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#Success

2ndOrderSuccess

2ndordersuccess
Lucas Kilian: Second Vision, from Mirrors of the Microcosm (1613)


" … just seem to take care of themselves."


Back in the sixties—fifty years ago—it seemed that almost every new thing came as a spinoff from President Kennedy's mission to send people to the moon and back by the end of the decade. A raft of space-age products resulted. A powdered orangish juice-like drink, said to be part of the astronaut's diet, emerged on the market and became wildly popular, even though it was clearly inferior to the genuine article. We began living in the future, "tomorrow today," as one multinational corporation labeled the experience. Life then was much more advanced than it seems today, as we basked in the 2ndOrderSuccess emanating from our sacred national undertaking.

2ndOrderSuccess might be best considered as what one gets as a result of achieving a Success.

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Paving

paving
Giovanni Fattori:
Small Street on the Outskirts of Florence with Puppy (1870–75)


" … a perfect portrait of Success."


Some of this town's streets resemble abstract art, with tar rather than paint swirled in curious patterns on the road surfaces to seal cracks and blemishes. Other streets seem to have become nothing but patches, asphalt opened to replace sewer lines over time and never properly resealed delivering bumpy rides. A few streets still feature the odd exposed rails of long-ago streetcar tracks, a feature from a hundred years ago I sure wish would come back complete with rattling cars and a turnaround right beneath my window overlooking the center of the universe. These streets carry more than traffic, for they most prominently carry their history, smooth or bumpy, narrow or wide. I suspect that nobody and nothing ever successfully escapes their history, that it remains terribly present for everybody forever, the past much more than mere prologue but continuing as an inescapable part of the present; perhaps as its personality.

I could watch forever as stone masons work on cobblestone surfaces.

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Sexcess

sexcess
Thomas Couture: The Supper after the Masked Ball (1855)


" … the only option for avoiding the addictions …"


In this culture, my culture, anyone can get addicted to absolutely anything. What was once revered as "the land of the free and the home of the brave," today seems to have increasingly become the land of the spree and the home of the enslaved. Those suffering from Success Addition Disorders (SAD) seem to be among the most troubled class, for they turn their personal colossal successes into abject failures. We see evidence of their influence in the tatters of the present Republican Party, a party once dedicated to promoting equality and now obsessed with just avoiding taxes. As with any negative target, and doubly true with any obsession, focusing upon avoiding anything tends to attract precisely what one seeks to avoid, that, or a deeply engrained paranoia. Today's Success addicted, those suffering from Sexcess, exhibit all the usual symptoms of any full blown addiction, with the added affliction that they're the most conspicuous consumers, almost as if they're proud of themselves. Don't let their gyrations confuse you. They're ill and suffering, stinking rich!

Dissatisfied with simply spending their fortunes, they employ themselves in the more dubious professions, focusing upon wealth defenses, primarily through concocting fresh schemes to avoid taxes but also extending into funding hyper-conservative pseudo-political movements.

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Vortices

vortices
Claude Monet: The Departure of the Boats, Étretat (1885)


"Success emerges from such turbulence."


Time moves irregularly. This fundamental law of the universe might have been lost on physicists, but not once on the rest of us, for we daily struggle to cope with time's inherent variety. Days, even those which measure of equal length, pass differently, with wide variations apparent if not always precisely measurable. Even calendars remain steadfastly unequal, with January days typically at least forty percent longer than June's or July's.

Attempts to rectify this obvious imbalance have so-far resulted in worse, like the French Revolutionary Calendar

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Grasp

grasp
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres:
Studies for "The Martyrdom of Saint Symphorien"
[Saint, Mother, and Proconsul]
(1833)


" … a genuine symbol of that abstract Success."


