Tag Archives: purpose

The Life Path of Artists and Writers

path and sunlight-166733_640Who are you? Where are you going? Where have you been?

As a boy I realized that Socrates’ advice that everyone in the Western world has heard at least five or six times–“Know thyself”–was no less difficult than to walk from my porch to the moon. But I know now that if we look carefully at where we have been, who we have known, what our life’s events from the earliest days have meant to us, and where we are going, we can in fact satisfy Socrates and know ourselves. This is a goal that is particularly important to creative people because their work is an exact reflection of the remarkable men and women their lives have made them.

 Your Ground Plan

It is a biological concept that applies very much to artists and artists’ development: everything that grows—a rose, an eagle, a human being– has a life plan, a ground plan, and a life structure. All parts of this structure have a time to emerge that when complete form a unified identity, in our case, they come together to form the identity “artist,” and more specifically a type of artist: novelist, violinist, classical pianist, jazz pianist, movie composer, stage actor, ballet dancer, modern dancer, etc. That ground plan leads either directly in a straight line or in a roundabout helter-skelter way to that identity, but lead to it, it does. There is an order to our past, present, and future lives, however disorderly and unconnected they may seem.

frank-lloyd-wright-396991_640(1)

Frank LLoyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most renowned architect, knew from his earliest days that he would be an architect. When he was a child his mother told him he would, considering architecture man’s crowning achievement, and began to mold him to that art by placing illustrations of architectural masterpieces on his bedroom walls and encouraging him. And prodigies, Mozart, dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, Broadway composers Marvin Hamlisch and George Gershwin, and trumpeter Miles Davis among innumerable other artists followed a “neat and tidy” development, and knew as children precisely what their adult life’s pursuit would be. There could be no doubt. Novelist Henry James and his philosopher/psychologist brother William were raised with one objective in mind: to make them creative geniuses, and that’s what they became.

However, many successful artist’s ground plans follow a less neat and tidy, “messy,” meandering path, as in the cases of painters Vincent van Gogh (failed teacher, failed preacher, failed everything who yearned to find his true calling—and did at thirty-three when he was told he was starting too late), and Paul Gauguin (former affluent stock broker who abandoned his family to paint), and novelists Sherwood Anderson (successful business owner who also abandoned his business and family to write),Joseph Conrad (sea captain), and Henry Miller (telegraph office worker), and playwright Eugene O’ Neill (ship’s deck hand, grave digger, and aimless ne’r-do-well). The meandering path is typical of many artists as they experience hits and misses, successes and failures, victories and defeats, false starts and detours over and over. Straight or roundabout, tidy or messy, the artist’s ground plan is in effect and leads to his/ her being an artist and being recognized as such. There is not one best way to become a successful artist—writer—performer, etc. But there are any number of perfectly fine ways.

Has your creative ground plan been tidy or has it been messy?

La Grande Ligne

Out of the mass of experiences of his life, the artist (1) must somehow or other settle on an art and way of life that fits him; (2) must have the personal makeup necessary to excel in the art; must possess the (3) knowledge, (4) drive and persistence, (5)  confidence and (6) complement of skills necessary to excel, and must (7) further develop strengths along certain clear lines.

music-7971_640La grande ligne (“the long line”) is a term in music that means simply that every good piece of music gives the audience a sense of flow, of continuity from the first note to the last. That continuity and flow is the challenge and be-all and end-all of every composer’s existence. Every artist’s life—every painter, writer, actor, dancer–whatever his/her chosen art, has a grande ligne, a flow from beginning to end. All of the artist’s choices and goals should be understood as relating to their ground plan, whether the artist is or isn’t aware of that fact.

A number of components must come into alignment to result in a unity of direction and purpose of a person’s life, and certain steps must be followed. The components making a business woman are different from the components that work together to make a diplomat or a baker. Artists have alignments of components of a certain characteristic type–many personal qualities, interests, motivations, values, abilities, experiences, and other components. If just one component is missing, you no longer have a painter, sculptor, writer, or dancer. Everything must be present.

Life History Process

A way to acquire a clear view of your life’s “long line” is to come to understand: yourself as you are at this moment; the relationship between the person you are now and the days and years of your past life; how you conceive of your whole life; what happened in your life—what events meant to you and what they mean to you now. And to answer the question, “What am I trying to do as a human being, and as a creative person?”

  • Divide your life into periods, such as:

++++ Birth-15 years

++++ 15-25

++++ 25-45

++++ 45-65

++++ 65-

  • Recall key EPISODES from those periods, period by period—“When I was six this happened to me. It was very important because it introduced me to music…” “At twenty-three I had a gig at a local bar and met an agent at a party…” “At thirty I started to dabble with bright colors…” Very often an episode occurs when the artist’s existence seems to be organized and focused toward the art and he has a premonition that from that point forward the art will be prominent in his life. Your entire life is a drama composed of the total number of significant episodes. Looked at closely and objectively, they reveal larger plots and themes. Right now, even without much thought, what particularly meaningful episodes come quickly to mind?

++++ Episode 1

++++ Episode 2

++++ Episode 3

++++ Episode 4

Methods that can be used to help you recall key episodes include discussions with relatives and friends, looking at report cards, documents, and records, and at your products—stories, drawings, compositions, paintings, performances. Photo-history is a method that involves looking at photographs to stimulate your memory. Assemble photographs from your life. Put the photos in chronological order; look at one at a time; ask about the photos—when was it, where was I, who are those people, what was happening?

Looking closely at individual episodes, ask: “What was I trying to do?” “Who was I?” “What was I learning?” “How was I changing?” “Was something leading me in the direction of my future work—an experience, a teacher, a success, a failure?” How did everything contribute to your becoming who you are? When did your artist’s, writer’s, or actor’s ground plan start taking shape? How did it begin? Through what ups and downs did it lead you then?

You may wish to write an autobiographical narrative about important episodes as I do with my “Growing Up” stories—direct statements of what happened when. When you do, memories buried deep in your mind will come flooding back, and you will remember what was happening and how you were feeling. Memories—particularly of childhood–are a main source of a creator’s inspiration. Author Thomas Wolfe’s ambition was to describe everything he had ever experienced. Author John Updike said that nothing that happens to you after the age of twenty is worth writing about. Personal motifs begun earlier in life stay with the artist throughout life and are reflected again and again in everything he or she produces. These themes cannot be avoided; they are the artist’s DNA. Artists accumulate experiences, people, places, key episodes, and ideas which they will draw on the rest of their lives, endlessly recapitulating them in their work. He/she never forgets them. These are the origins—and the content– of their craft.

  • When reflecting on episodes think about:

++++ Your characteristics; your personality at the time

++++ Your abilities

++++ Your needs

++++ Your ambitions and dreams

  • Look at the episodes for times in your life of shifts and changes of direction—crises, periods of trouble and distress, great pleasure, and achievements. Look for the choices you made and how you dealt with their consequences. What did the choices mean to your life?
  • Sift through episodes for MAJOR THEMES. Your life has been a route of recurring themes, like those in a musical composition or a novel. For author Ernest Hemingway the themes of danger, of war, of adventure. Chagall’s Hasidism. Themes help explain many events in a person’s life and show continuity. Themes are groups of episodes that fall into a type.

What do you think right now, without much reflection, are your significant life’s themes?

My major themes are childhood, family, the place where I grew up, growing in understanding.

++++ Theme 1

++++ Theme 2

++++ Theme 3

++++ Theme 4

Bearing the major themes you’ve found in mind, ask yourself:

“Where do I seem to be headed? Where does it appear my grande ligne will lead me now?”

“What have I learned about myself from reflecting on my life and my artistic career?”

“What more do I want out of my painting, my dancing, my writing, my acting? What more can I give to it?

“Where do I want to be headed from this day on?”

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Boredom and Burnout: What To Do When Artistic Work Stops Being Fun

barbed-wire-345760_640During World War II prisoners of war often contracted “barbed wire disease.” It was not the result of maltreatment, but of lack of stimulation. Ships’ crews, explorers, and people in monasteries contract it too. It is characterized by irritability, restlessness, pessimism, and boredom. Nothing excites them. They lack vitality, freshness, energy, and verve. Writers and artists—often those working on a project steadily for a long time, especially without feedback—may develop a form of barbed wire disease.

