Success? Failure? Experience.

This post is a risk. What if it fails?

  • Everyone will laugh at me;
  • I’ll be criticised;
  • Nobody will ever want to associate themselves with me.

Right, that’s three things to start worrying about.

I could stop right here and not bother at all. Nobody wants to lose credibility for attempting something new, right?

But what about the possibility that it will succeed?

  • Everyone will cheer with me;
  • I’ll be praised;
  • Everybody will want to associate themselves with me.
edge (photo by virtualwayfarer)

It’s a long way down… (photo by virtualwayfarer)

Neither of these possibilities rings true. But, like me, I’m sure you’ve had times when you see things in such a right/wrong, win/lose way. Things will turn out one way or the other.

Keep battling that feeling. The reality is never so clear cut.

When you think in such extremes, it’s easy to choose doing nothing over trying something new. The thought of failing can push your dreams back fast.

That’s when dreams remain dreams. You imagine great success if only you could succeed. But the fear of getting it wrong is too much.

I don’t like this way of looking at life. From this perspective, we’re standing on a rock. Looking one way, you’re at the edge of a cliff, a step away from falling. Looking the other way, the rest of the cliff rises up thousands of feet, challenging you to climb.

You don’t want to fall. That’s a given. But the climb looks hard too. You’d love to reach the top, but one false move will set you plummeting to the ground.

The best option is clear. Stay on the rock. You’re safe there. No need to take your chances when you’re on firm footing here.

Phew. That feels better.

No. I don’t like this way of looking at life. That’s not how things work.

We’re not on a rock, faced with a dangerous fall or a dangerous climb. But the metaphor is comfy. In difficult choices comes the need for an easy route.

Why? Because it’s easy to stay firmly on your rock. It’s your comfort zone. It’s what you know.

Going through a life of tests, exams, and the pressure to be right, you can’t be blamed for wanting to play it safe. One false move and you lose your place on your rock.

No. I really don’t like this way of looking at life.

Our relationship with failure and success causes so many problems. We see them as extremes when more focus should be on experiences. With each experience, we continue to learn.

Prepare to make things work, but don’t wait for perfection and don’t be scared of mistakes. That way, your risks are at least calculated. Random leaps of faith are not to be taken on a regular basis.

You are not standing on a rock. You have more choice than a sheer fall or a crazy climb.

Experiences are useful. Some are more positive than others. Keep looking for them.

Don’t dwell so much on success and failure. Choose experiences over extremes.

Taking the Essay Journey

Is life one big journey? Or is life a lot of smaller journeys?

Whatever way you look at it, your journey belongs to you. And the same should be said of your coursework.

photo by Matthias Rhomberg
photo by Matthias Rhomberg

Whether you see your assignments as a long journey, or a range of shorter journeys brought together, the finished piece should also take the reader on a journey.

The journey analogy helps to show that while introductions are different to conclusions, the two still need to be related to make the most of the adventure.

An introduction is an invitation for the reader to come on a journey with you.

You outline where you’re headed and why you’ve decided to take this path. You may even suggest a couple of stop off points along the way so the reader is ready to take some mental photographs of the best views.

A conclusion allows you to sum up what you’ve explored and how you feel about it.

Now is your chance to evaluate the situation, discuss the destination you’ve chosen, and allow readers to either go home or press on and explore further.

Views are subjective.

Not everyone likes looking out to sea. Some are more interested in mountains before them.

Your introduction won’t suggest that the sea is better than the mountains. Your conclusion won’t suggest that you’ve proved how mountain-loving idiots are just plain wrong.

Your introduction will point out the amazing range of views to be had and that you’re about to explore some of them. Your conclusion will point out why, given the adventure you’ve just had, you feel the sea is pretty darn awesome and why it may give mountains a run for their money.

Map our the journey clearly

Make sure your introduction and conclusion are headed in the same direction. The last thing you want is to tell everyone that you’re about to take a journey to the sea and send everyone off to the mountains instead. It’ll only end in tears and confusion.

Don’t be afraid to make the journey your own

Steve Jobs sadly passed away on October 5 2011. As co-founder, CEO and Chairman of Apple, Jobs had a thing or three to say about setting out your own path:

“The system is that there is no system. That doesn’t mean we don’t have process.” – Steve Jobs [Source]

Creating your own journey doesn’t have to exclude others from understanding the relevance of the path you have travelled. Neither does it mean you’ll ignore everyone else along the way. If Jobs had done either of these things, Apple and its products wouldn’t have enjoyed the success they have.

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs [2005 Stanford Commencement Address]

Journeys aren’t just for essays. I hope every journey you take is special. You can make each and every pathway your own. You don’t need to be another Steve Jobs or another anyone else. You need to be YOU.

As Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”.

Dealing with curveballs

The best takeaway from all the stories about A-levels this year can be applied to anyone, no matter what their situation.

A Carlisle student got a double dose of misfortune after he received the wrong results and then, when he finally discovered that his actual result was still not good enough, had missed out on all available clearing places due to the delay.