It seems that us humans easily become attracted to abstract concepts, for they seem to be the brightest, shinest objects distracting our focus. Napoleon insisted that men would only fight to the death for the more abstract concepts if first outfitted with bright sash and flashy uniform. The unscrupulous promote an undefined patriotism and an undefinable faith to attract followers and encourage passionate responses. Only the very highest ideals seem capable of fueling the most degrading engagements. We might claim to want tangible goals, but our behaviors strongly suggest that we really desire the opposite. Running a flag up a flagpole inspires more passion than does any dozen well-reasoned treatises.

These strange attractors carry one thing in common.

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Reach

reach
Alexandre Cabanel: Woman Reaching Over a Wall,
study for The Life of Saint Louis, King of France (1878)


"Reaching for the occasional impossible …"


The Muse and I differ in significant ways. I'm by far the more delicate of the two flowers. She's one tough cookie. She's more likely to dream big. Her grasp often seems to exceed her Reach. She often manages to successfully grasp something seemingly beyond her Reach. I do not know how she does this, but then neither does she. She apprenticed in a world where her grasp reliably fell far short of her aspirations, where even her own bootstraps seemed to lay beyond her Reach, until they just didn't anymore. She ascribes the shift as having had to do with dreaming bigger. I might insist that if you want to reliably Succeed, simply reach for things well within your grasp, while she insists that one must stretch further than that to Successfully achieve an impossible. She should know because she has had the Successes to show this sometimes works. Not every one of even The Muse's dreams fall within her grasp, though.

A class of aspiration exists which stands exclusively beyond any human's Reach or grasp, and these seem poisonous.

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Slippery

slippery
Paul Gauguin: Jean René Gauguin (1881)


"Zealots sure seem to receive the higher quality experience …"


Success seems an especially Slippery substance. It rarely seems to become what it's anticipated to become, but arrives in some different guise, often surprisingly different. We seem to pursue it with naive intensity, capable of dedicating ourselves to the merest shadows of understanding what we're actually pursuing. In the heat of such passion, clarifying questions only very rarely get warmly received. We behave as if further analysis might just spoil the possibility for Success, and our concern might well be well advised. It seems as though we can't afford to simultaneously know and pursue, that the pursuit of success requires some deep ignorance of the true nature, the actual potential for what we might actually achieve. Throughout history, the chroniclers have wondered what they must have been thinking when trying to reconstruct the causal chains of the greatest successes and failures. Mostly they marvel that nobody seemed to be thinking all that deeply. Both Success and failure seem particularly Slippery substances.

In the weeks leading up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Mitzi Wertheim scoured the Pentagon, asking anyone who would accept her questions what was supposed to happen once the invading force gained Baghdad.

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PlantingFace

PlantingFace
Albrecht Dürer: St. Christopher Facing to the Right (1521)


" … the impossible nature of the questions asked …"


The holy grail of project management has always been the ability to determine whether an effort is on track to Succeed. It's damnedably difficult to determine, so a raft of artificial methods have sprung up to service this essentially insatiable need. When a method fails, that event merely fuels demand for a newer and improved means, even though there's really no way to determine beforehand whether each newer and supposedly improved means will deliver on its promise. I've sometimes speculated that the whole enterprise, project management as a practice, survives on the promise of delivering on its promises, rather than on actually delivering on them, but then that's the price of living in the future. It's never present.

The present's all we have, though, even though it's bound to be different than the future.

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Accshleptance

accshleptance
Jozef Israëls: Children of the Sea (1872)

"I pack 'em. I schlep them, too."


Someone wiser and even more sardonic than me once concluded that life's a Schlep. We might start out without carry-on, but we quickly accumulate enough of an encumbrance to limit our mobility, then head downhill from there. Some people seem natively capable of accumulating more than their fair share, though I will not mention here The Muse, who sometimes must be physically restrained to prevent her from "just stopping and looking" at every estate and garage sale she happens by. Of course she almost always finds some reason there to add to her burden, and I remain mostly grateful for her discoveries. We try to maintain a strict interpretation of the You Brought It, You Schlep It Rule. We do not consider helping anybody with their baggage to be a form of chivalry.

My study of Success has so far resulted in some additional carry-on.