They go flat and their work becomes a burden and its quality suffers grievously. When work is drudgery creativity quickly declines. You’ve experienced that, sometimes for considerable periods of time, and sometimes to the extent that you don’t want to face the work and so you avoid it, entering a stage of total non-productivity about which you feel miserable. No two ways about it, you’ve now come eye to eye with a major obstacle.

I’m sure I am not the only serious writer who after working steadily and intensely for a long time writing, writing, writing, writing experiences a “word nausea” when you become sick of the sight of written words. For a time you cannot write; nor can you tolerate reading another word. When you’re experiencing a writer’s or painters barbed wire disease, keyboard-313373_640you can always imagine a more exciting place to be, a more exciting thing to be doing, and exciting people to be doing it with. Sometimes the disease spreads and everything turns gray and seems boring beyond belief. When you’ve burned out and bored you “kill time,” hoping the barbed wire disease will blessedly pass.

Here’s what you can do:

Strategies

If your interest starts to decline make the “boring” task a game. In my first writing job I wrote grant proposals for an organization. I wrote many, many of them. At the beginning, the proposals were quite long and the success rate quite high. Millions of dollars were raised. Writing grant proposals every day from 8:30 to 5:00 is a ritual that is not nearly as stimulating as writing a poem or novel, as you can imagine. They are dry, and after a number of them you burn out. I needed a more interesting, more challenging goal. So then my goal became to raise the level of funds the organization received as a result of my proposals relative to the length of the proposal—to write the shortest possible proposals for the most money. Eventually the proposals were extremely short, but just as successful.

How could you make your work a game, a contest? One way is to monitor your daily production and make the aim of the game to produce more every day compared to the previous days. Every hour I monitor the number of words I’m producing and look at yesterday’s tallies.

Focus continually on your overall goal. Success in life is often built on tedium. Tedium can be tolerated if it must be endured to achieve a larger purpose that matters a great deal to you–to write a good book, to have your work in galleries, to be satisfied and successful. The French Pointillist painter Georges Seurat was certainly bored some of the time–perhaps most of the time—when for two years he applied those almost three and a half million tiny dots of various hues to a ten foot wide canvas to paint Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the painting that altered modern art and introduced Neo-impressionism. But that was his purpose, and his boredom was irrelevant to him.

Choose to do what you’re doing. Boredom is often caused by the sense that you’re being forced. But when you declare your right to make a decisive choice and say to yourself, “I’m choosing to do this of my own free will,” your outlook changes dramatically.

Focus on external rewards. When you’re bored, the work has lost its intrinsic value to you so think of other rewards: “I may not be happy with the work but I’m going to make a lot of money, and maybe I’ll win an award.”

Have the intention of doing just what you’re doing, nothing else—no distractions, no impediments, no worries, fears, or self-doubts. Just you and the work. Boredom is caused by the wish that there were something else you were doing: “I wish I were…” at a movie, or making love, or sitting in the bleachers. Make what you’re doing the single thing at that time you have every intention of doing. You don’t change the task. You change your attitude. You can mesmerize yourself with the thought, “This, now, right now, is the one thing in the world I want to do. Nothing could be better.”

Look for something of interest in the work and in the process of working–even if you have to look hard. There is always at least a tiny core worthy of your interest in everything, like the eye of a violet. What is boring for your friend may be the most exciting thing in the world for you. That’s because nothing is intrinsically boring. Physicists and formula-594149_640(1)mathematicians love spending their lives scribbling figures on chalkboards. Would you like to spend your best hours doing that? But people do. And then again many people would find what you love doing—producing artistic work as often as you can—about as unpleasant an activity as they can imagine.

If you tell yourself something is boring that’s just how you’ll find it, so never use that word or any such word. Eliminate them from your vocabulary starting now. Our emotions follow what we’re thinking, including boredom. Instead of, “Oh, man, I can’t stand this anymore,” think, “To say I can’t stand it is incorrect. It’s an exaggeration. I can stand it. I will stand it.” Instead of, “Damn, is this tedious” replace it with an interest-inducing statement: “There is something stimulating here. All I have to do is stay focused long enough to find it. Look—there’s something interesting!” By focusing and absorbing yourself in something, it becomes more interesting. And the more interesting it becomes the more you’ll be drawn to it, the more attention you’ll want to give to it, and the more engrossing it will become.

The famous naturalist Louis Agassiz was known for turning out students with incredible powers of observation. Many of them went on to become eminent in the field. A new student appeared and asked Agassiz to teach him. Agassiz took a fish from a jar of preservative and said, “Observe this fish carefully and when I return be ready to report to me what you noticed.”

goldfish-537832_640Left alone, the student sat down to look at the fish. It was a fish like any other fish. There was nothing special about it. The student finished looking and sat waiting, but no teacher. Hours passed and the student grew restless. He asked himself why he had hooked up with an old man who was obviously behind the times.

Bored and with nothing else to do, he counted the fish’s scales, then the spines of the fins, then drew a picture of it. In doing so he noticed it had no eyelids. He continued drawing and noticed other features that had escaped him. And he learned that a fish is interesting if you really see it.

Persevere longer with whatever bores you. The person who holds uninteresting ideas in mind until they gather interest will succeed. Many people give up too quickly.

Wait. The sense of boredom may go away on its own without you doing a thing.

Tackle the most interesting part of the job first. Most tasks have features that you find boring and others that you find more interesting. Bodybuilders often start their workouts with lifts they enjoy most. Once started, they go on to the lifts they enjoy less. Try to do the same whatever you’re lifting.

Aim for more difficult goals. If the goals you’re pursuing are too easy, you’ll be bored.

Alter your routines. Sometimes it’s not the tasks that are boring, but the routine of carrying them out. Change your schedule. People need change or they go as stale as old cookies. Much of the time our lives grow stagnant, unhappy, and mechanical for no other reason than that the same things are done in the same way, at the same time, with the same people with no variation, like a broken CD that plays the same phrase over and over. It’s torture. How many times can you follow the same never-changing routines without going nuts?

Stay physically active. Hit golf balls or get down on the floor and do pushups. Creative work requires intense, exhausting mental concentration and benefits from a “physical” break.

Take periodic breaks. Working hard in short, intense, concentrated spurts, with rest periods between spurts proves to be the best way to work.

sisters-74069_640Let your mind wander. Don’t resist. During boredom our minds wander and we daydream, and daydreaming and mind-wandering often lead to the solutions to our problems.

Get yourself temporarily to another project. Most artists have more than one project going on simultaneously—some have many. If one becomes boring, they work on another. Painters work on small paintings as a break from large paintings. Writers alternate research and writing and write short stories to break the monotony of long, uninterrupted work on a novel.

Eliminate what you find boring. Let’s say you’ve tried everything your inventive mind can conjure up and you’re so bored you can hardly breathe. If you’re that bored and that burned-out maybe you shouldn’t do it anymore. Maybe the boredom is a message telling you the book or the sculpture isn’t a good idea after all and you should go on to another. Identify the specific activities that bore you and are burning you out and slice them off like shavings off a stick.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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Decisive Choices

“We have to learn to pay close attention to our lives right now, not just tomorrow or next week or next year–or even in an hour.”

Moments of Decisive Choice

cliffsDuring the Nazi occupation of Europe there were rescuers and bystanders. The majority were bystanders. They stood by. Rescuers helped people who were being hunted. They hid them; they fed them; they helped them get away.

Bystanders claimed they had no choice because the penalty for harboring fugitives was death. Rescuers said they had no choice but to risk death because they were doing the right thing. But each did have a choice. The rescuers could have said, “I won’t help,” and the bystanders could have said, “I will.” They each made a decisive choice.

We make decisive choices all our lives. At one time or another we’ve chosen to be brave or cowardly, to be happy or not, to fall in love or not, to shirk our responsibilities or live up to them. You make a decisive choice to take a risk to start a new career, to face up to a serious problem, to end something or start something, or to get yourself out of a miserable predicament.

We fell in love with freedom as children and have been trying all of our adult lives to have more of it. During moments of decisive choice you’re as free as you’ll ever be. You come to an impasse, then say, “I’ve had enough of this routine, of this style of life, of these habits, of thinking the same old shop-worn thoughts, of this place, of these people. It’s time to change.” You’re bold. You declare yourself: “This is what I believe and this is what I’ll do.” The happiest people in the world are the ones that have made up their mind. Then you set sail; you catch the wind.

