Dear reader,

I’m often confused by a couple of ways of saying that are commonly used (at least in Italian). I’m referring to something along the lines of “from then on his career was going up” and “this is a steep path”.

My understanding is that the first sentence implies that things got better and better, while the second suggests that the road travelled is an uneasy one. Now it would be a great time for someone to chime in and correct my eventual mistake before I go on wandering for 1000 more words!

Since I’m not sure about the meaning and I suspect that other people could get it wrong too, I never use those metaphors. However, there is something I’m adamantly confident about: if you follow an uneasy, upward-going, narrow path you are destined to make other things go up as well.

In fact, it would be pretty amazing to see things improve considerably just by doing the same dull thing over and over! Let’s consider a common work environment: how can you expect to emerge if you keep on doing the same shallow tasks again and again, without learning anything new? How can you expect to improve as an artist if you keep playing simple scales or painting the same still life in the same style every time? I know that I’m not writing anything new here, that it is a platitude, but I cannot wonder about how hard it is to turn this knowledge into real world action to radically change our approach.

This is an extract from a book I really enjoyed reading, The One Thing by Gary Keller (Wikipedia page here) that explains the mechanics behind this reasoning in a much better way:

This is how big problems are solved and big challenges are overcome, for the best answers rarely come from an ordinary process. Whether it’s figuring out how to leapfrog the competition, finding a cure for a disease, or coming up with an action step for a personal goal, benchmarking and trending is your best option. Because your answer will be original, you’ll probably have to reinvent yourself in some way to implement it. A new answer usually requires new behavior, so don’t be surprised if along the way to sizable success you change in the process. But don’t let that stop you.

This is where the magic happens and possibilities are unlimited. As challenging as it can be, trailblazing up the path of possibilities is always worth it— for when we maximize our reach, we maximize our life.

In the paragraph, “benchmarking” refers to assessing your current position, which is supposed to be the top result of all your previous efforts. “Trending” is the act of looking for the next breakthrough, aiming at something higher than your current position. To me, it sounds a lot like “ready, aim, fire”: the firing part is obviously left to you, and it is the hardest one.

Another cool idea that the author spells out in the book is that if you are not trending up, you are necessarily trending down. There is no such thing as running in places in personal development: if you don’t pursue going up, you go inexorably down. Our resistance toward going up has probably something to do with our general disposition toward the world in general. I’d like to suggest you the book Mindest, by Carol S. Dweck, PhD (follow this link to find out more). Dweck states that there are two basic mindsets: the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. People into the former one believe that anything (almost anything, I would add for completeness) can be improved: intelligence, skill, knowledge, artistic talent and so on. People with a fixed mindset are, complementarily, living in a world in which, no matter how hard they try, some aspects just cannot get better (I’m not good, I’m not smart enough, I’ve got no use in practising a craft since I’ve got no talent…).

Within this framework, which has huge implications for parenting, teaching, mentoring and personal growth, it is easy to see why some people are not willing to get out of the daily humdrum routine: they are just not in the right mindset. However, your mindset can be changed, taught in some sense, so you don’t have to worry too much about its present state if you have the right commitment.

I’d like to write another million considerations about this subject, but before this post gets out of hand I’d like to point to one last source for inaction. Let’s follow the example in the next paragraph.

Assume that you think your career is not going to change, so you do nothing about it today. Tomorrow, you see that nothing has changed, and this reaffirms your initial hypothesis. Then, you think your career is not going to change, so you do nothing about it this month. Next month, you see that nothing has changed. Again, you think your career is not going to change, so you do nothing about it this year, so you do nothing about it this year. Next year, you see that nothing has changed. Finally, at your retirement, you think: “I knew I couldn’t make it, in fact, I’m right where I started”. The result is a life full of frustration, maybe envy, and I see a great deal of unfulfilled wasted potential. The result of a self-inflicted self-fulfilling prophecy.

I can’t express how much this sequence saddens me, but wait: do you think that work is not so important after all, that there are other things, that I’m a productivity-driven-freak-hamster-on-a-wheel? Sure, you may be right. However, now that you followed the argument, go back to the previous paragraph and substitute “your career is not going to change” with “your novel will never be written”, “your song will never be played” or “you’ll never be a role model for your children”, or whatever best suits your personal interests. Lastly, take away “At your retirement” and put “on your deathbed” instead. Now tell me, is it sad or no? How many people go through that process during their lives?

Recently I have developed a personal formula, you might say it is a mantra, to remind me to push myself up that narrow road and to exploit my potential. It is summarised in the sentence “You always need to work on a plan B”, which I’ve started to repeat to my friends both as advice and as a reminder to myself. More about this in a future post!

Until next time, see you climbing up the road.