“Keep taking stabs, and eventually you’ll hit an artery.”
This is the latest analogy I’ve heard on success, and one that came from a mentor of mine. It made me laugh, but something about it stuck – no pun intended. The meaning is this: If you keep taking stabs at life – ie. trying new things and going with it – success will come eventually (ie. you’ll hit an artery, hopefully one full of cash).
This comes to me at a time when I’m – yes, pedaling for success – but also thinking about it on the daily, too. What is success, really? Though we all want success, it seems there’s a large amount of ambiguity around the subject.
Success… we all want it, and we’ve all spent countless hours thinking about it. We’ve thought of ideas, inventions, or creations, and we’ve wound up dreaming about turning that thing into a multi-million dollar corporation. We’ve turned to books, to seminars, to teachers, and to mentors to help guide us towards that illustrious place called ‘success,’ and on the way, we’ve found many opposing views of what ‘success’ really is.
We’ve come across realists who say that success is a matter of perseverance, or that success is the outcome of hard work and determination. We’ve known pessimists and cynics – who’ve been unable to manage success in their own lives – who claim that success only comes to those who are lucky or privileged. We’ve seen optimists who swear that success is simply a matter of choice, the outcome of dreaming.
And then we’ve read biographies. On our climb to success, we’ve aspired to have similar success to someone who inspires us – a billionaire business tycoon, a famous fashion designer, or an acclaimed novelist – and we’ve turned to their stories to discover how they found it.
Five years ago, this would have been exactly how I would have looked for the route to my own success, but – ironically – would have also been the exact route to panic and terror.
Wait a second, I’d think to myself, the billionaire business tycoon, the famous fashion designer, and the acclaimed novelist all have the same story. They all “knew what they wanted ever since day one,” and got introduced to their vocation early on in life.
My earlier reaction to this sudden realization, and the meaning behind it, takes form in one word, which could possibly represent the feeling that goes along with it: shit.
My later thought process would go something like this: If all of these successful assholes found their ‘thing’ that carried them to success at the age of five and somehow – outrageously – knew what they wanted all along, what does that mean for me? I’m nearing the quarter mark of my life and haven’t got a clue! FML!!!
And it’s true, though my reaction now has changed, the facts remain. When I was five years old I wasn’t busy playing in the mud – no – I was too distracted by that looming, unanswered question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” which taunted me even then. I would try frantically to decide on something – and making adjustments on the daily – switching from a ballerina, to a lawyer, to a mom, and touching on every vocation in between.
I never had a steady answer to that question, and even when I “grew up” I remained panicked by the fact that I still hadn’t chosen. My indecisiveness, or perhaps sheer humanness, caused me much anxiety and much envy each time I’d read a “knew it from day one” biography, or worse, every time I’d meet a “knew it from day one” person.
Now, however, my reaction would be much more composed. I’d see right through that skimpy, lying little biography, and even if it were completely true, I’d pity the person inside of it. Why? Because, I’ve realized throughout my failures and successes that success isn’t nearly as rewarding without a little failure to compare it to.
Mostly I think these “from day one” success stories are falsified, since I can’t possibly fathom how a zygote might know his own future and purpose in life, and emerge from the whom with a clenched fist that says “success, here I come!” Discovering a purpose in life takes experience, after all, and experience is only gained with time. That is fact.
But what I see in these common success stories aside from the gaps, and what is much more troubling, are the implications. The implications of success, which can be found in so many other areas of our society, which basically ingrains in all of us that if we don’t have it from day one, we won’t have it… ever.
This is the belief that keeps us from trying, and keeps us from exploring enough to discover our purpose and our talents. Most of us have talents we’ve never even experienced or discovered because we simply didn’t think we could. By the time we reach our late teens and early twenties, we’re hanging around like old dogs who can’t learn new tricks. But old dogs can learn new tricks.
As it turns out, the very mentor I spoke of earlier was around my age – early twenties – when he learned a skill that eventually lead to his magnanimous success in life. He wasn’t five years old when he discovered this skill, nor did he have the perfect upbringing, the unwavering childhood focus, or the privilege we’re so used to hearing about. He simply kept stabbing and eventually hit an artery, and he did it with nothing other than the maturity and experience of 105 dog years to back him.
See, old dogs can learn new tricks.
I’m an old dog now, too, learning many new tricks, and each and every day I’m realizing how untrue the implications of the “from day one” success story are. We’re never too old to learn a new skill, and it’s never too late to take another stab at success.
I plan on continuing to stab away at life, and once I hit an artery, I’ll have a very different biography to share. It will be far from perfect. It will be shaded with difficult and indecisive beginnings and it will be punctured with many failures before it renders any successes. It won’t be perfect, but it will be truthful.
What matters most is that those who read my biography won’t be discouraged by my imperfect success story, but will feel the very emotion I love most, and will be left with exactly what they were searching for.
Inspiration to keep stabbing.