There is a spate of new books coming out that examine different aspects of what it takes to get ahead. One getting a lot of attention is from Angela Duckworth called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Another is Success and Luck by Robert H. Frank. And yet another covers the role of government by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson called American Amnesia.
Individually, each of these books make a needed contribution to telling a better story about opportunity in American, and are great reads worth checking out.
At the same time, there is a tendency to position books like this as “THE answer.” As evidence of this, check out the promotional blurbs on these books, including this one:
“Psychologists have spent decades searching for the secret of success, but Angela Duckworth is the one who found it. In this smart and lively book, she not only tells us what it is, but also how to get it.” —Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
In reality, we know each of these contributions and many others are just a piece of the puzzle called success. You can be the grittiest kid around, but if one day you get hit by a random truck or drink water in Flint…well, your days are numbered.
So why do we try to sell, or worse yet, buy “the next secret”? Maybe it has to do with the nature of puzzles in the first place.
A puzzle is something that tests our knowledge or ingenuity. So when we “find that piece” that makes it all come together, it feels special.
Feeling puzzled is an altogether different feeling. It is a state of confusion because we cannot make sense of something.
When thinking about success, it’s easy to focus on a single piece. But real appreciation and awe comes when you stand back and look at the bigger puzzle, which is how you ended up here.