A somewhat mysterious set of circumstances leads to the fact that some of us succeed early and then never again. It’s especially puzzling when that high early success washes out of a part of our lives that we value, the part that is central to how we think of ourselves. At some level of our being we feel snake-bitten. Why has this happened, and what can we do about it, especially when the sector affected is our work life? And flagging success that appears to be permanent, unredeemable can be a devastating problem to our family as well. It can blight everything we’ve planned for, worked for.
When speaking on the fact that success for some athletes is a fleeting phenomenon, often arriving as a sudden change of circumstance that brings the athlete paralyzing self-doubt, I mention that this life-pattern occurs in daily life and in other work-sectors besides athletics, too. For example, Albert Einstein developed almost all of his historic contributions to the science of physics from 1901-1908, before he was 40. So great was Einstein’s intelligence that his last name became a common epithet for the brightest among us or, conversely, for the not-so-smart: “He’s sure no Einstein!” Even though the epithet persists in the U.S., Uncle Albert was pretty much out of big, revolutionary ideas by the fourth decade of his life!
One helpful way to both guard against and work actively against such an early falling-off of successful outcomes is this: We want to pay attention to what occurs around us so we can pick up ideas that fuel success. To pay attention to subtle changes in the people around us, just as we often pay attention to subtle changes in the weather. To end a work project successfully and ahead of the pack, we each need to be “human browsers” of what occurs around us. Here is an idea: Let’s be image/sense browsers as we walk through our daily life–and thought browsers, too!
Thomas Mann, in The Beloved Returns (1939), writes of how awareness can work for us against the loss of valuable but fleeting time, “Hold fast the time! Guard it, watch over it, every hour, every minute. . . . Hold every moment sacred. Give each [minute] clarity and meaning, each the weight of thine awareness, each its true and due fulfillment.” That may be more due diligence that we can give to every waking moment, but you get the idea.
But we do need to be continually and mindfully trolling for the powerful teachings that descend on us daily, as well as alert to changes in our field of endeavor and those fields that touch upon our own, joining professional groups locally and nationally, plus reading professionally authored papers in our field. We want to keep up. That’s one end of the awareness continuum, and here’s the other: we need to be awake and alert to the “small,” thrown-off comments people give us from their personal thoughts, not so much their carefully constructed, rational comments, like the neutralized, politic memos and meeting notes that tend to separate one department from another in the workplace instead of uniting them as hoped.
The small, vital words are given a listener when coworkers let the child inside themselves come out to play, and thus unguarded, tell us a little something about what it is like to be them. How they are able to fit themselves into the world and make a go of it, and, on the other hand, what obstacles, tiny and huge, stand in the way of their accomplishing their projects and living a satisfactory home life, too. Those are the words you really need to hear to know how things are in your company and what path to take in the months and years to come. But you cannot hear and use these casual comments to make changes unless you are alert to the humanity in your coworkers.
You want to stop at their desks and listen to their personal stories; listen from a relaxed, humble, humor-filled point of view, with you breathing slowly, easily, and sitting down near the desk. This relaxed but vital-to-success use of time is exactly what it means to be a human browser, grazing and learning. In the same way, we need to read something challenging each day. This keeps our consciousness out of ruts as we follow up the reading by asking silent or emailed questions of the commentators or authors we read, thus enhancing our ability to change and adapt. But less obvious is the golden fact that avoiding ruts in our thinking makes it a lot easier to know when we are not open to change—an aspect of awareness that’s a real challenge for almost all of us!
In all these ways, and with sometimes considerable determination and practice, we can browse for new images/sense data, thoughts and ideas, and some small knowledge of others’ ways of being, coping, and contributing to the life of the company. Taking time, browsing, absorbing and considering the meaning of what we’ve seen, heard, and otherwise sensed, we can help ensure that our success will not come just once, like a bolt of lightning or a lucky silver dime found in the road just after we thought how nice it would be to find one. Our success will ride on continual waves of our own awareness, ourselves alert to all aspects of the world in which success as we define it can occur.