Is there such a thing as a good career or a bad career? Is there such a thing as a good hobby or a bad hobby? Such choices are often very personal so can we really say what is good for people and what is bad? Probably not, but we all know that these days a lot of people desire “success”. It seems that with success comes a lot of happiness affecting all areas of life. It is not the only way to gain happiness but it certainly can lead to it. Success is not always about careers or jobs; it can be about anything in a person’s life; it could be success in raising good children, success in gardening, success in being a likable person, success in being the first to achieve a feat, success in being good at a given skill, success in being useful to society or simply success in being happy and getting the most from life.
With the concept of success and happiness comes options and choices. We all need to make decisions about what careers to get into, what hobbies to engage in and what to spend our finite time on. The decision means that, yes there is such a thing as a good or bad choice that can in the long run influence your happiness.
Some people seem to excel at this. They make all the right choices and it seems that the world goes out of its way to accommodate their desires. How come they succeed so well? Perhaps on further examination we can discover the underlying principles that help one make good choices.
As an example, let’s consider an episode in the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. No one can dispute that he had an extraordinary life so far and with his universality and fame, it is certainly worth examining his life to see how his decisions and interests has shaped his life.
The teenage Arnold became obsessed with body building. He put posters of his bodybuilding role models on his walls and decided to do whatever it took to become like them.
Body building is best done in a community of others where people support each other. There is competition and cooperation involved from the outset. Competition helps to focus the mind, while cooperation leads to social bonding, making new friends and feeling of belonging to a community. In addition, body building makes you fit, and often makes your body look more attractive.
Body building is much like sculpting. It is basically a craft. Rather than using clay, you shape your own body in line with the restrictions of the medium which in this case is your flesh. In that sense, Arnold can be considered an artist who has created a sculpture out of himself. There is, however, a fundamental difference with other artists. A painter or a sculptor would spend countless hours creating a series of works and those artists who are very good at this create something that comes to define them. The more unique or new the style is, the more famous they would get. These works are then sold to private collectors or if they are exceptionally good, are placed in public galleries.
In the case of Arnold, he only had one work; himself. He didn’t have to come up with a whole lot of different works or a style that connects them all. He had only one product to work on, only one product to promote, only one product to showcase and only one brand to publicise. As opposed to pretty much all other art forms, he also had another great advantage; he could carry or in fact he had to carry his artwork everywhere. His work was always on display for everyone to see, scrutinise and enjoy. This allowed him to promote himself unapologetically everywhere he went.
In contrast, a humble artist may not necessary bring a work to the attention of others in every single social situation. For Arnold this was not a choice but a great blessing especially at the beginning of a body building movement that most ordinary people were not familiar with. All he had to do was to enter any given social setting and immediately stand out. He was memorable. People would be curious to approach him, watch him and ask him questions on how he had managed his physical appearance. He could generate the same curiosity that an artist would produce when showcasing a work of art. With a bit of personality and charm, Arnold created and sustained a dedicated set of fans.
This constant showcasing provided Arnold with ample opportunities to connect with others so he could sell them products and know-how—something that he could turn into hard cash.
Having had the sculpted body, Arnold now could easily join other body building communities. His body showed others that he belonged to their community and was in fact quite accomplished in the craft. As with any community of artists, there is always a lot of respect for exceptional skill. People want you to become part of their community if you are good at what they are passionate about. They want to be your friends, to learn from you.
Body building is not something you can fake. Your body is a demonstration of your skills and dedication. The success in body building can then be used as a launch pad for the next adventure.
This is indeed exactly what Arnold did. At first, he used his body building experience and reputation to setup a mail-order business to provide supplements and how-to guides on body building. He wrote body building books and ran relevant seminars.
