Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

In a recent conversation on Facebook, I mentioned the idea of training yourself to succeed through small successes. Now before I get too far into the topic, I will admit that I'm not a neurologist nor am I a psychologist. However, I have a background in the sciences and fairly observant. If someone can find fault with my reasoning here, please let me know.

We all know those people who succeed at virtually everything they try. When I was in high school, there was the girl who won all the scholarships, was a cheerleader, president of every club she joined and wound up as co-valedictorian at our graduation. She was an accomplished musician. From what I know about her since, she has continued that trend throughout her life.

I wasn't quite the same kind of person. I had high aspirations but never seemed to succeed at very much. I knew that I needed to work harder on certain aspects of my life but for some reason, I always took the path to failure. It may sound strange but I think I was comfortable in my failure.

Looking back at it, I think that I may have been programmed to fail. My mother seldom approved of the things that interested me. I had an intense interest in astronomy and science fiction which she dismissed as my wasting my time on "that space shit." She didn't acknowledge my achievements in scouting and didn't even bother to attend my high school graduation. Whether I should succeed or fail, it was all the same to her and failure took a lot less effort. What I didn't realize was that I was actually laying down neural pathways that would cause me to choose the option most likely to fail.

My interest in the sciences was dealt a near fatal blow when my high school math teacher told me that I should consider another career path. She told me that I had "no grasp of mathematics." So there I was. I tried to study art (another interest) but dropped out of college after a semester.

Eventually, I stopped challenging myself and was resolved to spend my life doing unrewarding, low paying jobs. In my romantic life, at times, I wasn't as choosy as I should have been.

In all of this, there was one thing I was actually good at doing: crossword puzzles. I stopped peeking at the solutions as I started to figure out how these puzzles work. Soon, I abandoned my pencil and started working the puzzles in pen. Yes, there were some pretty messy puzzles but I kept getting better at them. The main challenge was to complete a Sunday New York Times puzzle. Now they aren't much of a challenge at all.

As an artist, I'd had a bit of success when I was asked to illustrate a book for a friend who was publishing through a small press. I started to produce more work, mostly for myself but I managed to sell some.

I stumbled into the planetarium field almost by accident. But I managed to get a job working at a planetarium at a small museum and really enjoyed it. One of my co-workers taught physics at the local community college and he encouraged me to go back to school. When I told him about my math woes, he showed me that I knew more than I thought I did. I took his advice and returned to college at the age of 29. My major? Physics. Now that was a challenge.

As all this was happening, I'd gotten involved with a woman who I thought was above me but far too interesting for me not to pursue. Fortunately, she found me interesting and we got married shortly after I started college.

I thought I'd have to fight my way through my first year but did really well and it was easier than I'd thought. I ran for student body president but didn't win. However, due to some misdeeds by the person who did win, I managed to get that job. I won some academic scholarships and was inducted into two different honor societies. Little successes started to build. New neural pathways were being built as well. Now I didn't feel comfortable with not succeeding. Success was like a powerful, alluring drug and I liked it!

After graduation, I decided to bide my time waiting for the right job to come along. I worked as a secretary in a department of sociology. I learned a lot but it wasn't what I felt I was supposed to do.

A job eventually did become available. I didn't think I was really qualified but I figured I'd give it a try, something I'd have never considered just a few years earlier. With my planetarium background, my degree in physics and the ability to produce artwork, I'd made an impression and was hired.

I've now been doing that same job for over14 years and love what I do. My wife and I are still together and about to celebrate our 22nd anniversary. Our two kids are in college and seem to have a fairly bright future ahead (although I'll continue to worry about both of them).

Although I'd never really needed validation from my high school classmates, at the 20th reunion, something happened that really showed me how far I'd come. We were required to tell who we were, where we lived and what we were doing. At the end of the evening, there was a small awards ceremony. One of the awards was for the person who most surprised you with their story. I was given this award and received a standing ovation.

As happy as I am with how my life has gone so far, I'm still looking for that next challenge. I'll give it my best effort and I won't stop until I succeed!


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