“To paraphrase someone smarter than me, who still knows nothing, the philosophical task of our age is for each of us to decide what it means to be a successful human being.
I don’t know the answer to that, but I would like to find out.
James Othmer <from the book ‘The Futurist’>
What do I like about this?
It isn’t necessarily a positive statement, just a hopeful one. With a dash of ‘realistic’.
Yet. Absolutely aspirational.
It is about seeking without being overtly motivational. It is almost acerbic … but truthful and openly honest in its regard to ‘self.’
This also brings to mind something called ‘mental contrasting.’ Mental contrasting is contrary to positive thinking. In fact, the research suggests convincing yourself to be positive <all that positive psychological mumbo jumbo> is suggesting to yourself that life is meant to be easy which actually just makes it appreciably harder.
As I have pointed out in past articles … the best way to make personal progress is to balance optimism with some pessimism. Please note … that is different than ‘realism’ in that in the balancing you take some fairly risky steps based on optimism and the pessimism keeps you focused on some practicality. Realism is just some mumbo jumbo non-stance for deciding to reside in the wretched hollow of what is in between optimism and pessimism <doing nothing and taking no chances>.
What does mental contrasting have to do with ‘being a successful human being’? It actually means the whole idea that ‘picturing the future you desire makes it more likely you’ll attain it’ is wrong.
Again and again research has shown that making a fantasy of something you want can make it harder to achieve in reality.
Imagine receiving a windfall of cash … and you’ll be less motivated to engage in the kinds of activities that might bring you money.
Now. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of positive daydreaming if it makes you feel good as long as you don’t expect anything more than feeling good.
But the search for the answer of what it takes to be a successful human being is way more complicated than some trite soundbite.
It’s not passion.
It’s not happiness.
It’s not really any one word known in the human language.
It’s a feeling.
And maybe that’s where I struggle with all the trite ‘self-help’ and motivational and Life coaching stuff because here is all I really know about becoming a successful human being.
Sometimes you come to a place where there are no right decisions and all paths lead to bad ends.
It sucks. But … there you are.
Now. You may think you do not know how to make that choice, but you do. Often you think you don’t know how because you look at it all in the wrong way. The question is rarely “what should I do? … but rather ‘who do you want to be.’
And , in fact, you do know how to choose because when you think about it a little, but really hard <maybe in the harsh light>, because you recognize you cannot control everything that will result from your actions … you can only control the actions themselves. Therefore you shove all the other crap off to the side and ask maybe the only question you need to ask at this ‘make a choice’ point:
If you died down one chosen path … how would you want to be remembered?
Now. It is here I offer an odd thought. Ok. Maybe something not really mainstream type thinking.
Realistically many times part of choosing a path is ultimately having to walk down a path you have never walked before and hoping the shit you will face, you will face well. Uhm. But you cannot be sure because, well, you have never faced it before.
Therefore I bring up a version of dreaming. Back to that thing called mental contrasting.
Mental contrasting actually seems to retain the most useful part of positive fantasizing. Mental contrasting helps you envision and clarify what you want by mentally reminding you how good it can feel to attain something. But it also builds upon the motivating power of knowing what you have not yet attained … that you have some serious ground to cover.
Does this prepare you for the ‘who you want to be’ hard choices? Shit. Nothing truly prepares you for that, but at least you have thought about it and hopefully that eliminates some of the more unpleasant surprises. Mental contrasting also is a very individualistic dreaming type exercise. Putting you <mentally> in positions and clarifying what you need to do.
I say that because being a successful human being is an “I” thing not an external thing.
“I don’t need anyone to hold me, I can hold my own.”
Anyway. In the end. Trying to decide what is a successful human being is hard and, most likely, indescribable. Yup. Indescribable.
Oh. There is a Russian word for that.
It means … well … nothing, not a thing, (not) anything <pronounced: [neesh-TOH]
There are no words to describe a successful human being. Yeah, yeah, yeah … we toss around a lot of words — purpose, meaning, etc. — but they all seem ‘less than’ they should. Why? Well. Because the concept of deciding what it means to be a successful human being is an indescribable thing. That said. We will continue to try and put words to it so that people have something to aim for. Find some words so that at the end of the day a person can hold up and point to.
Aw. Nuts. Yeah … I say ‘nuts’ to that.
Let’s stop trying to describe what is indescribable.
And while we would LOVE to label it with a nice simple word these are the type of things that are bigger than any word you can find in a dictionary.
All I really know about becoming a successful human being is you just gotta make some choices along the way in your search for that undefinable thing called ‘success as a human being.’
Do I know the answer to what it takes to be a successful human being?
Shit no. But I surely would like to find out.
originally posted February 2015