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Modest

modest
Claude Monet: Bordighera (1884)


"Most Success is more modest than it appears."


I blush when I think of saying, "Modest Success." It seems as if I'm promoting underperforming, for everyone knows that Success was supposed to be more unconditional, as if the universe were surrendering to someone's dominion, as if the usual rules of engagement were suspended for a moment.

This idea that Success doesn't seek limits seems very deeply ingrained in me and I sense that it's not really that healthy of a perspective.

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Envy

envy
Matsubara Naoko: Page from Hagoromo [Feathered Robe] (1984-86)


" … the burden of being the wealthiest …"


If I were the richest person in the world, I would be better at it than the present incumbent has been. I would not become a right-wing troll or promote senseless conspiracy theories or be even the least bit stingy. I would gladly give away most of my wealth, freely share my good fortune. I wouldn't own a private jet, but fly coach, asking for the middle seat in the last row and hope to find a new mother with her cranky baby seated next to me. I would live to surprise my fellow human beings, for I would dedicate myself to being a truly human being. I'd be the most benevolent person anyone would ever remember, a saint, a gem.

As it is, I am not now nor am I ever likely to share the challenges the world's richest person faces.

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Heaven

heaven
Matsubara Naoko: Waterfall (1966)


" … it produces its own perpetual Success …"


I embrace a distinctly
Panglossian philosophy. If this isn't the best of all possible worlds, it seems to be the one I have. It seems to me that I only ever inhabit the place I stand. Past has gone and future remains safely out of hand, out of touch. I can pine after what already left or aspire after some state not yet achieved or I can find satisfaction with what I presently possess, with what presently possesses me. I might be becoming but I am also being, and my being seems more powerful, more present, more dominant than any shit ton of whatever I might one day become. Consequently, where I sit this morning might just as well be Heaven, since it probably amounts to the closest I'm ever likely to see of it, anyway.

Believe me, please, I remain hugely aware of the contradictions inherent within my belief system, within any belief system.

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Limiting

limiting
Matsubara Naoko: Chinese Theatre (1959)


" … probably every damned one of us at first."


Projects more often die from indigestion than starvation. Success more often results from Limiting scope than from expanding it. If, as I proposed yesterday, all Success is Limited Success, the fine art of Limiting stands as an essential ability for anyone seeking Success. No whining, now, for we are not ultimately judged by how much crap we can cram into any pillowcase, but by how well one manages to sleep on what was finally crammed in there. The surest ways to fail seem tied to trying to drag altogether too much stuff across any finish lime. It might seem heartless, but it seems essential that we each learn how to abandon so that we might thrive. We might even be best defined by what we managed to leave behind.

I know almost for certain that my first iteration of expectations will prove too rich, altogether too expansive for me to ever make good on.

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Limited

limited
Matsubara Naoko: Winter Forest I (1967-1968)


"After the game show ends, the taxman cometh."


There's no Success like a Limited Success. Without some limiting factor, Success cannot exist. Contrary to the adolescent outlook our cultural myths insist upon, once Success occurs, "all" will not be and never has been resolved. Maybe motivation requires that we inflate the influence Success will wield. Maybe we just speak in abbreviating shorthand, but we seem unwilling or unable to speak of Success as bringing limited and limiting results, for anything achieved likely means something else foregone, not in anything like a zero sum outcome, but featuring both positives and their counterparts. Even great Success usually introduces externalities, unwanted negatives resulting from the otherwise purely positive result.

We might reasonably survey the downside and choose to pursue our outcome anyway, for every decision involves making trade-offs.

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Longuage

longuage
Matsubara Naoko: Quaker Meeting (1967)


" … never the guiding light."


Barely three weeks into writing this series and I still feel like I'm missing language to describe what I'm trying to say. This seems like familiar territory, though, because every time I've tried to introduce a different idea or perspective, I've discovered the same barrier to entry: the language couldn't support the fresh concept. Language contains the commonly understood. It finds no use for anything not yet needing describing, so of course new concepts will be missing from the choices.

