I need someone to learn from. I am sorely lacking in guidance, in a model for how to live and how to succeed right now, and I can feel it in my bones.
© Aron Hsiao / 2002
Problem is, I have no interest in life coaches or in therapists. These aren’t people who have been any more successful at anything than I have. They’ve followed the same basic path of school, to degree or training, to career, to middle class boredom. Even if they had anything else to say about anything else, they haven’t actually done the things I’m interested in learning about.
There are people—more than one—that I’d love to learn from, but you can’t just approach successful people with hand extended asking for “help,” especially more than once. And I’d want a lot more than once. Even worse, I’m getting to the age at which most of these people are younger than me, so they’d feel awkward about it.
I watch them with awe and a tinge of envy, seeing how adept they are at dreaming interesting dreams and then going out and doing surprising and brilliant things to make them come true with a kind of innocence that borders to the cynical eye (which I no doubt have after years in academics) almost on naivete.
Penelope Trunk says that to get successful people to help you, you need to ask them interesting, flattering, and specific questions. Problem is, I don’t even know where to begin, much less do I have interesting, flattering, and specific questions.
I’d just approach them and ask if they would adopt me and teach me everything they know. If I was sixteen years old, that might work out, but when I’m forty-two and they’re in their twenties or thirties, it hardly works that way.
I’ve told my kids more than once that if you find someone older than you who’s leading a life that you admire and is willing to be friends with you, you should spend as much time with them as you can and learn by watching and asking questions as much as you can, because someday you’ll be the oldest person in the room and if you don’t have the answers you seek by then, there may not be anyone to ask for them.
The common advice to “surround yourself only with successful people” becomes harder and harder to make use of the older you get. At some point, it turns for reasons of mere plausibility into “surround yourself with people” and then later into “surround yourself with pets” before eventually turning into “surround yourself with period collectibles” and then “surround yourself with medical equipment.”
But it’s hard to convince young folk that this is good advice; they mostly want to do other stuff, and only to get to the “serious” stuff once they reach middle age—by which time it’s far too late.
As they say, youth is wasted on the young.