You may have heard this before, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. There’s not much worse advice your could give yourself than this poisonous idiom. Because in life you generally get what you prepare for.
This isn’t just positive thinking but actual neuroscience and it’s called reticular activation. We filter and we manifest what we focus on. It’s the reason that just after you bought your last car, you suddenly started seeing it everywhere on the road where as before you never did. It’s also a main reason that one’s cognitive skills are improved when they are happy and diminish when depressed.
And reliance on hope and the myth of ‘any given Sunday’ don’t serve us because success comes not just from preparedness but preparing for the best, not the worst. Muhammad Ali said it best, “Fights are won or lost far away from the crowd, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before we dance under those lights.” He also said, “I told myself I was the greatest, even before I knew I was.” This must be why they refer to boxing as ‘the sweet science.‘
And even in times when deep preparation isn’t rewarded with intended or even the best results, we are always stronger and better from the process. Hard work and preparedness lead to growth and growth is never wasted.
So be exceptionally careful of the words and idioms you use because your philosophy is the sail you set for yourself.
Happiness is a precursor to success, not merely the result.
Edmund August Schreiber was my grandfather and Thoreau’s notional man. Self reliant and humble but not without conviction. He outlived his wife, Hazel, by almost 15 years but did not remarry. Instead, he visited her grave, health and weather permitting, every single day. I know this because he kept a record on the calendar. One day he pointed to a handwritten number just short of five thousand and told my father that was how many times he’d been to visit Hazel. He knew everyone at the cemetery and they knew him. I was also told they cried when he stopped showing up because there could have been only one reason for this.
When my father and I went to the house after his death to begin the task of tending to his belongings it was the first time inside of his bedroom in many years. The room was not fancy, just a king sized bed, a night stand, a dresser and mirror with a few collectibles neatly arranged on top. I remember there were a few cologne bottles in the shape of antique automobiles. The mirror of his dresser had a wide wooden frame and tucked between it and the reflective glass were several different business cards. They were my business cards. And they were every business card I’d ever been issued since my first role as a junior designer. It was a neat and perfect timeline mapping almost fifteen years of my career, every title change, every promotion.
In that moment I’d never felt a greater connection to my grandfather in my entire life, even when he was alive. It was the start of real maturity, when I began to understand the idea of unconditional love, pride and legacy. To this day, whenever I’m fortunate enough to be promoted or to have taken a different role, I fly to Columbus and drive to the cemetery where I leave a newly minted card on my grandfather’s plot. I talk to him about how I’ve been since my last visit, about my life and about my wife and the great granddaughter he never met.
While I’ve been fortunate to have made more, traveled more, experienced and possibly achieved more than my grandfather ever did or may have even imagined for me, he reminds me the reason why we are all here, to create connections to one another. Lasting connections, some so possibly strong they can even transcend time and death. This humble husband and father continues to be a gold standard, a confidant and inspiration to me even after death. And while I have no belief in an afterlife and I’m perfectly content with the one finite existence I’ve been given, I hope my own connection to my wife, friends and my daughter continue to grow so unimaginably deep that they’ll think of me and want to talk to me from time to time even after I’m gone.
Sam Harris delivers a saline explanation of mindfulness without esoteric jargon. This is one of my favorite clips from his many talks.
For a Scottish alternative rock band from Glasgow, Del Amitri dispensed some pretty sound relationship advice.
When you’re driving with the brakes on
When you’re swimming with your boots on,
It’s hard to say you love someone and it’s hard to say you don’t.
And Marshall McLuhan reminded us to always, “Look at life through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror”.
McLuhan and Del Amitri are both right; success comes from an unwavering commitment and a focus on future, not past accomplishments. I’ve been a designer and creative director for nearly 24 years yet I’ve never kept a portfolio of my work nor have I created a resume, let alone kept it up to date. It’s both a strategy and perspective that extends beyond my vocation but it’s a good place to start since I’ve known, worked with and directed hundreds of other designers during my career.