However, Arnold was always interested in becoming an actor. Could he take advantage of his accumulated results with body building to gain a foot hold in Hollywood and enter a whole new field? Indeed, he could. For acting, you need to have something that makes you stand out. It could be looks (which you are born with so there is not a lot of control there) or it could be skills in acting. Body building can be quite a special skill as it leads to an in-your-face obvious quality that is hard to ignore by directors, producers or for that matter the audience. People see it and respond to it, refer to it and talk about it. They would say, “Did you see that giant guy playing as Hercules? He was massive!” That’s enough to make people curious to check out the movie and this then leads to strong word of mouth marketing. In short, as an exceptional body builder-turned-actor, Arnold stood out from the rest and was easily remembered. People may not have learned his name, but they could always refer to him like, “You know that big muscly guy in that movie we watched the other day…”
In short, choosing your ideal career early can make it easier for you to progress forward or to switch to other careers later in life. Sure enough, you should choose something that you are passionate about, but you always have more than once choice. You should aim to choose a career that has an easier path to success as you jump from one area to another in the span of 60 years or so of a healthy adult life.
This is a prime example of how focused determination along with accumulated results can lead to tremendous success.
What can we learn from this story and many like it?
If we don’t draw up actions, stories are just heard and then forgotten. To benefit from a story, we must be aware of its lessons. That can only happen if we draw up a number of precise points and think about them regularly. Let’s identify the important points from the story that leads to good decision making for career choices, success and happiness.
When making decisions about life or a given subject, consider asking yourself the following questions to help clarify where you are heading.
Is there a feedback loop present that can enhance your learning?
To have a feedback loop for learning you must have all the following:
- Be able to define your goal precisely
- Be able to measure yourself precisely in relation with the goal
- Be able to take actions that can help you get closer to your goal
This may sound straight forward but let’s look at some examples. It turns out that we miss the point often. If you keep watching TV you don’t necessarily become better at anything significant. That’s because there is no feedback loop present. If you turned up in the local hiking club on a weekly basis, again you don’t necessarily become better at it unless all three components are present. If you just turn up to have a good time, that’s all you are going to get. On the other hand, if you set yourself a goal to hike for 50 miles in X amount of time, do it several times and measure your performance and then read about and train yourself to be able to do it faster, only then, you become better at it. Becoming better at it can in turn open up new opportunities that ultimately boost your happiness on a deeper level.
Is there an element of cooperation and competition in this area?
Cooperation and competition can help you learn from others and push you to excel in a given skill. Expertise can bring respect which in turn can boost happiness.
Is there a monetary reward as you progress forward?
A monetary reward is important because it leads to what we call “closing the loop.” If you can take actions to get closer to your goal and while getting closer earn enough to live on, then the loop is closed. You can continue taking more actions and spend a significant portion of your time to get better at it and live happily knowing that your life is supported. When you close the loop you get to satisfy most of your needs in the hierarchy of needs, perhaps all but self-actualisation. Remember, this is not about working for money. It is about making sure that you don’t spend your time on something else to make money and can instead maximise the time spent on this topic to maximise your progress. This distinction is important since countless studies show that working for money is not a great motivator, so it is important not to mix “working for money” with “earning money so you can spend more time on it.”
How determined are you to progress forward?
With any career choice or hobby, what comes to define your progress and your deeper satisfaction is how determined you are to push forward. This in turn comes from your passion for the subject which is of course not fixed. As you get to learn more about a given topic you may fall in love with it even more.
Do you desire to become a “subject geek”?
It is the passion that distinguishes an expert from an amateur. You can spot an expert by how much they know about every little detail on a given topic that to an outsider feels mind boggling. To a subject geek, who is a passionate person who cannot get enough of a given topic, it feels completely natural to live and breathe the subject and learn everything there is to know about it constantly, 24/7 and nonstop.
Follow the above principles when making important decisions in your life and you are bound to end up with a much clearer view of what you are about to get into. If you are curious about systematic goal setting, career choices, success and general happiness in life, check out our book, Focused Determination that contains numerous guidelines, case studies, multitudes of examples from history and plenty of exercises to draw up precise actions and get results.
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