According to Bob Dylan, a successful person is simply someone who wakes up in the morning, goes to sleep at night, and does exactly what they want during the bit in the middle.

Calmingly simple. Whichever conventional or unconventional paradigms of success you subscribe to, the spoils often go to those taking the initiative, and making driven, thoughtful decisions in advance of having them made by someone else instead.

|Note to self: check privilege immediately! For every form of success, the moving parts misalign for thousands more, regardless of effort, ingenuity and execution, to which the weighted state of the world can be owed. The most fortunate are perhaps among the last to realise this, and it’s up to us (yep, I’m a white, heterosexual male, born in England, to two teachers – count how many miles of my road ahead are traffic-free) to at least appreciate it.]

Ceteris paribus, my point’s the same:

Waiting for the world to bring you the things you desire will result in certain failure.

 

Desire implies imbalance. Imbalance induces a need for change. And change requires action. Almost as important; those “things” you think of might be worth examining.

Winning an award earlier this year was a revelation, mooring for a second in a strange harbour devoid of doubt, after years of pondering who among my following of mainly friends and acquaintances was just being kind in their passing appraisal of my work. The certificate is hung on my wall, as defined as success can be by most standards, and I’ll forever be extremely grateful.

My career goals are pretty basic by comparison. I just want to be able to pay bills and put food on the table doing “exactly what I want”, as Dylan says. If the means to such an end are also desirable, this is when I know I’m tugging at the right thread.

At the hub of all this chatter is a process goal. First of all, to desire personal qualities (drive, ambition, resilience, purpose, innovation, mental stamina, that sort of thing) will help you reach the more tangible, extrinsic aim or lifestyle. And the world certainly won’t bring you those qualities, either! These are simply trained, as any other skill might be, through performing exercises that demand them.

Desiring these skills makes life very easy.

 

Training them as well as you can is like filling a tank with fuel, allowing you to take your proverbial vehicle wherever you like. (If you think you can’t train innovation, keep thinking. This could be a subject for another time.)

This is where it gets a little interesting, and if working myself into a froth of pop psychology, I’ll do well not to stray too far from the main point.

Even with as few obstacles in your way as possible, are you really Dylan’s success story, doing exactly what you want to do every day, or has that personal ideal been in part prescribed by conditions so underlying and lasting, it’s hard to even identify them?

It took me an awfully long time to realise certain things about myself. I felt like the last to discover my own habit of instantly deferring to anyone whose opinion opposed mine, because I only speak up when I have to. My undetected, silent reasoning: “The very fact they declared their thoughts shows they have a level of conviction which can only be backed by more experience, knowledge or intuition than I have.”

A perpetuating theme that just isn’t always true, and may have stunted my growth over the years. I’ve taken orders from people who didn’t have the authority to issue them, taken advice and instruction without questioning it at all, have almost never negotiated my position, and just made sure I fit in at all costs. Far from “alpha”, I’m sure you’d agree.

But with such a diagnosis, I must now also ensure any ongoing overcorrection doesn’t surpass a high watermark of arseholery towards the people around me, just because my cognitive (mis)behaviour might have made me recoil at key points along a timeline of scenarios consistently open in their potential, robbing me of pride, confidence or the odd opportunity.

Boo hoo, Flembo. You’re fine. It’s just important to objectively keep tabs on your intake and expression of information, and adjust if required in a mature fashion.

Enlightening as it has been to stand back and observe this daft little narrative, it’s also served as an on-ramp to a highway of behaviour I’m now fascinated by.

I mentioned in a past blog the desire to make completely independent decisions; ones that might even be in counterflow to the norm, if the risks presenting themselves are manageable.

I’ll always reserve the highest regard for people who appear to act completely independently from greater forces at play, and refusing to let the tried and tested logic of the masses intimidate them.

 

If free thinkers get a whiff of something in the air, they just follow it, instead of sit in a lane that’s expected of them. And if an opportunity isn’t there, they don’t moan about it, nor might they even divert to something else. They may just create the opportunity themselves.

Not without a leap of faith. And one that’s most tested not at the beginning or the end of the road, but at the many points along it, where you’re experiencing an uncomfortable gap between effort and reward.

Even in my own little lane, my faith has been tested plenty already. Questions I’ve bombarded myself with: Was it a mistake to abandon my “maths brain” for work that’s typically irregular, unsafe and an often difficult fit, who knows for how long? Since there are people who say “a camera could do a better job”, is my life a bit of a lie? Will a digital content strategy that runs at my own speed and style work in the long term? Will the controversial project I’ve been putting off for years kill my career if I go ahead with it?

Talking of tests of faith…

 

There was a little opportunity I’d been developing for a few months, with several hallmarks of progress a freelance artist can enjoy becoming more apparent with each email and phone call, and promises of the regular work, safety and exposure I’d been searching for. I sat down a few weeks ago and, having contemplated the specific requirements of this opportunity and their long-term implications, decided it didn’t fit my direction and I terminated it.

It immediately felt like I’d quit something, or chickened out on some way. But this was an important step. It wasn’t laziness, fear, or the unwillingness to work alongside and compromise with other people. It was a personal affirmation of my own goals, a test of my resolve, and another leap of faith following a little resistance from a gatekeeper (who was delightful throughout) of the world to which I belong.

All because I have a belief in the way I go about things, and amidst all the clues threatening the contrary Рthe struggle periods, light to moderate online trolling, years of varying forms of rejection  Рthis belief is becoming more unshakeable by the week.

 

When met with resistance, be emboldened by the knowledge that pushing against it hardens you to more of the same. A lot of the time, it pays NOT to tread carefully, fit in, conflate the opinions of passers-by or constantly second guess yourself in a haze of apparently intuitive rightness, but to just say “balls to it, I decide everything that happens. I’ll measure the results. And I’ll base those on paradigms of my own choosing.”

You’ll rapidly stop worrying about acceptance, success and your place in the world when you realise your own barometer for all that, calibrated by what you find valuable, healthily defines success from the outset. And confidence in this truth goes a heck of a long way.

This is how to break out of the box and become Dylan’s touchstone for success, doing exactly what you want to do, every day. Focus on your own principles, build those skills that’ll allow you to charge ahead, and do so with unwavering faith in yourself, perhaps creating opportunities that don’t exist yet.

Nobody else stands a chance of being you, me old fruit, so whack that up full blast.

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