"For work to be sacred, it must be connected to our spiritual realization." - Wayne Teasdale, A Monk in the World
"Everyone had one before they lost - a chance." So it's important to make the most of any chances you get, especially getting an education that will serve you well in the future.
Climb the stairs to your success...
La Falaise d'Amont, Etretat
Nine Steps To Success - Lawrence J. Danks
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Great Successes Can Come from Small Starts
Buffet by Roger Lowenstein demonstrates this in spades. "Warren Buffet 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. (A number of years later, his busines expanded to such an exgent that he did expand into the neighboring location. But he also got more help and delegated too which has made it work well.)
4. Disappointment Can Lead To Your 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, or make necessary adjustments. 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.
5. 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 and to 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."
She later achieved world fame and was made a member of the Order of Australia. Experimentation can show that you are good at something - even thought you might not know what that is now. "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.
6. 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
- 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 also recognized that his directness would need to become more diplomatic in a corporate environment, so sometimes prudent adjustments are necessary.
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.
7. Stay Steady. Be Humble
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 far 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.)
8. 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, and relationships. They contain many good suggestions in small, pithy volumes.
9. Be Kinder
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 a later segment of this website. I include it here, just in case you don't read the book. It is one of the forty ways I 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.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business - Charles Duhigg
"All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits" - William James
Good habits take time to incorporate and bad ones can take substantial discipline to break. In large part, success is based on doing both. Charles Duhigg, in his best selling book, explains the anatomy of habits and what it takes to form good ones and to ditch the bad ones. After explaining habit principles as they apply to individuals, he present a number of examples of how they relate to organizations too. His stories about how changing habits helped to make Pepsodent and Crest toothpastes, and Febreze freshener successful are fascinating. This is one of the best books I've read. I recommend it highly. It can help anyone who's serious about making changes.
A paper published by Duke University found that more than 40% of the actions people perform each day weren't actually decisions, but habits, so if we can improve them, we can have an excellent influence on our upward trajectory.
The process, in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine is known as "chunking". There are dozens, if not hundreds of behavioral chunks we rely on every day. Some are simple, like brushing our teeth, and some are a little more complex.
Scientists say habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. The process involves the formation of "A Habit Loop". First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go on automatic and which habit to use. Next is the routine which can be physical, mental or emotional. Then there is the reward which helps you remember whether this particular loop is worth remembering for future use. Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic and habits get formed.
Once a habit is formed, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. So unless you deliberately fight a habit - unless you develop new routines - the pattern will unfold automatically. Your brain can't tell the difference between bad and good habits, so if you have a bad one, it's always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards. Once someone creates a new pattern, over time, it becomes as automatic as any other habit.
Habits are powerful, but delicate. Even small shifts can end the pattern that's been established. They shape our lives more than we realize. (They can also shape our likelihood of success and our propensity for failing. Notice I said "failing", not failure or "being a failure". We are not "a failure" when we don't succeed at something. Everyone fails. Even the most successful have. It's part of the reason they've become successful. Failing simply provided us with a new pivot point to head us in the right direction again.)
Unless you deliberately fight a habit - unless you find new routines - the habit pattern will automatically unfold. Cravings are what makes cues and rewards work. Craving is what powers the habit loop. What needs to be done is to find an obvious cue with a clearly defined reward to take the place of current behavior. Duhigg says, for example, if you want to start running each morning, it's essential to choose a simple cue, like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast. Then provide a clear reward, like a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward will it become automatic. The routine must trigger a craving for the reward to come.
The same logic works for eliminating bad habits. There has to be a substitution that takes place. Among other examples, he cites the success "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA). A drinker wants to find satisfaction. He drinks to get it. It makes him feel better -at least for the moment. To eliminate the habit, the drinker still is seeking satisfaction, but instead of drinking, when he feels the urge to drink, he makes a substitution - he calls his sponsor to help him get through the urge without drinking, and that produces the satisfaction that comes with controlling the urge to drink. Duhigg notes that the urge to drink or to engage in any other bad habit, like nail biting, is always there, so it's vitally important that the established rouine continue so that their won't be any backsliding.
This summary is inadequate to truly describe all the benefits that can be derived from this book. I encourage you to read it. It can help promote the good and stamp out the bad - both of which will help lead to your success!
Be a Good Communicator
Good communication skills involve being a good oral communicator, a good writer, a good listener, being computer and electronic literate, and having basic social media skills. The sooner someone acquires these skills, the faster they can benefit from them.
Get the tools you need to help you to succeed. Any college can help you with these. You need all of them to best prepare yourself for your future. Many employers say that they have jobs, but that applicants frequently lack the skills that they need. These are a great place to start.
I recommend taking a course in oral communications and/or public speaking. Getting involved in acting can help too. There is no substitute for getting up there and having your performance critiqued. It probably won't turn you into a world famous orator. The Book of Lists says that speaking in public is the top fear that people have. (Fear of heights is second; fear of death is seventh. Jay Leno once quipped, "I guess that means that we would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.) Becoming successful often means slaying the dragon and bringing your fears to their knees.
It's important to recognize too that all oral communications are not alike. I've spoken before over fifteen thousand college and real estate students in over forty years of teaching, so I'm reasonably comfortable most of the time doing that. But speaking to people one on one, giving a speech, or communicating in a meeting are not the same type of communication. You need to practice whatever types of communication are going to be necessary to your success.
Acting is different too. I've given two one man shows based on the life of President Calvin Coolidge. I can certify that that was a lot different than speaking in front of a group of students. The first time it went pretty well. The second time, not well at all. That should be a reminder that just because we have done something before does not ensure that it's going to continue to go well later. Proper physical and mental preparation are necessary every time to maintain consistency.
There are many occasions in life where written communications are required: writing proposals and reports, sending e-mails and texts (the older people are, the more likely they are to e-mail; the younger they are, the more likely they are to text), composing resumes and cover letters, writing books and articles, sending handwritten notes, etc. (Handwritten notes are almost a lost art that you might want to develop. They are retained longer and can have a far greater impact on the receiver.)
Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow offers some excellent advice on how to make your writing more effective:
How To Write A Persuasive Message
Having strong communication skills is a hallmark of success. Some are more skilled communicating orally, others in writing, and many in both. My experience is that many outstanding oral communicators could improve their writing skills.
