If you can’t judge a book by its cover, I don’t know how much mileage you’ll get out of a mere title. But we’ll do a quick drive-by anyway. Here’s a title I spotted in a bookstore: “What Would You Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail?”
I can’t tell you anything about the contents since I just glanced at the cover as I hurried by. So the book, it stayed on the shelf. But the title, it leapt into my head.
It’s still there. It is, after all, a great question.
The problem with great questions is that they demand great answers. Well, I’m all out of those, for the simple reason that I’ve never had any of them to begin with. So let’s make do with some mediocre answers tossed around at random.
I’ll start here: Most of the people I’ve known who accomplished impressive things didn’t start out comfortable enough to have inactivity as an option.
For them, the biggest failure would have been the failure to try something. So, since they had to go for something, they went for something big.
A hallmark of our gilded age, by contrast, is sinking into so much comfort that there’s never a need to take a big leap, or even a medium one. After all (and just to inflict yet another analogy on you) if we can afford a lifetime ticket as spectators it’s sure a lot easier than getting bruised out on the playing field.
But after the sun sets on that gig, and it does set on all of us, I think the players have a lot more to look back on than the watchers do.
Of course, there’s always a difference between taking reasonable risks on one hand and being impulsive and reckless on the other. That’s one of those invisible disclaimers that is better heeded in advance than in arrears. Not everybody gets that memo, though, which is why the Grim Reaper likes working on commission.
“What would you do if knew you could not fail?” is a more effective way of asking, “What do you really want out of life?” With the first question, we can focus on what we’d really like, instead of what we think we can settle for. That’s a big difference.
After all, it’s pretty common for people to sell themselves short. And it’s even more common for a swirling galaxy of finger-waggers and naysayers to convince you that you can’t do, or shouldn’t do, what you really want to do.
On that latter note, I’m glad that I never listed to any of the finger-waggers when I was a kid. If I had listened, I would never have gotten anything done. My band of pals was the same way. We would never eat poison, so why would we listen to it? What you let into your mind is just as important as what you let into your body.
So, while my pals and I may not have had much, if any, sense, even we could discern what the sages of the East wrote 2,500 years ago: “Knowers don’t talk. Talkers don’t know.”
I’m glad that we reckoned that one early, since things move so fast that there’s no time to waste.
Stepping back to the book angle, here’s some information from Amazon.com: “What Would You Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail?” was written by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons, and in paperback the list price is $15.95. Though I didn’t have time to look through the book, if you do take a look at it and want to share your observations, feel free to pass them along to me.
In the meantime, I’m going to get old school here and mention a book that is one of my longstanding favorites in this realm. Come to think of it, it’s one of my favorites, period. This is “Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude” by Napoleon Hill (a writer) and W. Clement Stone (a business magnate). I’m sure that many editions have been issued, and re-issued, over the decades, so instead of chasing that trail I’ll just point to it. To the extent I’ve ever managed to do anything right, this book was largely the reason.
The book is within a few years’ time of hitting the 60-year-old mark, and, though it might seem a bit dowdy by today’s standards, it still enjoys quite a following.
A positive mental attitude means working to make yourself better, not trying to pull the other guy down. It is, in other words, the opposite of the crab-bucket outlook, which is right up there with coconuts and typhoons as things that don’t require explanation on Saipan.
As for what I would do, well, I’ve settled on having a cheeseburger today. I know I can’t fail at that. Toss in some fries and there’s no better way to end a Friday, and it’s not a bad way to wrap up a column, either.