Musings on imitation, induction and how we perceive success

An idea has been afloat in my mind. What success means for us and how we go about becoming successful.

There are numerous systems, frameworks and theories of how to become successful. Your nearest bookstores, to be sure, contains – if it is a bookstore at all – at least few books about success theories or stories of those who became successful. Success theories are all woven around an abstract, feel-good, visionary set of terms, neatly connected and logically resound.

Steven Covey’s “7 habits of highly effective people” is perhaps the best one among those theories from the Western standpoint and “Karmic management” of Michael Roach is the best from the Eastern, both comprising the cumulative wisdom, philosophy, experiences and stories of countless successful personalities in the West and East correspondingly.

These two as well as many theories, like most of scientific theories, are inductive in their nature, i.e. you have a number of facts/experiments/information and you induce a logical frame, encompassing and describing them all. This is the status-quo mode of thinking about everything in our lives, and we love it because it is easy to grasp, intuitive and logical.

We connect dots, left by others who were successful before us. We draw a line and we think if we move along this line as closely as possible, we will arrive to success in our own lives. We also tend to think that the line we connected and are treading along is the only possible way of connecting those dots. We are wrong on both accounts.

We have idea of what our own, benchmarked with universal, success looks or needs to look like, and usually we are quite adamant about it.

Whether you know it or not, but inductive theories about success are usually aesthetically appealing, seemingly simple and logical, but are, with some notable exceptions, misleading. I am not saying that Covey and Roach are wrong, but that their theories are merely descriptive and need to be learnt/considered, not imitated/followed.

Induction is at the heart of imitation. Human history is one continuous story of imitation. It goes like this. There is someone visionary – what this term means is relative to the period and context of the history – who lives his life fulfilling his dreams and potential, and whose ideas/dreams/actions spill over – during or after his life – a certain number of peers, who find solace, appeal or hope in those ideas, internalizing them and in turn spreading them and sometimes building upon them. Religions are one example, science is another.

You no doubt saw (on TV or real life) a man sporting a beard, dressed in a traditional Arab white robe and who carries a book in his hand. A Muslim, you think. You think so because he fits the image of a Muslim that you read or saw. He follows the teachings of Islam and carries Koran. He follows those teachings. Whether he agrees, or is convinced is irrelevant, as he is pious and obeys those whom he considers wiser than him. His self-image is that of Muslim, and this is what he wants everyone to think of him. He treads the path (the line) recommended in teachings (points) in the hope of living a good, worthy life. Whether he succeeds in his life and lives up to his dreams is another story.

You no doubt saw a youth dressed up in what looks like the singer 50-Cent: a certain type of cap, seated above his forehead under a certain angle; a long lousy t-shirt and a baggy pair of jeans that look like they are about to fall down; colorful, shining pair of snickers. A hip-hop/rap fan, you think. Whether he is truly into that sort of music or even finds comfortable dressing as he does is another question. He follows the social code of those who are fans of that type of music and lifestyle, personified by the singer. His self-image is of someone stylish and who is into hip-hop/rap. Music is his thing, and he loves hanging out with those who are like him, i.e. appearance-wise look like him and have similar tastes in music, and thinks of those as his close circle/family and key to his future success. Whether he attains that success is another story.

We gather information, through our personal experiences, stories we read or hear about and we build our stereotypes about all aspects of life as well as success. We then dogmatize these stereotypes, build generalization upon them, draw number of characteristic criteria from those generalization and then freely apply those criteria in order to identify and describe multiple facets of our lives.

Wise words from the movie “Forbidden Kingdom” need to remind us what the success really is. The protagonist of the movie, American teenager Jason, who is a fan of martial arts, magically finds himself in ancient China and meets a number of idiosyncratic characters. Jason’s story-line resembles much our own. In one episode, while he is training in kung-fu, the background narration cites:

Learn the form, but seek the formless. Hear the soundless. Learn it all, then forget it all. Learn The Way, then find your own way.

Imitation, at its best, is the stage of “learning the form.” We learn what has been taught and reached us, the universal truths and wisdoms, the lives of success. 99% of us stop here. We live our lives following or imitating, never going any further.

The path to success goes further. It includes internalization of those wisdoms and experiences of others into ourselves, making the transition from mind (as a purely intellectual) to heart (realm of feelings and experiences).

And finally, it includes “finding you own way,” based on all that was learnt and internalized.

We are the ones that will shape the form as well as details of our own success, just like those great personalities and visionaries did back in their times – not one of them came to be successful, visionary, or important by imitation, but by creation and recreation of themselves.

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