Here are some of Kahneman's suggestions for improving written communications:
Suppose you write a message that you want the recipients to believe. The general principle is that anything you do to reduce cognitive strain will help, so you should first maximize legibility. If your message is to be printed, use high quality paper to maximize the contrast between characters and their background. If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do. Couching familiar ideas in pretentious language is taken as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility. (When you try to "look smart", it comes across that you aren't, so keep it simple.)
In addition to making your message simple, try to make it memorable. Put your ideas in verse if you can:
- Woes unite foes.
- Little strokes will tumble great oaks. (I've read it in Benjamin Franklin's writings as: "Little strokes fell great oaks.")
These are judged far more insightful than statements that don't rhyme, attempting to convey the same meaning:
- Woes unite enemies
- Little strokes will tumble great trees.
("If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."- Attorney Johnny Cochrane's classic, and forever memorable, line about the "bloody glove" that O.J. Simpson allegedly wore when Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were murdered. Is that more memorable than his saying: "The glove does not fit Mr. Simpson's hand, so you must find him not guilty.") Rhyming not only helps memorability, it helps believability too.
If you quote a source, choose one with a name that is easy to pronounce. Participants in an experiment were asked to evaluate the prospects of two fictitious Turkish companies based on reports from two brokerage firms. One report was from "Artan". The other was from "Taahut". System 2 Thinking (analytical thinking) is lazy and aversive to mental effort. Stay away from anything that reminds the reader of effort, including a source with a complicated name.
Speaking of Cognitive Ease:
"Let's not dismiss their business plan just because the font makes it hard to read."
(Don't count on the fact that readers of what you write, including resumes and reports, are going to be highly evolved and conversant with the principles espoused here. Use clear, easily readable fonts.)
"We must be inclined to believe it because it has been repeated so often, but let's think it through again."
(This is analogous to the famous phrase, "Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong." They can be. Analyze things carefully, no matter how many times you have heard some principle expressed.)
"I'm in a very good mood today, and my System 2 is weaker than usual, I should be extra careful (in my thinking)" - and in what I write and say too.
Excellent Writing Aids:
On Writing Well - William Zinsser
Elements of Style - Strunk and White
A few important points:
- Be an empathetic listener. Put yourself in the speaker's place.
- Don't interrupt. Give the speaker their moment in the sun.
- Don't try to top someone else's story - ("You think that's good. Let me tell you about my son!")
- Listen with the intent to hear, not to be thinking about what you're going to say next.
Some organizations offer listening courses as part of their development programs. They can be helpful. The problem with it is the same problem with other development and training courses - trying to maintain the same focus and enthusiasm with what you've learned more than a few days after the course ends.
Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People contains an excellent section on developing listening skills.
Computer Skills and Social Media
Computer skills are required for virtually every field of endeavor today from auto repair to business, from medicine to law. Many are familiar with the personal uses of social media from their presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. That should be augmented by learning how to use these tools for organizational and personal promotional use too.
On Writing Well - William Zinsser
William Zinsser was Princeton educated and spent a lifetime as a writer, journalist and teacher of writing at Yale University, and elsewhere. He wrote 18 books and was described as a legendary writer. I've summarized some of the principles from his book, On Writing Well , which is no substitute for buying the very nominally priced book and reading it. It sold 1.5 million copies.
I wrote to him to commend him for the helpfulness of his book and also mentioned my happiness and kindness book, Your Unfinished Life. He wrote me a two page handwritten reply, which I shall always treasure, offering kind words about my effort. Keep this summary and read Mr. Zinsser's book. They will help you to avoid many writing errors that I have learned to avoid to some degree through hard experience. Communication skils: writing, speaking and computer literacy are the three-legged stool that are essential foundations to success today.
You will note that Mr. Zinsser occasionally recommends some things that run counter to traditional writing principles. Be guided by your own instructors and follow their direction if you are a budding writer. As you gain more experience later, you may then wish to modify some of those principles. You'll find that Professor Zinsser had a superior sense of humor too.
Mr. Zinsser died on May 12, 2015 at the age of ninety-two. A fine model for doing what was important to him and being productive to the end! He once interviewed Woody Allen, who later cast him, a Protestant, in a small role as a Catholic priest in his film, "Stardust Memories".
Part I - Principles
- Professional writers rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have rewritten.
- Professional writers are solitary drudges who seldom see other writers.
- Ultimately, the product that any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about, but who he or she is.
- The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.
- If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard.
- The long word is no better than the short word.
- Beware of all the slippery new fad words: paradigm, parameter, prioritize, and potentialize.They are all weeds that smother what you write. Don't "dialogue" with someone you can talk to. Don't "interface" with anybody.
- Here's a device my students at Yale found helpful. I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn't doing useful work.
- Most first drafts can be cut by 50% without losing any information or losing the author's voice.
- Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Cut every sentence to within an inch of its life.
- Few people realize how badly they write.
- I urge people to write in the first person: to use "I" and "me" and "we" and "us". They put up a fight. It will warm up your impersonal style. The professorial use of "one"or the impersonal use of "it is". I don't want to meet "one"--- He's a boring guy.
- Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.
- You are writing for yourself. Don't worry about whether the reader will get it. If it amuses you, put it in. If you lose dullards back in the dust, you don't want them anyway.
- Master the tools. Simplify, prune, strive for order.
- Relax and say what you want to say.
- Never say anything in writing that you wouldn't say comfortably in conversation.
- Who am I writing for? The question that begins this chapter has irked some readers. They want me to say "Whom am I writing for?" But I can't bring myself to say it. It's just not me.
- Cheap words, made-up words and clichés. You must fight these phrases or you'll sound like every hack.
- The race in writing is not to the swift, but to the original.
- Such considerations of sound and rhythm should go into everything you write. I write entirely by ear and read everything aloud before letting it go out into the world. You'll begin to hear where the trouble lies. See if you can gain variety by reversing the order of a sentence, or by substituting a word that has freshness or oddity, or by altering the length of your sentences. An occasional short sentence can carry a tremendous punch. (Yes, it can.)
Part II - Methods
- Unity of tense is another choice. What is not agreeable is to switch back and forth.
- Decide what single point you want to leave in the reader's mind.
The material begins to lead you in an unexpected direction. Don't fight such a current if it feels right. Trust your material if it's taking you into terrain you didn't intend to enter, but where the vibrations are good. Don't become a prisoner of a preconceived plan. Writing is no respecter of blueprints.
Bits and Pieces
- Short is better than long.
- Make active verbs activate your sentences and avoid the kind that need an appended preposition to complete their work.
- Strong verbs are weakened by redundant adverbs. Most adjectives are also unnecessary.
- Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel or how you think: a bit, sort of, a little, kind of, rather, quite, very, too, pretty much, in a sense, and dozens more. They dilute your style and your persuasiveness.(My own overused candidates: someone, somebody, really, that, just, simply, of course, naturally. Do a "Find" on overused words. You'll discover many repetitions which should be eliminated by using substitute words.)
- Don't hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.
- Words like spectacular and awesome don't submit to measurement. Very is a useful word to achieve emphasis, but far more often it's clutter. (One example of clutter that should be avoided at all costs is "alot" There is no such word. It's two words. More importantly, it's poor usage. Never use two words when one will suffice.)
- The Period: Most writers don't reach it soon enough. Break the long sentence into two short sentences or even three. (My sister read a manuscript of my current book Finding The Right Man For You. It's a dating advice book for women. She said she liked it, but that the first chapter was far too long. I reviewed it and broke that one chapter into eight separate ones. It helped make the whole thing far more readable. If you have sentences, paragraphs or chapters that are too long, break them up into smaller, more readable ones.)
- The Exclamation Point: Don't use it unless you must to achieve a certain effect. Resist using an exclamation point to notify the reader you are making a joke or being ironic. Humor is best achieved by understatement, and there's nothing subtle about an exclamation point.
- Mood Changers: I can't overstate how much easier it is for readers to process a sentence if you start with "but" when you're shifting direction. Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with "but". If that's what you learned, unlearn it. There's no stronger word at the start. If you need relief from too many sentences beginning with "but", switch to "however". It is, however, a weaker word and needs careful placement. Don't start a sentence with "however". It can hang there like a wet dishrag. And don't end with "however"- by that time it has lost its "howeverness".
- Stay alert to the currents around you. Much of what you see and hear will come back. (This is very true, in spite of what you might think. This happens frequently when I'm lecturing and when I'm writing. Past experiences and things I've read just pop into my head for current use. Be assured, if you have new experiences and continuously feed your mind with reading that the same will happen for you.)
- The Quickest Fix: Often a difficult problem in a sentence can be solved by getting rid of it. Do I need it at all? Probably you don't.
- Paragraphs: Keep your paragraphs short. A long chunk of type can discourage a reader from even starting to read. Don't go berserk. A succession of tiny paragraphs is as annoying as a paragraph that's too long.
- Rewriting: We have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can't believe it wasn't born perfect. But the odds are close to 100% that it wasn't. I've never thought of rewriting as an unfair burden. Writing is like a good watch --- it should run smoothly and have no extra parts. Make an arrangement, one that holds together from start to finish and that moves with economy and warmth.
- Crucial gains for a writer using a computer: time, output, energy, enjoyment and control
- In 1988, I (Professor Zinsser)wrote a baseball book called Spring Training. It combined my lifelong vocation with my lifelong addiction, which is one of the best things that can happen to a writer. People will write better and with more enjoyment if they write about what they care about. (This follows Thoreau's advice for satisfaction with work, "Make your avocation your vocation.")
- Don't annoy your readers by overexplaining, by telling them things they already know or can figure out. Try not to use words like surprisingly, predictably and, of course, which puts a value on a fact before the reader encounters the fact. Trust your material.
- No area of life is stupid to someone who takes it seriously. If you follow your affections you will write well and engage your readers.
- Write about a field you enjoyed in college and always meant to get back to. No subject is too specialized or too quirky if you make an honest connection with it when you write about it.
Subsequent chapters cover various forms of writing: The Interview, The Travel Article, The Memoir, Science and Technology, Business Writing, Sports, Writing About The Arts, and Humor. The final part covers Attitudes relating to writing.
Improving Your Writing
Employers frequently say that more positions are available than might be thought, but lack of basic writing skills, reading skills, mathematics skills, oral communication skills, and computer literacy prevent job applicants from being hired. It's a deficiency that should be corrected as early as possible.
If your writing skills meet basic standards, then take a writing course or an English Compostion course that has a strong writing component. I guarantee that anyone who can heed the constructive criticism of her/his writing will get better. I'm not saying that you'll turn in a Hemingway, but if you stick with it, you will get better.
As Professor Zinsser indicated above, writing is never easy. It's always a challenge. It's a challenge for me to have written what you're reading in this website, even after having written well over a million words in books, articles, online course content, LinkedIn content, business communications, proposals, etc. Being a competent writer can help you in many ways. It's also part of successful organizational life to be able to do it - and also not to stick out like a sore thumb, and embarrass yourself if you can't. Ditto for the other skills I've mentioned.
50 Success Classics - Tom Butler-Bowdon
One thing that will be a colossal help to you in your effort to succeed is to obtain Tom's book 50 Success Classics. It beautifully summarizes the basics of fifty success books. Tom Butler-Bowdon graduated from the University of Sydney and the London School of Economics. He's a master in the genre of reducing books to their simplest terms. By reading these summaries, you will have the flavor of, and the main principles from, all these works on success. In addition, as you read the summaries, you will surely be encouraged to obtain some of them to read in their entirety. Tom is a very nice guy as well. We've communicated a few times and he was kind enough to say some nice things about my kindness book, Your Unfinished Life and provided the cover testimonial for my latest book It's a Matter of Life and Death: Growing Up in a Funeral Home and What I Learned Since
Not only has Tom created summaries of success books, he has also written:
- 50 Self-Help Classics
- 50 Psychology Classics
- 50 Spiritual Classics
- 50 Prosperity Classics
- 50 Philosophy Classics
- 50 Business Classics
I've read four of his books already. They're terrific. Tom is a gifted writer: interesting, compelling, informative, highly motivating. The summaries are great time savers. I just don't know when he sleeps!
10 Ways to Improve Your Time Management Skills - Rinkesh Kukreja
Do you often feel stressed out with too much of workload? As time passes, do you feel as if you have more tasks on hand than you have time to do them or that you could have more effectively used your time to complete your given tasks?
Organize your work properly and use your time effectively to get more things done each day. This can help you to reduce stress and do better at your workplace. (Or in your fun places too, such as when you're traveling. Tourists spend a lot of money to get where they're going and to be able to lodge themselves when they get there. Not everyone wants to make "efficient use" of time when they travel. Sometimes the objective is simply to relax and go slow. But if it's to maximize what you can see in a defined period of time, then time management can help.
Paris is one of the world's great cities and probably my favorite. It's very easy to waste time running from one part of the city to the other. A far better approach is to determine what you'd like to see, circle it on a plasticized map (they don't tear), and then see things in different areas on different days.
