Setting Yourself Up for Success

It is happenstance that I follow the excellent question posed by James Scott Bell yesterday in this space about the concept for writers of “Failing Up” with some thoughts on success and how to achieve it. The collection of individuals known as “writers” and “authors” have any number of motives for writing. One of the ones at the top of this list hopefully would be that each and all of them want to do so. Those of us who show up every week or two at this space with a post that we have written do so because we want to do it. We seek to help others, hope to entertain, and/or wish to sound off, among other things. The big one, however, is that we want to write. 

Some authors have reached the enviable point in their careers where they are under contract and must write in order to fulfill a contractual obligation, but wanting to do it is hopefully still their primary motivation. Sitting in front of a screen trying to fill a space beats looking forward to a day where a shovel and a ditch constitute the primary scenery and the scenery never changes. Others are trying to get to the point where someone is willing to pay them to write. They are honing their work in hope of piercing the hardened heart and mind of an editor. Again, however, they have to want to. And so it goes. In each case, a writer assembles the tools, skills, and ideas at hand and gets to work. 

It sometimes helps, however, to sit back for a moment (as opposed to a week, or a month, or longer) to discern what is one’s prime motivator, regardless of what they are trying to accomplish. I was reminded of this last week as I listened to a lecture titled “Counseling Your Client to Reduce Stress & Succeed in Litigation” given by Alan S. Fanger, Esq., as part of the legal education series. Mr. Fanger, the president of EmpowerLegal, Inc. touched upon many subjects dealing with how to prepare a client for trial.  My major takeaway from his presentation, however, was a discussion concerning how to successfully accomplish a task. Mr. Fanger put forth the proposition that it is more important to focus upon what needs to be done to perform the task successfully than upon the consequences of the failure to do so. He concluded that focusing on consequences rather than how to do the job will guarantee failure.  

Mr. Fanger used an example from the world of professional football to illustrate his point. You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate it.  There was a cringe-inducing moment during the 2016 NFC Wild Card playoff between the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. A Vikings player named Blair Walsh was tasked near the end of the game with kicking a field goal which would have, all other factors being equal, won the game for Minnesota. It was a short kick (for a professional football player) of twenty-seven yards. Walsh missed it, in front of God and everybody. It wasn’t as if Walsh was pulled out of the stands to make the effort, either. The game in question was a low scoring one. Walsh had actually scored all nine of Minnesota’s points during that game by kicking field goals from longer distances. He missed that last one, however. It was indeed a bitter pill to swallow, one that some football fans remember to this day. While none of us can accurately predict what goes through anyone’s mind in the moments before making an attempt at a task, Mr. Fanger submitted that perhaps Blair Walsh was more focused on the enormity of what would happen if he failed — losing the game and thus failing to advance to the Super Bowl that year — than upon what he needed to do to succeed. 

That conclusion may or may not be true. It makes sense, however. You may have heard of something which is currently called “analysis paralysis.” It’s a term applied to overthinking, which is easy to do because in a very subtle way it delays the need to make a decision as to what to do. Let’s look at a very famous incident that required immediate decision and focused implementation. I am sure that the name Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is familiar to all of you. Captain Sullenberger was piloting a commercial airliner when a bird strike shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport disabled his aircraft’s engines. Captain Sullenberger, a veteran Air Force and commercial pilot, made some calculations and concluded that landing at an airport wasn’t an option. He made a decision and told his control tower, “We’ll be in the Hudson.” That is where he landed his plane. The conclusion of that particular incident would have been quite different if Captain Sullenberger had focused upon and overwhelmed by the consequences of failure — job loss, destruction of property, and, oh yeah, loss of life — instead of upon the best method (under the circumstances ) of landing the plane and the passengers with which he had been entrusted. He made a decision and acted on it, focusing on what he needed to do to succeed. “We’ll be in the Hudson,” Just so. 

Think about Captain Sullenberger the next time you sit down to write and find that the old bugaboo — “I gotta finish this” — gets in the way. You probably have near at hand everything you need to succeed, including writing instruments, a command of language, imagination, the will to start, and your own mind.  I had all of those within reach when I began writing today’s post. I didn’t consider what would happen if I didn’t. It was more constructive and more fun, actually, to start writing and see, to paraphrase Dorothy Sayers, where my whimsy would take me. The finished product is just a bit different than what I had envisioned it would be, but that’s okay, too. I’m happy with it. I don’t know if I kicked it between the goalposts, but I think I landed in the Hudson, and I hope I didn’t lose anyone.  

Thank you for stopping by. Enjoy your weekend.

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

22 thoughts on “Setting Yourself Up for Success

  1. Neat, Joe.

    I don’t know where I got the following thought from, but it comes to me when I see athletes do well in crucial situations: “You can’t be afraid to lose.” What you’re telling us is why that’s true. “Not being afraid to lose” is, of course, compatible with a fierce desire to win.

    I think if Eisenhower making the “go” decision on D-Day. The contrast, if I recall my history correctly, would be one or more of the generals Lincoln had to replace early in the Civil War.