I can’t help but liken the folly of perpetually building, adding to and maintaining hardbound books and websites to pouring water through a sieve in effort to keep it topped off. Accomplishments fade, records get broken and good design expires (just go back and look at the first imac). Commitment to this kind of enterprise is a giant waste of your time and energy. It also sends the wrong message to your leaders and others on your team because it reveals your lack of commitment as well as trust in others and even your own self. Why would anyone choose to develop a lasting relationship with you? Why would any leader spend time and effort developing someone who is always in the process of packing their parachute?
But this is true of any relationship isn’t it? Does anyone in a committed personal relationship keep an online dating profile, continually checking to see who else is out there, who’s interested? Are they perpetually posting their most recent and best profile pictures?
Your future income and success are most likely going to be the result of your loyalties and quality relationships you’ve established. And besides, anyone can throw together a resume and portfolio of work in a couple of weeks at most. So stop building a trophy case and start building a legacy.
Last week I happily took on new responsibilities, a promotion and a new role as the Global Director of Strategic Marketing for a $1B multinational brand services organization – without submitting a resume.
“Look at life through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror”
– Marshall McLuhan
I have an 11″ long tattoo on the inside of my left forearm. It reads (wtm2s) and it’s a frequent and unintentional conversation starter. I tend to wear my sleeves rolled so as a result someone will asked what it means at least once a week. And while I love to talk with people, I don’t have a short canned explanation that can be delivered in the time it takes to pay for my tall dry nonfat cappuccino.
It translates as “will this make me stronger” but it’s largely a reminder about long term thinking. I’m an unshakeable believer that the root of most unhappiness and failure comes from people trading what they want most of all for what they want right now. And ‘wtm2s’ is an easy question I can ask myself before making almost any decision. Do you want to eat that plate of cookies or do you want the body that stops traffic. Do you want a $60K car or an early retirement.
Way back in middle school I was shown the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment which was about marshmallows of course but also children and the idea of delayed gratification. You can certainly guess the details of the experiment but what I remembered most was that the children who were able to delay the immediate pleasure of eating just one marshmallow for a greater reward later if they waited, were better students, had the higher marks and generally were more successful and adjusted as they were also tracked many years beyond that experiment. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you how much I obsessed over that film, wondering how I’d do under the circumstances and even envious of those kids, so lucky to play a role in this ‘scientific breakthrough’.
We take that marshmallow test everyday, more like several times a day. Every action and decision we make collects, compounds and contributes to our future health, wealth and relationships.
So I look at and consult this oracle everyday because it never fails me as a compass of good judgement, because I dig tattoos and because I have never ever liked marshmallows.
My daughter is seven years old and I occasionally give her this test in one form or another to see how she does. I’m happy to say she is going to do just fine at life – and will probably attend Stanford.
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe the future can be better, you’re unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”
An often repeated quote says, “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” In fact the opposite is true, most people believe in a devil that does not exist. And this kernel is both a primary source in my successes and my authentic happiness.
Last month I was in LA to attend a conference with other trends and foresight experts. These conferences are a place for people who devote their careers to understanding change in our world and how we can prepare (and sometimes profit) from it. There, I heard someone say something so simple yet it was one of the most profound insights and observations I’d heard all week.
“There’s no crisis.” It was a casual reply to an equally banal question. But while it was perfectly simple it was exactly what I’ve long suspected too. There is no crisis.
There’s no economic crisis. There’s no healthcare crisis. There is no sanctity of marriage crisis. There’s no environmental crisis. There are no crises, no devils. None. There’s just change.
We only call it a crisis because we: 1. Don’t like the change. 2. Did not prepare for the change. 3. Don’t want to accept the change.
Noam Chomsky said optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe the future can be better, you’re unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. You see happy successful people always accept circumstances and rarely act like the victim. Lack of acceptance is the breeding ground for blame and excuses. Acceptance with a positive psychology fosters solutions and success.