4 Important Things Self-Help Books Are Too Nice to Tell You
Back in the day, I was in the habit of reading quite a lot of how-to guides. What? Don't look at me like that. It was a hobby, all right?
A strange trend I noticed is that no matter what the subject is, when you strip them of all the buzzwords, most of these guides tend to follow the same rough arc: figure out what you want, work tirelessly to get to that level, and then maybe a few pointers to keep you at the top of your game. And that's bullshit. No matter what gimmicks a guide employs, chances are you're unable to live up to the soulless bullet points at its core unless you're a robot, in which case your ultimate dream is world domination, and I have no intention of helping you, X-357.
Those flowers won't change anything, X-357. I know what you're up to.
For real human beings, there are a few steps -- or, rather, cracks between the steps -- between us and success in our desired field that very few guides actually bother to mention. Realizing this prompted me to once again grab my trusty toolkit of no expertise whatsoever and list some very specific things I feel should be included in a guide about, well, anything.
So, whether your ultimate goal is stardom, a degree in engineering, or creating a semi-popular webcomic of what you insist is tasteful erotica no matter what the cops say, here are a few tips to dodge some of the more slippery cow patties on your path to success:
You're Gonna Fuck Up
You're gonna fuck up.
Not just once, but tons and tons and freaking tons of times, regardless of what you're trying to get good at. Most manuals do acknowledge that, in a manner of speaking. They talk a big game about "paying your dues" and "embracing failure and/or rejection as a learning process," which are both terms that make me want to empty the contents of my stomach in the approximate vicinity of whoever utters them.
Which can be seen as a punishment or a reward, depending on your views on slightly used Scotch.
When you've actually fallen on your ass, fancy words mean jack shit. You don't need to love or embrace or even like failure. There's a reason it feels bad. It's because your own fight-or-flight attitude is trying to tell you to either get better at that shit or give up altogether. As such, there are only two things you can and must do in the face of failure: learn from it, and don't let it stop you. How do you do this? By getting up and doing that shit again, instead of spending the rest of your life whining and complaining. This may seem like the most obvious thing in the world right now, but when you're actually in the clutches of defeat, chances are it'll not even occur to you at first. At that point, it's vitally important to at least realize the existence of continuing as a possibility. Otherwise, it's so, so damn easy to come up with an excuse to give up.
An example: I was in a judo class when I was maybe 8 or so. It was a pretty neat hobby; I genuinely liked learning all the throws and grabs and how to tie that goddamn pajama belt so that its ends don't look like fabric boners. I was making good progress and was certain that I would wind up one of those black-belt judo ninjas (I was 8, remember) in no time. One evening I was sparring with a much bigger kid and he threw me around like a rag doll. Have you ever received a wedgie while involuntarily somersaulting in mid-air? It's a life experience, although one I wouldn't necessarily recommend.
I never went back after that night. I just flat-fucking-out turned my back on a thing that I loved because it didn't even occur to me that I could handle the shame of that failure. I didn't even tell my parents, who kept paying for the lessons for quite a while before they found out that I'd just pissed off to hang around with my friends or whatever when they thought I was training. This, of course, led to another failure (to get pocket money for several weeks). Did I make a mistake? Hell yes I did -- I could be a judo ninja right now if I had sucked up that one defeat.
"Nice going, asshole."
Friends, don't be 8-year-old me. Instead, when life gives you aerial dick attacks, take them as they come, and vow not to let them connect the next time.
It's totally OK to crumble on the ground and whimper for a while, though.
There's a Time and Place for Being a Dick
Look, I realize that "don't be a dick" is material for a self-help library or 17 all by itself, especially for the kind of person who needs to have that told to them. Still, during whatever your quest for betterment may be, you will inevitably receive negative attention, and knowing how to handle it (and how not to handle it) is possibly the most important skill you can ever learn.
Want to be a writer? Rejection letters and emails, not to mention bad reviews and negative feedback, are going to be a factor in your life, and how you react to them can be fucking vital. Every single step of even the most optimal path between "I sure would like to write something" and "I will now die/retire as a wealthy and successful author who has written many books" is filled with bile and brimstone, and you need to learn to take it all in stride if you ever wish to reach even a fraction of your ultimate goal. This applies to everything, too. Want to be a rock star? A small-business owner? The hobo holding a sandwich board on the corner of 4th and Mercury? All of those aspirations will require you to eat a bucketload of shit, be it in the form of bad reviews, frustrating city officials, or drunk frat boys who keep trying to set you on fire. Some of these things are perfectly OK to jump-kick, others aren't. And not everyone can tell the difference.
"You mean like booting a computer?" -dad
The world is full of disappointments and setbacks, and it's tempting to give in and lash out at said problems by, say, offering what at the moment no doubt feels like your justified opinion. Still, as one of humanity's tragedies is the failure to realize that "I'm just speaking my mind and calling it like I see it" is generally synonymous with "I will now behave in a manner that will make everyone think that I'm a complete festering turdbag," learning to harness that instinct is essential if you want to accomplish anything.
