« What Is the Story | Main | Open Mike: 'I'm the Kind of Person Who...' (OT) »

Tuesday, 19 July 2022


"I have very little time today—the whole day is...."

Under your two criteria for success, I really prize being organized. Simply being organized can reduce the need to work hard to just basic work. And of all the organization categories, for me time management is most important. Time is the one thing that can't be regenerated or increased. If you waste it, it's gone. Then you will have to work hard to get things done in less time than if you could have just spread that work load over a greater window of time.

I'm retired now, have no urgent deadlines to be met (unlike my pre-retirement life), but I don't go to bed without having my "to do" list filled out. All my activities that require me to leave the house are mapped out ergonomically so that I don't duplicate effort or retrace steps, thus getting more done in less time.

Old habits die hard. I thought retirement would end my regimented life style, but it's more stressful for me to go all "whatever" mode.

success: noun: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
“Be organized and work hard” were mantras drilled into my head as the passports to "success" throughout the first chapters of my life, probably like many people. Later, after decades of life experiences, I stood back and questioned this religion. Success at what? “Success” without a specific objective is meaningless. And without an objective, “keys” like organization and hard work are also mush. Organize what? Working hard at what? I’ve known people who spent 110% or their energies obsessing over making largely useless lists to feel they’re organized. Also people who beat themselves crazy working hard on jobs that achieved nothing towards their professional or personal progress. But they sure were “hard workers”. So, no, I don’t summarily agree with those keys, Mike. They’re certainly useful personal traits but, like lasers, only if directed toward a target.

In my opinion and experience the strongest ability toward universal “success" that anyone in any walk of life can develop is realiability. That means being reliable to yourself as well as to others on matters big and small. If you say you’re going to have that article ready by Friday, do it. If you say you’ll finish construction of a building by December 15th, do it. If you promise yourself you’re going to accomplish something by Saturday, do it. Make your word golden and always be as good as your word in whatever fields of endeavor you call home. If you have to be organized and work hard to achieve that status, so be it. (Some people are just clever at recruiting such people.)

Flakes are plentiful and worthless. Reliable people are relatively rare and very valuable.

Being organized certainly helps and it can be learned. It is a necessary (well, helpful) but not sufficient contributor to success, however you define success. Over a long career in business I’ve had to adapt my natural, “creative” personality to the exigencies of getting things done on time and on budget. There are all kinds of tools and techniques a disorganized person can learn to accomplish this - the trick is you have to want to enough.

I would partially agree; being organized and working hard are two of the traits that contribute to success in most fields. Raw intelligence, creative thinking and people skills are also helpful. Being especially gifted in one of these domains can compensate for deficiency in another.
In my field of medicine, the grueling competitive selection process favors raw intelligence and organization over compassion, people skills or creativity, with unfortunate consequences.
The smartest human being I have ever met was the late Frank Oski, the brilliant head of Pediatrics at SUNY Upstate and later at Johns Hopkins. He once suggested that medical schools should alter their selection process to favor diligence and integrity over book smarts. His argument was simple; "Most errors in medicine are due not to stupidity but to sloth; hence students of merely high average intelligence who work harder are preferable to intellectually gifted dilettantes". As David Bayles notes in his classic Art and Fear, "Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work".

I work in an office of 70 professionals, plus support staff. The work is demanding, and I like to think we provide excellent advice and work product to our clients.

I agree that being organized and working hard contribute enormously to success in my field (law). You can compensate for lack of one or the other, but only to a certain degree. I used to revere intelligence, but I’ve realized that beyond a threshold level, smarts don’t determine success vs. failure. I’ve seen plenty of folks far smarter than me unable to get out of their own way and produce good work.

Another quality that I would put on equal footing with organization and work ethic is resilience. It might be related to the inner self-belief you describe, but resilience is different. The ability to overcome challenges and recover from mistakes is necessary. Without it, people don’t last long in my line of work.

Sigh. Yes. The older I get, the more I appreciate organization and hard work (two things I'm also deficient in) and deprecate talent and cleverness (two things I seem less deficient in). And yes the latter can often compensate for the former, with practice. However, organization and hard work seem far more robust than the latter approach, which often requires a spark (naturally--only one of these approaches is also a method.) Also agree that people like me should develop our gifts, though that, too, greatly benefits from organization and hard work.

I’m going to assume that success doesn’t include something like “they were successful at spending their inheritance before the age of 40”.

One can work hard and not be successful (I know way to many people like this). But I don’t believe one can be successful and not work hard. At least not if your success is defined as doing better in your chosen sphere of activity than the average.