Another time saver is to get up and to get going. Try to be out and about by 9AM. In a seven day trip to Paris, London or other major destination, starting out at 10AM instead, costs an hour a day. In a week, that's equal to a whole day's potential sightseeing.)
Time management is a skill that takes time to develop and is different for each person. You just need to find what works best for you. Use a few of the following strategies suggested by the author Kukreja for a few weeks and use them to improve your time management skills and to increase productivity:
1. Delegate Tasks
It's common for many of us to take on too many tasks. This can often result in stress and burnout. Delegation is not running away from your responsibilities, but is an important function of management. Learn the art of delegating work to your subordinates based on their skills and abilities.(This can also be done in one's personal life: eating out, having lawn maintenance, housecleaning and similar activities are some basic ways that more time can be bought by effectively throwing money at it.)
2. Prioritize Work
Before the start of the day, make a list of tasks that need your immediate attention as unimportant tasks can consume much of your precious time. Some tasks need to be completed on that day only, while other less important tasks could be carried forward to a future day. In short, prioritize your tasks to focus on those that are more important. (One way of doing this is to assign "A", "B" and "C" priorities to your "Things To Do" list. Try to focus on putting first things first. As Goethe said, "Things that matter most should never be put at the mercy of things that matter least." There are times when some of the lower order items will need to be addressed, but that should not be the ordinary state of affairs.
W.Edwards Deming, a father of Total Quality Management" said that it was important to focus on the big things first that will make the needle move the most. If the focus is on the little things, he said, "all will be lost."
3. Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination is one of the things that badly affects productivity. It can result is wasting essential time and energy. It should be avoided at all costs. It could be a major problem in both your career and your personal life. (I've taught almost two hundred and fifty online courses. The courses have a number of defined test deadlines, after which the test disappears and becomes untakable. About half the students take the test in the last six hours before the deadline expires. If the deadline had been farther out, they would have taken it even later. Procrastination is a very bad business and personal habit. When you get something to do, do it as soon as you can. You never know what's coming next, so keep your platter clean.)
List all the tasks that come to your mind. (Many people today use their phones or tablets to organize their schedule and activities. I'm still fond of paper, but then again I'm a dinosaur.) Make sure your goals for the day are attainable. To better manage your time management skills, make three lists: work, home, and personal. and whatever other categories work best for you.
5. Avoid Stress
Stress often occurs when we accept more work than we are able to complete within a reasonable time.. The result is that our body starts feeling tired, which can affect our productivity. Instead, delegate tasks to your juniors and make sure to leave some time for relaxation.
6. Set Up Deadlines
When you have a task at hand, set a realistic deadline and stick to it. (Unexpected problems can always crop up, so it's always good to give yourself some slack.) Challenge yourself and meet the deadline. Reward yourself for meeting a difficult challenge.
7. Avoid Multitasking
Many feel that multitasking is an efficient way of getting things done, but the truth is that we do better when we focus and concentrate on one thing at a time. Multitasking hampers productivity and should be avoided if we wish to manage our time better.
8. Start Early
Many successful men and women have one thing in common. They start their day early. It gives them time to sit, think, and plan their day. When you get up early, you are more calm, creative, and clear-headed. As the day progresses, your energy levels starts going down which affects your productivity and you don't perform as well. (I've found this to be very true. I usually get up about 4AM. It's quiet and there are no distractions. If I get tired later, I try to take a short nap. It works pretty well for me.)
9. Take Some Breaks
Too much uninterrupted work and stress can take a toll on your body and affects your productivity. Take a walk, listen to some music or do some quick stretches. The best idea is to take off from work and spend time with your friends and family (or just go outside for a few minutes to get some sun and fresh air. Give yourself a change of scenery.)
10. Learn To Say No
Politely refuse to accept additional tasks if you think that you're already overloaded with work. Take a look at your "To Do" list before agreeing to take on extra work. (Askers should understand that when you say "No" that you have a good reason for it. There may be times when you'd be required to explain why, but many times you don't have to. Don't. Sometimes others are looking to solve a problem they have by taking the course of least resistance, finding the first person who will say "Yes" first. People who are interested in you will understand and respect your refusal. Those who persist are very likely more interested in themselves. Obviously, it depends on who's doing the asking too.)
Save Even More Time: Take Online Courses
One way to maximize your time use is to take online courses instead of lecture courses. Online courses are not for everybody. Some students prefer an in person learning experience. But in today's world, even students like that should take some online courses and get the experience of it, because there are probably going to be occasions in the future when they are going to need to.
Speaking of "Time Management", as we just did in the last reading, online courses eliminate travel time, traffic tie-ups navigating parking lots and looking for a space, bad weather, and most of all, they allow for flexibility, that makes more time available during the day to attend to other priorities.
They also can be highly beneficial to those who travel in their jobs and are unable to take regularly scheduled lecture courses. They can also be beneficial for certain students with disabilities. A further advantage is that they can also be taken when traveling. I have a student who took one while visiting Brazil. That works both ways. I've taught parts of online classes while I was Europe.
Online courses do require self-discipline. It is not "the easy way out". The work still has to be done, but it can be a lot more user friendly, and time friendly, if you can do it on your own terms.
In today's fast-paced world, it is hard to make time for education. No more excuses. Today, you have the options of taking a course or even getting a degree online. For anyone thinking of going back to college, online courses can be a less painlkess way to get yourself going again.
Whether you're a current college student wanting to save money or getting ahead during a break, or a stay-at-home parent who wants to earn a degree while caring for your children, taking an online course is a great, flexible and affordable way to get an education. Taking online courses can also speed you on your way to faster completion of your degree or program of study.
Getting New Choices in Life
"When Its Time to Burn Your Map" - Mark Nepo (Excerpted from: Spirituality and Health)
The One Life We're Given: Finding The Wisdom That Waits In Your Heart
"At some point we will come to the end of the path and no longer know our way out. (This can happen during our working life, it can also happen when we're facing what to do with ourselves in retirement.) Hard as this is, this is where the inner journey begins, when all we've carried has served its purpose and now we must burn our expectations to light our way." (Our letting go of the past leads us to our future.) "This is when we assume our full stature in order to see what's ahead. This is when the soul shows itself, if we pay attention." (Stay alert for signs. Many self-help writers, like Wayne Dyer, have suggested that there are no coincidences. Serendipitous events might be showing up for a reason. We might call this another way of living "the examined life".)
Nepo tells the story of a competitive shooter whose shooting career was ended when an errant shot hit him in the wrist of his shooting hand. His father's dream was for him to become the best. But he was "grateful that he could walk away from his life of shooting without having to disappoint his father. Quite unexpectedly, beyond all his years of work to find the center of the target, it was an errant shot that let him fly like a tiny bird through the hole in the target into the rest of his life." (In some ways he was fortunate. He had a choice made for him that he well may not have made for himself, like many who would never have left their jobs had they not evaporated. Many of the rest of us don't get the decision made for us. We have to take a good look at things and make the choice for ourselves. Doing that can make all the difference. Sometimes it takes us a long time to do that. A well-known singer pursued his career for twenty years without much success. He finally moved to principally writing songs and found the success he had long sought.
Similarly, the author cited the example of a female black belt who was obsessed with breaking a thicker stack of bricks. In her efforts, she broke her hand. "She'd become a prisoner of her own strength training...all her effort had led her, unexpectedly, to an unknown path that was the rest of her life. Effort itself is a blessing, but when effort races ahead of our love for what we're doing it becomes destructive." (And isn't that real success? Doing what we love to do. As Thoreau said, "Do not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.")
"Sometimes it's the gift of limitations that returns us to the pace of what we love. It's the gift of limitations that frees us to find our own dreams." (It could be the teacher who wants to have a broader impact by getting into administration, or it could be the administrator who misses the benefit of the one to one contact with students who decides to return to the classroom. These are decisions you need to make for yourself. It could be the lawyer who I knew, who was very mechanically inclined, who decided to leave the practice of law and buy a manufacturing company. What would it be for you?)
"What we often perceive as failure is an unexpected opening in our lives. Nothing is wasted. Sometimes the map we worked so hard to chart and follow needs to be burned in order for us to live our own life.
Finding Happiness and Success by Giving Thanks
The key to sustained happiness and success involves retraining your brain.
By Hannah Morgan ,US News & World Report
... Success does not equal happiness. We've all said it: "If I just get this job, everything will be great," or "this promotion will get me on the right career path." You may have even resorted to saying, "a decent wage is all I'm asking for." The problem is, once you get the job or more money, your brain resets the goal for happiness and you never reach the point where it allows you to feel happy. Think about the last time you really felt sustained happiness after you reached a goal. You may have experienced the initial rush of excitement, but how long did that last? The key to sustained happiness and success lies in retraining your brain.
Retrain your brain
Shawn Achor is an award-winning Harvard professor, speaker and author of The Happiness Advantage. In his TedX Bloomington talk, Achor says, "only 25 percent of job successes are predicted by IQ. Seventy-five percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat." Achor's research found that we can reprogram our brains to be more positive and productive. It takes just as much energy to think positively as it does to complain.
By taking a few minutes each day to recognize the good, positive elements of your life and writing those things down, you can reprogram your brain to be more positive. In other words, you have reprogrammed your brain to seek out the positive. Achor found that when people wrote down three positive things for 21 days, it improved the participants' productivity and outlook. You may want to check in with your friends who have been expressing gratitude on Facebook this month and see how they are feeling these days. Stick with your gratitude journal for 21 days and afterward, leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
Exercise produces dopamine, a chemical found to improve your brain's activity and your mood. By adding regular exercise to your daily routine, you stimulate your brain and produce happy and healthy thoughts. Creating an exercise ritual doesn't have to cost a lot of money, it just requires a time commitment. We all have 30 minutes we can re-allocate to exercise if we wanted to. The evidence to support the many benefits of exercise are out there, so just do it.
Take a time out
Another way to gain more control over your brain is to practice meditation. When you slow down, it allows you to focus. All our hectic lives with multi-tasking and balancing personal and professional priorities needs is a good old-fashioned time out. Meditation only requires self reflection, deep concentration and some quiet space.
Give, give and give
When you take an extra step to articulate your gratitude to others, it helps your outlook too. This may even lead you to perform random acts of kindness. What harm can these acts cause? They take very little energy and time and, just looking for these opportunities to help reprograms your brain to make a difference.
Is it real?
Only you can be the judge of whether these actions will work to change your outlook. Be positive and you'll think positive. Why do you have any reason to believe this wouldn't work?
This article is a good composite of many of the positive principles continued in this website.
Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.
Becoming an Expert or the Best You Can Be:
Peak - Secrets From The New Science of Expertise - Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
This book is the perfect capstone to this segment on becoming successful. It is also a true classic for anyone seeking to develop expertise or increased comtence in themselves or to bring others to that level.
Based on their research, and that of other experts, Drs. Ericsson and Pool provide an outstanding exposition of what is necessary to become an expert, and how we can become one - or at least know how to work properly to become our best self in a given pursuit - using "deliberate practice" techniques. "While the principles of deliberate practice were discovered by studying expert performers, the principles themselves can be used by anyone who wants to improve anything, even if just a little bit." The authors believe that everyone has the potentiality to become an expert in something and that people are capable of far more than they believe. The principles can be applied to personal growth, organizational situations or can help you help others, such as your children or grandchildren.
It is important to note that my summary is just that - my selections of what I felt to be important highlights to share with you. Especially in the case of this book, it is very important to read the book yourself and highlight what is especially important for your own purposes.
Please be aware that my intention is not to attempt to speak on the authors' behalf, but rather to offer some general concepts about their work to lead you to read it. Their research is long-standing and detailed, often requiring qualifications to some of the generalities I mention.
Peak uses a number of interesting stories to make its points, including those who can memorize a large series of digits, chess players, violinists and others, where there is a demonstrated body of knowledge about how to improve and where the results are measurable. (The 2015 world record for digit memorization was by a competitor from Mongolia who memorized 432 digits. I have difficulty recalling European phone numbers.) Less measurable pursuits, such as becoming an "expert manager", are more elusive. Nevertheless, following the general principles outlined can still produce improvement. Having a teacher or instructor to guide efforts is cited as a clear advantage, especially in earlier stages of development.
Often related to this book is Malcolm Gladwell's best seller, The Outliers, principally due to Gladwell's mention of the now famous "10,000 Hour Rule", whose general implication is that one has to expend 10,000 hours of practice in a field before they can become an expert. Although acknowledging that his book gave the idea of the importance of long term application for achieving expertise great exposure, they make a few things very clear regarding Gladwell's book, and some additional misconceptions:
"The 10,000 Hour Rule" is not a rule.
Sometimes one may become an expert in more or less than 10,000 hours of practice.
All practice is not equal.
