Posts Tagged ‘persistence’

drunkardYesterday I was sitting in the car on my way to or from some child-related activity, and I heard the tail end of an interview with a theoretical physicist who was explaining how much our lives are affected by random chance. It was fascinating. He described how our brains tend to try to find patterns in the world around us, and then explained that while we think we have control over the events in our lives, we’re actually mostly reacting to random happenings. I haven’t read the book that he’s written, but it’s called The Drunkard’s Walk and if you’re interested, here’s a link to an article about it in the The New York Times Sunday Book Review.

At the end of the interview, he was asked what made certain people successful, if the world is indeed the random place he believes it to be, and he said that he agreed with Malcolm Gladwell’s conclusion in Outliers.

He said that because chance plays such a large part in our lives, we should not be set back by a failure, because it isn’t predictive of future failures. He quoted Thomas Watson as saying that if you want to improve your success rate, double your failure rate. I took this to mean that the more times you try something, the greater your chance of success. And that you can’t succeed if you don’t play the game.

According to him, the key to success*?


I was so excited that I jumped onto the cell and called the 15-year old to impart this nugget of wisdom. That night I tried to impress it on the rest of the kids too.

Choose what it is you want, I said. Then go ahead and do it. You can do anything. Anything at all. At which point Smartypants Mister Ten Year Old said that if someone killed you or imprisoned you that you couldn’t really do anything so I amended my declaration by saying that barring being physically prevented from achieving your goals, there is no reason you can’t achieve them. In fact, if you lie on your death bed mourning an experience you haven’t had, you only have yourself to blame. It’s your one life, kids, I said. May as well live it.

(* the definition of success is something I struggle with)

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Tee’s been using his half hour of computer time lately to play Civilization III, a strategy game that he bought with some hard-saved allowance.

Trouble is, when he’s not playing it he’s thinking about it, talking about it, or daydreaming about it, which leaves very little brain space for anything else. He tends to get fixated on things, either positively or negatively, a trait that may serve him well later in life, but which sometimes makes parenting him difficult. He doesn’t transition easily, he tends to block out all information other than anything directly pertaining to object or idea of current fascination, and he gets “tunnel-vision”. On the flip side, he can play by himself for days at a time, needing absolutely no input from me at all, and I’m pretty sure that a bomb could go off beside him when he’s absorbed in what he’s doing and he wouldn’t notice, so at least I know he doesn’t have an attention deficit disorder.

In his desperation for more computer time, the clever boy came up with a sure-fire plan to convince me into allowing it. First, he showed me the game and pointed out it’s educational aspects. Then he suggested that he do an hour of “research” for every half hour extra of time played. By research he meant learning about aspects of the game he didn’t know much about, via library books, or books on our shelves. I agreed, with the caveat that he write down what he’d learned in a notebook so that I could keep track of it (and so that he’d get some writing practice in, but no need to let him in on that).

Today was Day One of the Grand Computer Plan, and so far it’s a success. Tee’s satisfied, thrilled with the extra half hour he played, and I’m happy with the page of notes he took on the Gunpowder Plot. I guess his research started with gunpowder, but he now knows about Guy Fawkes, saltpetre, and a little more about England in the 1600’s than he did yesterday. I think I’d call it a win-win.

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