Chapter 12 – And The Best of Luck!
SUMMING up, then, we have as the first tenet of success: Act as if it were impossible to fail.
Beginning to put this into practice, we discover that the first demand upon us is that we should reclaim as much as possible of the energy which now goes into reverie or into time-killing, and devote it to purposeful activity, to action toward an end. We act by ignoring all memories or apprehensions of failure, by refusing to attach importance to temporary discomfort or past pain. We learn not to court frustration by using an attitude or tone which leaves any opportunity for rebuff or non-cooperation. We exercise our minds in trial performances in order to have them fully under our control when the occasion to use them in an expert way arises. With the imagination we painlessly explore all the possible reaches of our lives and constantly provide ourselves with projects of future interests to such an extent that we shall not fall back into day dreaming.
We deliberately make for ourselves an invigorating mental climate, and in this atmosphere, freed of doubts and anxieties, we act.
In the last few chapters we have been considering these facets of successful action one by one. Now it must be remembered that, however correct and suggestive such detailed considerations may be, they suffer badly in one manner: their tempo, so to speak, has had to be altered in order to show them minutely.
A slow-motion picture of ball-players in action, of golfers, of a tennis match, is sometimes of inestimable value to these who are learning to play. The muscular effort behind a sudden dexterous turn of the body, in its normal tempo far too quick for the eye to catch, is shown in the retarded film in all its subtlety. But we gain our insight into the technique of difficult plays by losing sight, for the moment, of another aspect.
You will remember how, in such pictures, the player glides languorously through the air, the ball curves slowly towards the racquet, touches it with a soft impact and slides slowly away again. Illuminating as these pictures are, they are also always irresistibly comic: the leap, the crack, the rapidity of the game as we know it is gone, replaced by a twilit, dreaming gentleness.
Now, to consider the technique of success in these pages, we have had to sacrifice pace to analysis in just this way. The actual tempo of success, while it should not have the nervousness or strain that is almost inevitable in a competitive contest, is quicker, smoother, more brisk than any book analyzing it can ever show. There is a delightful conciseness in successful action. “I know I’m doing a good picture if I’m painting just as fast as I can move,” a great artist said to a group of friends recently.
“The minute I dabble I know I’m stalling, that there’s something I’m not seeing right; when I’m right it’s almost like play.”
There is undoubtedly something game-like about pertinent activity: those distressful clichés of a few years ago, “the advertising game,” “the engineering game,” “the restaurant game,” had some excuse in reality. The vocabulary of men who are successful in the sense that they have amassed huge fortunes abounds in terms taken over from the jargon of sports: “A fast one,” “Out of bounds,” and so on. And however unlike the big business ambition of such a man one’s own personal idea of success may be, there is something to be deduced from the frequency of recreation-terms when stories of success are in question. Purposeful action seems quicker, clearer more straightforward and enjoyable than any other. In reality, you may be working more slowly and carefully than ordinarily; still, the fact that there is no confusion of issues, no part of your mind off wool-gathering as you move, gives an unmistakable “tone” to activities which are being carried on in the proper way.
It is just this tone that you are setting yourself to recapture by imagination when you remember the mood of an earlier success. Once you have found it in the past, made use of it for present action, and noted the similarity in pace which results, you will soon be able to strike the right rhythm without the elaborate preliminary imaginative activity. Further, this rhythm sometimes crops out unexpectedly, in the middle of unimportant events; it is a promise that, if you can get away and at work, you will find yourself “in vein.” So you will come to recognize its onset and be able to turn it to your advantage.
This feeling of pace, or tone, or rhythm – it represents itself differently to differing temperaments – will be your evidence that you are headed the right way. This is no recommendation to hasten your physical action in working. That may or may not come to pass. Very often it does; in other cases undue haste has been one of the contributions of the Will to Fail, which, aping the decisiveness of authoritative motion, allowed several essentials to good work to be overlooked or skimped.
It is not so much any real briskness that is being considered here as it is the fact that unimpeded movement in a forward direction is pleasant and rhythmical, movement which goes unwaveringly towards success.
Let us, for another reductio ad absurdum, consider one great class of successes, of which almost everyone has had some personal experience, or at the very least has met in the lives of those about him: the state called the courage of desperation.
In the most extreme cases, this courage arises because some catastrophe or series of misfortunes has completely wiped out every alternative to success. “He has nothing to lose,” we say of one in this situation. Very well, then; he acts with a directness and daring which he could not ordinarily command. So often that it has become a matter of legend for us, this action is attended with overwhelming success. If you will remember the third victim of the Will to Fail in an earlier chapter, you will recall that he had made a state of desperation into a superstitious prerequisite to accomplishment. Quite misreading the situation, he came to believe that the prospect of utter vanquishment would, each time, cause Fate to relent. What he entirely overlooked was that when he had reached such straits that he dared not fail he invariably acted as he should always act: as if it were impossible to fail. Without exception in this state he succeeded. Inextricably involved in the meshes of his bad and emotional thinking, he invited failure as the only way to spur himself to effort. To his acquaintances he inevitably recalled the crazy hero of world-wide fame, the man who hit himself on the head with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped.
It was and is all very serious to him.
But remove the absurdity from these examples of the courage of desperation, and we have the sense. Desperation does cut off one alternative. But desperation is not needed, is not the only tool which will cut away the possibility of failure. Imagination will do the work even better and more neatly. And we are left with Courage facing in-the-right-direction.
Courage facing in the right direction is the sine qua non of success. It is to reach that stage that we put ourselves through exercises in flexibility and restraint, learn to turn imagination away from apprehension and into useful channels, determine to act wisely in minor matters in order to store up courage for the major issues of our lives.
We use our heads to get the greatest good from our gifts and abilities, refusing ourselves the weakening privileges of dreaming, avoiding responsibilities, following the line of least resistance, acting childishly.
Success, for any sane adult, is exactly equivalent to doing one’s best. What that best may be, what its farthest reaches may include, we can discover only by freeing ourselves completely from the Will to Fail.
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