Recently, a friend invited me to his housewarming party. I politely declined because I have an upcoming exam about classical Chinese, and my classical Chinese abilities are still weak. He said, "Well, if your abilities are really weak, then would it matter if you skipped one day of studying?"
At that time, I replied, "My teacher gave me a lot of homework, and I only get to see him once a week, so I want to make sure I finish all my homework before we meet on the weekend. But after my exam, we can catch up!"
Later, I thought more about my friend's comment. Even if my abilities are weak, why should I cut myself slack? If I think, "Well, my abilities are weak anyway. Going to the party won't affect my chances of success," then I am basically looking for excuses to fail before the exam even happens. Would successful people do that?
The Secret to Success
I think the motto of a successful person is
"Only find methods for success. Do not find excuses for failure."
The mindset here is deep sincerity. They are single-mindedly dedicated towards that mission, purpose, or goal, and no obstacle can demoralize them. They view the task as something important and meaningful, so they push themselves to do it regardless if others push them or not. They are also willing to endure hardship for it.
A classic example is a mother caring for her infant. The infant cannot orally communicate his needs, but the mother is single-mindedly focused on caring for the infant, so she can overcome the communication obstacle and sense his needs.
Caring for an infant 24/7 is very tiring and hard, but the mother never thinks, "Oh this is so hard and tiring…Maybe I should quit…What if I can't do this…" All she is focused on is taking care of the infant. Although her body has to endure hardship, her mind is focused and positive. This kind of mindset applied to any goal is sure to succeed.
On the other hand, insincere people only do things because other people push them to do it, but they themselves don’t really want to do it. As a result, they often do just enough to get by or to not get criticized, and they usually find excuses for failure rather than methods for success.
The two most common excuses? Too hard. Too busy. Let's pause and think for a moment:
Is there anything really worthwhile in life that is not difficult and that does not take a lot of time?
How could it be that you are too busy to give time to your loved ones or to your health, but you have enough time for entertainment and hobbies?
The way I see it, the real problem is not difficulty or time, it's simply our sincerity. If we are truly sincere, then we would be highly motivated and persistent in overcoming any and all obstacles thrown at us. We would build up our ability and find the required resources necessary for success.
It's one thing to say "I failed at it because it wasn't my priority." It's another thing to say, "I failed because it's too hard…because I'm too busy…" Let's not deceive ourselves or others. Are we deeply and internally motivated? Or do others have to push us?
Becoming More Sincere
Now the big question is: How can we become more sincere? There isn't one right answer per se, but I learned from ancient philosophers that we should be motivated by gratitude, duty, and love. I'll use my classical Chinese studies as an example.
I have already benefited greatly from the books of wisdom (such as Guide To A Happy Life and The Great Learning) left by Chinese ancestors, and I want to carry on their legacy to repay their gratitude. My parents and teachers also want me to do this, and I want to repay their gratitude.
So few people in the world are learning ancient Chinese wisdom and are also fluent in English. Since so few people can do this important work, I feel a sense of responsibility to do it.
I like Buddhism's definition of love:
"Give others happiness, and remove their suffering."
I've gained a lot of happiness and wisdom from ancient Chinese philosophy, but I don't want to be the only happy person in the world; I wish others to be happy with me, so I naturally want to share these great teachings. Most of the content I write about now is related to ancient wisdom.
Notice that someone who is sincere is also a good and virtuous person who will naturally attract the aid and favor of others.
On the other hand, insincere people are entitled, irresponsible, and selfish. They think other people should do things for them, so they always wait for others rather than taking initiative themselves. If they do take action and make mistakes, they blame others or the outside world. When they encounter hardship, they don't have anyone or anything that they love to deeply motivate them, so they choose comfort, pleasure, and enjoyment over persistence. Is it any wonder insincere people fail?
Back to my exam. I am confident that I will pass my exam…eventually. Why? Because I am self-motivated to learn classical Chinese. Although there are people who want me to learn it, I wouldn't be any less diligent if these people didn't exist. If I don't pass this year, I'll try again next year. If I don't pass next year, I'll try again the year after.
Is it hard?
Totally. It is like trying to learn Shakespeare…in Chinese…. Even native Chinese speakers find it hard, let alone a native English speaker like me. When I first started learning, it took me hours to read a short story, and my writing was full of mistakes. But those mistakes didn't demoralize me. I view mistakes as opportunities for learning and advancement; they are a necessary part of the journey to success.
Is it tiring?
Well, I would say it is time-consuming, but I don't feel like it is super unpleasant or a burden to learn. Rather, I feel like it is something important and meaningful to do. Although I (like everyone) am very busy, I make time for it. I even sacrifice sleep for it.
No matter our situation, we all are trying to succeed at various things in life, such as
Having good relationships
Attaining career success
Quitting a bad habit
Learning a new skill
Starting a passion project
Whatever your goal, purpose, or mission is, ask yourself,
"How sincere am I about this? How can I become more sincere?"
Weekly Wisdom #209