Wake Up and Live – Introduction by Dorothea Brande
TWO YEARS ago I came across a formula for success which has revolutionized my life. It was so simple, and so obvious once I had seen it, that I could hardly believe it was responsible for the magical results which followed my putting it into practice.
The first thing to confess is that two years ago I was a failure. Oh, nobody knew it except me and those who knew me well enough to see that I was not doing a tenth of what could be expected of me. I held an interesting position, lived not too dull a life – yet there was no doubt in my own mind, at least, that I had failed. What I was doing was a substitute activity for what I had planned to do; and no matter how ingenious and neat the theories were which I presented to myself to account for my lack of success, I knew very well that there was more work that I should be doing, and better work, and work more demonstrably my own.
Of course I was always looking for a way out of my impasse. But when I actually had the good fortune to find it, I hardly believed in my own luck. At first I did not try to analyze or explain it. For one thing, the effects of using the formula were so remarkable that I was almost on the verge of being superstitious about the matter; it seemed like magic, and it doesn’t do to inquire too closely into the reasons for a spell or incantation! More realistic than that, there was – at that time – still a trace of wariness about my attitude. I had tried to get out of my difficulties many times before, had often seemed to be about to do so, and then had found them closing in around me again as relentlessly as ever. But the main reason for my taking so little time to analyze or explain the effects of the formula after I once began to use it consistently was that I was much too busy and having far too much fun.
It was enough to revel in the ease with which I did work hitherto impossible for me, to see barriers I had thought impenetrable melt away, to feel the inertia and timidity which had bound me for years dropping off like unlocked fetters.
For I had been years in my deadlock; I had known what I wanted to do, had equipped myself for my profession – and got nowhere. Yet I had chosen my life work, which was writing, early, and had started out with high hopes. Most of the work I had finished had met a friendly reception. But then when I tried to take the next step and go onto a more mature phase it was as though I had been turned to stone. I felt as if I could not start.
Of course it goes without saying that I was unhappy. Not miserably and painfully unhappy, but just nagged at and depressed by my own ineffectuality. I busied myself at editing, since I seemed doomed to fail at the more creative side of literature; and I never ceased harrying myself, consulting teachers and analysts and psychologists and physicians for advice as to how to get out of my pit. I read and inquired and thought and worried; I tried every suggestion for relief. Nothing worked more than temporarily. For a while I might engage in feverish activity, but never for more than a week or two. Then the period of action would suddenly end, leaving me as far from my goal as ever, and each time more deeply discouraged.
Then, between one minute and the next, I found the idea which set me free. This time I was not consciously looking for it; I was engaged on a piece of research in quite another field. But I came across a sentence in the book I was reading. HUMAN PERSONALITY, by F. W. H. Myers, which was so illuminating that I put the book aside to consider all the ideas suggested in that one penetrating hypothesis. When I picked up the book again I was a different person.
Every aspect, attitude, relation of my life was altered. At first, as I say, I did not realize that. I only knew, with increasing certainty from day to day, that at last I had found a talisman for counteracting failure and inertia and discouragement and that it worked. That was quite enough for me! My hands and my days were so full that there was no time for introspection. I did sometimes drop off to sleep, after doing in a short while what once would have seemed to me a gigantic task, thinking, like the old lady of the nursery rhyme, “This is none of I!” But “I” was reaping the rewards, beyond doubt: the books I had wanted to write for so long and had so agonizingly failed to write were flowing, now, as fast as the words would go on paper, and so far from feeling drained by the activity, I was continually finding new ideas which had been hidden, as it were, behind the work that had “backed up” in my mind and made a barrier.
Here is the total amount of writing I was able to do in the twenty years before I found my formula – the little writing which I was painfully, laboriously, protestingly able to do. For safety’s sake I have over-estimated the items in each classification, so a generous estimate of it comes to this: Seventeen short stories, twenty book-reviews, half a dozen newspaper items, one attempt at a novel, abandoned less than a third of the way through. An average of less than two completed pieces of work per year! For the two years after my moment of illumination, this is the record: Three books (the first two in just two weeks less than the first year, and both successful in their different fields), twenty-four articles, four short stories, seventy-two lectures, the scaffolding of three more books; and innumerable letters of consultation and professional advice sent to all parts of the country.
