Our lives, taken linearly, is essentially a journey from one goal to another, spread over a lifetime.
At the outset, those goals are fundamental, essential, and as unintentional as hiccups. Learning to crawl, walk, speak, and how to mount a charm offensive to trick the grown-ups into doing what we want, when we want is to mention but a few of them.
But as we grow up, two curious things happen:
- Our innocence gets less effective as a tool to flatter unsuspecting victims.
- Our goals become more ambitious, and we become more intentional about what they are.
Welcome to Success 101
Amid it all is when we also first get initiated into the hamster wheel of life called “success.” What it means and what it represents. And more importantly, the controlling sway it has over how our lives are ultimately measured.
Soon enough, one gets the feeling of what little regard society has of a “nobody,” of a no-account street rat, of the person coming second in any human endeavor.
Weary of the consequences of not living up to our internal or societal definitions of success, we spring into action.
And do so with the staunchest possible conviction to transform the “nobody” that we are today into a “somebody” in the quickest possible future.
A “somebody” with society’s approval stamped on its forehead.
Not so Quick, Amigo
As we set out on our misguided adventure, we will quickly realize that success is no walk in the park. That for all its pomp and circumstance, success is still a “known unknown,” an unforgiving beast difficult to tame.
We will also find that the road to success is a journey unto itself. And that, if nothing else, it will be an expedition across uncharted territories and a battle against the tyranny of time—all to slay unknown beasts and overcome unknown obstacles an unknown amount of time before we can claim ourselves the victor and the heroes of our lives.
What It Takes
Firstly, success demands you to be patient: to put in the time, effort, and work necessary to pay your dues. To have a destination in mind, but also to enjoy the journey.
Paradoxically enough, due to the times we live in and our affinity towards getting to the destination in as little time as possible, we live at odds with what success demands and what it takes to succeed.
Secondly, it requires you to be clever: to use your brain instead of your brawn.
To me, this is where it gets interesting.
What Actually Happens
When you are determined to achieve something, nothing motivates you more than those obstacles standing between you and your goals.
On the one hand, this is a good thing. The drive and energy to go at it come what may is what gives you focus.
But on the other hand, it also happens to be an excitable feeling. A feeling that short-circuits your logical reasoning mechanisms and sends you on a path of self-destruction.
An Example Might Be Useful
I am a runner. I like running. Well, since late 2017, at least.
And as runners usually do, I took part in a marathon.
It was also my first marathon, and I was feeling a mixture of dread and excitement. Despite my all-over-the-place feelings, everything was going strangely well, and since about forty kilometers and onwards into the race, I had another runner just a stone’s throw in front of me.
Now, I knew that about eight or nine runners had darted right past us but just could not put my finger on the exact number. I was also keen to finish somewhere on the leaderboard (usually the first ten finishers). Not being sure, I decided to err on the side of caution and make a run for it.
She was my obstacle—the dragon I must slay if I wanted to secure a sure spot on the leaderboard.
So I pushed it.
And almost immediately, a cramp developed on my left thigh, and it effectively reduced me to a limp. It was terrible. And it felt like it, too.
In the middle of all my pain, I could see the next runner trailing right behind me. It would take everything I had in what felt like forever to finish just 26.8 seconds ahead of him.
I would later learn that I did finish tenth on the leaderboard, but blinded by my desire to bulldoze through my obstacle, I almost didn’t.
Here’s a Better Way
Faced with an obstacle, most of us make the same mistake I did during that race. We override our reason and logic and try to muscle through whatever obstacle was standing in our way while zig-zagging our way towards our goals might be a better way to guarantee success.
Not in the sense of going blindly towards what could be your goal at forty-five-degree angles at regular intervals and then reversing sides—that would be stupid—but in the sense of taking a moment to assess the situation, take stock of your resources, gauge your energy levels, and so on before you have depleted them to the point that progress is no longer viable, and success no longer probable.
When we are hell-bent on staying true to our convictions or seeking others’ approval, we try to prove ourselves by going at it hard when going hard at it is only likely to stunt our progress.
When we aren’t doing that, we fantasize about taking the road to success on a reasonably straight line, when in fact, it is anything but a straight line.
This is the fallacy that we all share—an impulse we must all learn to guard against while also learning to take the path of least resistance and to bide our time as we slowly but surely zigzag our way towards success.
The sooner we can accept that and come to terms with that, the better.