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Secrets of Getting Ahead in Life

December 07, 2006 | 27,569 views

By Dr. Mercola

This is a bit of an unusual post, in that, this is not a link from an Internet site but an article I wrote.

I have been running since 1968 but have only competed in road races and cross-country, and I've never raced in a 10K event on the track. Lapping is a phenomenon associated with track distance races in which the competitors are mismatched.

Typically, in track, this is the 10,000-meter event. Toward the end of the race, the faster runners have an advantage over the slower runners that is greater than the length of the circular track. They pass those runners at the tail end of the pack.

If a spectator came late to the event, he might conclude that the slower runners are quite fast. After all, they are right behind the leaders. Yet, they are so far behind that they are completely out of the running.

They will go through the motions by staying in the race for sportsmanship's sake, but they might as well save their energy. They have no chance of winning.

Life is like this too. It is a long race. The faster runners who possess the greatest endurance will lap the competition. It may appear that the losers are still in contention, but they aren't.

Having been a runner for nearly 40 years and competing for many of those years, and also being on the Internet, I can assure you there are three keys to lapping the competition or getting ahead in life:

  1. Get a fast start.
  2. Keep running until you get your second wind.
  3. Don't look back.

I have not always paced myself carefully, but I have not looked back. There are times when I should not have sprinted quite so hard (it's a long race). But I have been getting my second wind in the last few years.

There are two times in your life to get into the race: A lot earlier and right now. The earlier you begin, the more likely that you will lap the competition.

The Tortoise And The Hare

For more than 2,500 years, young children have been told the story of the tortoise and the hare. It is one of Aesop's fables. As far as I'm concerned, it's nothing more than a fable. From the beginning, the hare gets a big lead on the tortoise. He grows overconfident. He takes a nap. The tortoise wins the race because he keeps moving forward.

In real life, hares survive only if they can outrun the animals that eat them, which are also very fast. Sprinting means survival. Naps are suicidal. Hares do not take naps in races.

Why do we tell that story to our children? To comfort slow learners, which most children are. The story misleads children. It assumes the race is between a hare and a tortoise. It isn't. It is a three-way race: Hares that pay attention to the race, hares that don't, and tortoises.

The winners in life are the hares that pay attention to the race. Tortoises lose. They rarely get eaten, but they get played with a lot.

The tortoise is the hero of every bureaucracy, every tax-funded school system. Where there is no free market, i.e., where consumers cannot sort out winners and losers by means of profit and loss, tortoises tend to run the show -- or walk it. The pace of progress is set by those tortoises in the middle of the pack.

Tortoises, in life, play a part. They are there when the hares need backup in tight situations. The tortoises plod along, predictably doing their part. No society could live without tortoises. There are always lots of also-rans in life. Most people are also-rans. But to build an economy in the name of the tortoise is to guarantee that most members of that society will be lapped. They will be held back by the capacities of tortoises.

Some Hares Do Pay Attention

In college, I learned a trick to keep up with the brightest students. I would work on holidays. I would work when the "Big Game" was on. I took Sunday off. I knew that I had to compensate. So, I always worked on my assignments when others were having the day or evening off.

There are limits to this tactic in college. Semesters are short. They are more like the 1,500-meter race than the 10,000-meter race. I could not beat the best and the brightest, but I stayed close behind them. I was never lapped.

After graduation, this strategy still works very well. At some point, it became part of my approach to time: There are no holidays. There is no free time. There is only recreation, i.e., re-creation. "R and R" means rest and re-creation.

Over time, I started lapping the competition. That's because life is a long race.

I work on Saturdays. I work on holidays. For years, I worked on Christmas afternoon. In recent years, when the children come for Christmas, I don't, because family get-togethers are rare. Also, I'm old enough so that I am not trying to lap anyone. I am unlikely to be lapped. Anyone fast enough to lap me already has.

Still, I keep running. I pay attention to the race. The fat lady has not yet sung, but I can hear her doing her breathing exercises in the rehearsal room ...

Persistence

President John Calvin Coolidge is the source of this widely quoted insight:

  • Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
  • Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.
  • Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
  • Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
  • Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

This is an affirmation of the tortoise's worldview. But it is adopted by the hares who plan to win the race, not just finish it.

I have found that persistence is the key. Just keep hammering away at whatever interests you most. After some period of time, you will become an expert. How much time? If we are talking about an eight-hour day, a little under three years, about 5,000 hours.

This means active study and detailed application. It means running a race, not jogging. It means close attention to detail.

If you devote an extra hour a day to studying your field of interest, that's 250 hours a year (5 days X 50 weeks). Your normal workday will provide the basics. The extra hour spent reading journals and books in your field will make you a master.

Devote that extra hour a day, and in five years, you will stand out in your field. In 10 years, you will be a master. But you must apply what you learn in order to become effective.

If you teach it, you will become a master. This is why teaching others is important. Become a mentor.

Nothing will reveal your weaknesses faster. Nothing will better motivate you to overcome your weaknesses.

Motivation counts. Persistence counts most of all.

Conclusion

The story of the tortoise and the hare is misleading. It leaves out any consideration of steady hares.

In a long race, the hare who can pace himself wins. Most hares do not pace themselves well. They get a fast start, but they become sidetracked.

There is nothing wrong with being a tortoise. If you are a tortoise, you rely on a thick shell. A thick shell slows you down. This is the price of safety. It is a very high price.

The habits of the tortoise are rarely pleasant for young hares. But those hares who learn early on to act like tortoises gain a tremendous advantage. They will lap the competition.


 

 

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Here are some of the reader responses to this article that appeared in the Vital Votes section. Benjamin ("Dex") writes:

"The race is to the swift and enduring. But one other factor is usually over-rated, misconstrued, and misunderstood -- luck. Many envy achiever's fortune that favored them with success. What seems to be random fates play an important factor in the lives of rabbits who get ahead in life ... I believe we create our own luck, primarily by showing up for the race in life. By running the paces and putting in the bursts of energy, you're there when amazing things happen."

Rod, from Melbourne, Australia, adds:

"The article is summarised by some advice I received years ago: Life is a marathon not a sprint. Isn't it amazing that we can become experts within 5 years of applied study and learning -- especially outside of formal educational institutions. This reminds me of the idea that if universities taught people how to learn and then let them study whatever they wanted the world would be a very different place. More experts in things they are passionate about!"

A registered nurse from Cabool, Missouri also points out the following:

"The tortoise did not win because he was slower, but because he kept his eye on the goal.  The hare could have won easily but did not see the tortoise as a threat.  I agree with your statement not to let things distract you, however, you also have to recognize threats no matter how slow they might be.  They just might overtake you if you think they can't."

You can see other responses to this article at Vital Votes, and add your own thoughts by registering at Vital Votes.


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