Merely engaging in an activity for 10,000 hours is no guarantee that someone will become an expert. Practice that merely repeats what already has been done won't do it. "Research has shown that, generally speaking, once a person reaches that level of 'acceptable' performance and automaticity, the additional years of 'practice' don't lead to improvement...Automated abilities gradually deteriorate in the absence of deliberate efforts to improve." (This is analogous to whether one has twenty years "true"experience or perhaps has two years experience ten times instead.) "Proper practice also requires continual focus and effort and that's hard work." Improvement is not likely to be shown merely by doing the same thing over and over.
Heartfelt desire and hard work alone will lead to improved performance.
"Just keep working at it, and you'll get there - and this is wrong." It takes "deliberate practice", involving new and challenging activities that will spur growth, akin to those found in Mihail Cziksentmihalyi's "flow states". These involved participants "getting out of their comfort zone - trying to do something that they couldn't before." Generally, the solution is not to try harder, but to try differently."
This was made especially apparent when people effectively "hit the wall" and couldn't seem to improve any further. For example, digit memorizers found that there was some limit to how many digits they could memorize individually in a string. The adaptive approach was to chunk numbers together in some related way or to relate the numbers to other more memorable concepts. That helped them get over the hump. "The best way to get past any barrier is to come at it from a different direction, which is one reason it is useful to work with a teacher or coach...Sometimes it turns out that a barrier is more psychological than anything else."
Becoming an expert takes lots of practice.
In all the studies they have done, in spite of what the public perception might be, they discovered no such thing as someone who could be billed as "a natural", who didn't have to work and practice extensively to excel. This included Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Tiger Woods, and others. While frequently billed as phenoms, the authors noted that some started at an early age and indeed had many hours of practice. Starting at an early age is a clear advantage however to becoming an expert, but anyone at any age is likely to show improvement through deliberate practice.
"In a study of violinists, it was established that to become an excellent violinist requires several thousands of hours of practice. We found no shortcuts and no 'prodigies' who reached an expert level with relatively little practice. And, even among gifted musicians, the musicians who has spent significantly more hours practicing their craft were on average more accomplished than those who had spent less time practicing." This finding was found to be uniform across the landscape of all experts. The bottom line is that it takes a lot of focused hard work to become an expert.
The brain can continue to grow and develop. It has adaptabliity or what is also called "plasticity". It's never too late to start. (So you're never to old to try to excel.)The authors have a great belief in people's capabilities, which for various reasons, they feel are often understated. (Everyone who tries these techniques is not going to automatically become an expert. However, that does not mean that improvements made in any area of serious focus couldn't be significant, either personally or organizationally.)
Good enough is good enough, but it's not expertise either.
Once we get to the point where we feel our result is good enough, we often stop pushing ourselves any further. But it is important to remember that for the truly dedicated, the option to get significantly better always exists. "With deliberate practice, the goal is not just to reach your potential, but to build on it, to make things possible that were not possible before.
Some Keys To Developing Expertise
"A mental representation is a mental structure that corresponds to an object, an idea, a collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about.
Much of deliberate practice involves developing ever more efficient mental representations that you can use in whatever activity you are practicing...The thing all mental representations have in common is that they make it possible to process large amounts of information quickly, despite the limitations on short-term memory." Some might call this developing an "intuitive feel" that is gained by those with a good deal of experience in a given area. "The main thing that sets experts apart from the rest of us is that years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other areas of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties... In pretty much every area, a hallmark of expert performance is the ability to see patterns in a collection of things that would seem random or confusing to people with less developed representations. In other words, experts see the forest when everyone else sees only trees... The more you study a subject, the more detailed your mental representations of it become, and the better you get at assimilating new information. These improved mental representations open up new possibilities for improved performance.
The Gold Standard: Deliberate Practice
Several forms of practice were mentioned in the book, as a prelude to this best form. In the interest of this summary, I have limited my mention to what the authors say is the goal to strive for.
Deliberate practice is one amenable to fields:
- with highly developed and broadly accepted training methods, such as ballet and mathematics, unlike crossword puzzles and folk dancing, that have no standard training approaches
- that are competitive enough to provide performers with strong incentive (motivation) to practice and improve
- that are generally well-established, with the relevant skills having been developed over decades or even centuries
- that have a subset of performers who also serve as teachers and coaches, who over time have developed increasingly sophisticated sets of training techniques that make possible the field's steadily increasing skill level (such as training for long distance running that has produced performance times far lower than those in the past.)
The Principles of Deliberate Practice
"The improvement in performance generally has gone hand in hand with the development of teaching methods. Anyone who wishes to become an expert in these fields will need an instructor's help. The activities, which often students will practice on their own, are designed to push him or her just beyond the current skill level.
Deliberate practice is different from other forms of purposeful practice in two ways:
- it requires a field that is reasonably well developed: dance, chess, music, gymnastics, figure skating, or diving, for example. Pretty much anything in which there is not much competition such as gardening and other hobbies, or many of the jobs in the workplace, such as business manager, teacher, electrician, engineer and consultant, and so on, which would not qualify, simply because there are no objective criteria for superior performance (although there are obviously subjective ones).
- it requires a teacher who can provide practice activities designed to help a student improve his or her performance. We are drawing a clear distinction between purposeful practice in which a person tries to push himself or herself to improve, and practice that is both purposeful and informed. Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.
Deliberate practice is characterized by the following traits:
- it develops skills other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established
- it takes place outside one's comfort zone, it demands near-maximal effort, and is generally not enjoyable
- it involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of target performance; it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement (An example might be a sprinter working to improve explosion out of the blocks.) A plan will be developed for making a series of small changes that will add up to the larger desired change.
- deliberate practice is deliberate. It requires a person's full attention (focus) and conscious actions. The student must concentrate throughout the activity, not just do it, so that adjustments can be made to improve performance later
- it involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to the feedback
- it produces and depends on effective mental representations. As performance improves, the representations become more detailed and effective, making it possible to improve even more. An instructor shows the right way to do something and allows the participant to notice when something is wrong and to correct it
- it nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working specifically to improve them specifically (divide and conquer); over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance.
But What If Your Field Is One In Which Deliberate Practice, In The Strictest Sense, Is Not Possible ?
You can still use the principles of deliberate practice as a guide to developing the most effective sort of practice possible in your area.
The basic blueprint for getting better in any pursuit: get as close to deliberate practice as you can. This often boils down to purposeful practice with a few extra steps:
First, identify the expert performers, then figure out what they do that makes them so good, then develop training techniques that allow you to do it too. If best performers lack objective performance standards, realize that subjective judgments are inherently vulnerable to all sorts of biases.