Budding communicators tend to rely upon one of three old reliables when their language proves wanting. They:
1- create new words,
2- create new meanings,
3- create new metaphors and allegories, fresh stories.

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SupposedTo

supposedto
Matsubara Naoko: Weeping Beech Tree (1967)


"I was SupposedTo want what that Success offered, but didn't."


I've always struggled with SupposedTo expectations, the ones which insisted upon one specific response. I couldn't always muster such a reaction, but I also noticed that the very injunction tended to nudge most of my motivation to comply right out of me. I'd start plotting how to avoid satisfying the expectation instead. I became a terrified learner, for instance, strapping myself in for another ordeal the first day of every quarter, certain only that I would shortly feel overwhelmed with expectations with which I'd feel unable to comply. I came of age understanding that I should probably be self-employed, if only I possessed a talent.

Oh, I could work for someone else, but it helped if I could concoct a story which reframed the relationship from me depending upon their job to the job more depending upon me.

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Improbability

improbability
Matsubara Naoko: Funaoka [Pine Tree] (1964)


" … see what that gets you."


Someone eventually wonders after the cause of a success, and asks about it, often in the form of, "What were the keys to your success?" just as if success necessarily had keys, whatever those might be. Does it follow, then, that Success originally comes with locks which, absent keys, prevent anyone from achieving it? The usual list of expected suspects emerges highlighting the rational elements usually associated with any achievement, almost always prominently featuring a few exceptional qualities possessed by good old you know who. The net effect should, if properly presented, leave the successful person seeming part wizard and part fortunate, with always a little bit of bloomin' luck wisely attached. The result should be an exceptional story featuring a genuine hero and a happy ending, a pattern which any aspiring might emulate.

Reality, or what generally passes for it here, rarely if ever travels so formally, and often hitchhikes.

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WayStation

waystation
Matsubara Naoko:
Harvard Yard in Spring (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)


"Success seems to end with concerted continuing. …"


We might be trained to parse our lives in Edwardian fashion, as if experiences had discrete beginnings and endings, as if stories came with morals firmly attached. We more likely live in a quantum universe, where experiences can seem either more like waves or like particles, depending upon how we filter them. Certainly my expectations seem most calibrated to anticipate cleaner plot lines than usually emerge. In practice, my life seems in need of a decent copyeditor to insert the boundaries my experiences tend to omit. I believe that I've reached an end to a story, only to find that particular plot line continuing into one additional unwanted chapter after another. Even this writer understands that a story really needs to bring a cleaner ending than living usually provides. The clear hallmark of fiction might just be discrete plot lines.

My experiences must be real because they would never make believable fiction.

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Striving

striving
Matsubara Naoko:
Page from Hagoromo [Feathered Robe] (circa 1984-1986)


"I strive to achieve an innocence forever lost."


I missed a deadline this week. I had been hyperaware of its approach yet felt powerless to meet it as it arrived. Sometimes, a responsibility lands on me to find me unprepared, though I've had decades to prepare myself. I remain then just as inexperienced as I felt when I was just starting out, before I'd imagined who I might end up becoming, back before I'd become anybody. Missing a deadline reminds me just how tenuous the balance remains between Striving and arriving, between aspiring and succeeding. Success does not seem to be greatly improved with practice. A dozen of them does not necessarily render an impending one any less daunting. The pattern of one does not seem to be terribly transferrable onto others. Each instance seems fresh and intimidating.

I accumulate my little failures more readily than I ever collect successes.

