Work worth doing

My father used to say that he didn’t care what I did for a living provided I did it well. He said, “If you are going to be a street sweeper – be the best street sweeper you can be.”

He may not have had high hopes for me but he gave me a valuable lesson. Personal success comes from taking pride in your work, no matter how humble. John Maxwell said it this way: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Or maybe it was Tom Hopkins or Teddy Roosevelt who said it first. Other than trying to give credit where credit is due, I don’t think it matters.

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Try the Guacomole

I have always thought that if you cannot explain something to someone else – it means that you don’t really understand it. I remember listening to Stephen Hawking explain black holes in a way that allowed me to grasp the basic premise of the concept. It is, I think, important to be able to distill complex ideas in such a way as to retain the core elements. This allows others to begin their own exploration of the topic.

Please note that I do not attempt to explain black holes to others. I know that my simple mind does not begin to comprehend the enormity of the phenomena. I know only enough to allow me to watch shows on Nova (or episodes of Star Trek) without complete bewilderment.

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Simple Minds

I have been thinking about complex ideas and simple minds.

Take economic theory. I don’t pretend to have anything approaching a clear understanding (there – I admitted it). And I suspect that there are only a handful of people in the world that really “get it”. So I am amused when a newscaster comments on economic conditions and with a straight face and apparent wisdom sums it all up by mentioning the law of supply and demand.

This would only be mildly amusing except that most people are familiar with this concept and as a result you can almost feel the collective nodding of heads. We are all satisfied that this terribly complex (and therefore frightening) economy thing can be explained so succinctly.

It is magical. The media need only to comment on a drought in South America and the price of instant coffee sky rockets. Sagely, the TV commentator combines the words “war”, “uprising”, “middle” and “east” in an incantation that adds ten more cents at that pump. Just the thought that there may not be enough of something – that we didn’t know we wanted – can create a buying frenzy. Remember Tickle Me Elmo?

When I was very young I was introduced to the idea of gold as a mystical talisman. The lesson came from a friend of my father, a man of questionable reputation. He was, as they say, a player. My parents alternated between dismay at his behaviour and envy of his sophistication. He carried a solid gold bar in his pocket. He displayed it as proof of his wealth and importance. Even to a child it was evident, from its colour and warmth, that it had qualities not found in paper money. Surely if you could carry such a thing, carelessly on your person, no harm could come to you.

Much later I would hear people say, with great sincerity, buy gold as protection from the randomness of the economy. People say that gold is a safe haven. People say that gold never loses its value. Stories are told of those who prospered during the depression because they had gold. So – does gold have intrinsic value? It seems from my five-minute research on the Internet that the answer is no. The price of gold reflects in part a somewhat mystical belief that gold provides protection from economic downturns.

Magical, mystical – when our ancestors feared thunder they invented gods and rituals to deal with the chaos of nature. We fear economic conditions and invent godlike prophets, truisms and yes, rituals to protect us. Me – I keep doing the same thing hoping for a new result (which some say is the very definition of insanity). I keep throwing my coins into the wishing well of mutual funds and looking for good fortune, not by finding a four-leaf clover but by finding the winning lottery ticket.

For those with an interest in how economic theory may not be all it is cracked up to be I invite you to read the blog Economyths by Sam Snyder.

Are we there yet?

What are the elements of personal success? As an educator I have a special interest in trying to figure this out. I want to help guide students on their path to success (fame and fortune, untold riches or satisfying lives).

Since I don’t believe that expert and successful are synonymous (see:Doing Time) it might be useful to try to summarize the qualities of success. Career-Success-For-Newbies provides some suggestions and The Wisdom Journal provides 6 factors to consider.

I really like Ron Haynes’ comment in The Wisdom Journal article. He says: “Too many people think that success is wrapped up in things, but the truth is, success is wrapped up in how you see yourself and how you’re able to enjoy your life.” It seems clear that there is room for personal interpretation in all this. That is going to make it difficult to nail down.

Whether success is a destination or a journey I would like your help in determining how different people define personal success. Thanks in advance for sharing my journey.

Can you hear me now?

He may lick your ears clean

Everything is always about communication.

It doesn’t matter what you know. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. If you cannot transmit your knowledge in a useful way it is wasted. If you doubt this, remember the story of Cassandra. She acquired the gift of prophecy – either through her beauty or by having her ears licked clean by the temple snakes (the jury is out). But Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would believe her predictions. (There is nothing like a little Greek mythology to spice up a Blog.)

Imagine – perfect knowledge but no one believes you. This is said to exemplify the condition of all humankind. We all struggle to be understood, to be believed.

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Doing Time

I am interested in the factors of success. How does one go from idea to vision to implementation?

Today my focus is on becoming successful by working at it. Why does one person work so very hard – and want success so very badly – and still fail?

It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. So they say. That is about 16 years if you focused 2 ½ hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year on the area of interest. You could, of course, accelerate that with more focus – say 5 hours a day. That is still 8 years. Then you could be an expert. But, what is an expert? And can you truly be exceptional if you have only focused on one narrow band of knowledge or enterprise? Do the numbers change if you want to become expert in say cross-stitch versus brain chemistry? Is an expert chess player the same as a world champion chess player? Wouldn’t it take longer to become an expert in tax than an expert in checkers? My young friend is a wicked Checkers player but he can’t be an expert – he hasn’t lived long enough. Is there more for him to know? Should he care?

Squidoo explains this in more detail than I have interest. And while it clarifies the concept I am still confused. On the post the author notes that it takes about five years of full time employment to become proficient in your field. But surely proficient isn’t synonymous with expert.

It is all very interesting –but – I think, rather useless. I think we all agree – expertise comes with time, practice, attention and talent. The last item is too often overlooked.

But that may be the point. Expert does not equal successful.