Studies have shown for example that "wine experts" who rate wines or "financial experts" who select stocks, are often shown not to be that expert in their selections. (Organizations and individual should be careful, in general, about trusting the opinion of "experts", as one of your previous readings by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, has clearly shown. Care should be exercised in placing too much stock in "expert opinion.")
The judgment of peers is also a good place to start. A good rule of thumb is to seek out people who work with other professionals. Another is to seek out persons that professionals would seek out themselves when they need help with a particularly difficult situation. (I recently had surgery and had full confidence in the surgeon. I saw another specialist and asked if he knew my surgeon. He said he went to him too. Double confidence in his expertise.)
If it's a field you're already familiar with, what are the characteristics of good performance. Try to come up with ways to measure that. Then look for people who score highest in the areas you believe to be key to superior performance.
Once you've identified the expert performers, figure out what separates them from other less accomplished people in the same field, and what training methods helped them to get there.
- Once you have identified an expert, identify what this person does differently from others that could explain the superior performance.
- Inform your purposeful practice and point it in directions that will be more effective. If you find that something works, keep doing it.; if it doesn't work, stop it. The better you are able to tailor your training to mirror the best performers in your field, the more effective your training is likely to be.
- Whenever possible, the best approach is almost always to work with a good coach or teacher (or mentor).
- The most effective interventions are those involving some interactive component - role playing, discussion groups, case solving, hands-on training and the like. Least effective were "didactic" interventions that consisted of listening to lectures. The focus should be on skills based training, not knowledge based learning.
The book also includes excellent examples featuring the effectiveness of "Top Gun" training and the training of surgeons.
Dr. Atul Gawande, a noted surgeon and author references Peak in his book Complications, and further says, "Practice is funny..For days and days, you make out only fragments of what to do. And then one day, you've got the whole thing. Conscious learning becomes unconscious knowledge, and you cannot say precisely how." The message is clear. Keep practicing and make it "deliberate practice".
Giving Yourself A Competitive Edge - Lawrence J. Danks
When I was seventeen, I remember going to the first "new"suburban shopping mall in Southern New Jersey when it opened in 1962. Many teenagers used to go there often - then and now. Today, I sit on one of the benches while my wife shops. I look for anyone passing by older than I am. I rarely see anyone. Time passes - and a lot faster than you might expect - so the time to act in improving your future is now, not later. Here's some of what I've learned that I pass on to help you or to help your sons, daughters, or grandchildren:
Focus and Specialize
While having general knowledge in your field can be useful, today is the day of the specialist. Find what interests you and laser focus on it. It's very easy to get distracted. I made a career of doing that: customer service manager, convenience store franchisee, Congressional campaign manager, real estate broker, NJ approved real estate school director and instructor, adjunct college professor at six colleges, full time business administration faculty at Atlantic-Cape, Stockton and Camden County College, and author of eight books. Not always unrelated, but certainly not as related and as focused as it could have been - and that has consequences.
Sometimes not focusing won't all be on you. Your job may force it on you. In law practices, attorneys can get pulled into a variety of different areas, making it more difficult to stay focused. That's a situation not isolated to the practice of law either. While it may make focusing more difficult in these circumstances, try to identify what you want to focus on, then make any extra effort you can to do it. Time constraints can make this difficult, but otherwise the tail is going to keep wagging the dog. Just take as much control as you can to put the focus where you want it to be.
While money shouldn't be the focus of a successful life, it surely can be an important component of it. One of my high school classmates knew he wanted to be a pharmacist. He worked in a Gloucester City pharmacy while we were at Gloucester Catholic. He graduated, went to pharmacy school, and later became the Chief Pharmacist at one of Philadelphia's leading hospitals. He knew early on - a big advantage - and he was focused. Even though he went ahead a few years ago, I still admire the focus he had. He also made about two and a half times more annually than I'm making now, near the end of my career. Obviously, his focus paid off.
Another of our classmates was a student of "modest accomplishment", like I was. We both would be the first to admit it. However, when he graduated he went to a fine college where he became highly motivated, subseque focus on, specialize as much as you are able to and go for it.
Get An Advanced Degree and/or Certifications - Or Maybe You Don't Even Have Your Bachelor's Yet?
If you're talented, you may not have too much difficulty finding a good position. The question though is how far are you going to be able to go with it in the intermediate and long term?
I tell my Management students that in order to get a job, they need to create significant differential advantages over other candidates to get hired. Just saying, "I'm Jack or Jill and I have a Bachelor's degree" isn't going to cut it. (Especially when over 35% of adults in our states and many others already hold Bachelor's degrees.) I recommend that they learn to speak other languages, maintain an exceptional GPA, take foreign study programs, experience foreign travel, take online courses for improved flexibility and time management, gain relevant experience in the field they are planning to enter, and build their contacts, especially in fields and organizations they aspire to. LinkedIn is designed to help do that, but professionals should become well-versed in all major social media, to facilitate properly promoting themselves and their organizations.
But what if you don't even have your Bachelor's degree or training in a skill that's in demand? Maybe you think there isn't any rush. You're wrong. There is. I told you already how fast time went for me - from seventeen to seventy-four in what seems like no time. It's not going to go any slower for you. You'll be forty before you know it. And how much extra income are you sacrificing every year by just working at odd jobs or in a job that's taking you nowhere? Income that could make you more independent - instead of having to just slide through life depending on your parents or others. Everyone has a valuable talent in something. You do too. Get started and find out what it is and focus on it until you've started your own road to success. Make an appointment at a local community college's Advising Office. Take an interest test and listen to the advice you get. There are many options for you. You might be a late starter, but you can still be a strong finisher.
For anyone who already has his/her Bachelor's degree antly went on to a lengthy post-graduate program and became a highly successful professional. It would be very safe to say he's far exceeded the two and a half times figure above. He wasn't focused early, any more than I was, but he surely turned that around - big time. He made the necessary changes. It made all the difference. So find something you can trulynd a position, the same "distinguishing characteristics" logic above applies, except that you need to do some different things:
Getting a Ph.D can be one of them. Opportunities for promotion, the ability to teach on the university level, to do research, to get published, and to have greater credence in your field are all benefits that can emanate from this. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. Wait... Someone did. When I was in my thirties, I thought that just by being recognized as a highly rated teacher and writing books, it would make me a tenure candidate at a four year school. Someone even told me flat out, "You'll never go anywhere in education without a doctorate." But I knew more, of course, just like you might think you do now with the limited knowledge you have. I never got a doctorate. While I may not have ever been promoted beyond my current modest academic rank, I ensured it by not getting one. That could be you if you don't do what you might need to do.
