One of the reasons I love biographies is that they help you to see that successful people are riddled with problems too. Did you know that Scott Adams, best-selling author and the artist behind the Dilbert cartoon, once struggled with spasmodic dysphonia, and was mysteriously unable to talk to any other human being for more than three years?
It is just one of the struggles he talks about in his sort-of-biography How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. The book was recommended to me by a mentor, and from it I got two interesting lessons.
The first is regarding generosity, and the need to take care of yourself. As a business owner, I enjoy talking about business, and helping other people to pursue their ideas. But every once in a while, I’ll get so excited that I commit to something I shouldn’t, and then get crushed under the workload. Whether it’s offering free help, or just taking on a long term project that I don’t have time for, I have to consciously restrain myself from saying yes to opportunities on a daily basis. Sometimes I feel bad about this. I’ve got specialized knowledge in a few areas. Why shouldn’t I share it?
Adams, who is a straight shooter almost to a fault, says that when it comes to generosity there are only three types of people in the world:
- Burden to Others
In order to help others, he says, you first need to take care of yourself. You need to take care of your health. You need to make a good living. You need to pursue “enlightened selfishness”.
“If you neglect your health, or your career you slip into the second category — stupid — which is a short slide from becoming a burden on society.”
People who look out for themselves have the resources to help others. Whereas someone who’s overcommitted, under-charging, or otherwise too “generous”, winds up with neither time nor money nor enthusiasm to contribute. They become a ball of stress — a broke ball of stress… I’ve been there.
The second, and much more profound lesson is perhaps best introduced with a question: