On the Simplicity of Success


(UNITED STATES, Boston) Sign posted on M.'s wall. (Photo taken by the author's friend L.)

The first time I saw this sign—the photograph of which was sent to me by my very good friend L.—I spent a good five minutes laughing until my belly hurt. Its creator, M., is another very good friend of mine whose name I’ve blocked out for the sake of privacy. (L. wouldn’t be concerned about privacy at all, except revealing L.’s identity would reveal M.’s.)

M. was always notorious amongst our circle of friends for antics like these—manic gestures of earnestness balanced by a keen sense of irony and self-deprecation. I remember how years ago, when she was studying frantically for her GRE, she would post vocabulary lists on the ceiling of her attic room so they would be the first and last things she’d see on getting up and going to bed. I admired her just for going through the sheer effort of composing, printing and putting up those study aids.

And there is something to be said about the efficacy of visual reminders. Human beings tend to rely on memory—that most faulty of devices—for storing information, intentions, objectives and promises, and it often doesn’t work. It’s not just because of the inevitable loss of brain capacity wrought by aging, but also because of sheer sedimentation of ingrained habit. Said another way, new directions or new goals come up against established patterns of thought and action and can expire (without notice) in the face of inertia. External supports of all kinds are necessary until new patterns of thought and action gain sufficient momentum to run on their own.

So M.’s signs—zany as they are—are highly appropriate. And they’ve served her well—well enough for her to finish at the top of her master’s degree class in the United States and move on to work on a doctorate degree.

All of which proves that the best solutions in life are truly the simplest ones.

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