  2. First! I agree, Eric. Thanks for your observations, particularly about that general Lincoln replaced (I think you’re referring to Winfield Scott).

  3. I like that line, “We’ll be in the Hudson.” I have a current note in my writing space that says, “remember the joy of writing and you are really good!” That was based on something else I listened to and my book reviews and yes probably a little ego. I’m going to replace that note with “We’ll be in the Hudson.” Thanks, Joe.

    • Thank you, Alec. If I may be so bold, let me suggest that you don’t have to replace your original note; you can keep it and add the new one. It ain’t bragging if it’s true!

  4. Excellent reminders, Joe. In this business, we all need a little more of Pollyanna’s outlook on life. Or Mary Poppins ‘spoonful of sugar’ approach. I have a new book coming soon. I’m in edit mode, and I have to remind myself to trust the skills I’ve developed and not to think about all the possible consequences of choosing this word over that, of what to cut, what to add.

    • Thanks, Terry. Good luck with that editing. Absolutely, at the end of the day, trust yourself. And if you are fortunate enough to have a beta reader, see what they say as well. Let us know when your book is published.

  5. Good morning, Joe.

    Along the lines of “focused upon and overwhelmed by the consequences of failure,” I called it “fear of failure” in my work. I grew up with perfectionists teaching me in their area of expertise, until I felt paralyzed that I could not “be good enough.”

    It took years for me to realize that I could perform as well as others. And when I let go of the fear, and charged in “fearlessly,” I began to enjoy my work and could think more “out of the box,” actually seeing the big picture better, and doing a better job.

    Thanks for the reminder of lessons from the past.

    • Good morning, Steve. Actually, I was thinking of you spefically, as I wrote today’s post, given that you make life and death decisions on a frequent basis, and emergency room doctors generally, particularly in hospitals where they see trauma cases frequently. Thanks for stopping by and sharing, as well as for all that you do.

  6. Excellent reminders, Joe. I love the quote, “If you build it, they will come.” Not because it implies all we have to do is finish the book to be a success but because it illuminates an optimistic (and magical) way of thinking. I truly believe what we put out in the world, like positivity, we get back three-fold.

    That Vikings game was a nail-biter! I remember that kick.

    • Thank you, Sue. I love that quote as well. It is so ingrained in our generation that it is easy to forget it comes from a film.

      I totally get what you mean about putting things out in the world. One of my favorite commercials illustrates that: Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Great post, Mr. Hartlaub. Enjoyed it immensely. Boils the task list down a bit as I look over my first rough draft of my current WIP. And boy, is it rough. Enough plot holes for the 5th Fleet to float through…

    As a vocalist, I’ve succumbed to analysis paralysis. That moment when I stare at the audience, then at the “F” on the top of the stave and conclude there’s no way. I tend to forget that I’ve done it before, that my range is sufficient, that the word to be sung on that pinnacle is an easy one, and that I didn’t drink coffee that morning. All I can see in that frozen moment is me, dangling on that note by my fingernails. (Or voicenails…)

    So, back to the 5th Fleet sailing through my plot holes: I’ve got the first thing I need to do. So, I’ll do that, then move on to the next.

    If there are goalposts on the banks of the Hudson, you kicked it through for me. I heard it splash.

    You have yourself a great weekend.

  8. Thank you so much Deb, you’re very kind. And thank you for sharing that imagery. It’s memorable. Few of us can hit the high notes in more than one area. You can, and good going. Let us know when you get the Fifth Fleet closed up and secure!

  9. Isn’t it amazing how one moment changes things? That story with Captain Sullenberger landing the plane on the river–obviously the saved lives, but who would’ve thought then about the life lessons taught by that moment to so many people since then in so many ways?

    That’s the key thing that makes writing worth it. You may be writing “just” to entertain. You may be writing with a theme in mind. But in the end you have no idea how what you write is going to touch someone, or many someones, and in how many ways.

    • It is amazing, BK, as is your comment pointing it out. I doubt that Captain Sullenberger saw himself as doing anything other than his job while he was in the moment. Look what happened. Thanks for the reminder.

    • BK, you’re so right. I always hope my stories sell, of course. Why wouldn’t I?

      But what I hope for most is that the someone who needs to read it will find it. I’ve experienced loss, as we all have. But maybe, just maybe, the loss I’ve experienced, or the joy, will help someone else along their own path.

      That’s what I hope.

  10. I love this. Easy way to remember to concentrate on the steps one at a time rather than looking too far ahead and over thinking. It drives me nuts when others come to a decision and then fail to move forward, going over all the options again and again until it is almost, or is, too late to act.

    I’ll be recalling Sully’s decisive words more than once. Thank you for another great post.

  11. Thank you, Cecilia. One of my favorite pieces of wisdom is “Life by the yard is hard, but life by the inch is a cinch.” Interestingly enough, some Special Forces teams are taught the same thing. Words to live by.

  12. Pingback: Setting Yourself Up for Success | Loleta Abi Author & Book Blogger

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