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True or False? There’s Only One Way to Succeed

Strategies and goals

This past weekend I went to a half-marathon to cheer on some friends who were running seven mile relays in it. This was my first experience of a running event like this, and spending some time at the halfway point and some time at the end, I was struck by what I saw in the runners’ faces, attitudes, and running styles: everyone was running the same course, going the same distance in the same weather over the same terrain on the same day … and yet everyone was running a different race.

Some people crossed the finish line looking like they could go forever, like they wouldn’t at all mind turning around and running the whole thing over again just for kicks. Others crossed the line looking like they had spent everything they had and then some, staggering to a bleary-eyed halt as soon as they crossed the line. Some ran smiling, some complaining, and probably some swearing. When they got applause crossing the finish line, some lit up with happiness while others looked like they didn’t even notice. Even among the people I knew who were running, there was a lot of variation: one had been training for a year, another for only a few months, and another used to run more seriously but hadn’t trained lately at all. Among those who ran the complete half-marathon, there was a 10-year-old and a 64-year-0ld, people whose fitness was worthy of Greek statuary and people who were substantially overweight, robust people and skinny people and everything in between.

There is no single way to succeed, and anyone who tells us differently is selling something.

When I think about it, I realize the same is true of book contracts among writers I’ve met. My friend Lee worked hard at writing adult fiction for years (and has seen more and more success from it lately), but her first book sold was an overwhelmingly fun children’s book that came to her more or less in a flash. Orson Scott Card started writing with plays and Mormon journalism, eventually finding his way to much wider success with the science fiction he wrote on the side. Stephen King worked at whatever jobs he could find and submitted story after story to rejection after rejection until he began to see real success. And so on.

For anything we might be trying to accomplish, it’s likely someone else has already accomplished it, and odds are that they’ve accomplished it through different means, at a different age, under different circumstances, with different skills. Research in strengths psychology (for instance, see the book Strengthsfinder 2.0) offers convincing support for the idea that there are many different strengths a person can have, and that different people with different sets of strengths can achieve similar goals if they each leverage their own particular way of getting things done.

Photo (of a different half-marathon than the one I watched) by KhE 龙

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