My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be (2003) by Paul Arden is a motivational guide to how to improve one’s own outlook in life and how, as a result, to become great. I actually bought this book because of its title (and what a great title it is) but this book is mainly focused on advertising and meant primarily for consultants working with clients through creative media, branding and slogans. But with most books, however, anyone at any time (even writers) can find something useful to take away and add value to his or her life. And so this is what I found:
As Paul admits, advertising is a form of selling and everyone on this planet is doing it at some point, even priests. He explains:
“You are hustling and selling or trying to make people buy something. Your services or your point of view.
“Tupperware parties, for example. They are selling.
“You clean your car to sell it, showing it to its best advantage.
“People even put bread in the oven to make their houses smell nice when they are trying to sell them.
“The way you dress when going for an interview or a party, or merely putting lipstick on. Aren’t you selling yourself?
“Your priest is selling. He is selling what he believes in. God.
“The point is we are all selling.
“We are all advertising.”
“It is part of life” (p 119).
He’s right. Selling and advertising comes in all shapes and sizes and in all kinds of packages, not simply with fancy logos or witty slogans.
Paul remembers one special photo shoot in New York many many years ago when he was working with a Vogue photographer on the Leni Riefenstahl’s Nuba woman brief (see below image) and what happened moments after:
“I remember the moment vividly.
“My feet seemed not to touch the pavement and I thought, ‘I am going to be fired for these pictures.’
“Would I rather be fired for having done them or not be fired having not done them?
“There was no doubt in my mind. I would rather be fired.
“Those few seconds on 74th Street were my greatest moment in advertising.
“When I got back and showed them to my partner he thought I was mad.
“Fortunately the client loved them. ‘This is art,’ he said.
“They won every award there was to be won” (p 116-117).
At times we just have to have faith in what we can’t see or even comprehend, regardless of what others do and say—which is, in effect, popular fashion. Certainly we don’t want to be laughed at, but if we never take risks, how can we expect to succeed? But as Paul, and many others before him, have mentioned, applause and accolades should not be the main aim for creative work.
“Awards are judged in committee by consensus of what is known,” writes Paul.
“In other words, what is in fashion.
“But originality can’t be fashionable, because it hasn’t yet had the approval of the committee.
“Do not try to follow fashion.
“Be true to your subject and you will be far more likely to create something that is timeless.
“That’s where the true art lies” (p 90).
But Paul has much more advice to share. Certainly we have to trust our gut at times in all things we do, have to deviate from the crowd and the standard norm, and to follow our dreams and passions, but we (that is, anyone who wants to excel in life) must get out there and socialize and spread the word about how awesome we are. For writers, this is especially hard to do since most writers are reclusive, pensive and solitary creatures. I know I have had to change, adapt, evolve if you will, and become more social and more outgoing and more enthusiastic about my own brand (see here at CGFEWSTON.me), and despite the fact that selling and advertising is happening at light speed thanks to the World Wide Web, it can be difficult to sell yourself. But here is why Paul considers it as an important step in achieving success:
“You are in a bar chatting, you talk yourself up and present your credentials, i.e. your business card.
“You will be accepted as an authority or practitioner of architecture.
“I, on the other hand, with my lack of social skills and reluctance to push myself forward, will be unnoticed. A nobody.
“Unfair as it may seem, this is the reality of life” (p 67).
Basically, as Paul admits, “How you perceive yourself is how others will see you” (p 64). And that is absolutely true. So value yourself. Believe in yourself. And know that you are everything you ever wanted to be and much much more.
But we have to take risks, step outside of our comfort zones, engage exciting but scary opportunities, and, above all, to accept failure as equally as we must accept success if the risk pays off.
Paul elaborates on why risks are a healthy part of being great:
“Risks are a measure of people. People who won’t take them are trying to preserve what they have.
“People who do take them often end up by having more.
“Some risks have a future, and some people call them wrong. But being right may be like walking backwards proving where you’ve been” (p 57).
Taking risks is all about seeking a better life and realizing dreams into reality. Not about failure. If you are afraid of taking risks, then you essentially have decided to willfully step back and bare the burdens of your own failures. Why not step up and take a risk? Who knows what good will come of it?
But if failure does happen, as it often does to those who are successful, we can only blame ourselves. We make the choice to act or to speak or to put ourselves on the line, so we must ultimately understand that there is no one to blame for our failures and mistakes but ourselves alone. But this is, nevertheless, how we grow, mature, become stronger and better individuals. The world will not give us a chance if we cannot first take the blame for our own shortcomings, and this, in a way, is a small step towards being successful.“If you are involved in something that goes wrong,” Paul writes, “never blame others. Blame no one but yourself.
“If you have touched something, accept total responsibility for that piece of work. If you accept responsibility, you are in a position to do something about it” (p 28).
And that, my friend, is true, liberating freedom—the ability to do something, to be good, to be great.
“All of us want to be good at our jobs, but how good do we really want to be?
“The best in our field.
“Or the best in the world?
“Talent helps, but it won’t take you as far as ambition.
“Everybody wants to be good, but not many are prepared to make the sacrifices it takes to be great” (p 14).
Are you willing to endure the sacrifices to become great?
And that is the key to success no one ever tells you about—SACRIFICES, what you will have to lose or give up or let go along the way to achieving success and realizing your dreams. At the end of it, I hope and pray, you will not have lost your soul, or your true love, for that matter. Here’s wishing to a better tomorrow and a more loving and forgiving future—for each other and for ourselves.
It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be is a strong recommend because it is extremely motivational (especially if you are a consultant) and a very quick read (it took me about an hour from start to finish, but it may take a speed reader much less time).
So find yourself a copy this holiday season, lean back next to a warm fire, crack the spine or switch on the Kindle and be prepared to be inspired. After all, you are already awesome.
Keep reading and smiling…
“Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
“There are no short cuts to any place worth going.” Beverly Sills
“Those who lack courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.” Albert Camus
“The superior man is distressed by his want (lack) of ability.” Confucius
“Some people take no mental exercise apart from jumping to conclusions.” Harold Acton
“What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve.” Clement Stone
“Happiness is a singular incentive to mediocrity.” Michel Montaigne
“To become a champion, fight one more round.” James Corbett
“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” Anais Nin
More quotes like the ones above can be found in Paul’s book on pages 122-123.
Here’s to the next round!
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of the Hemingway Society, Club Med, and the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America: A Look Back (2020); and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 400,000+ followers