The one book that has influenced me most in both my personal and career life is Skills for Success by Adele Scheele, a nationally recognized career consultant who currently writes for the Huffington Post. I came upon this book, serendipitously, 29 years ago during a low point in my life. It was a small, thin, unprepossessing paperback but it captured the very essence of what I needed at that very moment. Years later I had the chance to meet Adele in person and actually tell her what a life saver her book had been for me. A letter from Adele, one of my retirement gifts, hangs in my study.
Published in 1980, my copy (now signed by Adele, herself) is yellowed, dog-eared, and well thumbed. So many passages have been underlined that it’s hard to find a specific quotation. In a nutshell, Adele posits two types of people: Achievers and Sustainers. Sustainers are “good students,” doing a good job with what’s been put on their plate and waiting for recognition. They are sort of like guests at a party. Achievers, on the other hand, reach out and make opportunities and connections. They go beyond what is given, what is assigned, what is obvious and make success happen. Achievers are the hosts of the party. Sustainers tend to be bitter and disillusioned. Achievers are adaptable, using set-backs as learning experiences. Sustainers see life as a test. Achievers see life as an experiment.
Though by nature rather shy and introverted, I reinvented myself as an Achiever. Far from the familiar, in a new place and with a new job, I joined organizations, agreed to sit on a board of directors, collaborated on writing a column for the newspaper, made a point of meeting my neighbors, got involved in my daughter’s school, entered some local contests, wrote an article for a journal. Embracing Adele’s dicta, I made it a point to meet important people in town. I kept abreast of the local and regional news and offered my thoughts in letters to the editor. I did all this while doing the best I could at my job, socializing with colleagues after work on Fridays, fighting the urge to go home and peacefully hide until Monday.
Was I a success? When I moved back East two short years later, I had a network of personal and professional acquaintances who could help me solve any problem, initiate new projects, evaluate my ideas and keep me company through my “dark nights of the soul.” I had made the conversion from passive Sustainer to bona fide Achiever.
As I transition through my sixties, I have dusted off my copy of Skills for Success and am reviewing the principles. Negotiating the Encore years will require the Achiever attitude: an open, expectant, optimistic view of the world as a place to cultivate new skills, new relationships, and new experiences.