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Common

common
Matsubara Naoko:
Boston Common (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)


" … a Common sense and an even commoner wisdom …"


A local group, inspired and funded by outside money, fancies itself the store and font of common sense here. They call themselves Common Sense Republicans, which, by their very title, suggests that they're probably about anything
but common sense, Republicans having long ago adopted the practice of naming anything they promote the opposite of whatever it might actually be. I feel confident that the members swell with associative pride to think that they've ascended to the altitude where they evoke the spirit of Thomas Paine, a revered founder, whenever they congregate. They appear at city council meetings to protest "despotic" mask mandates, school board meetings to lobby hard against freedom of speech, and in the letters to the editor column of our local newspaper to champion the most uncommon ideals, all under the rubric of common sense. Common bullshit, I might suggest.

Still, it's a part of our common mythos to believe in the sense a commoner quite naturally makes.

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WhatPrice

whatprice?
Félix Edouard Vallotton:
Money, plate five from
Intimacies (1898)


"Be careful what you wish for …"


Who among us isn't prone to, in moments of extremity, insist that we'd willingly pay any price, bear any cost, to achieve our desired Success? We're each probably occasionally guilty of employing loose talk rather than free speech. We will beseech while praying that the bill collector never comes calling to collect the desperate debt, especially if our sweaty investment has failed to payoff yet. Some bets never payoff in anything but desperation.

I've been watching with train wreck fascination as Kevin McCarthy, the seemingly life-long wannabe Speaker of the House of Representatives, degrades himself and his prospective office, groveling before his obvious inferiors (a term I used hesitantly, if accurately, presuming for a second that it's not more likely that McCarthy enjoys only betters).

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TulsaTime

tulsatime
Georg Pencz: The Triumph of Time,
plate four from The Triumphs of Petrarch
(c. 1539)


" … a halfway decent Country song …"


The Number One Country song of 1987 was written by accident. A well-known songwriter and studio/backup musician found himself out on tour and snowbound in the Sheraton in Tulsa. Snowbound in Tulsa could have been this Number One Country hit, but wasn't. Our songwriter was toodling around on his guitar, half-bored in his hotel room, the kind of boredom that, songwriters understand, no cable television in the history off this universe ever once thwarted. One toodles around on a guitar in such instances or one goes out of their mind.

A two chord lick emerged, as two chord licks are wont to emerge under such circumstances, and our songwriter, experienced as he was, recognized that he'd almost created something.

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CountingChickens

countingchickens
Odilon Redon: The Egg (1885)


" … already become well-introduced to the feeling …"


Much of the Success experience occurs before the Success actually arrives, in anticipation of the bless
éd event. Once the finish line's crossed, the real Success experience begins, but leading up to finishing the race, much might depend upon how the runner believes he's doing. Whether he's ahead or behind, does he still feel as though he has a chance of succeeding? Any hint of impending doom might materially influence his remaining performance. If he senses certain defeat, it follows that he might not find his feet responding nearly as fluidly as they otherwise might. The story he conjures to describe and explain his present state affects how or even whether he ever finishes this race.

Our lonely long distance runner probably has no idea about the pattern of his progress or, indeed, of the pattern of a winning trajectory.

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Syccess

syccess
Seaver W. Leslie: Thinking of Other Things (1972)


" … depending upon what I choose."


I might have already established that Success probably doesn't quite qualify as a
thing, but more likely exists as feeling, though we might best recognize it as a set of criteria, what we used to call in project work "success factors." Success Factors held the criteria upon which, ideally, any objective observer might determine whether the project had delivered upon its promises. These were not precisely the promises themselves, but more the outward signs of inward conditions. These criteria often contradicted themselves, if only slightly, such that some might practically become mutually exclusive with others. In those cases, it became a matter of judgement and perhaps even politics as to whether intentions had been satisfied. Success would often, perhaps even always, come down to a generous judgement that "good enough" had resulted. Sometimes, Success would come as an acknowledgement that no amount of continuing effort would likely improve the result enough to prove worth that additional effort. Then, Success might come as acquiescence, however different from original intentions; a divorce with ramifications.

In addition to the feeling aspect of Success assessment, there's often also a systems aspect.

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HollowingOut

hollowingout
Winslow Homer:
A Winter Morning Shoveling Out (published January 14, 1871)


" … reward for my latest Success and precursor to the next."


