How to succeed? At anything or possibly, everything?
If you’re wondering where to begin, not to worry! After all, we live in the age of the aspirational, of tidy texts with tips and tricks to achieve our success. And if we don’t make it, we’ll find plenty of sources to encourage us to keep on trying – for that just-within-grasp success in business, success with men (or women), success in life.
That’s what it’s all about, right? Success, however we conceive it?
The secret to my success, such as it is?
I observe, I take risks (within reason) and yes, I get back up when I fall down. I dream, I read. And a good deal of what I read (perhaps like you?) is aspirational.
An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse
It was one of those deals I couldn’t refuse. Four magazine subscriptions in exchange for completing a survey. So I answered two dozen questions, and may the glossy pages begin to appear!
My selections? Two glittering fashion magazines, one scrumptious gourmet cooking magazine, and the fourth – a periodical known for its quirky subjects and high quality writing.
Three out of four? Purely aspirational.
Who doesn’t aspire to becoming a better self, living a better life, and doing so for as long as possible?
As a lover of fine art, my shelves are also lined with specialized publications and weight-lifting worthy references. The words and images reflect a passion that is not aspirational but inspirational – at least, for me.
I don’t need to imagine myself surrounded by mid-century masterpieces to adore looking at them or reading about them. I can be inspired and enriched by pictures and descriptions, while learning from the creative lives that were dedicated to making great work.
I can be motivated by that dedication, and the motivation flows through to my own goals, in my own interest.
10 Tips for This, 6 Steps for That, How to Succeed at Marriage
Don’t we all fall for the quick tips and simple steps? For the catchy headline that promises how to lose weight, how to find love, how to succeed at marriage – or for that matter – divorce?
This is a media trick that is especially effective; we are a quick-fix society and we’re always in a hurry. We can consume these sound bites rapidly, and if we gain something in the process, great! If not, generally speaking, we’ve only invested a few minutes of reading.
It’s a win-win in many respects – except if this is the only material you consume, and if you actually think that anything worthwhile is so simply and superficially accomplished.
But as we clamor for additional instructions in how to navigate a complicated and competitive world, might we remember that how to set up your latest desktop or install software is entirely different from these other rounds of self-improvement? How to lose 20 pounds in 10 days, how to ramp up your love life in 30, how to succeed at online dating (in any period of time), or for that matter – how to succeed in business, in marriage, or in life?
Hell, can’t the same be said for more complex social problems as well? Things we (or politicians) profess to be able to “fix” — simply?
Might we discern the value of the aspirational, the inspirational, and when requiring a closer examination and actual mastery of principles, to seek out the substantive, the factual, the informational, and the educational?
Why We Consume What We Consume
I buy into the aspirational, and enjoy doing so. I consume a variety of media (and products) not only to learn and inform myself, to be entertained (or in some cases, numbed), but I read for inspiration. I recognize that both aspiration and inspiration can generate motivation.
And I am clear on the difference.
strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition: intellectual aspirations; a goal or objective desired.
imparting inspiration (stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings to a special act of creativity; person or idea that causes this state)
I am keenly aware that I may aspire to a way of life and never attain it. For example, I have spent a lifetime aspiring to a particular body shape and size, convinced I was fat, as decades were devoted to variations on that theme. Eventually I realized that it was smarter (and saner) to deal with my body type and making it healthy and strong, rather than fighting nature.
For that matter, when I flip through fitness magazines or those that address the traditional fare peddled to the female audience, I may aspire to dewier skin, a rosier cheek, a more arched brow line; and more likely, still, a tinier waist, a firmer thigh, a trimmer hip.
But I know my body, I own my age, I acknowledge my resources as well as my constraints; I understand that what is aspirational within reason may motivate me to pick up the pace of an exercise routine, whereas once, the aspirational – more likely, the artificial – condemned me to impossible standards, and low self-esteem when I failed to achieve them.
Now? I recognize the value of the whole package – that of others, as well as my own.
Aspiration is Good, Within Reason
We all imagine our lives taking on a certain shape and rhythm. Our aspirations – our longed for objectives – form part of who we are, what we seek to accomplish, how we look, how we feel, how we live, what we define as success.
There is much to be enjoyed and learned from aspirational magazines, books, and films – as long as we don’t presume that we must inhabit the entirety of this posed and painted picture of perfection, that anything less is failure, that anything less is lacking in value, that if we don’t arrive at the desired state it is because we are lacking in value.
As for inspiration, it’s a different matter. It stimulates the mind, it engages the most profound emotions; it stirs us to action whether to chase after our own dreams, or to help others pursue theirs.
Some of us need aspiration; others need inspiration. I know that I rely on a reasonable dose of both. They may overlap, they may coexist, they generate motivation.
Definition of Success, Motivation to Keep Going
In the wake of disappointments, we may struggle with absolutes: success as we imagined it is out of reach, and we stamp the Failure label on our foreheads.
Couldn’t we redefine what succeeding means – and do so more kindly? Could we remove ourselves from the contentious battlefields of our bodies, our titles, our bank accounts – and reconsider what we genuinely value?
I won’t say that I’m not motivated to feel good and look good; if I want to succeed “at life” in the ways that matter to me, a measure of caring about health, fitness and appearance are part of my necessary equation. But life circumstances also dictate that other formulas for success take the lead, having less to do with appearance and more with health, and less to do with me per se than those I love and what I wish to contribute.
Aspirational images help us to visualize something better, and possibly a means to get there. Inspirational images may put a fire in our bellies, and drive us to accomplish critical objectives. Both, working in concert, may breed the best possible motivation – a reason, an impetus, an inducement for action.
But aspiration alone? The quick tips to succeed at everything?
Take a breath. Think again. Balance their value with a strong dose of perspective.
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