"Chapter 1 gets you started by allowing you to choose your own life."
I can get behind a book that promises to give readers that kind of power! Author G. Richard Shell is actually referring to his Six Lives Exercise which he presents in his opening chapter of Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success. The goal of the exercise is to assess where you are at in your life, and whether it is the life you would choose if you had control, carte blanche. The Six Lives Exercise offers brief descriptions of careers/lifestyles--Teacher, Banker, Wealthy Investor, Stone Mason, Tennis Pro, Nonprofit Executive--, and asks that you rank them 1-6 in terms of success. Shell, though a professor of Legal Studies, Business Ethics, and Management at the Wharton School, brings his English literature to bear on these description as he fleshes out these characters one by one. Each of the descriptions contain a complex mix of differing professional and private successes and failures.
I won't disclose which of the options is most often ranked #1, but Shell makes it clear that it doesn't really matter. (Though there is one that is chosen most commonly, and I too put that one at the head of my list.) Because no matter which life his students chose, he says, "I often challenge them with a question: if the [xx] represents success to you, what steps might you take right now to move your life closer to that ideal?"
Then Shell puts this question to readers: "Think about the six profiles again and imagine you had one (and only one) child. Then imagine that you must pick one (and only one) of these lives for that only child to live out." This new perspective did change my choices, but not my #1 choice.
Shell concludes the first chapter with this reminder:
[Y]ou have begun the important process of clarifying and choosing the success values you want to embrace for the next stage of your life. It is your life story you are writing, after all. So you get to select the character traits and motivations for the person playing the central role.
The reason I chose this exercise to open this review is because it's a fine exemplar of the interesting take Shell gives to an oft-addressed subject, success. He himself struggled to discover what he was born to do, not deciding on a teaching career until his late-30s. And now he is a professor at Wharton teaching his popular course called The Literature of Success: Ethical and Historical Perspectives that "distills my study of hundreds of how-to books, philosophical works, biographies, and psychological research papers on success, extending from ancient to modern times." Shell knows what he is talking about when it comes to creating success. He tells his own story with great humility and insight, and the entire book is written in a voice that is both instructive and generous.
This book will help you do two things that are firmly within your grasp: clarify your goals and understand better how to make progress achieving them. Outliers explains how Bill Gates, the Beatles, and various Nobel Prize winners scored their remarkable achievements. This book has a different goal. I want to help you start where you are today, regardless of your current advantages or disadvantages. Then you can use this book as a springboard for launching your search to find a truly personal vision of success. From what my students tell me, this work can change your life.
Springboard is divided into two sections in order to answer these two questions: What is Success? and How Will I Achieve It? The first section concerns happiness, how to balance that pursuit with society's expectations, and how to zero in on work that will matter to you. The second half of the book emphasizes a lesson Shell himself learned as a young man, one that helped him take his first step forward toward his goal: "Discover What You Can Do Better Than Most." For him, that skill was to write and/or use words. Then comes the time to get motivated, gain confidence, focus, and involve others.
Springboard is not a book that will help you make millions hand over fist--unless that's what you consider successful. Springboard is also not a book that will tell you to quit your day job and become and entrepreneur--unless that's what you consider successful. Shell doesn't define success as much as give readers the tools to define it accurately and authentically for themselves.
Shell bids readers farewell with this reminder:
You and I can both be thankful that you do not have to turn in a paper [like the students who take my course], but you do have to decide how you will live your life going forward. That has been the point of all our work together. That, in the end, do you think success really is? And with that idea in mind, what specific steps can you take to achieve it? These are the big questions....
And reading Springboard will help you find the answers.
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