My mother went for a job interview once and the final question they asked her was: “What is your definition of success?”
I don’t remember what she answered anymore, but I do remember feeling relieved that it wasn’t my interview or else I wouldn’t know what to say at all.
Ever since then I have been coming back to this question from time to time, asking myself what my definition of success would be.
Normally the answer should be different for everyone, but since we are living in an era heavily influenced by social media and surrounded by too many “role models” of rich, good-looking and “perfect” people, our ideas of success have suddenly become homologous and so high that it is almost impossible to reach.
That is why recently, I was spending some time to read and study a book called Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Eric Barker*, which talks about the surprising science behind why everything you know about success is mostly wrong and what you should do about it.
Backed by real-life stories and scientific studies, Barker has taken a few urban myths like “Do nice guys finish last” or “Fake it until you make it” and dug deep into each subject before finally making conclusions on whether these sayings are true or false.
At the end of each chapter, there are instructional guidelines and check lists to help you see where you are at and how you can improve yourself on the path to success.
There are so many inspiring stories woven between some hard truths that you feel the thrill of reading a fictional book all the while gaining informative knowledge that non-fictions has to offer.
Well-researched and fascinating, I’m glad to have someone do the heavy-lifting to gather and analysed so much information so that I can just sit back and enjoy reading the results summarised in each chapter.
Below are 10 takeaways that resonated a lot with me so I would like to share them with you:
1 . Bad can be good and odd can be beautiful
Wise buddhists like to say: “there is neither good nor bad”. Far from being an illusive-zen-phrase to decipher, we now know that under the right circumstances, people who are a nightmare to deal with can also be the people who change the world. “Negative” traits can also be your strength. So embrace your weakness, it might turn into your superpower.
2 . To find your life story, think about your death
Having “meaning” in your life gives you a direction to move towards during troubled weather. Meaning, for the human mind, comes in the form of stories. Our brains are wired for stories. Being the character of our life’s story makes the cause we are fighting for worth while. To find your story, picture your funeral. What do you want them to say? What are your eulogy values?
3 . The price of everything is the amount of life you exchange for it
Everything is opportunity/cost. We all have 24 hours per day. If you choose to watch a 2-hour movie, you will have 2 hours less to read your favourite book. Choosing to do one thing means not doing something else. Everything is trade-off in life. Know your priorities and choose well.
4 . Stop trying to be Batman – Fail fast and fail cheap
If Batman fails in a combat, he dies, so he has to have a perfect record of winning. But we are not trying to be batman here, so why are we trying to be perfect? Learn from the Silicon Valley mantra instead: fail fast and fail cheap. Keep trying new things and fail your way towards success.
5 . To Make Your Dream Come True, WOOP it
Bad news for The Secret fans, we now know that merely dreaming about what you want will actually keep you from getting what you want. Instead, revise a plan to triumph any obstacles standing in the way of you and your dream.
WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan.
- Start by having a wish, something you want to achieve
- Visualise the outcome you want to have
- Make a list of obstacles that are withholding you from realising your dream
- From each obstacle, come up with a plan to solve it
6 . Have fun playing the LIFE game
Why do we like playing game? Because it’s fun. We can apply game mechanics in our lives and turn dull moments into fun ones. Making work a game is quite simple – you just have to change your perspective. Remember that a good game must be WNGF: is Winnable, has Novel challenges, has specific Goals, and provides Feedbacks.
7 . Mentors are like potato chips, you can’t have just one
People who have mentors make more money and are happier with their careers. While finding a mentor may sound intimidating, remember that it only means you trying to learn something from somebody. Having several mentors allows you to absorb different skills each mentor possess, so you can digest them and be a more rounded person.
8 . The one word that solves all conflict — Empathy
Everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Once we lower our judgement and use empathy instead to view our “enemy”, we soften up the spikes that stands between us. Emotion gets people to change their behaviour, so calming down your opponent can increase your chance of a win-win situation.
9 . The one thing that makes you happier — Gratitude
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Gratitude is having a big moment and people are figuring out ways to be thankful everyday. But take it a step further and let gratitude spill out from your heart and be spelt out from your mouth – say it out loud to the people you want to give thanks to.
10 . Don’t build self-confidence, build self-compassion
This one is my favourite. Self-compassion is to forgive yourself. You don’t have to slay a dragon every day to prove you are worth something. Accept yourself today for being who you are now. You can’t build confidence based on denial, and “fake it until you make it” doesn’t really work in the long run. So how do you build self-compassion? Talk to yourself like your Grandma would talk to you – with kindness. I picture myself talking to my child and then use that same voice to talk to me. You are the only person in your life who is available 24/7 to provide you with care and kindness, after all.
I’ve come to realise that just as there is no one definition of success, there is no one particular formula for success neither. You have to mix and match, put together two different building blocks so it can generate a new form suitable to the Lego you are building.
But the most important thing is to know what you are building, what is the final master piece you would like to end up with. By building and failing and trying and failing some more, you fail your way towards something that you might one day call “Success”.
à la vie aujourd’hui,
*Eric Barker is the author of his very popular blog: Barking up the wrong tree.