Friday, August 21, 2009

On Pooh and happiness, high school hockey and success

Today I compare and contrast books about Daoism, Bill Gates, high school hockey players and Winnie the Pooh.

This isn’t even the melange. It’s just the end of a long week.

I borrowed two books that both indirectly had self-improvement themes: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.

Outliers — subtitle: The Story of Success — tells how seemingly self-made men and geniuses depended upon external circumstances to become successful.

The Tao of Pooh explains the tenets of Daoism through the exploits of a silly, old bear.

And what do they have in common? They can both make you a better person. Outliers may not make you a one-in-a-million success, but it will help you understand how the most successful are selected. And Pooh will bring you closer to contentment.

Outliers argues that you can be brilliant and work hard but that is only part of the equation. You will still depend on extenuating circumstances to succeed. Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker, draws his evidence from South Korean pilots, The Beatles, Canadian hockey players, and some of the world’s most successful businessmen and attorneys.

He notes that high school hockey all-stars are almost invariably born in the earliest part of the year because they tend to be the oldest players on the team. Likewise, Bill Gates and Bill Joy (the man who rewrote the UNIX operating system) had considerable exposure to computers before they became commonplace. That’s not to say they didn’t work hard — they did — or they aren’t brilliant — they are — but there are a lot of brilliant, hard workers who don’t become household names. This highest level of success depends upon contributing factors, not coincidence or serendipity.

These contributing factors vary from profession to profession. For hockey players, it’s date of birth. For attorneys, reaching the highest echelon is based on ethnicity, birth year and your parents’ profession.

The book is fascinating (and makes me feel better for not having won a Pulitzer yet. I can just say I was born in the wrong month or something.)

Meanwhile, The Tao of Pooh (and, by extension, Daoism) says that happiness is found by accepting your circumstances and working within them.

If you are unfamiliar with Daoism, I’ll do my best to summarize it in one sentence: The universe is best balanced when things don’t struggle against their nature.

The Tao of Pooh does a better job of explaining the ancient Chinese religion. In fact, if you’ve ever had a passing interest in Daoism, then I’d recommend Pooh as a primer.

Author Benjamin Hoff uses the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood to explain proper and improper applications of Daoist philosophy. Hoff says that Winnie the Pooh — by nature of being himself — is the epitome of the Uncarved Block.

(The back cover gives you a proper taste with the teaser “While Eeyore frets and Piglet hesitates and Rabbit calculates and Owl pontificates, Pooh just is.)

Now, to contrast our books: Outliers is about climbing to the top (and how we can’t do it alone) and Pooh is about being content with whatever rung we find ourselves.

Hoff (and by association, Winnie the Pooh) offers you a way to find happiness if you will have it. Gladwell offers a well-researched opinion on why some our geniuses and others are true successes.

Both are worth reading.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. Personally, I’ve never been one to find contentment in the status quo. I find more joy in the struggle upward. (People older and smarter than me say I will outgrow this opinion.)

I think accepting your circumstances is akin to complacency. (If you happen to be a Daoist and reading this, don’t take this as an indictment of your chosen philosophy or religion. I’m sure it’s a wonderful thing to be content with your circumstances regardless of external pressures. But I come from Cleveland — home of the perpetually discontent. We fight against snow in the winter, midges in the summer and the Steelers in the fall. And when something good does happen in Cleveland, our first instinct is suspicion.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

Karim - Positive thinking

October 15, 2009 at 12:13 AM 

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