Lack of organizational skills, on the other hand, is often overcome by … working harder. In fact, many other presumed shortcomings - intelligence, specific knowledge related to a task, fluency in a foreign language, etc. - can be overcome by working harder.

I would add “showing up” to the list of critical life skills. This is related to working hard, but a surprising number of people seem to not even try to be successful (not judging; whatever rocks their boat). When the boss asks for volunteers for a tough project, the ones who raise their hands are showing up. When I think about my many failings in developing myself, I realize I often never even showed up to try.

Rather than "working hard" and devising "workarounds, think about it this way: you want to work EFFECTIVELY and EFFICIENTLY.


Once ya think about it this way, it will provide you with INSIGHTS about ACTIONS you need to take to achieve your AIMS.

With respect to organized, of course you can learn to be organized. To that end, my recommendation: buy (and actually read) Atomic Habits by James Clear. It's excellent and based on truly effective principles. Best book I've read in years.

As a side note: I didn't start figuring this stuff out until I started working as a Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) Master Black Belt after 30 years working as a scientist. DFSS helped me to codify my thinking process in new ways, both as a scientist (Design of Experiments, aka DOE, was a veritable revelation, why isn't this taught to scientists at University?).

Funny how that stuff can translate to other things in your life. Wish I knew this stuff when I was in my 20's. ;-)

You need to have something to say! Show me something I've never seen before. Well organized garbage is still garbage.

"But where career and accomplishment are concerned*, I suspect that being organized and learning to work hard are probably the two keys to success. What do you think?"

I think that you have pulled out a couple of the many factors that figure into "success" as "the two keys" when that is simply not true.

The one-armed paper hanger and the blind photographer come to mind as extreme examples of the importance of mental, emotional and physical attributes appropriate to the job.

I imagine you’ve never sung next to someone tone deaf? Never played catch with someone who couldn’t visually follow the ball and make their hands intersect its course?

I was a science nerd as a kid, then a physics major at Berkeley. It was something of a come down when I found I did not have the sort of brain that could do the math involved in going further. Sure, I could have gotten a tutor, buckled down, worked harder, organized my learning.

But one of my skills is analysis, seeing what’s going on. It became clear that no matter how hard I tried, I would never have the comfortable skill that’s a base requirement, before other things, for that career.

In my lengthy career, much as what might be called lower middle management, I hired, fired and supervised a fair number of people.

There are people who are highly organized, really hard working, never wasting a moment, and who simply can’t produce the results required, and being done with ease by others. There are also people who are , at least apparently, disorganized, and not particularly hard working, but produce the results, and everything between.

I hated firing. I hated having a guy crying in my office, a guy with a stay at home wife and two kids, but his depression was affecting everyone. Then, he got into right work for him fairly quickly and was a success, becoming head of department in a big County.

In that same career, I was never organized. My offices were known for their piles. I was often asked how I ever found anything. I was a terrifically hard worker, the minority of the time when I was deeply engaged in the work. I was occasionally a running scared hard worker when facing an important deadline.

I also wasted an astonishing amount of time. Force an intuitive creative into office hours, and lots of time is spent being unproductive. But I had skills not held by others, that were generally useful and occasionally crucial to a huge enterprise.

And yet, I retired at 55, have had over 20 years of, to my mind, fabulously successful retirement, with more than adequate retirement income and savings.

Thesis unproved.

* Are you sure you don’t mean Fame and Fortune? I think that’s what most people mean when they say Success, or use these stand-ins.

In life, being able to balance and to enjoy a mix of the physical, mental & intellectual, emotional, financial and the spiritual is great gain.

I guess a degree of survival bias is at play there. Whoever comes to the conclusion that being organised and hard work are important should have a minimal level of intelligence and talent.

I rather suspect that for many photographers, being organised and working hard both present problems. You can be as organised as you like, but that doesn’t make the ‘phone ring, and if it ain’t ringing, you ain't gonna be working very hard either.

From my own experiences, it only felt like hard work when the gig wasn’t going very well, and that was almost invariably down to clients having pushed the wrong model into the job, or it was one of those shoots that I should have walked away from instead of accepting. The latter sounds easy, but unless you have faced the choice, you won’t know how difficult it is knowingly to slam doors on the fingers of people who might turn out later to become good clients; you also need a good bank account behind you if you want to play that game.

