Zomercolumn – Roger Ellory … THE DANGER OF BEING POSITIVE
The internet is full to the gunwales with ‘be positive’ aphorisms, usually posted by individuals who choose to employ pseudonyms such as ‘Amethyst Starfire’ and ‘Harmony Rainbow’. I am British, and therefore innately cynical at the best of times, but when faced with such banal and useless messages as ‘Follow your heart to wherever it may take you’ and ‘The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday’ I am often driven to the limits of my own fragile sanity. Be a better person than you were yesterday? Right. Good enough. So I am a serial killer. Yesterday I got two kills. Today I’ll go for three, and then I’ll get take-out and a nice bottle of Chianti. Follow my heart to wherever it takes me. I have a friend. Her ‘heart’ tells her to pursue psychotic obsessive-compulsive control freak men who wind up doing nothing but barely repairable damage to her ‘heart’ and the rest of her life.
There is a real danger in fatalism. There is a real danger in believing in destiny. There is a very real danger in ‘positive thinking’, if only from the viewpoint that thinking is not doing, and doing is the only thing that really results in something being done.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you shouldn’t be positive. I am a very firm believer in the need to be positive, to acknowledge one’s own capability and competence, but only being positive is not going to make the grade. One needs to actually do as well. I am also a very firm believer in the reality of negative people, the very real effect of negative comments and statements designed to undermine and make less of one’s efforts. Negative people are merely hoping to see you fail because it will help rationalize and justify their own failures.
Very recently my wife and I looked at all the people we worked with, spent time with and those we considered friends. Very quickly it became quite clear that there were a few who took and took and took and gave nothing in return. We loaned them money, we helped them solve their life problems, we bailed them out of trouble, we had them over for dinner, threw parties on their birthdays, and yet in return there was never a single invite, never a gift, never a ‘Hey, I can help you with that’. So we decided to just let them go. We didn’t say or do anything to them. We certainly didn’t level any criticism or reprimand. We didn’t try to fix things or correct anything. We just stopped communicating. Did they reach for us? Did they make any effort to find out why we had stopped communicating to them? Not at all. Months have gone by now, and not a word. So I understand negative people and the effect they can have. I also understand that people can be sponges for your attention and help, and yet nothing ever comes back in return.
However, I digress. This article is supposed to be about purpose and direction. These words have come about as a result of a request for advice and direction to the website visitors regarding how to better identify and highlight what is important in their own lives. Well, the past few months have been tough for myself and my family in many ways. Life has never been easy, I must say, but then I was never fooled into thinking it would be anything other than a challenge. It has been said that Man thrives in a challenging environment, and I have to agree with that perspective. On a scale of comparison, however, the recent months have been more than usually challenging, to say the least. During this period I have spent more time reviewing my life and my own purposes and priorities than perhaps at any other. I am approaching fifty, and even though I may not live to a hundred it kind of feels like a half-way point. Life – for me – is about action. It is about being who you are, doing what you want and having what you desire. It is also, just as importantly, about doing what you can to assist others in the realization of their own goals and purposes. As has been said many times before in many different ways, a man who wishes to be happy and yet does not spend the vast majority of his time trying to make others happy is a fool. But there has to be a balance. If someone does not know who they really are (i.e. they do not really understand their own priorities and goals, nor their own strengths and weaknesses) then they cannot undertake the right actions to achieve what they want. Life is a job, very simply. If you do not understand what the purpose of your job is, and you have no real clue as to how to best use the tools you have been given, then there is not much hope of accomplishing the end result of that job.
We ask children, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ At age five I wanted to be a commando. By the time I was seven or eight I thought the idea of cat burglar seemed very real and exciting. When I was about eleven I watched ‘The Day of The Jackal’ and figured that being some sort of cold and calculating highly-paid assassin would be just the best thing ever. I went to school, I studied, I sat exams, I left school, I was unemployed, and years went by before I even had an inkling of what I wanted to do with my life. Follow your heart to wherever it takes you would not only have been an utterly useless piece of advice, but more than likely would have prompted an enthusiastic roundhouse and a torrent of expletives.
One cannot sit on the sofa in front of the television and ‘think positive’ to a better life. I don’t believe that can be done, and yet that seems a realistic and acceptable life-plan to the vast majority of people I speak to. Computer games do not – as far as I understand – raise IQ, improve job prospects, or significantly advance the odds of getting your incomplete novel published. The average adult watches over thirty hours of television per week. Why? The average teenager watches more, and then spends a bunch more hours playing computer games as well. As far as internet and mobile phone communications technology is concerned, for facilities that were designed to get people into communication more easily, these things seem to have done more to drive people out of communication than anything else I can think of. Sometimes I wonder whether that was the actual purpose. Now you can ‘survive’ without ever leaving your house. Your clothes, food, entertainment, and all else you might need on a physical level can be delivered with the click of a mouse. Technology, it seems to me, should advance Man. Someone commented to me the other day that the internet was now 84% pornography, 12% cat videos, 4% everything else. I am sure those percentages are not wholly accurate, but I got the point.
So, where am I going with this? I am going to give you some aphorisms that have worked for me, and that continue to work for me on a daily basis. Some of them I might have invented, some of them were written by others whose names I do not even know, and some of them have been credited to their respective author. They all say the same thing in different ways, and they all push in the direction of identifying your own goals and pursuing them. How, you might ask, do I identify my goals? I think that’s the easiest part in all of this. Where do your passions lie? What motivates you? What gets you enthusiastic? Those are the areas where you need to look, despite others who might say how unrealistic, difficult or competitive those areas of interest might be.