After New Year's, this world enters into the HollowingOut Season, one destined to continue until Spring. With winter not yet a fortnight old, I feel unaccustomed it its rhythm. I continue cruising on the cadence I adopted toward the end of Autumn, one which helped propel me into a great and glorious Success. That past, the horizon fills with emptiness, at least on those days when the freezing fog lifts enough for some semblance of a horizon to appear. Those days seem rare. I experience Success's common companion, the HollowingOut feeling designating the recent absence of something. The question always becomes, following even modest successes: What next? What now? Somehow, achievement's reward always includes a healthy dose of bereavement. The familiar pursuit's sudden absence leaves a disquieting silence.

I never know better.

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Completition

completition
Jack Gould: Untitled [man standing behind small
boxing ring where two cats are pretending to fight] (1946)


" … nothing we might do in competition would produce anything more than a failure."


It wasn't until I entered Junior High School, seventh grade, that I encountered any serious experience with Completition, the erosive side of the much-touted competition some say our civilization's founded upon. Survival of the Fittest seems to be a deeply engrained notion, so firmly and widely held that we feel no compunction when we apply it to contexts within which it might not naturally hold. Darwin proposed it for physical evolution, but it's now routinely applied to social situations just as if relations should quite naturally follow the same forward paths as physical development. Social Darwinists hold the most fantastical beliefs, prominent among them the notion that competition quite naturally improves those who engage in it, when it might at best improve the winner, but only if he manages not to become a sore winner, a long shot bet in many instances.

I believe competition to be at root an evil and at best an addiction.

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TheCurse

thecurse
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
Be Careful with that Step! (1816/1820)


" … just beneath the end of every rainbow."


New Year's Day brings the usual flurry of best wishes to drown out the flood of remembrances old years leave behind. We do not send good enough wishes, but only the very best. We do not wish ordinary times upon each other, but exclusively extraordinary ones, as if it wouldn't be good enough to wish anybody mere adequacy, only excellence. Whenever we project into the future, we seem to command or demand the exceptional. Back when I worked with projects, it was almost never the case that the founding vision of any effort proposed producing a good enough result. They insisted instead that they, unlike every other project in the history of this universe before them, would produce the greatest product. It was usually not as though the organization really needed an exemplary outcome to survive. They just proposed utopian outcomes, though none ever delivered even one.

This difference between proposed and delivered reliably sparked some controversy.

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Retrospecting

retrospecting
Joseph Keppler: Looking Backward, from Puck (1893)


" ... more infinite and much more significant."


It being New Year's Eve, the last day of this year, I asked myself an innocent question: Have I been successful this year? Innocent or not, this question got me to Retrospecting, reviewing what I'd accomplished and dreading discovering what I had failed to finish. I could not even remember the names of the four series I'd written through the year, not off the top of my head I couldn't. I had to look back through the transcripts, the 364 individual installments, to determine what I'd been so focused upon. I figure that I spent roughly fifteen hundred hours nurturing my writing habit through the year and yet I could not, near the end of the period, even remember the names of the titles of the four series I'd completed. Have I accomplished anything more than successfully forgetting what I'd created?

I read the first and last installments of each series to get a feeling for what I had been intending and how I'd judged my effort in the moment I completed each.

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Career

career
Cornelis van Poelenburch: The Expulsion from Paradise (after c. 1646)



At nineteen, I was certain who I wanted to be when I grew up. By the time I hit twenty-five, that certainty had abandoned me as surely as I had abandoned my first and only Career. Thereafter, I wandered this world careerless, without a defined profession, a professional without explicit portfolio. Had I gone on to pursue a Master's Degree, I might have finally come to adopt a professional identity. Because I hadn't, I became a generalist, a B-school graduate without a specialty. Unsurprisingly, I gravitated into the sort of work reserved for people like me. I found myself not so much attracted to, but conscripted into the ranks of project workers, matrixed into various roles depending upon the situation, a utility player without a formal position. I later gravitated into project leadership, then project management, but that's no career. It's more of an adjunct association with an organization, existing only for a duration and not forever like a regular role. I became management with a tenaciously small 'm'.

