Tag Archives: Zeigarnik Effect

13 High Achievement Skills for Artists and Writers

Part I

I’m writing a book that says high achievement for artists and writers is within reach. It describes eight qualities creators need if they are to excel. If even one quality is missing, they will not excel. Day after day for a week I made no progress on one section. I would sit down to work at the computer and find myself fiddling around mindlessly for a few hours, then going down to the kitchen for a snack or looking around for someone to talk to, or I’d do laundry or something and after a while would go back upstairs to the computer with every intention of working on that section only to find myself Laundrychecking the sports scores. Then I’d quit for the day and feel that nagging dissatisfaction with myself that writers and artists so often feel. Finally I sat down on my recliner to try to get to the bottom of this and asked myself, “What’s the problem?” and I immediately answered, “That section is too easy for me.”

Most people in the world can be divided psychologically into two broad groups. Probably you are in one group, just as I am. There is the minority who set and pursue challenges for themselves and are willing to work hard to achieve something, and then the majority who don’t care about challenges all that much and don’t work hard. Those two groups are to be found among artists and writers everywhere in the world, just as they can be found among students, accountants, businessmen and women, athletes, and people in any other field. Mozart was a tremendous worker who practiced, performed, and gripped a quill pen to compose so many hours that by the age of 26 his hands were deformed.

The first group that sets out in pursuit of challenges possesses a distinct kind of motivation, a specific kind of measurable psychological need that the group that is indifferent to challenges lacks. That need is called Achievement Motivation, Success Motivation, or The Need to Achieve, and the people who have it are those who reach higher achievements than most other people, certainly higher than those who don’t care. (Much of the initial work on race-695303_640Achievement Motivation was done by psychologist David C. McClelland). The achievers are more successful artists and writers, just they are more successful students, physicians, athletes, salespeople and business executives. It is naïve of a creator to think talent alone will take a person to great heights. Most teachers of writers and artists will tell you that it is rarely the most talented pupil who dazzled the class that they hear and read about later. They hear about the one who was the most determined to succeed and the most dogged—a member of the first group.

So it seems to me extremely important if you want to enjoy more success, however you define success, to understand what high success people are like, so if you wish, you can become more like them and achieve more creatively and find more fulfillment. If they are in the business world, achievement motivated men and women have high career aspirations just as achievement motivated writers and artists are ambitious and have high career aspirations. Author Ernest Hemingway was as ambitious as anyone. An unbelievably hard worker, he wanted nothing less than to be the world’s greatest writer. And in 1954 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he was. Vincent van Gogh said that while he wasn’t successful during his life—he sold only one painting in his lifetime and traded another for brushes–one day he would take his place among the immortals. In the work world achievement motivated people get more raises and are promoted rapidly. If they are unemployed they get new jobs more quickly than less motivated people. Companies that employ a lot of them prosper.

If you are in the first group—achievers—I know you very well. I know how you think. I know how you act. I know your values. I know something about how your parents reared you. I know what color clothes you prefer to wear.

man-73318_150First of all, you are definitely goal-directed, and it’s no secret to you that achieving goals will require that you follow a linked series of steps over an often long period of months or years as you progress from beginner to expert, and sometimes amateur to professional. P.G. Wodehouse said, “Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.”

From the start you exert yourself and mobilize more energy to reach your goals than other people. And you are able to persist steadily without interruption whereas poorly motivated writers and artists have low energy and will interrupt their work more often and not engage in it for long periods, even years. That can have a detrimental effect: if you neglect an activity for just 48 hours you function much less effectively when you resume the activity. While achievement people are hard persistent workers, they need not fill their entire day with work and are able to cut out and enjoy leisure time. At least in America most people work at least 7 hour days and must travel to and from work, but professional writers usually work at home about four hours, 16.7 % of the day, leaving 20 hours for other things (though some, like prolific novelist Philip Roth, work all the time).

paintings-316440_640A long gestation period is required before artists and writers are fully developed and performing at their peak, and during that period you spend your time actively thinking about how to do things better. You constantly talk about doing things better. You’re concerned with getting better all the time. You take classes, you study, you read, you learn. In other words, you are dominated by what is called An Urge to Improve. It’s not difficult to understand why people who constantly think about doing better:

  1. Are apt to do better at what they’re interesting in doing better
  2. Prefer working in situations where they can tell easily if they are improving or aren’t
  3. Keep track of their performance so they can tell if they’re in fact doing better

If you are an achiever, the goals you set are one or more of four types:

One, you compete with yourself, trying to achieve more in the future than you’ve achieved in the past. Is this true of you? If it is, you stay interested by aiming higher and higher. Once you’ve achieved a goal, the goal loses its luster and you now want something more. You had an essay published. That’s over and done; now you’ll write a book.