So, here we go:
I heard that some people dreamed of success…while others woke up and worked hard at it.
I heard that what you chose to focus your mind on was critical because you would become what you thought about most of the time.
Persistence is the key, the backbone, the spirit of accomplishment and achievement.
A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.
All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim. They have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible. And they accomplished it through persistence.
Persistence is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.
A man can only do what he can do. But if he does that each day he can sleep at night and do it again the next day.
Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.
Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. The world said “Give up.” Hope whispered, “Try it again…just one more time.” With ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable. The saints we revere and respect in all fields are the sinners who kept on going.
Do not spend a moment worrying about whether someone thinks you are the worst human being of all or the brightest star in the universe. Your integrity to yourself is more important than anyone else’s viewpoint. You know if you are doing your utmost. You know if you are being kind or tolerant, if you are being patient, compassionate, industrious, honest. You know if you are working as hard as you can to create a great future for yourself and the people you care for.
It doesn’t matter if you try and try and try again, and fail. It does matter if you try and fail, and fail to try again. History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats. Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries. Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow. Decide carefully, exactly what you want in life, then work like mad to make sure you get it! Defeat never comes to anyone until they admit it.
And stay away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but great people…great people are the ones who make you feel that you too can be truly great. No-one can always be right. So the struggle is to do one’s best, to keep the mind and conscience clear, to never be swayed by unworthy motives or inconsequential reasons, and to do one’s very best whatever it is you are undertaking.
Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, “I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.” Forget about all the reasons why something may not work. You only need to find one good reason why it will.
Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian teenage gymnast, winner of three Olympic Gold Medals by the age of fourteen, was asked how she made it look so effortless.
She hesitated for just a moment, and then she smiled, and said, “It’s the hard work that makes it easy.”
Pablo Picasso, more than eighty years old, was asked why he still worked fourteen and sixteen hours a day. His reply, very simply: ‘When inspiration finds me, I want her to find me hard at work’.
Be proud to work. Be proud to be exhausted with the things you have accomplished today. Dream of what you want. Work hard. Persist. Persevere. Make it happen. Do not end your life with the words ‘What if?’ Those are the words with which to begin your life.
Courage does not always roar the loudest or fight the hardest. Courage is often nothing more than the quiet voice at the end of a long day that says, ‘Tomorrow…tomorrow I will try again’. It is a shame that so many things have changed in our society, and changed so quickly. We have become so careful not to offend, not to upset, not to challenge, not to speak our minds. It is dreadful to hear adults speak of their childhood and how things used to be, but I am here, and I have the podium, and you’re not allowed to leave…so you’re going to hear me out.
We rode bikes without helmets on. We rode in packs of seven or eight or ten and we wore our coats by the hoods alone. We left home in the morning and we came home in the dark, and we had no mobile phones and no-one knew how to reach us, but we had a two-pence piece for the phonebox and we knew our home number by heart if we got hurt or lost. We did not have Playstations or X-Boxes or PSPs or cable TV or the internet. There were three or four channels and they stopped broadcasting at eleven o’clock. There were no personal computers, no chat rooms, no facebook or myspace or twitter. We had friends. We went outside. We fell out of trees and we got cut, and we broke bones, and we broke teeth. There were no lawsuits, there were just accidents. We very quickly learned not to be so stupid again. We had fights. We punched one another good and hard, and then we became the best of friends. The parents and teachers didn’t interfere. They refereed.
We made up games with sticks and tennis balls, and we ate live stuff and though we were in fact told that someone would lose an eye, well no-one actually ever did, and it didn’t always end in tears, and nor did the live stuff we ate live inside of us forever and ever and finally kill us.
Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected. We got into trouble with the police every once in a while. The policeman dragged us home by our earlobes. Our parents grounded us and stopped our pocket money. They made us apologise to the policeman for wasting his time.
Yet this generation produced some of the greatest inventors, risk takers, musicians, artists, writers…and most of all the greatest dreamers that have ever lived. More advances have been made in science and technology in the last twenty years than the previous hundred. The things you have now, the things we all take for granted, came about because of these crazy, rowdy, adventurous teenagers…yet teenagers who had a dream, and worked hard at it, and didn’t give up, and didn’t give in, and understood that the people who taught them were teaching them with patience and compassion, and a real honest desire to see that they succeeded.
All the happiness you will ever find is already within you. All the dreams you have are out there, and they will become reality through hard work, persistence, a willingness to fail and to try again, and the constant belief that you are that good, and you are that important, and that the people you care for…well, they care for you just as much and more…and they expect you to be everything you are capable of being, and they will do everything they can to help you.
Commit yourself to success. Somewhere. Somehow. In some field. As Goethe, the great philosopher said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
As Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose’, and I believe in this without doubt or hesitation. Whatever purpose you have now, keep it alive, keep working at it, keep directing your energies and attention towards it, and it will be realized.
As a result of what I have learned I have been able to travel the world and meet some truly extraordinary people. The most important ones have often been the most humble and the most interested in others. The most successful ones have been those who cared most about their fellow man. The happiest ones have been those who were literate, hard-working, persistent and courageous in their endeavours.
So, in closing…turn off the television, stop reading the newspapers (because their entire purpose is to make you think that the world in which we live is rough and dangerous and crazy and out-of-control, and it isn’t much like that at all), stop doubting your own ability to achieve what you know you can achieve, and realize that achieving it is only going to happen if you do the work. Stop complaining, stop finding reasons why it can’t be done, stop worrying about what others might think, and do the work. Just shut up and do the work.