I searched for an association of project people, but when I found it, I refused to join because it didn't seem to be true to any principle.

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SuccessThink

successthink
Alexander Voet: The Old Fool and His Cat (17th Century)


"Successful might be the very last thing I ever wanted to become."


Just about the time I graduated from business school, I became interested in how I might become successful. I started frequenting the Self Help section of Powell's Books and accumulated quite the collection of self-proclaimed helpful titles, among them perhaps the most influential Self Help title ever published, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. T&GR was originally published in the late thirties, and it came with an enviably attractive backstory. It seems, according to the author, that he'd interviewed Andrew Carnegie, who had confided the secrets behind his success. Hill characterized himself as merely the messenger, a link in a chain stretching back into ancient eternity, for he contended that all rich people subscribed to more or less the same guiding philosophy. The difference between me and them was, according to Hill, just a difference in outlook. Adopt the philosophy and practices his book outlined, and wealth would find me. I was skeptical. (Carnegie's estate found no evidence that Hill ever visited.)

I never quite managed to get clear to the end of that book, though it still stands on my shelf.

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ExplanatoryStory

explanatorystory
Anonymous Germany (Augsburg): The Rich Man
- Scene from the
Story of Jehosophat and Barlaam (1476)


"Sometimes it seems like something entirely different."


Martin E. P. Seligmann was a graduate student when he stumbled upon his Success. He was performing experiments with dogs when he noticed that under certain conditions, the dogs seemed to become pessimists and started refusing reinforcement. He hypothesized that dogs could learn pessimism. He wondered, if dogs can learn to become pessimists could they also be taught to be optimistic, and could humans? Thus began his life's work, which so far, at age eighty, has taken him to the top of the Self Help (a genre he almost personally invented) bestseller lists and to the head of The American Psychological Society. His book, Learned Helplessness, became the basis for the now burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, and spawned a cool half dozen follow-on books which built upon that original base. Learned Helplessness includes a very clever and attractive chart which lists various tactics for countering Learned Helplessness. We've probably all been subjected to some form of these tactics.

When I was a kid, my mother's go-to tactic for countering sadness was to advise her suffering child to, "Turn that frown upside down."

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FeelingsOf

FeelingsOf
Jacob Hoolaart, after Adriaen Brouwer:
Man met een geldzak [Man Holding Moneybag] (1723-89)


"I am not at this moment feeling all that successful."


I feel as though I have been dancing around my subject with these first Success Stories. This might be a reasonable if inconvenient time to confess a misgiving I've carried with me since I started writing this series. I admitted then, in my introduction, that I didn't feel as though I knew very much about Success, given that it had been a rare presence in my life. I speak even now of success as if it were a thing, ascribing the infamous 'it' to it, as if it was ever an 'it.' The thing about 'its' is that they are, by international agreement or something, supposed to at least vaguely refer to some person, place, or thing, an entity. Success seems awfully disembodied to qualify for 'itness,' and fitness for itness might matter. Of what do I speak when I attempt to speak of Success?

As near as my beleaguered brain can ascertain, Success might at best (or worst) qualify as a feeling.

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TheGames

thegames
Charles Samuel Keene: A Game of Cards (1870/91)


"Success comes in many colors …"


What are the success games? There seem to be many. Some long, others shorter, some seemingly competitive, others more solitary. Must one master a wide array of games to become consistently successful, or does a niche strategy more likely succeed? Some seem to inhabit a dog-eat-dog world while others seem to live in almost blissful ignorance of even a hint of competition. Some become team players while others, definite solos. I think it unfortunate that in our culture, we imagine so many different kinds of engagements to be at root competitions, ones which by definition spawn winners and losers. Many still subscribe to zero-sum perspectives whereby one's success by definition dictates another's failure. Some envision a roiling marketplace of Roman gladiator games where it's kill or be killed, without apologies, just the way the game's played, thank you.