Two, you compete with others. You may not like it, but unless you do your creative work solely for the joy of it, you have to compete. Hundreds of writers, possibly thousands, are trying to get their stories in the same magazines as you and as many artists are trying to get their work shown in the same galleries. As novelist Doris Lessing said: “You have to remember that nobody ever wants a new writer. You have to create your own demand.” No one wants a new painter either. And so to draw attention to yourself in a cluttered field of one talented person among many talented people, you must develop the competitive survival skills of the showman and self-promoter.

The necessity of competing needn’t cause anxiety if you learn to be dispassionate and non-attach. Then you see competing as just another challenge and role, the role of the marketer of your work, a set of skills that can be learned, the logical conclusion of all your development and all your work.

Three, you engage in a long-term involvement over the long haul, and four, you pursue unique accomplishments–definitions of the work of writers and artists.

painting-316135_640You have sub-goals which will lead in an orderly way to the achievement of your major goals. For example, you know that to do as well as you hope, you’ll need to acquire more and more knowledge of your craft throughout your career. Knowledge is not quite everything, but almost. Writers and artists of all kinds draw from all the cumulative knowledge they’ve acquired. They do that sometimes consciously, sometimes spontaneously. What they know is reflected in their every word, every turn of phrase, every image, every idea, and every choice of color and perspective and every brush stroke. So it is incumbent on them if they are to excel to learn more and more about their craft, including how it’s done and how others have done it.

You take a futuristic view and are a long-range planner who keeps his/her goals in mind continually. They are never out of your mind very long. (In itself, this makes you exceptional because most people have very little idea of what their goals are and don’t think of them often.) The more important the goal is to a low-motivated person, the less interested in it he becomes. He loses focus on what’s important. But the more important it is to you, the achiever, the more challenging and therefore the more interesting to you it is. As it becomes ever more important it becomes ever more challenging and ever more interesting.

It’s worth remembering that to an achievement motivated person like yourself failure to achieve a goal makes the goal more attractive, not less. Failure doesn’t devastate you, but pushes you to greater effort because now it is even more of a challenge, and you thrive on challenges. You try again. And then again and again tenaciously until you succeed, whereas a less strongly motivated writer or artist may not try a second time and never reach success.

You are aware that reaching your goals depends on how difficult they are in relation to your capabilities. The ideal you’re trying for is to match your abilities perfectly with your goals, your abilities equipping you to achieve them all. If you lack the ability, you cannot reach the goal. Simple tasks and very difficult tasks are interesting to people with low motivation, but not to those with achievement motivation like yourself. You’re drawn to goals that are moderately difficult—not too easy; not too hard, but a little out of reach. Goals like that motivate you the most.

It’s been said that if writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers, and John Steinbeck said the profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business, and the same is true of painting, dancing, and acting. If you’re an achievement motivated writer or artist you won’t even try to reach goals that in your judgment of your own capabilities you don’t have at least a 30% chance of reaching. I submitted a manuscript to a publisher with the odds of publication statistically about 3,000 to 1 against. But I was confident and thought I had a 30% chance. I was right and the book was published.

joshua-tree-5104_640You will not pursue goals that aren’t challenging enough. Sure things hold no excitement for you. They’re not interesting, just as the section of the book I’m writing is too easy for me. So you spice things up to make the goals more challenging, sometimes making the sculpture or the novel you’re working on more complicated, more ambitious, something, you’ve never tried before, for example. If something is important to the achiever, she will sometimes work days or weeks non-stop. But if it isn’t, she’ll avoid work. She’ll go fishing.

