I hate self-help books. They suck most of the time. Books and speeches that talk about success repel me. Stuff that really teaches you something about being successful never comes with a tag saying so. You just discover it own your own and it’s unique to you. Here I talk about one quality of success that appealed to me. Hope my readers too will resonate with it.
How long it takes to develop expertise in some area or how long it takes to succeed? I had written about this very recently but then just now I stumbled upon Jeff Atwood’s blog where he talks about success of his site StackOverflow.com.
Honestly, I look forward to waking up someday two or three years from now and doing the exact same thing I did today: working on the Stack Overflow code, eking out yet another tiny improvement or useful feature. Obviously we want to succeed. But on some level, success is irrelevant, because the process is inherently satisfying. Waking up every day and doing something you love — even better, surrounded by a community who loves it too — is its own reward. Despite being a metric ton of work.
For success you need a basic level of intelligence. It acts like the engine. Stronger the engine faster you can go. But it alone can’t ensure you success. Intelligence needs to be paired up with patience and critical thinking. Ability to constantly question our actions, check its merits and struggling to improve wherever possible.
Peter Norvig‘s classic piece “Teach yourself a programming language in 10 years” puts it in the best possible words.
Researchers (Bloom (1985), Bryan & Harter (1899), Hayes (1989), Simmon & Chase (1973)) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberativepractice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again. There appear to be no real shortcuts: even Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class music.
It’s not just about doing the same thing again and again like a clerk in government office (evident why they never improve) but deliberately challenging your own self to do better every single time. This also happens to be the principle of bodybuilding. Unless you lift a little extra than previous you simple dont gain muscles.
But then what is success? Is it goal oriented or is it something that is very personal to you? Is reaching the goal or not reaching it solely determines whether you are successful or not? Jeff said that its the journey that is most enjoyable. Or are we defining success itself in very narrow sense?
Norvig gives an advice
Work on projects with other programmers. Be the best programmer on some projects; be the worst on some others. When you’re the best, you get to test your abilities to lead a project, and to inspire others with your vision. When you’re the worst, you learn what the masters do, and you learn what they don’t like to do (because they make you do it for them).
What if you never succeed in the truest sense, what if you realize that what you wished has not come true despite your truest efforts?
May be here the context is of programming and even after 10 years you dont become a prolific programmer you are likely to get a wonderful job. Look at those despite their best struggles, struggles that created history are not successful. The name that comes to my mind is H.H. Dalai Lama. A personality who has that charm described only in scriptures.
Arun Shourie’s classic 4 articles in Indian Express after NDA’s defeat has the following piece about H.H. Dalai Lama.
“A reporter once pressed the Dalai Lama about his oft-quoted statement that he does not hate the Chinese communists, in spite of their systematic destruction of Tibet. In reply, the Dalai Lama explained, ‘They have taken over Tibet, destroyed our temples, burned our sacred texts, ruined our communities, and taken away our freedom. They have taken so much. Why should I let them also take my peace of mind?’…”
And he writes further
The years and years that Solzhenitsyn and Mandela spent in prison, in the former case in deathly labour camps. Jesus and Gandhiji were not just reviled, they were killed. When this is what has been done to these giants, who are we ants to complain, and that too just because some adjectives have been flung in our direction?
The context in which he wrote is certainly of how do we face false criticism and smear but I wanted to underline that the many of giants like Gandhiji did not succeed in their aim. Shourie writes further.
For all too often, we get discouraged because we define “success” too narrowly. We champion a cause; we make a demand. If that cause does not prevail, if that demand is not conceded, we think the campaign or movement has failed. The traducers certainly proclaim as much.[source]
May be it will take us a very long time to define what success for us is. Success may not be about getting money, fame or even the kind of expertise we desird initially. Our goals might change depending out undestanding of task at hand. As Gandhiji writes
Either the correctives we have prescribed will be adopted or the consequences of not adopting those correctives will befall the organisation and its controllers. If we have been wrong all along, and our forecasts and warnings do not come true, the sequence will teach us humility.
So true. Our efforts have to be consistent. Our minds must search for clarity and every-time we realize that we were wrong it should teach us humility. However surprising it may sound but isn’t it same as Jeff’s message of “improving constantly” or “pure joy of doing it” ?