Saturday, October 28, 2006

Self Help

Not too long ago I wrote a post entitled “Magic Words.” It was about the power of language, specifically, the written word. In it, I attempted to portray both the power and the beauty, the mystery and the logic… indeed, the profound as well as the mundane nature of the art. It is the art of the wordsmith. It was one of my deeper pieces and one that I still like – unusual for me, my worse critic.

The point of all this is another interpretation of the phrase. Magic words… I alluded to the supernatural parallels between words and hocus pocus, insinuating that the power might be alternate manifestations of the same perception. But I didn’t go that way, not really. More accurately, it didn’t go that way – my influence on these things – in this type of writing is more that of the caretaker. But I digress…

I have always looked for the secret formula, the one special phrase, those magic words that would snap my life to attention. It didn’t have to be in the form of the ever-popular “self-help” book, but that was, for a long time, where I sought them. It didn’t even have to be in the form of motivational or inspirational prose. If a special arch support or some B complex vitamin that had somehow eluded me was the answer, then I was all in. Oh yes, believe it, my head went there.

Although a dietary supplement or some organic soap was within the realm of possible hiding places, I suspected the answer to my motivational deficiency was in the written word. I searched and I read. “Life 101” and “Do It” by Peter McWilliams were among the first I stumbled across in the early 90s. I read Dr. Wayne Dyer and Dr. Phil. Even the classic self-help book by Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” followed by “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” had some powerful advice for those in search of “it,” whatever it is.

My quest took me though a variety of manuals and rendered unto me some of the wisest advice of our time - all valid, all reasonable and all completely useless. Well, not quite useless, but nothing made any difference, save increasing my vocabulary, until I realized there is no magic. However, sinking those words into my brain – adding more tools to an unused toolbox was not helping. In fact, it made my dilemma, my dearth of motivational energy, seem all the more hopeless.

But it all made so much sense. Action/reaction. Effort/reward. Foul/consequence. What else could I possibly need to get that fire lit? I couldn’t follow through on anything. I knew I was smart enough. I had the capability. The knowledge that I could “do anything if I just set my mind to it” was real. I just could never set my mind to it for any significant length of time – I just didn’t get it.

Today I get it. I know the secret, and magic has nothing to do with it. Three little words formed the key and the action dictated by them opened the door.

It seems to me that there are an awful lot of different kinds of people in the world. I want to focus for a moment on a particular segment. It is a much smaller slice than I imagined, but for me it was a visible one. They are the achievers. Those that are at the top of their fields – the ones who always are working on something and are always busy. They are the ones who get things done and it has become my opinion that there are only a few who fit that mold.

I don’t know if the characteristic is taught, passed down genetically or is an environmental phenomenon. I guess it doesn’t much matter. It’s easy to identify them, however. They work until the job is done. They only know one speed – all out. They get to work early and never pad their time. They don’t complain, don’t pass the buck and will always volunteer for the tough job. And they succeed not because of some monetary reward, but one that pays in much more valuable currency.

Those three words? Do the work. There is nothing magic about the words themselves. The magic comes from the work. Do the work. That’s how I did it. I did the work. I’m doing the work. I continue to do the work. If I don’t want to, I do the work anyway. That is how it works. That is where the magic is. That is why successful people are. Those that are like I used to be and aren’t anymore did what I did – the work.

Simple, no?


Anonymous said...

Extremely simple - and very difficult. I recognized you as one of those people when I first started reading here. You've inspired me on more then one occasion. Keep doing the work, Mike!

awareness said...

Years ago when I was living in Toronto and working full-time for the first time in my life, I had a boss whom I clashed with. I didn't know why we clashed at the time until one night when I got in my car after a long day and a long emotional confrontation with her and headed my parents home to talk to my Dad about it.

I surely surprised my parents when I came bursting into the house mid-week all emotionally charged up. I explained the situation to my Dad...described how frustration I was with this boss, how she constantly put obstacles in my way of doing my job, of completing tasks, of running with my ideas etc.... He listened to me spout off for a long time.......and then he laughed and said.......

"Muskie....there are two people in the world. There are 'Do it' people and the rest of them. You're a 'do it' person like me. And the rest of them? They're going to drive you crazy. Get used to it, and just keeping doing the work."
The lesson stuck. It's a vivid as if this conversation happened yesterday. And you know what Mike? Even now, it's probably the reason behind most of my frustrations in the workplace still........but at least I know why...... :)

Great post......enjoy your extra hour today!

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

i just commented on arlen's blog that i would like to have had johnny cash for dinner to listen to his stories wisdom and feel his love for humanity and life, and you know what, i'd put you on that list too - you have a remarkable ability to create a wonderful mosaic with words, to make us all think.....doing the work, i guess

I love dropping by here and am going to link you to my site
thanks fella

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Ah, you hit on one of my favorite subjects: the power of words.

Like you, I am a word person, and try to choose what I say carefully, since their meaning can have so much power and impact even more so then a touch or look, in my humble opinion.

Rainbow dreams said...

Am reminded of a dear friend, an inspiration, who used to say wisely that the fairies wouldn't do it - so he did.
Something I aspire to, and remember when the going gets tough - wise words

Saur♥Kraut said...

Simplistic, but profound. And I am passing them on to my ex-boyfriend, the Crack Head. He could use them. With any luck, they'll sink in. Nothing else has worked well for him yet. Interestingly, he's come almost to this point himself, but not in so many words.

Happy Halloween! Come by my blog and read about my true-life ghost story. I think you'll be interested!

Ellen said...

Years ago I used to get on my son about his lamenting over his homework. I would tell him that if he spent the same time just getting it done, it would have equaled the amount of time he complained over it, thus it would have left him plenty of time to play before it got too dark.

We find ways to bypass the work when our heart is not in it, and if we attempt to do the work without heart, we rarely do a good job. Lucky for you, you see the value more than the task. I'm only too glad my son finally came around.

Michael K. Althouse said...

barb ~ simple is good. As far as inspired writing, well, my next post (which is currently causing me to lose sleep - you know!) will deal more with that.

Dana ~ I think I might have been a "do it" person trapped in a "don't do it" body! No more - now I do it, sometimes to excess!

harbour ~ thanks for the link. I think too much myself... I have to spread some of it around!

bfc ~ I know, and I know you know. It has been a mysterious and wonderfully strange journey.

rainbow ~ Ya, I stopped relying on magic a long time ago, I never knew that there really was an answer.

saur ~ he'll get there, sooner or later. Hopefully not too late to appreciate the transformation. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.

ellen ~ My son is struggling to find himself as well. It is frustrating that I cannot just impart upon him my years of searching - but I'm afraid the search was the point. All I can do is hope and wait.

JR said...

So simple and obvious, yet many would disagree. A lot of people are afraid of success or think it's impossible. Rather than facing the unknown and doing what appears difficult or overwhelming, they say there is some magic, something special about those who succeed. That lets them off the hook. I saw this while living in public housing and putting myself through law school. I was constantly encouraging the other tenants to get off their duffs and go to college. Most said they weren't smart enough, couldn't figure it out, even when I offered to help them through the process. Only two out of 30 tenants took me up on my offer. One has graduated with a degree and now works at a hospital. The other is just about finished with a Master's in Nursing. The others are still sitting back there in public housing with dead end jobs. Do the work, it's that simple.