How to Succeed (courtesy of David Brooks)


peaceful morning How to Succeed (courtesy of David Brooks)I’m halfway through David Brooks’ new book, “The Social Animal,” and want to pass on a few choice bits (more or less verbatim):

1. You can only discover your vocation by doing it, and seeing it if it feels right. There’s no substitute for the process of trying on different lives, and waiting to find one that fits.

2. People who succeed tend to find one goal in the distant future and then chase it through thick and thin. People who flit from one interest to another are much, much less likely to excel at any of them. School asks students to be good at a range of subjects, but life asks people to find one passion that they will follow forever.

3. Successful people tend to find those milieus where the gifts they possess are most highly valued.

4. It’s easier to change your environment than to change your insides. Change your environment and then let the new cues do the work.

What do you think of these ideas? Have any of them worked for you in the past, and/or do you plan to apply them to your own life?

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  1. Sowmya on 04.05.2011 at 00:15 (Reply)

    Isn’t 1 & 2 contradictory?

    1. Susan Cain on 04.05.2011 at 10:34 (Reply)

      That’s a very good question. I think he’s saying that first you go through the process of finding the vocation that fits. Then, once you do, you chase your goals through thick and thin. I know that’s been my experience in transitioning from law to writing.

  2. gino on 04.05.2011 at 06:04 (Reply)

    Shouldn’t 3 be the other way around? They are successful because they had the luck or were able to find their milieus.

    Accept and embrace your insides. This is hard. The environment will follow. Combine it with 1.

    1. Susan Cain on 04.05.2011 at 10:37 (Reply)

      My version of 3 is actually part of my 12 Things I Believe (item #8) — that the secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting — for some a Broadway spotlight, for others a lamplit desk, or a….

      Everyone completes the sentence differently.

  3. Mark on 04.05.2011 at 11:48 (Reply)

    Great post, Susan

    I think 2 just nails it. I am fortunate that my day job has now become a means to an end for other things. For example I am Board Chair of FeedMore, http://WWW.FEEDMORE.ORG, which is the parent company for the Central VA Meals on Wheels, Central VA Foodbank and our community kitchen.

    3 years ago we started a back pack program to feed chronically hungry kids each weekend. Our programs fed them during the week, but we needed to get them food for the weekend too.

    We started w 250 BPs a weekend, which, we were told was as good a number as we could expect. Today, we deliver 2,000 each weekend, with more growth plans beyond that.

    Find your passion, feed your passion, then fuel your passion and you will find yourself at your own personal 2)!

    PS — My own idea on the right lighting, a campfire in the back yard.

    1. Susan Cain on 04.05.2011 at 12:19 (Reply)

      Wow, that’s inspiring — congratulations. and thx for sharing that.

  4. Mark on 04.05.2011 at 13:11 (Reply)

    When I think about 3 and 4, it reminds me of a book I read last weekend called The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball — you might really enjoy it.

  5. Patricia on 05.05.2011 at 11:42 (Reply)

    I have watched Brook’s TED talk 4 times now and have ordered up the book - I find it very refreshing and full of many truths.

    My most successful environment was being at home with my children - teaching independence and courage and health…We could not afford health care and public school, so I home schooled and took odd jobs to help them pay for tennis lessons and choir tours to Japan and a year in Denmark. I am an awesome mother.

    I am constantly learning and growing in my work to inspire folks to be their best selves and to inspire myself. Where I am not successful is in earning any money for my efforts…
    Now after 2008 there is only enough for 1 of us if my partner works until he is 76 and we can pay off the house.

    I have to feed us with greatest care because our catastrophic health ins. really pays for nothing until we pay off #13,500 a year in deductions and co-pays….I am very successful at keeping us healthy

    I have not found another good environment since my children left home

    1. Susan Cain on 05.05.2011 at 11:49 (Reply)

      Wow, you do sound like an awesome mother. I’m curious how you went about teaching independence and courage. And also how old your kids are, whether you have a good relationship with them as adults, and how long ago they left home.

      I bet you’ll find another environment that suits you!

      1. Patricia on 05.05.2011 at 12:25 (Reply)

        My daughters are 25,27, and 32 and yes we have a good relationship now. My motivating force is honesty and to constantly keep learning….I found Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s workshops on Nonviolent Communications to be profoundly helpful and having taught communication skills at community college to be good too.

        I could not teach math and science so we joined up at the alternative schools for some of that

        My youngest child has a lesion in her brain over Long Term Memory and had a hard time learning moral lessons - and was hyper active. She developed ODD during puberty and we had to find some help with medications, but yesterday she moved into a management position with a large company.

        I talked a great deal and treated my children like full human beings. We worked together as a team to help each other succeed. I think my children would describe me as an awesome mum too - which makes my heart sing…and my Oldest child still hangs in there encouraging me and doing all the IT work on my blog.

        I never want to be known as a perfect mom by the way…
        and I failed at taking care of myself properly but am doing better now.

  6. Murfomurf on 08.05.2011 at 20:12 (Reply)

    As a creative introvert, I found my ideal job as a health researcher, but my boss left to work on a strong interest & the research unit fell apart, with no authority to obtain funding. When I resigned as there was nothing relevant for me to do, I thought I would find alternate work easily as I had been very good with producing publications and obtained competitive grants. #FAIL!! No full-time job for 12 years and only a few short, casual part-time ones. My partner tends to drive me mad because he hangs around half the day before going to work, wile my best work is always in the mornings! Our house is such that I can’t get away from him, so I get a lot less done of anything, especially my MPH writing! In a good mood I feel like pursuing my goal of another good job, but when depressed I’m not even worth refuelling! Any suggestions? I re-trained for a new career in IT, but hated it and stopped after 2 years- it was boring, repetitive and only got negative feedback, never encouragement.

    1. Susan Cain on 08.05.2011 at 20:17 (Reply)

      Hi Kay,
      If your partner’s around the house in the mornings when you get your best work done, can you go elsewhere — the library, a cafe? That’s what I do! As for what to do next, have you ever read the book “Do What You Are”? It uses the Myers-Briggs personality test to help you think about career directions that would suit you. I stumbled across it when I became dissatisfied with practicing law, and it was incredibly helpful.

      Best of luck!

  7. Danielle on 10.05.2011 at 21:18 (Reply)

    1 and 4 strike a cord with me, especially 4 and I aim to put it to execution very soon. Changing fields just might put my career back on track and add a smile to my face.

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