Nor are those by any means the only results of applying my formula. As soon as I discovered how it worked in the one matter of releasing my energy for writing, I began to be curious as to what else it might do for me, and to try acting upon it in other fields where I had had trouble. The tentativeness and timidity which had crippled me in almost every aspect of my life dropped away. Interviews, lectures, engagements which I had driven myself to giving against the grain every minute, became pleasurable experiences. On the other hand, a dozen stupid little exploitations of myself which I had allowed – almost in a penitential spirit – so long as I was in my deadlock were ended then and there. I was on good terms with myself at last, no longer punishing and exhorting and ruthlessly driving myself, and so no longer allowing myself to be unnecessarily bored and tired.
Although my formula had worked with such striking consequences for me, I told very few of my friends about it. In the almost fatuous egotism which I seem to share with ninety-nine percent of my fellows, I thought my case was unique: that no one had ever got into quite such a state of ineffectiveness before, nor would be able to apply the formula I used so successfully on their own difficulties.
From time to time, now that I was no longer living in such a state of siege as made me blind to all outside happenings, I did see indications here and there that another was wasting their life in much the same way that I had wasted mine; but I had had the good fortune to emerge and so, I thought, would they, in good time. Except for chance I would never have thought of publicly offering the simple program which had helped me so; I might, indeed, never have realized that to a greater or less extent most adults are living inadequate lives and suffering in consequence.
But some months ago I was asked to lecture to a group of booksellers, and the subject which was tentatively given me was “The Difficulties of Becoming a Writer.” Now in my first book I had gone into those difficulties pretty thoroughly; I had no desire to read a chapter from an already published book to an audience the members of which were in a little better way to have read the chapter than almost any other group would have been. Beginning to prepare the lecture I could think of nothing further to add to the subject than to say frankly that the most difficult of all tasks for a writer was learning to counteract their own inertia and cowardice. So, fearing at first that my talk would have somewhat the sound of “testifying to grace” in an old-fashioned prayer-meeting, I began to consider the subject and prepare my speech.
The conclusions I came are in this book: that we are victims to a Will to Fail; that unless we see this in time and take action against it we die without accomplishing our intentions; that there is a way of counteracting that Will which gives results that seem like magic. I gave my lecture. What was really startling to me was to see how it was received. Until the notes, the letters, the telephone-calls began to come in, I had thought the report of how one person overcame a dilemma might interest many of the audience mildly and help two or three hearers who found themselves in somewhat the same plight.
But it seemed that my audience, almost to a man, was in the state I had described, that they all were looking for help to get out of it. I gave the lecture twice more; the results were the same. I was flooded with messages, questions, and requests for interviews.
Best of all were three reports which came to me within two weeks.
Three of my hearers had not waited for a fuller exposition, or taken it for granted that the formula would not work for them, but had put it into immediate practice. One had written and sold a story which had haunted her for years, but which had seemed too extraordinary to be likely to sell. A man had gone home and quietly ended the exploitation of himself by a temperamental sister, and had made arrangements to resume evening work in a line that he had abandoned at his sister’s insistence; to his astonishment, his sister, once she thoroughly understood that he refused to be handicapped longer, had seemed to wake from a long period of peevish hypochondria and was happier than she had been in years. The third case was too long and too personal to recount here, but in many ways it was the best of them all. Well, there were three persons, at least, who found the formula efficacious; and, like me, each of them found something rather awe-inspiring about the results.
We all live so far below the possible level for our lives that when we are set free from the things which hamper us so that we merely approach the potentialities in ourselves, we seem to have been entirely transfigured. It is in comparison with the halting, tentative, hesitant lives we let ourselves live that the full, normal life that is ours by right seems to partake of the definitely super-normal. When that is seen, it is easy to discover that all men and women of effective lives, whether statesmen, philosophers, artists or men of business, use, sometimes entirely unconsciously, the same mental attitude in which to do their work that their less fortunate fellows must either find for themselves or die without discovering.
Occasionally, as the reading of biographies and autobiographies shows, enlightenment comes through religion, philosophy, or wholehearted admiration for another; and the individual, although often feeling still weak in himself, is sustained by his devotion, is often capable of feats of endurance, effectiveness or genius which cause us to marvel at him. But those who are not born with this knowledge of the way to induce the state in which successful work is done, who do not learn it so early that they cannot remember a time when they did not know it, or who for some reason cannot find in religion or philosophy the strength that they need to counteract their own ineffectiveness, can still teach themselves by conscious effort to get the best from their lives. As they do so, many other things which have puzzled them become clear.
But this book is not the history of the growth of an idea. It is intended to be a practical handbook for those who would like to escape from futility and begin to live happily and well.
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