This isn't a gripe or crying over spilled milk. I made my choices. We're bound by all the ones we made. After all, who was the one who was always there when the decisions were made?
I'm very fortunate to have the position I have and I appreciate it. This is just an attempt to get you to think about your future and to do something about it now, not when you're past fifty, when it might be too late to make a substantive difference. Many of my colleagues have gotten their doctorates, even in their fifties. I really applaud them for it. Better late than never. But I'm sure all of them would tell you, it would have been far better to have done it sooner than later.
Obtaining a JD, a law degree, is another path. It is very true that even excellent law school graduates often have difficulty finding a position in the law, especially if they are seeking a position in private practice. However, a law degree can add prestige to a resume, and provide valuable legal, analytical and writing skills. It can also be a real plus when applying for a higher level position in your current field, or in another one. A law degree can be used in the military, business, human resources, educational administration, college teaching, and federal and state government administrative, research and analytical positions, among others.
It is almost a knee-jerk reaction for business administration majors to go for an MBA as a higher degree. If I were in that position again, I would get a JD instead. It's a doctorate. That enables the holder to teach at the university level. It is also a more prestigious degree. MBA's might be able to teach as adjunct university instructors, but almost never as full time faculty. A "doctoral equivalent" for accounting majors, after a Master's, can be to obtain a CPA. That is considered by a number of universities as the equivalent of a terminal degree in that field.
Sometimes a Master's may do the trick. It's very important in fields such as physical therapy, speech therapy and nursing. Similarly in nursing, it can be very wise to obtain an advanced credential as a Physician's Assistant or Nurse Practitioner. These are what I call "intermediate professional positions", between being a nurse and a physician. They have a strong future. Analogous to this is becoming a Paralegal, between being an attorney and a legal secretary. Just ask yourself this. If you managed a law practice or a hospital and could hire two or three of these employees for what it would cost to hire one attorney or one physician - when they perform some of the same functions - what would you do? That's why there is only going to be continued growth in these professions.
One Master's modification may be necessary when applying for an elementary or high school teaching position. It can often be better to get the job first with your Bachelor's. Then after you get it, get your Master's to make more money and have a more substantive professional credential, one that may also enable you to teach in a community college later. Normally, I would suggest getting a Master's as soon as possible in any field, but school districts often don't want to hire candidates with Master's up front and strain their limited budgets. One caution: Some positions do require a Master's to get hired, so check the job announcement carefully to determine if there is any such requirement.
Other avenues for creating strong "differentials" include obtaining fellowships, judicial clerkships, Board Certifications in the medical field, and certifications in other fields , both professional and technical. There are hundreds of computer, manufacturing and technical certifications that can be investigated too. Speak to professors in respective academic departments to advise you. It can all help. They can give you an edge in hiring, promotion and salary improvement.
Your competitors are going to have one or more of the above. You should think seriously about being more competitive yourself. Do what needs to be done. Not just what you feel like doing. Keep in mind that even successful people don't want to do some of these things, but they do them anyway.
One of my cousins, who is the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of well known national company, previously served as CEO there and at several other national corporations. This necessitated a number of moves to Maryland, New England, Wisconsin, Canada and many other locations for decades, as well as his having to travel throughout the world frequently. He, and his wife, knew what these jobs entailed when he took them and did what had to be done - and they did it well. That's why he's successful. That might not be for you, but whatever you choose to do, you have to be prepared to get the job done, whether if it's operating an auto body shop, running a restaurant, operating a heavy rental equipment business or running a funeral home.
I've been a full time college professor for thirty-fiveyears, an adjunct professor for seven years before that, and an approved real estate instructor for twenty years. I cost myself a great deal of money by not getting a law degree or Ph.D. as an educational credential. Probably at a minimum average of about $20,000 per year for thirty years - well over a half a million dollars. Do you want to lose that kind of money and lose the opportunities for promotions in your career because you lack the proper credentials? The same goes for more credence being given to much of what you might say or write. At my age, I'm not going to be making many changes. But it's not too late for you.
Make A Change If You Need To
Its not uncommon today for workers to change positions a number of times and even career fields two or three times. This can be next to impossible for those who don't have high level credentials and certifications. They give you flexibility. I can't do much about that now, but you can. Please don't think - "poor him". Think instead "possibly poor me", if I don't do something about this while I'm still able to.
Sometimes when progress is stymied in a particular organization, or in your field, because a promotional path seems likely to be blocked for a long time, or there is serious difference of opinion on organizational matters or a disconnect with personalities, it might be best to make a change. Speak with some reliable mentors to get the pros and cons of doing so. Sometimes making a change can lead you to where you would do a lot better. It can make all the difference.
Finding True Happiness and Success
My Management lecture and online courses are about 70% Management and about 30% self-help in finding happiness and personal success. "Self-Management" is a necessary prerequisite to being a good manager in any field. And all fields, not just business, require management. It would benefit any student to take a Principles of Management course. I offer it, principally online.
Success is something you need to define for yourself - and it's not just about money. That's one thing positive psychologists agree on.
I read a superior post on LinkedIn about a grade school teacher who sent home a message to Thomas Edison's mother about him. His wise mother took a very negative portrayal and turned it into encouragement that produced a genius. I commented on it:
"This is an outstanding short - with a huge message. What people say to someone can provide the encouragement to discovery and success. Similarly, how many of you have heard of someone being told, "You're not college material." Perhaps sometimes they were right. But what about all those who got discouraged because some supposedly knowledgeable, but not too prescience or tactful "superior", defined for them what was going to be possible in their life. Believe in yourself and possibilities. Thomas Edison's mother did. It worked out well for him - and the rest of us too."
We can all be Edisons in our own special way. Start building bridges to your own potential - no matter how old you are or what your station in life is now. George Bernard Shaw was asked near the end of his life, "Who would you have chosen to be if you could have been anyone else. He said, "I would be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was." It is never too late for you to become that person. That's the version of yourself you should strive for every day, so you have fewer regrets at the end.
You don't have to reinvent the wheel to be successful. Just pay better attention to some of the good advice you might be getting - and choosing to ignore. Far better to ignore those who tell you that you don't have the right stuff. Be the best of what you are capable of becoming. Don't sit rocking in a chair on a porch someday far in the future with regrets about what you could have done. Do something about it now.