However, and this is important: note that I didn't say you should stop it completely.
It is almost impossible for a human being not to be a dick every once in a while. In fact, trying to weed out your inner asshole completely can even hurt your mission. Most successful people are dicks to some extent; it kind of goes with the gig. Steve Jobs could by all accounts behave like a massive bastard. Arnold Schwarzenegger, same thing. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find a famous/successful person who doesn't have a heaping history of general fuckery, partially because they're people, but also because a certain level of assholery is par for the course on a path to success. However, the part of the trick successful people know is how to reel in that need to behave like a dick when the situation calls for it -- very few people become accomplished by screaming bloody murder at people over every tiny setback (at least, until they can afford it).
So, how can you recognize the situations where you know that it's necessary to harness the beast? Don't ask me. I'm an Internet comedy writer, not a psychology expert. Maybe punch a robot until the need to hurt things goes away?
Fuck you, X-357.
Well, that, or just take a moment before replying to anything. You'll be surprised how often that takes the edge off that bile.
You Will Never Be Satisfied (but That's No Reason to Stop Trying)
Right, this is where the hard part starts. Bear with me, there are pictures of unicycling elephants later down the line.
Let's say you've achieved the exact goal that you set out to achieve. You're finally a fully accomplished turkey masturbator. It's party time! Wait, it's not? What are you doing, gazing wistfully out of the window of your brand-new, shiny turkey masturbator office? It's got your name on the door and everything. You're living the dream here!
A weird and kind of dubious dream, but hey, I'm not here to judge.
You're probably familiar with that scenario (minus the turkey jerkin' part, I guess). Everyone who has ever achieved anything is. There's the high of accomplishment, a short period of being content -- and poof! Suddenly, your brain is back at the drawing board, wondering about all the cool things you aren't doing right now and how great you'd probably be at them if you tried. In fact, thanks to a Harvard study on the subject, we even know the exact amount of time your brain farts away on thoughts like that: it's 46.9 percent. That's the slice of your waking hours your mind chomps every single day for the sole purpose of thinking about everything except for what you actually have going on. Basically, this means you can never be truly happy by mastering that skill you've sunk 10,000 hours into learning, or getting that job for which you prepared yourself for years, or figuring out how to make that skin suit seamless to pass for a human, X-357.
Do you know flamethrowers are legal in most states, X-357? I bought five, X-357.
No matter what you do, how much you like it, and how good you are at it, your brain is always ranting on something else. So why not use your time on a bunch of "something elses"? No one ever said you should focus on mastering just one thing. Shit, anyone gets bored if they keep their attention solely on the thing they're best at. There's a reason Michael Jordan tried his hand at baseball, Bruce Lee was an accomplished Cha-Cha dancer, and Hollywood A-listers keep winding up in bands with varying amounts of success.
Does this mean my advice is that everyone should strive to constantly improve themselves in every way? Shit no, I'm not a cult leader (yet). Just try to have at least a couple of projects going on, so you can vent your frustration on one when the other seems like a dead end. Keeps things interesting.
There Are Always People Who Are More Talented Than You Are -- and It's Fine
Hooray! You did it! You finally reached what you think is the absolute peak of your skill of choice, and it took you only [a ridiculous amount of] years! You're finally able to reap the rewards of your thousands of hours of practice. That is, until you offhandedly mention your freshly mastered talent to a co-worker, who shrugs and says: "Oh, that? Clark from accounting can do that while balancing on a tightrope and wearing an elephant costume." It's not your fault, though. Clark's been practicing twice as much as you for twice as long as you, and he had far more raw talent to start with. Also, the world is fucking full of Clarks.
The trick is to make your peace with this and to realize that even though the overwhelming majority of humans can't make it to the absolute top, it's not actually a bad thing. Unless you're Stephen Hawking or Kobe Bryant (in which case, hi!), there's a fair chance you won't get to smell what the air is like that far up the ladder. Unless you're obsessed with your craft enough to virtually count as insane (in which case, hi!), that place is just too high to reach. No matter what path you pursue, chances are you will bump into a Clark, easily surpassing your best shots while simultaneously picking up all the ladies by waving his trunk in a suggestive manner.
Getting real tired of your shit, Clark.
There's really no beating Clark. Luckily, there's no need to. Competitive sports notwithstanding, "best" is an abstract concept that is nearly impossible to measure in most endeavors, and therefore its worth is precisely what you let it be. Striving for greatness is admirable and awesome in every way, but there is no reason why you should strive to be the absolute best, unless you're an athlete or a Clark and have an unhealthy obsession with outcomes at the expense of journeys. If you are one, that's definitely all right, though. The world always needs a few Clarks. If you're not, well, there are plenty of other ways to be the best we can be, very few of which involve a bunch of aggressive go-getters actively attempting to shove you off your pedestal.
For instance, have you considered becoming an expert at robot hunting?
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Trying to Lose Weight and 5 Sneaky Moments in Adulthood No One Ever Sees Coming.