Truthfully, work never felt like hard work when it was going well. In fact, the surprising thing was just how fast the clock turned out to have moved at such times. Perhaps everybody is different, but my own feeling is that when things are moving sweetly during a shoot, time ceases to exist, and you find yourself in a parallel space, a little private world of just you and your - with luck - muse. Funny thing: if sweat is supposedly a sign of nerves, of possible fear, then we have seriously to reappraise our conception of nervous energy, and remove it (sweat) from any absolute connection with fear; as confident as I may have felt during a great session, the sweat just rolled off my head and my shirt would be soaked. I would be physically wiped out after a few hours of such work in a studio. For some reason (and I have never thought of it before), this sweating thing, in memory at least, played no part of outdoor gigs. I wonder why? Could it be that, outdoors, the experience is less intense, muted by the many distractions any location affords, whereas a roll of white Colorama is pitiless, and subconsciously, we feel this?

Your readers want to know-what is a "reinterview" for Butters when he has already attended? Am I confused or am I seriously confused?

I suppose it all comes down to how you define success. My advice to young people is to show up on time, ready to do whatever it is you get paid do, then do it. That gets you ahead of a lot of the crowd. Working hard at it, like you say, gets you to where the crowd starts thinning out. Being organized helps make sure the hard work is being applied to the right places.

If that still doesn't get you 'success', then the going gets tougher. You need to tap into talent, and being really good at it, plus being really good at helping other people understand how good you are at it without being a jerk about it, which is something else entirely.

I'm going to say, "Yes, but...".

I think being organized and working hard may be necessary for "success", but the evidence I've collected says they're not sufficient.

In my trade (academia), there are many people who are organized and work very, very hard. However, they've only achieved modest "success" -- and will never achieve much more success -- because they're lacking the ability to networks effectively, and to build their own brand and market it effectively. The same is true, from what I can see, in many other domains.

Worse, we all know people who have achieved "success" in their careers despite not working hard or being particularly effective. These tend to be masters of self-promotion.

Of course, we should also define our terms. What does "success" mean? In my trade, it's possible to be extremely successful by the typical metrics that matter to universities (publications, grants, accolades), yet be rather unsuccessful in more important ones (e.g., making real advances in knowledge, having significant impacts on a field).

I agree, but I'll add a third. The belief in your own ability even, especially, if you don't have any. I have seen many times over a person who believes they are a master in their field where in reality they are no more than an apprentice. It works for them because most people know far less about your field than you do so if you are convinced of your skill, misguided as it may be, others will be also.

What is "success"?
For me it's... being where you want to be and doing what you want to do.

Curious what your work-arounds are to compensate for not being organized and not being able to work hard (as hard as you once did). I write things down to remember them, but not in an organized way. I can work hard, but not consistently.

I like your writing. It is very readable. I am hooked and a daily reader for years. Interesting to read of the pre-edited versions and process of the New Yorker piece.

I have seen many people who have been well organized and worked very hard only to have an empty life when they retired. The missing ingredient seems to be passion--certainly to be truly successful a great photographer or writer or teacher etc.--one must be passionate about what they do and their related interests. That combined with working hard and being organized lead to personal success and satisfaction.

"Seeing both side of an issue" can be a liability as regards success. I know that in my later working life, when I moved into the private sector (I was a UK civil servant for about 20 years), my boss often felt that I was going native sometimes; I would accept the customer's point of view (and suggested solution) more than was necessary or profitable for my employer and hence my continuing employment! I frequently had to accept that he was right to take the stronger line with the customer than I would have preferred.

@Kenneth Tanaka: Yes, reliability was a key point for both my wife and I. One of the major satisfactions we both took from work (her especially, as she worked in project teams) was that the knowledge that once we'd been tasked with something, the boss/project manager could forget about it: either it would get done, on time and to budget, or there would be an issue with the task which we would raise promptly and correctly.

Towards the end of his life I overheard my father tell someone that he had been "a failure, but a happy failure".

That'll do for me.

There is only one key to (personal) success: Ignore the noise.

I have many post-nominal degrees, etc., but I am asked to participate, academically, because I am reliable, e.g. deadlines, et.. Plus I have some knowledge and understanding in certain fields, but reliablity is the key.

Success can be overrated. I know a narcissist woman who has bankrupted two husbands while buying every damn piece of crap her heart ever desired. She is successful at what she does, i.e., being selfish, but I think the world would be better off without that kind of success. :)

Probably just me but I find "efficient and effective" to be inversely proportionate to "creative". My professional life a constant attempt to find the happy middle ground. Fortunately I have photography as a hobby which allows me to ignore the former and just focus on the latter!

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007