Think about your three main writing/art goals at this time. Your crucial goals should always be held clearly in mind so that if I asked you could quickly say…

“No doubt about it, my major overriding goal now is…

“My second most important goal is…

“Also very important is…

Do you feel all in all you have a 30%-65% chance of reaching them? (I’m asking you if they are moderately difficult goals, the achiever’s aim.)

 

Part II

 You work in intense, concentrated spurts (which studies find now is the most effective way to work). Other people often marvel at your capacity for sustained effort. They ask, “What do you have going for you that you can stick to it and never seem to tire?” It’s because you are achievement motivated. But when the work is done, you put it completely out of mind and want nothing more to do with it. You want to go on right away to the next moderately difficult project, or you want to go to the beach and forget all about your work. The change from hard work to a total disinterest in work is so extreme at times that your significant other will say to you, “One minute you’re a ball of fire, the next I can’t get you to do a thing.” A research study found that professional writers couldn’t remember what they had just written, but amateurs could remember very clearly what they had written.

You consider your goals very carefully if you are achievement motivated. You “research the environment,” gathering information wherever you can and consider the probability of success of a variety of alternatives and try to find goals and tasks that will excite you. Should you continue working on the project you’ve started or stop and begin something else? One thing experienced creative people are good at is knowing when something is not going to work out, and if it isn’t, they don’t hesitate to junk it. Writers have been known to write an entire book, then decide they don’t like it and put it in a drawer and forget about it. Should you get help? Getting help is a sign in itself that you’re trying to reach the goal. Should you try something completely different such as a new style, a new technique, a new market for your work? You take time to reflect on your career, your strengths, your weaknesses, your ambitions, and your possible future continually.

When you set goals you spend more time thinking about what it would be like to succeed than what it would be like to fail. You don’t dwell on failure, only on success. And what is success to you? It is reaching excellence. Producing excellent work is far more important to you than prestige. But prestige is more important than excellence to those whose motivation is low, and they dwell on the possibility of failure.

When working in a group setting and asked to pick someone to help them solve a problem, low motivated people will tend to choose friends, but the most highly motivated will choose for a partner someone who’s more able than they are, friend or no friend.

You are task-oriented, a hard-worker no matter what the situation is—writing, painting, doing chores, planning a novel, assembling a dresser. The low-motivated writer or artist avoids working hard whenever he can. Also, highly motivated people, surprisingly, are better able to recall tasks they didn’t finish. And if they’re given a chance, they will return and compete those tasks. Even tasks that were interrupted many years before—the so-called Zeigarnik Effect. Achievers are not comfortable with unfinished business.

You prefer to take personal responsibility for outcomes rather than to leave the outcome to chance. You want outcomes to be the result of your own efforts and your own skills. You are not a gambler if no personal skills are involved and if winning and losing is a matter of luck and not of skill. Lotteries and slot-machines aren’t appealing because no skill is involved. If you were able to throw dice with a 1 in 3 chance of success or work on a problem with the same odds, you will choose to work on the problem because the result would be dependent on your abilities rather than chance.

Since achievement motivated people are always interested in improving their performance, they crave feedback on how well they are doing. The feedback must be (1) rapid and (2) specific. They want to know now and they want to know why. They are writers and artists who want constructive criticism.

So if you wish to be more of an achieving writer and artist:

  1. Pursue moderately difficult goals that require: a) doing better, b) competing for success, and c) engaging in projects that need long-term involvement and unique accomplishments.
  2. Get in the habit of researching your environment, looking for many sources of useful information you’ll need to set reasonable and attractive goals.
  3. Don’t dwell on failure; dwell on success. Think of what it will be like when you’ve succeeded.
  4. Be always expanding your knowledge. Set knowledge development learning goals.
  5. Take a long-term view of your writing, your painting, your sculpting.
  6. Be interested in excellence for its own sake.
  7. Work intensely in spurts and persist in the face of failure.
  8. Carefully consider the probability of success achieving each of your goals.
  9. Take personal responsibility for your work and your career.
  10. Get rapid and specific feedback on your efforts continually.
  11. Get help
  12. Be thinking all the time of how to do things better.
  13. Place your confidence in your own abilities and your own hard work.

I’ll have to find a way to make writing that section of the artist’s and writer’s book more interesting—more moderately difficult–so I can work harder and finish it. We’ll see what happens.

© 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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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:

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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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