The Only Shortcut to Success (#989)

One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed in over twenty five years of working with clients is that given their skill level, hours logged, network of connections, and arena they are working in, most people are pretty much exactly where they ought to be on the path to success.

This “law of Compensation” is as true for athletes as business people and as true for entrepreneurs as it is for employees. Whatever advantages or disadvantages you may start with, what you get back is invariably proportionate to what you put in.

Here’s how Ralph Waldo Emerson put it over 150 years ago:

Human labor, through all its forms, from the sharpening of a stake to the construction of a city or an epic, is one immense illustration of the perfect compensation of the universe. The absolute balance of Give and Take, the doctrine that every thing has its price, — and if that price is not paid, not that thing but something else is obtained, and that it is impossible to get any thing without its price, — is not less sublime in the columns of a ledger than in the budgets of states, in the laws of light and darkness, in all the action and reaction of nature.

In other words, when it comes to success in any endeavor, you get what you pay for, whether that price is extracted in time or effort and whether the denominations are measured in months or years; strained hamstrings or strained relationships.

Yet millions of words are written and million of dollars spent each year on finding ways to shortcut the process – to get something for nothing, skip the ‘hard part’, get rich quick, and own the world without having to pay property tax on your holdings.

In my work, the only “shortcut to success” I’ve seen work with any consistency is to cut out the search for shortcuts and focus more simply on the task at hand and the hand that guides us through the natural unfolding of life.

1. Focusing on the task at hand

My friend and mentor Dr. George Pransky once pointed out to me that “human beings are remarkably good at handling what’s actually on their plate but pretty terrible at handling what was on their plate yesterday or they’re worried might be on their plate tomorrow.”

The first time I noticed this for myself was when as a teenager on a skiing trip I got stuck with three other people on a gondola swaying precariously over an ice cliff on Mt. Mansfield in Vermont. This had been one of my biggest fears for as long as we had been skiing there – the gondola being shut down for wind while I was on it, fifty plus feet in the air with no way of knowing how long it would be until someone could get us out.

But the moment it actually happened, a beautiful calm feeling came over me, and before long I was chatting away with my fellow “captives” to the point where we were slightly disappointed when the wind settled and the gondola started running again 45 minutes or so later.

This sense of calm has been a constant presence in nearly every “crisis” situation I have ever found myself in, and at some point I started to realize that the “me” who worried about things was never the “me” who actually showed up to deal with them. In the same way, when we focus on the task at hand instead of our regrets about yesterday or our hopes and fears for tomorrow, we are beautifully equipped to make the most out of every and any situation.

So what allows us to focus more easily on the task at hand?

2. Focusing on the hand that guides us

If you read biographies of successful people or simply take note of the success stories from your own life, you’ll always notice a pivotal moment (or series of pivotal moments) in the story where something new occurs to the hero or heroine that changes everything from that point forward. These defining moments point to a deeper truth about the mind – that fresh new thinking is available to us in any moment that changes our view of our circumstances and will guide us forward as much or as little as we allow it to.

In my TEDx talk Why Aren’t We Awesomer?, I shared a few of those defining moments in my own life – seeing that thinking about suicide didn’t make me suicidal, that fear was a function of the mind, not circumstance, and that a whole new way of being in the world was never more than one thought away. While those first two insights were certainly life-altering in their own right, it was the third that really changed the way I lived.

From the moment I actually saw for myself that fresh new thinking was always available to me – not only in moments of crisis or extraordinary quiet – I began to relax into the deeper, more impersonal energy and intelligence that unfolds our lives as perfectly as it unfolds ecosystems around the planet.

When I’m not so caught up in my thinking about the kind of a person I should be (my “character”), the kinds of things my character should be doing, or even how far along my character should be in the story, what I’m left with is a quiet mind, a peaceful feeling, and an awareness that something far bigger than me is in control of the larger unfolding of life. And in the spaciousness of that seeing, it’s easy to show up each day, take care of what’s mine to take care of, and enjoy both the path and my fellow travelers upon it.

With all my love,
Michael

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