Moments of No Choice

Just as there are moments when you make a decisive choice, there are moments when you should make a decisive choice, but don’t. Moments of no choice are moments when you would be happiest leading one kind of life or another, but lazily or fearfully you follow the course already set.

You would think that being in a bad situation, people would want to find a way out. Lizzie would start a better life as soon as she leaves Ted, and she knows that. No one has to tell her Ted is no good for her; that her life is being ruined. But months pass and she makes no choice. Lizzie never leaves him and her life stays the same. People look at her and say, “What a shame. What a wasted life.”

Burt makes no choice, permitting his loneliness to continue, coming home from work, switching on the light, and as he does every other night sits down on the edge of the bed to wonder wearily what the rest of the world is doing. Many people moan about their troubles, but do nothing to get rid of them.

Have you noticed how many people who make no choice are leading lives that are beneath them? How many can’t seem to imagine a better life? How many doubt themselves and lack confidence?

 Choice-Point Living

sunrise-165094_640We have the freedom at any point to freeze the action of our lives, take a step back, and decide to continue as we are or to start out in a more promising direction. At any moment you’re at liberty to:

1. Stop the action, reflect, and make an honest appraisal of your life as it stands. Is it progressing the way you want?

  1. Will you continue it as it is, or will you change its direction? You don’t have to wait until next week or next month, or until you feel completely up to it. Right now as you read this you can stop the action, look up from the screen, and ask, “Do I really want to continue my life as is, or should I change it?”
  1. Plan the changes you’ll make. Set goals because if you have goals clearly in mind you will be motivated to achieve them, be more persistent in pursuing them, more self-confident, better able to overcome obstacles, and more successful.
  1. Take decisive action and do what you’ve decided to do.

That’s intentional Choice Point Living–purposely stopping, appraising, deciding, and acting. It may start when you find yourself thinking, “Everything is fine—I’m leading a good life and have so much to be content with. But yet, yet, I can actually feel in my gut, feel physically, that something isn’t right, something is seriously wrong somewhere, and something should be done.”

 Points of No Return/No Retreat Societies

In your life there have been and will be again points of no return, periods of total commitment. Now you’re fully mobilized for action. There is no longer any other choice to be made, no “should I do this or should I do that?” or “Should I wait?” There’s no stopping you from the direction you’ve consciously chosen. Now there is no time for second thoughts. Everything is clear to you. Everything is perfect. You can remember some of your points of no return and how glorious you felt making up your mind and committing yourself.

Among Native American warriors there were “no retreat societies.” These warriors declared themselves. They were in the fight to the finish, and there was no going back, no retreating. Your points of no return have been like that. They’ve been some of the happiest times of your life. Once you were decided you were in it straight to the end.

What points of no return do you remember best?

Is it time for another?

The Single Purpose of This Present Moment

japanese-cherry-trees-324175_640We’re accustomed to thinking of broad vistas–of where we will stand in life and how well we will be doing in six months or five years or ten or twenty. We neglect to notice how uncertain life is and how time is racing, how our lives once gone are gone forever. We’re no different than cherry blossoms that don’t last long in the wind that blows them from the tree. All we remember is how beautiful they were. Our lives are five minutes long.

We have to learn to pay close attention to our lives right now, not just tomorrow or next week or next year–or even in an hour. Why concern yourself with how you’ll feel a day from now, or in a minute, or what may happen, when far more important is what needs to be done right now, this present moment.

Gather your strength, or courage, or defiance into a decisive choice. Come to life.

 

Moments of Decisive Choice—Strength, Freedom

Moments of No Choice—Lack of Confidence, No Change

Choice Point Living—Conscious Change, New Goals, Setting Sail

Points of No Return—Total Commitment, Strength

No Retreat Societies—No Going Back, Happiness

The Single Purpose of This Present Moment—Awareness, Confidence, Focus

 

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Aligning Your Past, Present, and Future

eiffel-tower-417962_640Even at the age of eight Sarah dreamed of visiting far-away places. She would lie in bed and imagine lush, exotic islands, and grand cities with great cathedrals and towering spires. Her favorite subject in school was world geography, and she would press the pages of her texts open and study the pictures of nomadic Laplanders, ocean-liners, snow-capped mountains, and South Sea Islands. She would stand in front of the family globe, and spinning it, would watch the world race by.

After working in a large department store until she was twenty-two she married and in ten years had four children, two boys and two girls. She was a stay-at-home mother, and was wonderful at raising the children who loved her dearly. For the first twenty-five years of her marriage she was never gainfully employed outside the house. She and her husband were never able to save enough money to travel very far, as she still dreamed of one day doing. She came into her own and found fulfillment as a wife and mother, but when the youngest child reached his teens she realized it was time to change her life and venture outside the home to start a career.

She suffered the same fears and insecurities most people would who had been out of the job market for a quarter of a century, and didn’t know what to do to find a job. One day, on a whim, while passing a travel agency she had driven past hundreds of times on the way to and from errands, she went in and applied for a job. She was hired and now, in her late-forties organizes and accompanies group tours to Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. She is doing what she dreamed of as a child, and is happy. Life offered her the opportunity for a fresh start, a new life path, a second birth, and she took it.

aircraft-74020_640The Wright brothers–Wilbur and Orville–were the first to demonstrate controlled, mechanical flight. But their insatiable interest in building a machine that flew began when they were children. Their father, Wilton, went on frequent business trips, and made it a point to bring home from each trip something for his children. He brought home from one trip–when Wilbur was eleven and Orville seven–a small toy helicopter made from bamboo paddles and a rubber band that when the rubber band was wound and released could lift off the ground. The brothers fell in love with the toy and played with it constantly, until it broke.

Then they disassembled it to see how it was made, and then built endless copies of it, even getting in trouble in school for playing with them. The toy made an indelible mark on them, got them started on aeronautical design, and they never forgot it. Even as older men, long after they had invented the flying machine and were world renowned, they would make helicopter toys for their nieces and nephews.

I asked my nurse in the hospital why she had gone into nursing and she said, “When I was a young girl I was sickly and I had to have a nurse. We were together night and day, and she was a good woman who seemed very happy. We became close, and it was then I decided that when I grew up I would be a nurse too. I’ve had such a wonderful life, and nursing has been so rewarding, that I’ve never regretted that decision.”

When Harry Truman was a boy, while he and his father worked together in the corn fields of Missouri, his father entertained him with exciting stories of the great ancient Greek and Roman orators and statesman, stories which Harry vividly recalled when he went into politics and when he had to make critical war-time decisions as President of the United States. Many times he called those stories his father told the most beneficial education he had ever received and an important reason he pursued the career he did.

woman-304812_640When my friend Rebecca was a young girl she would play “office.” She would pretend to be the president of a company and would have her younger brother play her assistant. She would spread papers every which way in front of her on the kitchen table as if it were her desk and she was very busy. She would call to her assistant-brother, “Bring me my pen” and he would bring it and she would then scribble her signature on papers. In her mid-thirties she founded and is president of what is now one of the most successful mid-size advertising agencies in the Midwest. She still signs papers all day long.

They are professional guitarists who as children were given an old battered guitar by an uncle and taught themselves to play. Or they are accountants who have always loved working with numbers, or a movie director whose parents loved movies and took their child to the show along with them, or a car dealer whose parents owned a dealership.

Innumerable artists–writers, musicians, composers, dancers, painters, architects, performers, and professional people, particularly engineers and physicians–became seriously interested in what would be their adult pursuit as young children.

 Foreshadowing

A distinctive quality of many people leading fulfilled lives is that quite early in life they became interested in the subject matter they later pursued as a vocation. The continual deepening of their interest and the development of appropriate skills was what guided them to their careers and that largely accounts for their success. They find their greatest achievements in occupations which build on their childhood interests.

From the earliest years on, patterns of choices show remarkable consistency, even over long periods of many years. Our lives of today often were foreshadowed and our intended destiny laid out for us years ago. Foreshadowing is a clue to our life’s most important purposes, though at times the path to fulfillment is not direct, but roundabout, with many side-trips, delays, and false starts.

Many highly accomplished people in varied fields find fulfillment pursuing their childhood interests in avocations–parallel careers.

A strategy when you are confused and don’t know which career direction to go in is to remember what excited you as a child, for it may be that in what comes to mind then is the most promising and most fulfilling direction.

********

One warm afternoon when I was five or six I was playing on the floor in front of the television that my mother had left on while she went away to vacuum in another room. I was playing with my fleet of toy trucks, and as poet Dylan Thomas would say, I was “As happy as the day is long.”

But from time to time I found myself glancing up at the screen and then after while found myself putting my trucks aside completely and getting closer to the screen and folding my arms in front of me and watching an old black and white movie very intently. I realize now that the semi-strange language the actors were speaking was British English.

One person in particular on that screen mesmerized me. I wanted to watch him and listen forever—the way he moved, the way he spoke, his voice, how he gestured, everything about him. What was happening to me was beyond me to describe. I was young; I didn’t have the vocabulary. But I still do not have the vocabulary, not because my vocabulary is deficient, but because when you see or read or hear something that is so out of the ordinary, you are unprepared for it and no words in all the lexicons, even the most expressive, are sufficient. You are mute.

All you know is that what you are feeling is jubilation; is joy. In my little child’s way I knew that on that screen before my eyes a performance that was not commonplace, but extraordinary was occurring, and it was because of that man’s skills and his presence, his being. My mother walked by and I touched the screen with my finger and said, “Who is that man?” And she answered. “That is Laurence Olivier. He’s the greatest actor in the world.”

How did I know that? How could I tell? What in my little boy’s mind was responding to an artistic achievement of the very best? I was so young. But even when you are so little, true art has a way of breaking through to you and declaring its power, and as you can see, you remember it all your life and cannot forget.

 ********

One day in the third grade my favorite teacher (at any level), Miss Gross, standing in the front of the room, started reading aloud an essay I had written. She had had us describe something that had happened to us, and because I loved to run and could run like the wind and ran whenever I could, I wrote about running while playing football.

I heard her read (very dramatically as only Miss Gross could) my words: “The boys tackled me and I fell to the ground like a blob of jelly coming out of a jar.” Then I heard Miss Gross say, “That is poetic language. That is an image. David has made a simile.”

So, I’ve made a simile, I thought. Isn’t that something?

Then running home under the maple trees after school, I got to thinking that if I wanted I could make similes all the rest of my life. So, why do I write, and why do I try so hard, and why have I been doing it with extreme passion and happiness and commitment these years, and why do I find that there is nothing I would rather do than study and learn and write about artists—Debussy, Cassatt, Faulkner, Graham, Baryshnikov, Hepburn Gershwin, Stravinsky, Wright, the Beatles, Satie, Calder, O’Neill, Chekhov, Chagall–any artists at all, and fill my life with their desires and aspirations, their capacity for hard, sustained work, their sacrifices, their single-mindedness and persistence, their devastating setbacks and colossal achievements, their strengths as human beings, and their frailties that all contributed and made possible works that I can actually hear, and look at, and read, and touch?

Because, you see, the glorious experience of that pleasant afternoon in front of that screen—the finest actor of his era and I alone together in my living room–had somehow made a tribute to other creators of such beauty seem necessary and inevitable. And because of my need to make similes, I can’t help myself.

 Let Me Know

These are childhood stories of human destinies being set in motion—a direction, a future–taking shape. I would like to hear your story. I would like to know about the experiences that set you on the right course and led you to what has consumed you most. What key events from your youth led you to becoming what you’ve become?

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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The Writer’s, Artist’s, and Actor’s Quest for Truth

Painting by Urwana DeBoulans

With kind permission of artist Urwana DeBouclans

An actor in teacher-actor-director Konstantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre Company owned a dog that she brought to rehearsal, and it slept all day while the company rehearsed. Inexplicably, every night just before the actors were to end the rehearsal the dog got up and went to the door with its leash in its mouth, ready to be taken home. It puzzled Stanislavski why the dog trotted to the door several minutes before his master called him, just as rehearsal ended. How did the dog know that rehearsal had ended before anyone went to the door?

Eventually Stanislavski figured it out. The dog could hear from the voices when the actors started talking like normal people again. It could tell the difference between the fake and the real. If a dog could, certainly an audience could, and the fake is repulsive in an actor. As the best actors tell each other, “When you are on stage or before the camera, remember not to act. People can tell when you’re acting.”

The Actor’s Truth

Stanislavsky was the most significant figure in the history of actor training. When he used the word “art” it meant “life” to him, and life meant the truthful, the real, the authentic, the genuine.

“Life” is all he wanted, and life is what he struggled to get to flow through the actor, and between the actors, and between the actors and the audience. Everything in the work of art must be convincing for the artist as well as for the audience. Actors should behave as though the character is real and what he is doing is real, as though the conditions and circumstances of the character’s life are real. That the dagger Othello stabs himself with is real. That everything is real. Stanislavsky said that the judge of the truthfulness of a performance is not the actor or the audience, but the actor’s fellow actors on stage with him. If you have an effect on your fellow actor; if he believes in the truth of your performance, you’ve reached your creative goal: truth.

Many Paths

A household name in his time, John Ruskin was a 19th century English art and architecture critic and wonderful stylist whose beauty of expression ignited the creativity of Marcel Proust. Ruskin believed that what distinguishes great artists from weak ones is first their sensibility, second, their imagination, and third, their appetite for hard work. He might just as well have added a fourth, their quest for truth. All great artists in every art are aiming and have always aimed to achieve that object of their quest. What that truth is to them—how they conceive of it—varies from artist to artist, and is the basis of their distinctive work. A Zen adage reads: “There are many paths to the top of the mountain. “ There are also many paths, many routes, to artistic truth. You are on a path.

To Ruskin the artist’s truth lay in his/her self-expression, the revelation of the artist’s being, such as the painter’s special talent to convey every shadow, every hue, every line, every impression of “visible things around him ” and secondly his ability to communicate his every emotion. Painter and print maker Edward Hopper too believed that the aim of great painters was to attempt “to force the unwilling medium of paint” into a record of their emotions. A skilled writer, a skilled dancer, a skilled sculptor works an entire career to express every shadow and every emotion—in words, in motion, in an object.

Truth and the Artist’s Vision

In Fire in the Crucible: The Alchemy of Creative Genius, John Briggs sees the artist’s quest for truth and beauty as the artist’s important motivation to communicate his/her vision. That vision is based on “themes” which are the artist’s “fingerprints.” The vision is a strong part of the artist’s identity and may well have become a part of him in childhood, and may well too, be reflected in his work all his future life. In early life future artists accumulate experiences, people, places, key episodes, and ideas which they will draw on the rest of their lives, endlessly recapitulating them in their work. These are the origins of their craft. Anyone who knows an artist’s work well is able to identify the artist’s recurring themes and subjects—his preoccupations that are everywhere in the work.

Your work has themes in it that are inseparable from your personality and creative spirit and life. Those themes and that vision affect everything about your work down to its smallest detail. Every part of the artist is revealed in his/her art and cannot be hidden. And if it is really art, its truth is that it is in close partnership with the whole being of the audience that the artist is trying to reach, the beauty and truth in the work resonating in the sensitivity to truth and beauty in the audience.

Hemingway’s Truth

No artist talked about or wrote about or was more consumed with the quest for truth than Ernest Hemingway. The writer’s job, he said, is quite simply “to tell the truth,” to speak truly. To tell the truth was to tell about what he had personally experienced, or what he knew from going through something similar. Most artists are concerned with subjective truth more than literal truth, but Hemingway used no other information from any sources than what had happened to him, not literary sources, not academic. Truth was transcribing accurately and simply for the reader “the way it was,” and “the real thing,” putting down what he saw and felt in the simplest way he could. He could invent and elaborate as any artist does, but he elaborated from the reality of what he actually knew from having been there. He said that a writer’s “gift” was a conscience, a “built-in, shockproof bull shit detector” the “writer’s radar” that went off in his mind when the writer was not telling the truth, but “faking.”

Hemingway wrote in Death in the Afternoon:

“I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, was to put down what really happened in action: what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced…the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck, and if you stated it purely enough, always.”

Similar to Hemingway, many painters paint only what is before them and is true and visible, and refuse to paint from memory. Are you an artist who sticks to “the way it was” and “the real thing”?

Henry Miller/ Gertrude Stein/ Paul Cezanne

Novelist and essayist Henry Miller felt that the artist’s truth lies in finding a “voice,” and that the discovery of one’s true voice doesn’t happen easily, but requires boldness. Miller imitated every style in hopes of finding the clue to the gnawing secret of how to write. Then:

“Finally I came to a dead-end, to a despair and desperation which few men have known because there was no divorce between myself as a writer and myself as a man: to fail as a writer meant to fail as a man…It was at that point…that I really began to write. I began from scratch, throwing everything overboard, even those I loved. Immediately I heard my own voice…the fact that I was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me. It didn’t matter to me if what I wrote should be considered bad. Good and bad had dropped out of my vocabulary…My life itself became a work of art. I had found a voice. I was whole again.” (Henry Miller, Reflections on Writing)

Gertrude Stein also found truth and beauty coming out of the artist’s spontaneity: You “have to know what you want to get; but when you know that, let it take you and if it seems to take you off the track don’t hold back, because that is perhaps where instinctively you want to be and if you hold back and try to be always where you have been before, you will go dry.”

Truth doesn’t lie in “careful thinking,” But “It will come if it is there and if you will let it come, and if you have anything you will get a sudden creative recognition.” It “will be a creation if it came out of the pen and out of you and not out of an architectural drawing of the thing you are doing.” (John Hyde Preston, “A Conversation with Gertrude Stein”). In the same way, 19th century landscape painter George Inness found that the truth of art is the artist’s “personal vital force” that if left alone comes out of the artist spontaneously without fear or hesitation.

A creator must necessary possess tremendous drive, determination, and persistence because exceptional creativity requires a tremendous amount of effort. Paul Cezanne’s truth was the perfection of his craft in a lifetime’s work: “I could paint for a hundred years, a thousand years without stopping, and it would still seem to me as if I knew nothing…I consume myself, kill myself, to cover fifty centimeters of canvas…I want to die painting…” All great artists are spurned on by a single-mindedness, but few can match Cezanne in that regard.

An Architect’s Truth

new-york-115629_640Frank Lloyd Wright was America’s greatest architect. Not one given to easy goals, Wright’s architectural goals were , he stated, “the rejuvenation of architecture, the creation of indigenous forms to express and suit life in the United States, and the destruction of Fakery and Sham (that) rule the day.” To Wright, truth didn’t lie on the surface of things. Surfaces were deception. Truth was hidden and capable of being discovered only by probing deeply. “For the architect the patient analysis of nature would reveal the true meaning of functional structures.” Wright found in nature and the machine the two inseparable cornerstones of his search for truth. (Robert C. Twombly, Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and His Architecture.)

A Dancer’s Truth

Isadora Duncan’s quest for a dancer’s truth was lifelong and intense. “My art is just an effort to express the truth of my Being in gesture and movement. It has taken me long years to find even one true movement…I spent long days and nights in the studio seeking that dance might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body’s movement…I was seeking and finally discovered the central spring of all movement, the center of motor power, the unity from which all diversities of movement are born, the mirror of the vision for the creation of the dance—it was from that discovery that was born the theory on which I founded my school.” (Isadora Duncan, Autobiography)

Commitment and Sacrifice as Truth

Artists exhibit ferocious concentration on the task to be accomplished and will let nothing divert them from accomplishing it.

“I have always put the requirement of what I was writing first–before jobs, before children, before any material or practical interest, and if I discover that anything interferes with what I’m doing, I chuck it. Perhaps this is foolish, but it has always been the case with me.” (Saul Bellow)

“What one bestows on private life—in conversations, however refined it may be…is the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents the world.” (Novelist V.S. Naipaul)

“Sometimes I don’t understand why my arms don’t drop from my body with fatigue, why my brain doesn’t melt away. I am leading an austere life, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent frenzy, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but never abates.” (Gustave Flaubert)

Your Artist’s Credo

It should be apparent from what you’ve just read that great artists are precise and clear and quite serious about what they are striving to accomplish—what truth they’re seeking–and can describe it succinctly in a paragraph or two.

How would you describe your overall artistic vision, the truths you are trying to express in work after work? And what are the handful of most important recurring themes that are so much a part of you?

“What I’m trying to get across is…”

“In all my works I find these themes again and again…”

You might ask people who know your work well their opinion. Put the answers down in writing, a statement of your artist’s credo.

Let me know by leaving a comment about the truth you are seeking, your artistic vision, and the themes in your work. I’m writing a book about art and artists of all kinds and want to see what your thinking is. If you are not an artist but are interested in the subject, I would like to hear your opinions too.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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To Think, To Decide, To Act: Trust Only Movement

Living at White Heat

highway-393492_640“A motto for man: to do and through doing to ‘do’ himself
and be nothing but what he has made of himself.” Jean Paul Sartre

 

Katherine is such a good woman, a kind-hearted woman, obviously very bright, and likable, friendly, and generous to a fault. There is so much to her, so many gifts, so much to offer, so much promise, but she’s snagged, she’s caught, she’s trapped, and she is not looking for a way to escape. And the days pass.

Someone asked her if she’s happy and she said she is. But the next morning she thought about it and realized she isn’t. It’s no mystery to her why. She knows she’s not nearly as ambitious as she might be, and hasn’t found a heartfelt purpose to get up for in the morning. And she’s in a job she doesn’t like, but makes no attempt to find anything more suitable. Her partner abruptly ended their long relationship, and she’s lonely. But she’s made no effort to find someone else or to look for an activity she would enjoy and would divert her attention from her loneliness. She has friends, but none of them close.

Her life has settled into a tedious routine. From her building’s elevator over to the garage, the mile to the office, lunch at the Greek restaurant, the mile home, and the elevator. Laundry Wednesday night about seven and shopping on Saturday morning, the newspaper on Sunday, and on Monday at 8:30 her favorite TV show.

She looks in the mirror twice a day and sees she’s gaining weight around the middle, and doesn’t like that, but doesn’t do anything about it. No different from a billion other people, she never stops to ask herself, “Why am I living this life when I could always a live another.” She could be leading a better life, a life with meaning, if she made new decisions and followed through on them, no more apathy and no excuses.

To think, to decide, to act, to do something, to get things done, to attend to what needs attention, to reduce the distance between where you are now and where you want to be in life–that’s a human being’s inherent nature. You were not created to be stationary, to be limp and weak and unmoving, but were brought into this world with movement in mind. Action is your natural inclination, a fulfilling life your true destiny. It’s what you’re body and mind are designed for: to make choices and changes, take risks, accept responsibility, exert energy, and achieve purposes. You only reveal the person you truly are in decisive action. Only then do you reach your enormous possibilities. But you must trust only movement.

If we cast a glance at people in general we find the opposite of a continuous advance toward a better life. Standing still in life and doing nothing is plainly the common condition, resisting change even if one’s life is quietly unbearable. Letting opportunities to explore new ways of being and discover new strengths, new people, and new pleasures slip away, and slip away again.

 Recognize the Clues

No one has to tell you there’s a discrepancy between the life you’re leading and the better one you have the potentials to be leading. You know something is wrong before anyone else, and you know it better than anyone else. And if you are intelligent and aware, that knowledge never leaves you alone. Some people intend to change their life, and may swear to others they will. “Someday,” they say, “I’ll do this and then I’ll do that and things will get better.” But when they cast an honest eye on their life in progress they see certain indications that their life is going wrong, certain clues.

An Inappropriate life

There comes a moment when you realize that you could have just as well have lived a thousand different lives but have lived this one, that you could just as well have taken a thousand different paths but took this one; that perhaps they are the wrong life and the wrong path.

Running Out of Time

From time to time you have to ask yourself if you’ve have made the most of your limited time here on earth. Then in a moment of quiet panic some people realize they haven’t. Entering the Garden of Eden, God called to Adam, “Where art thou.” He was asking Adam to account for himself. We all have to account for ourselves. X days and years of the time allotted to you have passed. How far have you gotten?

Hideouts and Cover Stories

People often go to extreme lengths to fabricate a cover story to explain why they’re not making the most of their lives. They hide out. You know people who are hiding out. You can even recite their cover stories, you’ve heard them so often: “This didn’t work out and that didn’t work out. My luck was bad, and things were so dead set against me. I’m as smart as anyone else, but I didn’t get the breaks.” During moments of clarity they become aware that the best part of themselves has never come out of hiding. They cower behind the cover stories they invented and escape to hideouts. You want to say, “Wake up! Stop hiding. Don’t settle for a crummy life.”

Cancelled Dreams

At some point some people give up and abandon their dreams. They continue the rest of their days recalling how pleasant their dreams once had been. Dreams are frail things that disappear if they aren’t turned to reality.

Inaction

You may be a person of action. If you are, when there’s something to be done, you do it. Hard work is necessary if you are to have the life you deserve, so you work hard. You have purposes to attend to and you attend to them. There are obstacles to conquer, so you conquer them. But this man is paralyzed by inaction. He doubts himself and is afraid. He doesn’t do what’s necessary to improve his life. When he is set back he gives up trying and doesn’t bother anymore. His determination withers away. He can follow routines–up at six, home at six–because routines require no imagination or initiative; no risks, no commitments. But when it comes to stepping out of the familiar stream of daily routine and taking action to make more of his life–changing careers, starting a business, leaving a disappointing life behind, moving to a different place, for example– he’s in over his head, he’s helpless There’s procrastinating over the small things–failing to return a library book on time–and there is procrastinating over the big things–failing to make important life-changing decisions and take action, procrastinating your existence into oblivion.

Disillusionment

There’s supposed to be some vital meaning to our lives. But there comes a time when some people are forced to ask, “Is this all there is?” They realize that their lives have little meaning, and without meaning there isn’t much to life. They long to be breathless with desire for–something, anything.

 Unfulfilled Promise

In high school Kim was somebody. But now she realizes that something somehow happened, and she’s been left behind. She’s nowhere near the bright future that once seemed so clearly, like a beacon, to lie ahead. She can’t shake that off. She lives in the past, in her glory years. She’s snagged; she’s stuck. She makes no progress.

A Mechanical Existence

There’s a saying: “Be sure you’re riding the horse and the horse isn’t riding you.” Some people choose to be ridden by the horse. They’re living all right–their heart is beating and they breathe– but they’re not leading their life at all, but are being led. Their lives are too easy, too predictable, and too uneventful, and are headed nowhere. There’s nothing in store, no excitement, no surprises.

A Phony Life

Many people live one way while their true self urges them to live a truer, more authentic, more suitable way. They often stay busy in a whirlwind of activity that unbeknownst to them is designed to allow no time to stop and ask, “Am I doing the best I can, am I going right, or have I just gotten good at leading a phony existence?”

 Living with White Heat

When you put behind you an inappropriate life, hideouts and cover stories, cancelled dreams, inaction, unfulfilled promise, a mechanical existence, and a phony life and disillusionment and choose to live a decisive style of life, you become committed to your actions with your whole person. You live with white heat. When you decide with your whole being, all that you are and all that you can be and hope to be are right there with you. You throw yourself completely into the decision. You’re in this thing to the end and your commitment knows no bounds. You focus, you bear down. There’s something out of the ordinary about you that people recognize, a seriousness of intent, a rare intensity. You’re not fooling around, you’re deadly serious about your life and its goals, and you’re not run of the mill. You’re a different breed of man, a different breed of woman, and that’s obvious. Your determination is as hard as granite. You’re unbendable. You never deviate from your decisiveness.

We’re born and hurled into the future. What’s unique about you sets you apart and launches you in a direction. Always follow where your gifts, your talents, and your intelligence lead you. You were meant to let yourself be drawn in that direction. Why resist?

A man was curious and attended an art show to ask a famous sculptor if he had advice for his son John, a sculptor who was just beginning. The sculptor said, “Yes I do have advice. It’s very simple. You tell John to pick up his mallet and his chisel and make chips.”

We’d be better off, you and I, if like a sculptor sculpting our own lives, we too made a decision to make chips.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Finding a Creative Second Life: Parallel Careers

rails-407242_640This post is about realizing what marvelous talents and gifts you may possess and may not yet be fully using, but may wish to. It tells the stories of people who felt the same.

People from many countries will read this post and there is no doubt in my mind that they will think of similar examples from their own countries. I’d be interested in learning about them.

 George Bernard Shaw

Before settling down to a playwright’s life and eventually being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, Irishman George Bernard Shaw drifted aimlessly and unhappily from one occupation to another, including selling men’s clothes in a shop. He thought of becoming a novelist, so dutifully while selling real estate, he wrote one novel each year for five years and submitted the manuscripts to a publisher. Each was rejected, and he was discouraged.

Finally a sympathetic editor accompanied a rejected manuscript with a note stating that while the publishing house would have to turn down this manuscript too, the dialogue was superb. The editor asked, “Did you ever think of writing plays?” Shaw had written little plays as a boy that he and his friends would perform to entertain his family, but he hadn’t written one since.

Encouraged now, immediately he turned to using his strength–writing dialogue. He wasn’t meant to sell men’s shirts or real estate. He wasn’t even meant to write novels. He wasn’t meant for a thousand things. He was meant to write plays. (In my language, that was his intended destiny.) That’s what he was best equipped to do, just as you are best equipped for certain undertakings.

Core Strengths

An important way to find fulfillment in life and perhaps stumble upon a new identity is by making regular use of your principal strengths–your main aptitudes, talents, gifts, personal qualities, and capabilities, and doing so freely, without inhibition, without conflicts, without being interfered with.

Your strengths are what, in particular, out of all you’re capable of, you do better than anything else, and perhaps are happier doing than anything else. They are whatever you’re doing when you feel deep down, “Now, at this moment, I’m doing what I do especially well. I love it. It makes me happy.”

You have many strengths, but one is dominant. It is your main strength, your core strength. You’re at your best when you’re making use of your core strength in an occupation, or while pursuing a purpose that is important to you, or in an abiding interest, all of which bring fulfillment.

From your earliest years you have gravitated toward activities that enabled you to make use of your core strength. As a child you enjoyed building bridges with blocks. You never forgot the joy you felt. You became an engineer so that you could feel that the rest of your life. Or you liked to paint; or liked sports; or liked to sing; you liked to play in the garden; you enjoyed being with friends and showing them your poems. You were particularly good at math.

The life pursuits of people who excel were often foreshadowed by what deeply interested them as children. A chord was struck; something crystalized; a future was laid out. At times, like Shaw, they drift from one field, one occupation, to another, experiencing dead-ends and false starts, and only later return to that earlier interest, and then feel, “This is what I should have been doing all along.” So it is a good idea to never forget what your heart was once drawn to, but to keep it in mind whatever else you might be doing in your life.

In a previous blog I described the Zeigarnik Effect (named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the first person to study it): you don’t forget important things you started even long ago, but did not complete. They linger in your mind, reappearing from time to time, and in fact you remember them better than you do completed tasks. You have a strong desire to finally complete them, and you may do so many years later. That people have a need to finish what they start is true especially of the most highly motivated people.

As a boy, my friend loved to listen to his father tell stories of significant events in history and great people who did great things. He would then tell his friends the stories his father had told him. He worked hard and became a top executive with one of the world’s largest retailers. But he found that something was missing–the stories his father had told him and that he had loved. So while working at his job during the day, he earned a PhD in history at night, a subject which he now teaches at a university after work. Now he can tell his father’s stories again.

Putting yourself in a position to return to your past interests and make use of your core strength, if you aren’t already, is a strategy for bringing about positive change in your life and lifting up your spirits to new heights.

 A Parallel Career

The majority of people across the world are bursting with talents and gifts they are longing to make use of. Most people are far greater than their jobs no matter how excellent that job is. They usually have valuable qualities that are never called upon. They possess more intelligence, energy, motivation, imagination, and creativity than their jobs will ever require of them, and their core strength may go unused. So while working their entire career in one occupation that is otherwise perfectly fine and brings them satisfaction, they find more creative outlets to express themselves further and to make use of their core strength and find still more satisfaction. And sometimes the parallel career consumes them and they achieve extraordinary accomplishments and make names for themselves.

Robert Ardrey was a Hollywood screenwriter in high demand and a playwright who had two plays on Broadway at the same time. But he loved anthropology and the behavioral sciences and studied them on the side. He popularized the concept of “the territorial imperative” which asserts that living creatures, including human beings, instinctively protect their territory. (The farther away from the center of it you stay, the less interested in you they are. But step into their territory and the more aggressive they become.) Ardrey became a renowned paleoanthropologist and wrote the best seller African Genesis.

Busy housewife and mother Anne Sexton watched a PBS show on “How to Write a Sonnet” and sat down and wrote one. That first exposure to creative writing ignited an interest, revealed a core strength, and started her on the path to a parallel career. She never attended college. Her only formal education consisted of sporadic adult education classes at a handful of Boston-area colleges. Yet her poems won immediate attention through their appearance in literary magazines and newspapers. A stream of awards and grants followed the release of each of her first three books. Her fourth, Live or Die, won the Pulitzer Prize. She said, “Until I was twenty-eight I had a kind of buried self who didn’t know she could do anything but make white sauce and diaper babies. I didn’t know I had any creative depths.”

Charles Ives—“an American original,” was one of the first American composers to receive renown internationally. He worked during the day as an insurance company executive, as did poet Wallace Stevens, who received the Pulitzer Prize and twice won the National Book Award. American influential and innovative poet William Carlos Williams and Anton Chekov, Russia’s finest playwright and the world’s best short story writer ever, were both practicing physicians. Franz Kafka was a government bureaucrat during the day. Twentieth century English novelist Henry Green, called “the most original…the best writer of his time,” was born into a wealthy family and was the managing director of its bottling business.

Henri Rousseau, a self-taught French post-impressionistic, though busy at work and with a family, started drawing and painting seriously in his forties. Although untutored, he influenced many painters, especially Pablo Picasso. Rousseau worked as a customs official, and was known as Le Douanier, “the customs officer.” Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick and Billy Budd, was also a customs official– at the New York Port Authority.

Englishman Anthony Trollope was one of the most prolific, respected, and successful writers of the Victorian Era. Not much of a believer in art-for-arts-sake, he wrote that all “material progress has come from man’s desire to do the best he can for himself and those about him.,” and stated that what motivated him was what motivates lawyers and bakers—“to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort.” He was a career post office employee who wrote his 47 novels and dozens of short stories and travel books while on trains to and from assignments. He claimed that he wasn’t extraordinary, but that any writer could be as prolific if he just budgeted his time efficiently.

Benjamin Lee Whorf, one of history’s foremost linguists, was by profession a chemical engineer and fire prevention inspector. He studied linguistics as a hobby. Truly a towering figure in sociology, Herbert Spencer was also an anthropologist and political theorist, and made a separate reputation in biology.

William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus; in fact it was called Herschel until Uranus was universally accepted. By profession he was an orchestra conductor and a composer known for his twenty-four symphonies.

Colorful novelist and art critic Andre Malraux, called by Jacqueline Kennedy, “the most fascinating man I ever talked to,” was a statesman, the French Minister for Cultural Affairs. Popular novelist Tom Clancy worked as an insurance salesman. Another Nobel Laureate, poet and literary critic T.S Eliot, worked full-time as a banker and then as a chief executive in a publishing company. The author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, was a professional mathematician, and noted photographer.

Samuel F.B. Morse was a prominent American portrait painter. He received a message that his wife Susan, age 25, was seriously ill. He rushed from Washington to his home in New Haven to find that she had died while he was returning. Devastated by his failure to reach her in time and the inability of the current message technology to get the news to him faster, he set out to develop a more effective system of long-distance communication. He then invented the telegraph and the Morse code that achieved that goal, connecting all four corners of the globe.

Follow Where Your Core Strength Leads You

Which of your many strengths is your core strength, not your second strength, or third, or fourth? What do you do especially well and continually gravitate toward? What are you doing when you don’t want to quit? What are you doing when you feel most fulfilled and can say, “This is me at my best. There is nothing else like this.”

The goal is to be able to make full use of your core strength freely, without inhibition, without conflicts, without being interfered with.

Possibly in a parallel career.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Beware Of Becoming What You Weren’t Supposed To Be: Your Two Destinies

Tailors and Generals

road-220058_640The story goes that a man died and went to heaven. Meeting Saint Peter at the gates, watching the crowds of people passing through, he said, “Saint Peter, I’m curious. Point out to me the greatest general in history.” Saint Peter gazed into the mass of people, spotted the man he was looking for and pointing, said, “There he is, that one over there.” The man was shocked. He said, “That’s not a general. That’s just Harry, a tailor from my old neighborhood.”

Yes,” said Saint Peter, “you’re right, that is Harry the tailor. But had he been a soldier he would have been the greatest general in history.”

My question is, “Why are so many people leading a tailor’s life when they should be generals?”

 The Urge to Grow and Flourish

 In the title of a radio show I was a guest on was the word “destiny,” and I started by saying, “I couldn’t be on a more appropriate show. I’m a strong believer in destiny. Here’s what I mean…”

The word “destiny” has the same root as “destination.” It’s where you’re headed. Your destiny is not a pre-ordained life that you’re forced to lead because it’s been laid out before you in detail by some master planner who has absolute control over you. Your destiny depends more than anything on your own free will and it is as much a part of you as your ear.

Every living thing has an innate urge to grow, to flourish, to realize its full potential. A maple tree “wishes” to become all the maple tree it can be, an ear of corn, an ear of corn, a lilac a lilac, you an actor, to discover, develop, refine, and put to use your full talents in performances before an admiring public, and you, a painter, to see your works adorning walls.

This inner urge–this impulse–pushes all living things to strive to become what they are equipped for and have the potential to become, no matter how harsh or unaccommodating the environment. Composers and musical performers who, like Claude Debussy, grow up in unmusical families, and poets and other geniuses of the language whose parents are illiterate or who themselves quit school at twelve–Mark Twain, who claimed that he never let schooling interfere with his education–and Walt Whitman, one day to make himself through his own efforts, high ambitions, and self-teaching into, rather mysteriously, America’s best and most expressive poet.

Denied water, a tree will send out its roots long distances in search of it. Hidden in shadows, it will twist its branches until they reach sunlight. Some people too, will do whatever’s needed to reach sunlight.

 You Have Two Destinies

You have not one, but two, destinies. One is your INTENDED DESTINY and the other is your ACTUAL DESTINY. Your intended destiny is the life you are fully equipped with the talents, gifts, personality, and intelligence to have. The other, your actual destiny, is what you actually became and the life you’re actually living. You know people who have all that’s necessary to become A, and actually became A. But most people’s intended and actual destinies are different. They should have become A, and wanted to become A, but became B instead.

Gary has all that it takes to become a fine architect, but never finished school and settled for being a draftsman. Erin has musical talent and was intended to write popular songs, but works as a sales clerk in a novelty shop and never gets around to writing. Neither put themselves on the right course, or seeing they were on the wrong course, never took it on themselves to change course. They are intended generals who became actual tailors.

The Ideal Is Very Possible

 You’ve reached the ideal when your intended destiny is your actual destiny. Then you’re converting what you hold the promise of being into what you actually are. If you were equipped to be A, and not B, you would be A. Gary would be designing buildings; Erin would be producing songs.

Deep down you and I know that there is a most suitable life for us, more suitable than any other. We can feel that that it’s a specific life. Even if we don’t yet know exactly what it is we feel it and we spend part of our lives—possibly most of our lives—looking for it. To become clear as to what your intended destiny is and to say to it, “I devote myself to you,” is to feel an unstoppable drive toward its due fulfillment and to spring to life. Once you know you’re moving in the right direction and feel strongly about it you fly through your days aflame with energy and determination. If there are obstacles in your way you overcome them, particularly the fear of taking risks.

There’s a part of you that asks yourself, “Why are you here in life and not there? Account for yourself.” If you never start that novel or never start that business that you are equipped for, your conscience won’t let go. From time to time all your life you’ll think, “I should have written that book,” “I should have my own business” and you’ll feel regret, and you’ll never know what might have happened or what your life would have been like.

 The Need to Finish What You Start

Sometimes what we put aside a long time ago but haven’t forgotten is a clue to our true destiny. Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik’s professor Kurt Lewin noticed that a waiter remembered orders only as long as the order was in the process of being served. When it was served, he forgot about it. From this, Zeigarnik developed the theory that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than they do completed tasks (now called “The Zeigarnik Effect”). People who suspend their work and get involved in unrelated activities (such as playing games) will remember material better than people who continue working without taking a break.

As applied to a lifetime it means that you will not forget important things you started even long ago, but did not complete—such as that painting in storage in your basement, or the project you intended to get back to, or the degree you started but never got. Not getting back to them causes a tension that brings repeated thoughts of the unfinished business that doesn’t end until the job is finished. It’s human nature to finish what we start and to feel uneasy until we do. As long as the task is uncompleted your mind continues to work on it, and it will not stop pestering you until you finish the task. I have a novel in a nice bright red binder that I started 35 years ago that has been on my mind ever since. What have you not forgotten that may indicate a direction you should follow?

It’s not unusual for people who distinguish themselves and feel fulfilled to discover the direction of achievements they will have later in life foreshadowed by the interests and preoccupations of their childhood. Quite early in life they became interested in an activity that they later pursued seriously, at times to the exclusion of almost everything else, and at times after pursuing other things that diverted them, often going down a fruitless path and coming to a dead end. The deepening of their interest over time became what guided them to their careers and largely determined their success. So, it could be a turning point when you feel yourself drifting away from your true destiny to ask what interested you when you were a child and haven’t forgotten: “When I was little, I liked especially….”

Timing

You may reach your intended destiny by a rapid jump, a quantum leap, even without any hints beforehand. It seems inconceivable that Joseph Conrad, born Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski, a Polish seaman who spent twenty years on ships and never took a writing class and didn’t learn English until he was in his twenties, should suddenly emerge as one of the greatest and most innovative stylists writing not in Polish, but English. He said later than when he started his first novel one day after breakfast, “I had written nothing but letters, and not very many of these. I never made a note of fact, of an impression or of an anecdote in my life.” His emerging full-blown into a master of the language is one of the puzzles of literary history and human development. But it happened.

You can never say that it’s too late to reach your intended destiny, however roundabout your journey to it has been, or however long it’s taken. Having set out in one direction, you are free to turn and set out in another like a fish in a stream that changes direction any time it wishes. When you overcome past mistakes, false starts, and failures and set out for your intended destiny you feel a sense of rightness, of confidence, of being in complete charge. You think, “This—this—finally is what my life was supposed to be.”

Your true destiny may appear at any time: in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, or late adulthood. Many people enter new paths later than others and they “catch up” quickly and often surpass the others. Duke Ellington’s career was undistinguished until he was forty. Authors Tolstoy, Turgenev, and William Faulkner showed little promise in their youth. They did their best work considerably later than others novelists. Paul Gauguin was a successful Parisian stock broker for years before he turned to art and became a great painter.

Jean Paul Sartre wrote that people exist first and only afterwards define themselves. “They are what they will have planned to be. They are what they conceive themselves to be.” A Japanese adage says, “Irrigators guide water, fletchers straighten arrows, carpenters bend wood, and as for wise people, they shape themselves.”

Shaping yourself into the person you conceive yourself to be—that’s what this post is about.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Developing Talent, Human Potential, and Achievement: Living With a Purpose in Mind

 

My Sister Sharon

At times, it takes a severe blow to waken us our life’s purpose.

My younger sister Sharon died of bone cancer at the age of thirty-seven in a hospital in Honolulu, where she lived. She was a small, delicate woman with the will of a warrior. When a doctor came to see her as she lay in her bed, he jumped back in surprise as though he had been pushed. He said to her, “I feel your power coming out to me.” But she was dying. There was no hope.

Across from the hospital was a tall hotel with tennis courts on the roof. I would stand at the glass doors in Sharon’s hospital room and look straight across at the people in white outfits playing tennis on the green courts in the azure sunlight. I would think of how unfair it was that those players were running, jumping, laughing, swinging their rackets, and were happy while two hundred feet away in that cramped and dark hospital room was my little sister, innocent of any wrongdoing, thin and wasted, unable to stand anymore because the cancer had eaten away the bones in her legs and there were none left to support her, and in pain that was constant and unimaginable. I looked at her. She said, “I’m a mess, aren’t I?” and my heart broke. Once she had been beautiful. I prayed, “Dear God, give me her pain so she will be free of it.”

I told her that I had had writing a book in mind for a long time, but that I was very busy running the business I had started and really had no spare time, and that even if I did write it, it would take years to research and more years to write, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be published, and I had a wife and four children to support and couldn’t afford to take a chance. And I was afraid I would fail. But I didn’t tell her that.

She was in such pain that even the slightest, even the lightest, touch of another person on her was agony. So when I left to fly back home, knowing I would never see her again, I couldn’t kiss her. The pressure of my lips would bring her pain. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. In my ear she whispered, “Dave, you write that book. I have faith in you.”

I returned home and set to work. No hindrance could stop me. What before had been a vague dream now became a purpose to devote myself to, to write a book, a good book, for my little sister. It became my wife’s purpose and my children’s too. Whenever I was down or discouraged that purpose fueled my resolve and made me return to the work to be done. To work long hours till dawn until the book was done.

I dedicated Fighting to Win to her with the inscription: “In memory of my sister Sharon. Just one word—courage.”

Living for a Purpose

What are we living for, merely to hang around life until we’re eighty-five or ninety, building bird houses and wondering while we sit in traffic why there aren’t as many raisins in the Raisin Bran? Merely to be alive and take up space is nothing special. For many people their own life is unfulfilling. They would rather be living someone else’s life.

The human mind is often perplexed when it doesn’t know which goal it should be pursuing. Its greatest burden is to decide what must be done. But when you discover what you must accomplish with your life and moments in it, uncertainty disappears and there comes something new and extraordinary into your existence. You become inspired and mighty. You’re electric with that rarest of qualities possessed by so few—INTENSITY. You move through life a foot off the ground

Then your every act takes on a power strong enough to bring down a wall of iron. All hesitations and fears fall away. You feel a zest, a tingle. Your imagination is on fire. Tedium disappears. It is strength to be of one mind, complete and undivided, fully drawn to a life with purposes you’ve chosen.

It is never justified to say you can’t find a purpose. Purposes lie all around us like glittering jewels. Make whatever you are doing your purpose of the moment, from the smallest act to the grandest. Give what you’re doing stature, however insignificant it may seem. Then you will have intensity.

For a shy girl to conquer her shyness and go to a party alone is a major purpose. She will need a strong will and great courage. To take a second job for your family is a purpose. To be an attentive parent is a purpose. To start out on a new career is a purpose. To save a rain forest is a purpose.

You cannot be dissatisfied when you’re rising to a purpose which needs you and for which you feel you were brought into the world. Then you are at your best, doing what in your best moments you are capable of. You find your most complete fulfillment while dedicating yourself to a task you believe in.

When you make a purpose out of what a moment before was merely a responsibility, a chore, or a duty by thinking, “This–what I am doing–now is my purpose” extraordinary achievements are possible. Obligations, heavy as stone a moment ago, become light as feathers. Your life becomes tinged with a kind of glory. You become tinged with glory, and there is hardly an obstacle that you can’t overcome, no obstacle out in the world, and no obstacle in you. Then you have both power and direction.

When You Rise in the Morning…

You are never too old and never too young. Some must wait longer than others for their purpose to become clear. But whatever the age, when you rise in the morning think of your purpose: day-dream of it. Devote the day to it.

Our main job is not to dwell on what lies dimly in the future, but to do what is clearly at hand. The only way to reach the future we envision is to pour ourselves totally into this day’s purpose. We find our way to our broad life purposes in daily increments. Each year our purpose is divisible by 365. Purposes need your attention not just once in a while, but every day, and many times during a day. “Today my purpose will be to…” Say to yourself, “Focus on your purpose” five, ten, fifteen times a day. Make those four powerful words a part of your life. They will change it.

In the morning, at lunch, in the afternoon, in the evening, when you brush your teeth and go to bed, focus on your purpose. If you have forgotten, remember and get back on track immediately. Never let a day go by without making progress.

Each day has its own significance, and each has a subsequent impact on your life. Each brings promise and good prospects with it. Every day we choose the directions we will take and what we will be. Every moment of your life diverse possibilities open before you. If you decide to do this today, and act accordingly, you will be A tomorrow. But if you decide to do that, you will be completely different. You will be B. So it is a good idea to decide in advance what you want to be when you wake tomorrow.

That is how you construct a future.

“I learned undeviating steadiness of purpose, and to look at nothing else, not even for a moment.” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.” (George Bernard Shaw)

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; think of it; dream of it; live on that one idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.” (Vivekenanda, The Complete Works of Vivekenanda)

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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