how it's a kibillion hours of practice (I find that to be nonsense), or heredity (perhaps appropriate in swimming or basketball), or IQ (I know too many smart failures), or education (I went to college and grad school with a lot of people who were no better off after the experience). Some people advocate coaching and some trial and error, and some sheer passion.
My general conclusions is that perseverance is the key, all else being fairly equal, and that perseverance is based on disciplined focus and resilience. (The closest work I'd recommend is Andrea Duckworth's excellent Grit).
Focused discipline is the ability to stay the course, to limit and overcome distractions, to handle multiple priority projects at once without sacrificing any. The operative word here is "priority." Focus requires the jettisoning of the non-priority, and if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority.
Resilience (see my book co-authored with Dr. Richard Citrin, The Resilience Advantage) is the ability to accept temporary, unavoidable pain without allowing voluntary, endless suffering to intervene. It's the ability to get back on the horse, to apologize, to return to the scene of defeat, to learn from failure.
I'll tell you here and now that most people aren't happy with my conclusions, because perseverance and resilience are within the control of the performer. They are not functions of DNA, or the right school, or particular life experiences. You can probably improve at both right now.
But do you choose to?
The human condition: Attack dog
Sometimes I receive nice letters in response to one of my many columns or newsletters, suggesting that I have a fact or source wrong. These are not the crazed "typo-hunters," but erudite readers who are seeking to find out if they are wrong or I made an error on an important point. For example, a quote I had attributed to Oscar Wilde was actually uttered by Bertrand Russell, and that was important to know and correct.
Sometimes, however, much more rarely, the letter is irate. One person questioned my credentials as a consultant, and another called me a "liar." Those are just two examples. I find these fascinating, because they are forms of emotional illness.
Imagine arising in the morning eager to "attack"? Instead of finding something questionable to investigate or pursue in the newspapers, online, or on the air, you are instantly angered and choose to pursue the object of your wrath with scorn and slander! Metaphorically, your day is about frothing at the mouth and seeking some kind of perverted vengeance. You don't want to help or construct, you want to destroy.
We all know people like this. It is the foundation of polarization. If you're not with me, you're stupid or lying. (A woman whom I told had her fact wrong about global warming told me, "You're just a ‘denier,' why would I listen to you?")
These people are basically threatened. Their world is tightly strung, they will brook no exceptions to the order they want to create. However, just as anger against others is usually self-anger directed outwards, I've found that these "attack dogs" have mostly committed the sins they accuse others of committing. Their own motives were unscrupulous, so they blame others', similar mistakes as being the result of those same motives.
Undisciplined attack dogs are a menace. Fortunately, most of them are afraid to leave their own yards.
I was sitting on the beach in Nantucket when the lifeguard arrived to set up shop about 50 yards away on the small beach adjoining our house. He walked toward me with a flag I've never seen, planting it nearby.
"What does that stand for?" I asked, hoping it wasn't Portuguese men-of-war, which have toxic venom in their tentacles.
"It's our limit of liability boundary," he said.
I stared, speechless, so he continued, "Technically, if you're drowning beyond this flag, I don't have to try to save you. But since we've now met, I'll watch out for you!"
Is there anyone out there who doesn't think there are too many lawyers in this country?
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"Learned helplessness" arises when pain or suffering in one area is voluntarily transferred to another. Stop it.