Success might involve personal choice more than might seem obvious.

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TalkingInto

TalkingInto
Jack Gould: Untitled [door to door salesman talking to woman] (1950)


"Success follows many paths home."


My writing work falls into two basic categories: Flow and TalkingInto. The Flow pieces pretty much take care of themselves. I start them off and the writing commences, continuing until they're done. I remain remarkably absent from the process of creating these. They come to me. The TalkingInto pieces remain the rarer of the pair. They come when I'm more self-conscious, often when I feel I have some significant stake in the outcome. They might appear when I feel self important, or when I feel as though I should feel self important, as if I had something important to say. My TalkingInto state might be a form of writer's block, an affliction with which I fortunately have little personal experience. The TalkingInto pieces become real work before they're finished.

I usually try to flee when discovering that I'm engaging with a TalkingInto story.

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The Or Deal

the_or_deal
Master of the Die:
Venus Ordering Psyche to Sort a Heap of Grain (1530/40)


"My annual ritual amounts to a fool's mission …"


Near the end of each of her weekly examinations as The Muse went through her cancer treatment, Erin, the designated keeper of records for the clinical trial, would ask the same question: "Do you want to continue the trial?" To which The Muse would respond with an enthusiastic, "Absolutely!" This ritual reminded me of one common feature of successful engagements, The Or Deal. The option always exists to bail out of most any activity, though in the middle of the typical fray, one might not necessarily consider this option. One gets set into a trajectory, and changing it becomes kind of unthinkable over time, though the latitude to turn off the engagement almost always exists, and remains at least worth considering. At some level, every engagement serves as a kind of dedication test, a check to determine if you retain the stomach not only for the success, but also for the often previously hidden cost of that success, the ordeal. Either you do retain the stomach to continue or you don't, that's The Or Deal in a nutshell.

Looking back on my now long life, I easily recall a few of the more prominent choice points.

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Suckcess

suckcess
Elly Verstijnen: Jongen met pop [Boy With Doll] (c. 1900-1930)


"No one is ever apathetic except when in pursuit of another's objective."
-Folk Wisdom


"I feel unlikely to ever outgrow my worse bad habits."


The most troubling successes of my life so far have uniformly been the kind I was supposed to want but didn't. These were often promoted as somehow being for my own good and uniformly seemed more for my certain detriment instead. I'd drag my feet because I just could not seem to muster sufficient motivation to manage any other response. In this way, I laid myself open to various criticisms. If only I could exhibit more discipline. If Onlies then seemed to utterly dominate my foreground. I always thought these sorts of experiences exemplified the pursuit of mammon, and were trying to tell me to shift my focus from chasing something destined only to do me in. This sort of wisdom almost always came later in the game, after I'd already invested more than I felt I could afford to lose. Veering off onto another, healthier trajectory always proved difficult to impossible.

It might be true that nobody ever knew what they were supposed to do.

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SuccessStory

SuccessStory
Thérèse Schwartze: Portrait of Lizzy Ansingh (1902)


" … reframing what success might mean …"


This story marks the first installment of a new series focused upon Success. I feel distinctly unqualified to write this series. This sense alone might qualify me to at least attempt to write it because I hold a growing belief that those who've been held up as examples of success serve as at best poor examples of it. Certainly the richest, often presumed the default most successful, have well proven just how unqualified for emulation they tend to be. Nobody wants to grow up to be Henry Ford or Elon Musk anymore. We pity them their public frailties. Likewise those examples from most any field one cares to name. Each seemed to be poor exemplars on some level. I might well conclude that one of the better ways to elude Success might arise from attempting to emulate anyone touted as successful. This world hardly needs one Elon Musk. Heaven forbid that it had to suffer through two, even if that second one just happened to be you.

I poke at Mr. Musk since he's widely recognized as the world's richest man.

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