Posts Tagged 'success'

Deadman’s A-Z Guide to Living: Half-Hearted Humility

Arrogant people suck. I personally find them so off-putting that I enjoy an unhealthy amount of pleasure when I realize they are unable to back up their constant boasting and bleating, as is often the case.

Let’s face it: Being arrogant is not only almost always unjustified, it also happens to be one of the most annoying possible traits found in a human being. If you are overconfident, you will not seek the necessary self-improvement when you fall short of goals. You will not be able to recruit others whose help you may need to succeed, nor will you be able to recognize the need for such assistance in any case. (In fact, you are likely to even encourage folks to conspire to bring you down a couple of notches). And frankly, whatever success you are able to achieve will assuredly come at a very heavy price – few true friends and supporters.

However, I also realize that without self-esteem and confidence, you will not go far in life. If you do not believe in your abilities, you will not push yourself. You will not try new things. You will not sufficiently promote your accomplishments. With the game on the line, I’d rather have the .260 hitter at the plate who relishes the pressure and believes he is destined to be great than the .320 hitter who shrinks when eyes are on him and worries constantly he will be found out as a fraud and a failure.

The key, then, is to strike a balance between arrogance and meekness. Those alliteratively inclined like me could call it conditional confidence, but I prefer to refer to it as half-hearted humility.

You see, being humble is important. It allows you to accept constructive criticism, to acknowledge and credit others, to demonstrate curiosity and learn from your mistakes. As another bonus, a humble individual is more likely to pleasantly surprise people than disappoint them. As long as it’s sincere, humility is a most endearing trait, and especially so when it’s not entirely warranted.

That’s the tricky part, of course: How to be sincerely humble when you actually have some talent and deep down may even house a cocky little bastard wanting to jump out and express itself.

But the truth is, humility is one of the easiest virtues to embrace as no matter what skill or ability you think you excel at, there is almost always someone, and most likely lots of someones, better than you.

When I was a young kid in elementary school, we used to take these standardized aptitude tests and the results would come back with a percentile where your overall score ranked. One time I landed in the 99% percentile and was so proud of myself until I soon realized that a couple of others in my fairly small class also achieved the same percentile ranking while bettering my actual score. Even with my tiny, developing mind, I could easily extrapolate that thousands and thousands of students across the country likely outperformed me. It was a humbling thought.

The fact is, truly being the best or No. 1 at anything in this world is very rare, indeed. Even people who may be at the very top of their game should understand that others will likely surpass their accomplishments at some point. And those who are universally recognized as the greatest of the great, whose impressive records and feats have stood the test of time and perhaps even changed the world, should still realize that, in the words of the immortal Kansas, ‘all we are is dust in the wind.’

So be humble. And believe in your humility enough so that others believe in it.

But in the privacy of your own home, when no one is watching, feel free to let your little cocky bastard sneak out for a bit. Just watch as he preens in front of the mirror, dances to an unheard beat, flexes for unseen cameras and gleefully reminds you how talented you are … He’s annoying, but he’s not all bad.

Ring the bell. School’s back in …

In my recent questions column, our own dagblogger Nebton says the biggest risk he ever took was to go to graduate school after 30.

With official unemployment nearing double digits (and the unofficial number much higher), a lot of people looking for something to do are following Nebton’s example and going back to school.

Now financially, going back to school to get another, or more advanced degree, doesn’t often pay off since the cost can be so high and the potential benefits often rather low. There are probably more productive ways to spend your time in a recession than going back to school. But still, who can blame these people?

I know I for one miss school a good deal. The friends and the camaraderie, the laid-back environment and the relative lack of responsibilities, the eclectic subject matter and the extracurricular activities. I miss it all (except for homework, of course, which still ranks up there as one of life’s more torturous inventions)

But perhaps what I miss most about school is the constant sense of accomplishment. School is designed in such a way that you always feel like you’re progressing toward something. To the next level of math, to a more complicated version of French, to the next grade, to the next placement test, to the next degree. It’s all neatly structured, with few opportunities for shortcuts and side paths. And all along the way, you’re being judged and graded. You know where you stand in school and the measurements for success are rather simple. And being smart was enough.

In the real life, it isn’t quite like that. It’s easy to feel adrift. Am I doing the right things? Am I progressing? Am I building a life that will matter? Do I know where I want to go and how to get there?

Now I happen to have a job – stock picking – where I actually do get graded constantly (the market declares its verdict every day and investors have little patience for poor performance that extends much beyond a year).

But even still, it’s not quite the same because there are so many things that feel out of my control. I know there’s been times where I’ve never worked harder and the stocks I picked stank up the joint, and other times where I decided to take it easier and couldn’t miss.

Some of that discrepancy is probably due to the fact that investing is more of an art than a science, and if you do enough research you can always find a reason not to buy a stock (ie mistaking the trees for the forest), but there are times when I question whether anyone can beat the market consistently enough to make a difference. There’s a whole pretty well-accepted theory out there in my line of business – the Random Walk – that says it’s darn near impossible to beat the market consistently.

In school there were certainly times when I got very good grades despite doing as little work as possible (that describes much of my tenure in fact), but I rarely felt I got a grade I didn’t deserve, in that if I knew the material I did well. In the ‘real world’ I feel like I get ‘grades’ I don’t deserve all the time, and the standards for success are so much more complicated – is it personal happiness, intellectual fulfillment, money, job title, goodwill, friends, lovers???

I want to know, please just tell me how to get on the Honor Roll.

The Secret of Success …

OK, I’m about to reveal – at no charge to you – the secret of success, in all aspects of life.

Pay close attention … No, that’s not the secret, I’m just letting you know you should pay attention because I’m about to reveal the secret.

You ready??? You sure?? Are you sitting down?? Notebook in hand???

Ok, ok, alright already, here it is (commence drum roll)….

————->>>>>> REJECT REJECTION <<<<<<————-

Oh, I know. It’s not that impressive. It’s trite. And it’s fairly obvious, so calling it a secret is a bit of a stretch. Probably that exact phrase has already even been used in some 7-step, self-help book (I purposefully didn’t Google it, cuz I didn’t want to be dissuaded from writing this piece). If I were to be completely forthright, there are probably other, just as important keys to finding success in life – Do What You Love, Practice Often, Floss, Take Vitamins, Don’t Waste Hours and Hours of Your Time on Facebook Games, etc. etc.

But I’m interested in making this as simple as possible, so we’re shrinking the playbook, focusing on the core. And as simple as Reject Rejection may sound, trust me, it’s a bitch of a mantra to truly absorb. (At first I was thinking of writing it as Don’t Fear Rejection, or Embrace Rejection, but there’s just something catchy and catch-22y about Reject Rejection)

The reason rejecting rejection is such a surprisingly tricky thing to accomplish is simple: We all inherently care about what people think of us, and of our work.

We seek affirmation, and feel lonely and dejected when we don’t get it. Those are very tough emotions to let go of or ignore. I know I haven’t yet learned how to do it, and it is very likely I won’t be following my own advice anytime soon. But if you want to be successful, you should do what I say, and not what I do.

I first began obsessing over this philosophy last fall when I was finishing up a Gotham writing class, and the teacher was giving out his final pearls of wisdom before sending us on our way. The one thing he kept harping on was how often we were going to be rejected if we planned on pursuing writing for a career.

He in fact highly encouraged us not to send in samples of our work to literary magazines, editors or agents unless we were damn sure we were ready for the torrent of form rejection letters that would be hurled at us like so many poisoned darts. He kept going on and on … You will be rejected. A LOT. Be prepared … I had really liked our teacher up to that point, but he was beginning to piss me off.

Look, it’s highly probable there weren’t any undiscovered Hemingways in that class (well, maybe some Mariels, but no Ernests!). We had all shared our writing with each other and none of us were that good. Some of the folks were barely literate. But who the fuck cares? We are told so often in our lives to be careful, and to be prudent, reminded about the long odds, and the need for fallback plans. What if we just went for it, and never stopped until we came to the end? If we didn’t care about being rejected, if we rejected the concept of rejection, then failure literally wouldn’t be an option, and wouldn’t that be a thrilling way to live …

Later that same week, I read Neurotick’s humorous post about his problems meeting women, and it made me realize that a fear of rejection can have rather crippling effects on our personal lives as well as our professional ones. I can’t begin to think about all the times I’ve seen a pretty girl in the street, or at a bar, maybe even noticed some flirty eye contact or smile flashed in my direction, and yet lacked the nerve to make a move, letting the opportunity pass … all because I was afraid of being rejected. Again, why the fuck did I care? So what if I got rejected???? I wasn’t likely ever going to see this person again – the only thing I had to be afraid of was my foolish, illogical pride.

And fear of rejection doesn’t just get in the way of pursuing a career or finding a woman. It affects almost every decision we make.

On some level, of course, this makes sense as we are often only rewarded, monetarily or otherwise, when people approve of us or something we’ve done. But as I see it, rejecting – rather than fearing – rejection is ultimately a much more fruitful strategy for two main reasons.

1) Confidence sells.

Whether we’re talking about flirting or job interviewing, there is no question that people respond well to confidence, even if it’s misplaced. I may think a guy who goes over to a random woman and puts the make on her is annoying and overly cocky, but I’ve seen that approach work time and time again. One of my friends told me he had this college roommate who would hit on anybody. He’d be rejected A LOT, but he didn’t take it personally and he also usually had a date.  When you reject rejection and look like you truly don’t care whether someone accepts what you’re selling or not – like you’re doing them a favor by offering it in the first place – you will get more favorable responses. Bank on it.

2) There’s no accounting for taste.

Look, the crappy Independence Day did over $800 million in sales worldwide, while the brilliant Arrested Development got canceled after 53 episodes.

Genghis doesn’t like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but has no problem dressing up in an outfit that looks like a Tropicana factory exploded on a Liberace-designed robot.

Some women like men with hard bodies, a full head of hair, and classically handsome facial features; thankfully, some like scrawny men, with scraggly beards and thinning scalps, and large Semitic noses.

The point is, you will never EVER please everyone, so why get upset if one person, or dozens of people, decide they don’t like you or what you’ve done. Examples abound of incredible artists who died penniless and mostly anonymous because their work wasn’t appropriately recognized in their lifetimes. What if Walt Whitman had stopped writing poetry when critics panned his Leaves of Grass anthology? Or if Van Gogh had stopped painting when his first efforts disappointed family and critics alike?

And who cares if all those people rejecting you are right anyway? That you suck, and you’re ugly, and will never amount to anything? As far as can be determined, we only get one shot at this living thing, and I can assure you that more people will respect you for following your heart and shooting for the stars than for hiding in a corner and watching the parade pass you by. Not that other people’s opinions matter anyway. Remember, if you reject rejection, then the only ones who can fail are the ones who don’t accept you.

So there it is. My secret to success in all aspects of life: Reject rejection.

Use it to your own advantage, or don’t. I couldn’t care less. (Ahhhh, if only that were so …)

July 2016
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