So far, so frustrating. But something caught my eye in what Mike Smith said after this unfortunate news.

Smith told Cumbria’s News & Star that he was more angry with himself, because he knew he could have put in more work to get the grades he needed in the first place.

It could have been so easy to blame the sequence of events for what took place. If the error had not occurred, a clearing place may have been possible.

photo by John-Morgan
photo by John-Morgan

Despite these issues, however, he still recognised some responsibility. Rather than wash his hands of the whole thing, he showed awareness that he could take better control of his situation and that he would do so now.

Curveballs get thrown at us as we go through life. Some big, some small. But that doesn’t take away our own strengths and responsibilities. You cannot control your life down to the last action, but you do have great tools at your disposal.

From time to time, remind yourself to use those tools and to learn how they operate best.

When you’re faced with unexpected problems, remember not to just find blame in everything else. It is rarely worth the effort. Many things do happen outside of your control. That makes it doubly important not to give up on the things you still have a handle on. Letting go of everything is destructive with no purpose.

I hope Mike Smith is able to recover from this year’s unfortunate position. I’m confident he will, so long as he continues to take responsibility for the matters he has more control over. Smith has learned something from a curveball, which isn’t an easy thing to do.

Next time you’re thrown a curveball, what will you do with it?

Too much advice and not enough productivity?

Simple advice can usually be taken the opposite way.

  • Want to achieve your goals?  Make them public!  No, keep them private!
  • Want to focus better on revision?  Listen to music while you work!  No, sit in silence!
  • Want to save money on your shopping bill?  Make a list!  No, shop less strictly to bag the bargains!

You may have heard me say that one person’s poison is another person’s potion.  When it comes to uncomplicated suggestions from a friend, or a blog post with some quick tips, the advice won’t necessarily work for you.


photo by RobeRt Vega

photo by RobeRt Vega

If there was a single answer, we’d all take that route and we’d all love the success it brought.  Nobody would have to worry.  But, naturally, life isn’t like that.

The same goes for if a selection of answers all produced the same, successful, result.  Suggestions are great, but you have to make them your own before they’ll work.  Even then they may not yield the fruit you were expecting.

Yes, it’s frustrating, but life isn’t simple.  That’s why so many people are hooked on finding a quick fix or an astounding life hack.

Whenever you stumble upon something great, let’s call it ‘lucky’.  Without seeking any advice, you won’t be as lucky as one who does the searching.  You do have to ‘create your own luck‘ to an extent.  However, there is a saturation point where even the one who searches is wasting their time.

After all, there are so many blogs devoted to study tips and life hacks that it’s easy to spend too much time reading themDo you really want to save time, or do you want to procrastinate? At some point, you need to act on the advice you already have.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger made some great points over Twitter about all the supposedly time-saving advice out there:

“Problem with productivity techniques: so many focus upon how we can stuff more into life – which just sets us up for heart attacks later.  Not sure what the answer is but it strikes me that a better approach to productivity would be becoming focused and doing less things better.  Or maybe thinking about all this productivity stuff is just a distraction from being productive.”

Darren was inspired to make those comments because of this video:

We do face distractions.  They won’t go away.  Neither should we be forced to rid ourselves of all disruption.

However, the idea of ‘doing less things better’ is important.  Doing more isn’t automatically more impressive.  A limited number of key pursuits can be more convincing.  You may find that, in the transition, you focus on more demanding work within the deliberately limited scope.  The good news is that hard work under these conditions is often more satisfying.

I’m not trying to suggest that general productivity hacks and tips are useless.  Far from it.  Much of the advice I give on this blog is general.

I see the difficulties of taking advice working in two ways:

  1. Specific advice is easy to action because there is little need to interpret.  Just follow step by step.  However, it is less likely to yield as much success as the person who achieved it and advised in the first place;
  2. General advice is harder to action, because you have to take responsibility for making it your own.  You may develop the approach wonderfully, you may reach a dead end and seek out different advice, or you may find it too hard to take on that responsibility at all.

Advice, no matter how specific, should be examined and considered, but at no point should you expect an automatic win.  Even if you’re persuaded it’s a no-brainer.

It’s great to take a punt and win.  It’s hell to expect the best and lose.

The advice I give is based on my own experience and those of others.  I sometimes advise stuff that doesn’t (or hasn’t yet) worked for me.  Why?  Because I know many others who have been successful using those methods.

We may not be the same, but we share many similar features and goals and thought processes.  It would be insane if nobody listened to others for advice.  It would be equally insane if you took everything they said as the truth. The only person who can find your truth is you.  And it’s not an easy road.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.  Have a nice trip.  And don’t make *too* many stops on the way for advice.  You can’t refuel if you’ve not started using your own resource tank yet.

Want to hear more? Just before I went to publish this, Darren Rowse put up his own video on whether productivity systems really work.  I’ll leave you with that: