4 Lesser-Known Principles That Can Help You Succeed in the Long Run
“You must let go of your need for comfort and security. Creative endeavors are by nature uncertain.” — Robert Greene, Mastery
We make sense of our lives through the beliefs and values we carry with us. We hold on to them and defend them because we can’t bear thinking that the assumptions and principles we’ve harbored for so long could be wrong.
Though this mindset may not be too harmful in our daily encounters, it can stagnate our success. Success requires you to be flexible enough to respond appropriately to whatever change that comes your way.
It requires you to be humble enough to update your principles when there is need; to think for yourself and observe with an open mind. There are more than enough principles of success already, therefore, with an open mind, let’s look at these four lesser-known ones.
Create a Passion, Don’t Find It
Trying to find your passion is a tricky thing. It’s tricky because there’s no way to tell if you’re actually searching for your passion or just searching for the path of least resistance.
What makes it even more so is that if we encounter too much resistance in whatever we do, we might quickly assume, “This isn’t it.” When we experience drudgery at our jobs, we quickly take it as a sign that we are wasting time; that our passion cannot be this boring and mundane.
With a romanticized mindset of passion, we never really have enough patience to handle the reality of the kind of hard, unsexy work it takes to be good at anything. We keep short-circuiting the learning process. We waste time.
Instead of trying to find your passion, create it. Create it by putting your focus on becoming good and competent in whatever you decide to do. The sense of purpose and fulfillment we seek when we are looking for a passion is found when you are competent and reliable at what you do. Carl Newport said it best:
“If your goal is to love what you do, your first step is to acquire career capital. Your next step is to invest this capital in the traits that define great work.”
The better you are at what you do, the more fulfillment and security you’ll have in the long run. Don’t hope for a path of least resistance. You can always build something meaningful with what’s at hand now. You just need to be willing to do the work.
See Your Life as an Adventurer
The life of the writer Zora Neale Hurston took a bad turn when she lost her mother in 1904. As detailed in Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, just a few years after her loss, her father, who thought her strange and unlikable, abandoned her.
For five years, she wandered from one house to another, taking all kinds of jobs (mostly housekeeping) to support herself. To make the most of her clouded reality, she tried to land house cleaning jobs at the homes of wealthy people — there, she could find plenty of books to quickly read in her free moments.
In 1915, she landed a job as a lady’s maid to a lead singer of an all-white troupe of performers. Most of the troupe members were educated. Hurston listened to their conversations and read the books they read — which were plenty. This way, she created herself a strange sort of literary education that led to her getting a formal education and becoming the most famous black writer of her time.
There’s more to Hurston’s story. But what we can learn from her is that she took her life as a form of adventure, and we can also learn to see our lives the same way. Success requires flexibility and adaptability.
If every time you find yourself in bad or unfavorable situations (like a job you don’t like or the loss of a loved one), ask yourself, “How can this situation benefit me?” You’ll be more alive, attentive, and efficient.
You’ll be like a sponge, absorbing and maximizing every single opportunity life throws at you, no matter the form they take.
In the introduction of his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks talked about the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues.
Your resume virtues are the skills you bring into the job market, while the eulogy virtues are the ones that get talked about at your funeral; the ones that exist at the core of your being. Though we usually focus more on the résumé virtues for success, the eulogy virtues go deeper and as such, also very important in the long run.
They are vital because they determine our values, the kind of relationship we have with ourselves and with those around us, how we respond to adversity. They constitute our character and they flow into everything we do.
Building character starts with learning to live your life in alignment with certain moral values and principles; to live with integrity and purpose. When James Altucher got tired of going from rich to broke over and over again, it was his character (the eulogy virtues) that he changed. As he wrote in Choose Yourself:
“All you really need to do to get off the floor is acknowledge that it’s not your external life that needs to change (you have little control over that), but that external changes flow from the inside.”
We are only a sum of all the actions we’ve taken so far. Though the right character may not seem like much in the short term, it’s effects add up and, as The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus put it, it becomes our fate.
Building a strong character is like building a strong foundation — it’s effect may not be so obvious, but it holds the whole structure together.
Learn to Think for Yourself
Not every advice (good or bad) can work for everyone alike. It doesn’t matter if it came from a friend, a Medium article detailing the morning routine of Elon Musk, or a self-help book of 1000 pages. With so much information, the ability to think for yourself is vital now than ever.
To think for yourself is to look at the world more directly. Not through words and ideas you’ve received, but from what makes sense from your own experiences. It means scrutinizing and questioning information, instead of just affirming.
Your own inclinations and experiences are still the best guide to your life. If you let the words and opinions of others to layer on and totally color what you see, you are teaching yourself to undervalue your own intelligence.
And in the long run, this will only lead to you lacking any uniqueness in your thought process. Having opted for the safety that comes from simply following and never questioning information, you’ll fade into the crowd and think like everyone else. Robert Greene put it this way in Mastery:
“To think more flexibly entails a risk — we could fail and be ridiculed. We prefer to live with familiar ideas and habits of thinking, but we pay a steep price for this: our minds go dead from the lack of challenge and novelty… we lose control over our fate because we become replaceable.”
Don’t merely consume information to affirm. Think about what you learn, question them, measure them against your own experiences and opinions.
If we are going to set ourselves apart in this highly saturated and competitive world, we must learn to think for ourselves. Often, ask yourself, “Is this right?” Or, “Is this the best way to look at this?” Permit yourself to think differently. It helps build trust in your own intelligence.
There are too many people trying to order their lives according to a few sets of principles. Dare to observe your own life, make sense of your experiences, and form principles that work for you. They may be lesser-known but they’ll be yours.
- Create a passion, don’t find it
- See your life as an adventurer
- Build character
- Learn to think for yourself.
“Every man must think after his own fashion; for on his own path he finds a truth, or a kind of truth, which helps him through life.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe