One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand. Although the book is often overshadowed by Rand's master work, "Atlas Shrugged", I continue to prefer the prior. Rand has said that Roark is an imperfect embodiment of her life philosophy, known as Objectivism. Conversely, she considers the protagonist in "Atlas Shrugged", John Galt, as the perfect embodiment of these principles. Still, I find myself more strongly drawn to Roark's story, perhaps because he is not perfect...Knowing that he, too, is human somehow makes his story more appealing, perhaps because it seems attainable.
I aspire to share Roark's passion for his work. More correctly, I aspire to find work from which I can glean similar inspiration, focus, and commitment. Roark is adamantly committed to practicing his chosen profession of architecture, but on his own terms, and one cannot help but respect him for it. Roark's commitment to his craft fully and completely defines his life- it is truly all he needs to sustain himself. This compelling characteristic is well-defined in the following excerpt from "The Fountainhead":
Roark walked up the path to the top of the cliff where the steel hulk of the Heller house rose into a blue sky. The skeleton was up and the concrete was being poured; the great mats of the terraces hung over the silver sheet of water quivering far below; plumbers and electricians had started laying their conduits. He looked at the squares of sky delimited by the slender lines of girders and columns, the empty cubes of space he had torn out of the sky. His hands moved involuntarily, filling in the planes of walls to come, enfolding the future rooms. A stone clattered from under his feet and went bouncing down the hill, resonant drops of sound rolling in the sunny clarity of the summer air.
He stood on the summit, his legs planted wide apart, leaning back against space. He looked at the materials before him, the knobs of rivets in steel, the sparks in blocks of stone, the weaving spirals in fresh, yellow planks...Roark walked through the house. There were moments when he could be precise, impersonal, and stop to give instructions as if this were not his house but only a mathematical problem; when he felt the existence of pipes and rivets, while his own person vanished. There were moments when something arose within him, not a thought nor a feeling, but a wave of some physical violence, and then he wanted to stop, to lean back, to feel the reality of his person heightened by the frame of steel that rose dimly about the bright, outstanding existence of his body as its center. He did not stop. He went on calmly. But his hands betrayed what he wanted to hide. His hands reached out, ran slowly down the beams and joints. The workers in the house had noticed it. They said, "That guy's in love with the thing. He can't keep his hands off."
The workers liked him...He walked through the structure, stepping lightly over piles of planks and coils of wire, he made notes, he gave brief orders in a harsh voice. He avoided looking in Mike's direction. But Mike was watching him, following his progress through the house. Mike winked at him in understanding, whenever he passed by. Mike said once, "Control yourself, Red. You're open like a book. God, it's indecent to be so happy!"
Roark stood on the cliff, by the structure, and looked at the countryside, at the long, gray ribbon of the road twisting past along the shore. An open car drove by, fleeing into the country. The was overfilled with people bound for a picnic. There was a jumble of bright sweaters, and scarfs fluttering in the wind; a jumble of voices shrieking without purpose over the roar of the motor, and overstressed hiccoughs of laughter; a girl sat sidewise, her legs flung over the side of the car; she wore a man's straw hat slipping down to her nose and she yanked savagely at the strings of a ukulele, ejecting raucous sounds, yelling "Hey!" These people were enjoying a day of their existence; they were shrieking to the sky their release from the work and the burdens of the days behind them; they had worked and carried the burdens in order to reach a goal-- and this was the goal.
He looked at the car as it streaked past. He thought there was a difference, some important difference, between the consciousness of this day in him and in them. He thought that he should try to grasp it. But he forgot. He was looking at a truck panting up the hill, loaded with a glittering mound of cut granite.
I recently watched the movie 'The Hero' and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in a film that evaluates the difficulties surrounding self-examination, hard truths, and acceptance. Towards the end of the film, a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay is recited. The main takeaway of the poem is that we are all bound to death, no matter how talented, humble, kind, or generous we may be in life. The piece is written from the perspective of a friend, family member, or loved one who acknowledges the imminent fact of death, but simply does not approve of the passing of those who embody the best of us. It really is a fantastic poem and I was surprised that I had not encountered it before.
I was also struck by the perspective relative to another famous poem on the same topic entitled 'Do Not Go Gently' by Dylan Thomas. Both St. Vincent Millay and Thomas write from the perspective of one who has experienced or is experiencing loss. Their tones are definitively different, yet there are common threads throughout the two works. Included below are two of my favorite lines from each poem so you might appreciate the distinct perspective and tone:
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Do not go gentle into that good night,
What I love about looking at these two poems side-by-side is that each communicates an unequivocal truth in its own way. Where St. Vincent Millay acknowledges the unavoidable fact of death, she also notes simply that she does not agree. There is a calm about the way she speaks of death that is almost reassuring. Thomas, on the other hand, is overflowing with emotion. You can almost see him seated at his father's bedside in his final moments, weeping. Although no words are said between them, Thomas is seeking even the faintest sign that his father has not bowed to death, that he's going to fight until his last breath.
Similar to St. Vincent Millay, Thomas' emotional plea is not coming from the perspective of the person dying, but from the loved one who must endure the loss. Considering these two works collectively has inspired me to think deeply about how I will approach significant loss not if such loss comes, but when. Both of my parents are still living, but the odds are that I will be forced to endure their passing. This will be my first experience with significant loss, as I only knew one of my grandparents and was quite young when he passed away. Hopefully this post has prompted you to meditate on how you too might greet the loss of a loved one. With this in mind, I would like to close with a quote by Alexandre Dumas taken from his most notable work, the Count of Monte Cristo:
Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.”
You may have never heard the name Scott Adams, but I am almost sure you've laughed at his jokes...Scott is the creator of the famous comic strip Dilbert, which has entrenched itself as the mainstay for workplace-related humor. Check out his website for a free daily dose of Dilbert.
Adams book, "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big" serves as a memoir of sorts wherein Adams reminisces on the life experiences that led him to creating one of the most syndicated comics of all time. Adams' path to Dilbert included a long career in corporate America, so he had more than enough material to work with from his own firsthand experience.
There are at least 3 key insights from Adams' book that I intend to use moving forward:
Systems, Not Goals
In Chapter 6, Adams relives his experience as a twenty-one year old, broke new college graduate. He tells of a time in college when his car broke down on an isolated highway in the middle of a snowstorm and he decided to walk to help. Long story short, he considers the whole experience a near-death experience that was literally the moment he decided to move to California once he graduated.
It was on his flight to San Francisco that he first encountered the importance of systems over goals. He had decided to wear the only suit he owned (a gift from his parents upon graduation from college) since he didn't want it to get wrinkled and had job interviews lined up shortly after his arrival in California. On the flight, he found himself seated next to a businessman- a CEO of a company that made screws. The two struck up a conversation and eventually the executive offered a bit of career advice: Every time you get a new job, immediately start looking for a new one. The businessman then proceeded to explain his reasoning: job seeking is not something someone should do only when necessary. Instead, it should be treated as an ongoing process. He concluded the discussion by offering Adams a job and reminding him that, "...your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job."
This encounter cemented his appreciation for systems over goals. Goals are specific objectives that you either achieve or don't sometime in the future. Systems are something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. According to Adams, the minimum requirement of any halfway decent system is that a reasonable person expects it to work more often than not.
Overall, Adams postulates that, if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals. He then encourages the reader to reach out to successful people and ask some probing questions about how they got where they did, suggesting that at the bottom of it all, the reader will likely identify a system usually combined with some extraordinary luck. Adams concludes by noting that, most anyone you view as lucky is most likely a person who accurately identified their strengths and then built a system that vastly increased the odds of getting "lucky". In essence, perceived luck is mores a byproduct than a catalyst.
In summary, this insight is based on the fact that, to realize recurring success one must first look for patterns (ideally in successful people you already know) and then building effective systems around those patterns. What we call "luck" is simply execution of an effective system that repeatedly and significantly increases your overall odds of success.
The second thing Adams says he learned on that flight was that appearances truly do matter. At the end of that flight, the CEO he had been seated next to handed Adams his business card and basically guaranteed him a job at his company, if he wanted it. Adams then contends that, had he boarded that flight in ratty jeans, threadbare shirt, and worn-out sneakers, that things would have gone differently.
Another component of presentation that Adams catalogues in great detail is tone and meter of voice, especially during public presentations. I found this topic especially enlightening as I have also found many of the points he makes to be true in my own life. I think that anytime one is trying to make a compelling argument, you must begin with the mechanics: tone and meter. If you can't at least neutralize those variables in your presentation, it is going to be a lot tougher to make a compelling argument. Let me build on this point further with two important examples.
Many people consider Michael Caine to be one of the greatest actors of our lifetime. Regardless of your personal opinion, there is no denying the success he has realized as an actor: He has won 2 Oscars and was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth. I have always enjoyed watching Caine's movies for the same reason I have always enjoyed Morgan Freeman: the sound of his voice. To clarify, I don't think anyone would say Caine has a superior sound compared to Freeman. However, what I like about Cain is not necessarily his tone, but what he does with meter. I think this is a central reason why his voice is so recognizable. As an aside, when it comes to meter, I think Caine again falls to another notable name: Christopher Walken. Still, Caine once offered up a bit of advice that I believe to be a universal truth and here it is:
The basic rule of human nature is that powerful people speak slowly and subservient people quickly- because if they don't speak fast nobody will listen to them."
If I still don't have you convinced, let's consider an example. I am sure you remember the band Blues Traveller. They made a name for themselves in the 90's for hit songs like "Run-Around" and "Hook". I am sure you've heard these songs numerous times before, likely even hundreds if not thousands of times. But have you ever listened to the lyrics, specifically to "Hook"? Here is a link to the music video- take a listen:
Did you catch it? The opening lines of the song? Here are the actual lyrics:
It doesn't matter what I say
So long as I sing with inflection
That makes you feel I'll convey
Some inner truth or vast reflection
But I've said nothing so far
And I can keep it up for as long as it takes
And it don't matter who you are
If I'm doing my job then it's your resolve that breaks
Because the hook brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely
Isn't that amazing! I had listened to this song for years and never noticed the lyrics. This is my strongest case regarding how important tone and meter can be if you have any hope of making a convincing point. Without a doubt, both are incredibly powerful. If you have never thought about how you say something, focusing only on what you say, this insight could be a total game changer.
.Adams is a massive believer in the power of affirmations- the simple practice of repeating to yourself what you want to achieve while imagining the outcome you want. Beyond that point, Adams notes that the details of affirmations really don't matter much because the process is all about improving your focus, not summoning magic...
Adams can't put a finger on how or why affirmations are so valuable. Instead, he simply notes that they have accompanied many, if not most, of his greatest success in life. Regardless, he argues that you don't need to know why something works to take advantage of it.
Adams experience with affirmations dates back to when he was in his twenties and was planning to take the GMAT, the test commonly taken for admittance into MBA Programs. At the time, he had made a bet with a co-worker in an effort to motivate her to study (he had no intentions of applying to a program himself. Adams had taken the test in high school and scored in the 77th percentile (meaning 23 percent of candidates did better than him). Perhaps the most exotic detail of his bet with the co-worker was that he would get a better score without using a test prep provider. He proceeded to take some practice tests at home and never broke above his 77th percentile from high school. Enter affirmations...Adams wanted to visualize a specific result, so he chose the 94th percentile. Back then, results were delivered by mail, so he repeatedly and regularly visualized opening the mail and seeing "94" on his test-result form.
On test day he says he felt no better than he had on his practice tests, but he kept up his affirmations and awaited his results. A few weeks later the results arrived. He opened the letter and looked in the box with his overall score: it said 94.
Adams did end up getting his MBA from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. The years that followed found him submerged in his day-to-day climbing the corporate ladder. It wasn't until years later that Adams would again try using affirmations. This time, he set his goals a little higher: "I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist".
Regardless of whether or not you totally believe Adams version of events or if you think other variables were at work, it certainly seems it couldn' hurt to give affirmations a shot in your own life...
With less than 5 minutes remaining in the 3rd Quarter of Super Bowl LI it seemed a near-certainty that the Atlanta Falcons would be crowned Super Bowl Champions. The Patriots were trailing by 25 points and the potential for a comeback seemed less likely as precious seconds ticked off the game clock. Luckily, their quarterback had a reputation for being cool under pressure and a seemingly relentless will to win.
And so, as more than 111 million viewers around the world sat glued to their televisions, something of a miracle unfolded at NRG Stadium: Over the remaining minutes of regulation and into overtime the Patriots mounted one of the most daring and thrilling comeback victories in Super Bowl history. It was a performance that earned Tom Brady MVP honors as confetti streamed down from the rafters and he hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy over his shoulder pads for the 5th time in his career.
To fully appreciate how miraculous the Pats comeback was in Super Bowl LI, look no further than ESPN's Win Probability measure. The model measures the chance that a team will win a game, given a particular combination of circumstances, including score, time remaining, field position and down and distance. The probability model is built on actual outcomes of NFL games from recent seasons that featured similar circumstances.
The chart above shows 20 different points in the second half of Super Bowl LI where the probability of a Falcon's victory was 99% or greater, according to ESPN's model. In other words, the likelihood of a Patriots victory at those times was less then 1% (and bottomed out as low as 0.3%).
A Blueprint for Success
What is the secret behind Tom Brady's legendary success? More importantly, how can you implement the core principles of his approach to improve the odds of achieving goals in your own life?
A clue may exist in a rare interview with Bill Belichick where the iconic coach shared what has made his partnership with Tom Brady so successful. When asked about Brady, Belichick noted, "He's not a great natural athlete, but he's a very smart, instinctive football player...It's not all about talent. It's about dependability, consistency, and being able to improve. "
It's not all about talent. It's about dependability, consistency, and being able to improve. "
Belichick proceed to outline 3 traits he says make Tom Brady one of the best quarterbacks to every play the game:
At first blush, these traits seem underwhelming. They are so basic that you've certainly heard a generic version of each of them numerous times before. But, rather than being dismayed by their simplicity, I found myself further intrigued. After all, each of these principles can readily be adopted by anyone and applied in almost any situation. In other words, these approaches are not reserved exclusively for Super Bowl MVPs!
So why don't most people rely on these principles? Perhaps it is their mundaneness that makes them so difficult to execute effectively. After all, it seems human nature is drawn to the idea of a shortcut to success. Thus, perhaps the deepest insight from Belichick's 3 traits is that there is no shortcut- any kind of success is going to require hard work, and even harder work if you expect to make it look as easy as Tom Brady does...