Lessons for My Children
By Dave Duffy
Issue #136 • July/August, 2012
I’ve been working for several years on a small book for my kids called Lessons for My Children that will attempt to give them advice about how to live their lives successfully. Not that my kids are any more prone to taking parental advice than other kids, and not that I’m even qualified to give advice. I’ve never been a model citizen, that’s for sure, having drunk my fair share of brew and even messed around with drugs like marijuana and LSD in my youth. Even today, in my more reformed older years, my main contribution to the youth on the golf teams I sponsor is to enlarge their vocabulary when I miss a shot.
But I’ve been able to get things done in my life, such as publishing this magazine starting with zero dollars, and that is going to be one of the principal things I’ll write about, namely, how to get things done in your life even if you don’t have access to money and people to help you.
I’ll benefit from this book at least as much as readers. You see, I’m having trouble finishing this book, which is why I’ve chosen to write it as part of the magazine. I’m forcing my hand, so to speak, making myself organize into a coherent whole the hundreds of pages in a dozen notebooks that have been spinning out of control for several years. Whether or not I succeed, we shall see, but I have no chance of succeeding unless I first begin.
Which brings me to the first lesson in Lessons for My Children. How do you get something done when that something seems difficult, even overwhelming, to do?
The answer: You begin!
Let’s take two examples: writing this book and planting a garden. You can choose to begin or not attempt either. If you begin, you will have varying degrees of success: a good book or garden, a mediocre one, or a poor one, or a million intermediary shades of success. And each is a success, although the garden is the most obvious to see, because even a poor garden yields some food rather than the none it would have yielded had you not planted at all.
It is really that way with everything. A poorly written book, or any other mainly mental task you choose to undertake, yields benefits. The mere act of trying to write something down is the best way to learn a subject thoroughly. That’s why the more successful students take notes, rewrite their notes, and write essays about what they are trying to learn.
Plus, the ego boost of having tried to do something, even though complete success eludes you, is not just a mental tonic worth savoring but a builder of brain neuron connections that is like money in the bank for future mental tasks.
I once planted my first garden with moderate success, then decided to attempt to build a house across a creek from it. I didn’t even take out permits, bad citizen that I am. It became both mental task and physical test for me since I lacked the most basic of carpentry skills. I had to tear out many errant cuts and misplaced nails. But I finished building that house, complete with its obvious imperfections and the ones I hid behind drywall. The education and courage that imperfect house gave me allowed me to start Backwoods Home Magazine a few years afterwards. The garden led to something bigger to begin, then the house led to BHM. It’s a good thing I began by planting that garden.
Of course there are a few things you must know before and after you make a beginning. They too are simple:
Before you begin
Don’t overplan. Some planning is necessary, but more important is to just take a step in the general direction you want to go. Don’t be afraid to be a bit reckless. It is far better to be reckless than to be afraid when you are trying to achieve something. Mistakes at least leave you something to correct.
Dream big. This is connected to working hard, discussed below. It is good to dream big, whether it’s planting a big garden, building a house, or writing a book because dreaming big gives you a goal worth going after.
Put the fear of failure in perspective, namely, at the back of your mind where it belongs. Failure, as we have just seen, is really a shade of success. It’s not beginning that is the only failure.
After you begin
Focus and complete a task. Don’t lose sight of what it is you want to achieve. Your focus may shift, as mine did from a garden to a house to a magazine, so you may have to refocus. But focus your energies on the immediate goal ahead until it is completed. If you dilute your focus too much, your energy will similarly be scattered about on peripheral tasks, preventing you from completing the task at hand. Focus and complete one task, then move on to the next.
Work hard. This is always the most important ingredient for success, and it will overcome any obstacle in your path. It’s good to have talent at whatever it is you want to achieve, but just a small amount of talent coupled with a lot of hard work will achieve success, whereas an immense amount of talent that is not put into action by a lot of hard work will often achieve nothing.
Oops! Out of room in this issue. I’ll reserve another page or two in the next issue so we can really sink our teeth into this book.