Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success by G. Richard Shell (Success Book Review)

G. Richard Shell is a Wharton professor and an expert on negotiation and personal development. Both the son of a celebrated Marine Corps general and a pacifist during the Vietnam War, he spent the early part of his life resolving that tension and searching for the security of a new anchor.

"…finding out what success means to you often involves trial and error, not just theoretical contemplation. You have to take risks, try things out, and experiment."

The search helped Professor Shell develop many of the concepts he shares in Springboard, which he has taught to thousands of students and executives. In the book, he also provides a broad survey and concise synthesis of the best literature in the Success and Happiness genre. The goal is for you to come up with your own definition of success, and use your unique talents and strengths to achieve it.

Through a number of self-assessments, Professor Shell helps you build self-awareness by understanding your past and imagining your future, and identifying what excites and motivates you. Take it seriously, and you may escape what philosopher Bertrand Russell describes as a life of achieving uninspired goals set by others, while repressing your “creative impulse, out of which a free and vigorous life might have sprung.”

Key Takeaways

  1. Coming up with your own definition of success involves experimentation and not just contemplation – take risks and try things out. Do, then learn.
  2. Relationships are the most important factor in your long term happiness and longevity. Other factors include meaningful and creative work, positive emotions, and achievements.
  3. If you just do what you’re good at and the market rewards you for without taking into account your interests, you’ll likely end up in “golden handcuffs”, stuck in a career that pays well but which you find wearisome.
  4. Build Level One confidence (your belief in yourself as an honorable, capable human being) by stretching yourself and leaving your comfort zone. Build Level Two confidence (your attitude as you engage in specific activities) by adopting a success mindset – the willingness to learn new skills and challenge yourself, focusing on the journey rather than the destination, and accepting failure as par for the course.
  5. Use both satisfaction-based motivation (for endurance) and reward-based motivation (for sprints) to drive your success.

Book Highlights

"As Apple’s cofounder Steve Jobs said in his famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."
"…finding out what success means to you often involves trial and error, not just theoretical contemplation. You have to take risks, try things out, and experiment."
"No matter how you define success, Momentary Happiness ought to play some role in it. In my research, I have come across two simple ideas for increasing your weekly supply of it that might be worth considering: pay more attention to the pleasant aspects of your experience and reframe your expectations for the future."
"The most important factor of all, however, was attention to relationships. The psychiatrist George Vaillant, the main investigator on this study for over forty years, was once asked point-blank, “What have you learned from the Grant Study?” His answer, swift and sure, was that “the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people.” It was the social life of these men, he said, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class,” that led to their living to a ripe old age."
"Seligman suggests combining five elements to create a life worth living. These five are positive emotions, engagement, relationships, a sense of meaning that comes from serving a purpose larger than yourself, and accomplishments, both short-term and long-term. These five, when folded together, create something bigger than both Momentary and Overall Happiness—an ultimate good Seligman labels as 'Well-being'."
"But there are also some hidden risks in doing work only because you happen to be good at it. Take, for example, the “golden handcuff” problem. Many of the business-school students I teach are extremely talented in quantitative analysis. They often end up in the high-paying finance, consulting, or accounting industries that can use their analytic talents and strengths. As the years pass after graduation, however, I hear from many of my former students that these well-paid jobs have grown wearisome. They are doing work that pays them and that uses their talents, but they no longer like what they do. Then the problem emerges: the pay is so high and their lifestyle has grown so dependent on the pay that they cannot find a more satisfying alternative. They are handcuffed to their careers."
"The philosopher Bertrand Russell has described the problem that Mary Lee Herrington solved once and Robert Chickering twice. In our career-obsessed, bureaucratic world, Russell wrote, people settle too readily for a life of achieving uninspired goals set by others. They repress their “creative impulse, out of which a free and vigorous life might have sprung.” His advice was to become “the artificer of what [your] own nature feels to be good.” The test of whether you have found such work is simple: you feel self-respect and pride. Meaningful work, Russell wrote, makes you “happy in [your] soul, in spite of all outward troubles and difficulties."
"But expressive work is meaningful only when the act of creation itself brings satisfaction to the creator. It loses this essential quality when the artist begins depending on the adulation of an audience to make him or her feel significant."
"As part of your survey to discover your natural aptitudes and skills, ask people who know you to suggest lists of what you do well with relatively little effort. Do you have a knack for fixing broken household appliances? Can you do math or word puzzles in your head? Everything counts. The next step is to think of the different ways those aptitudes can be used to create value for other people."
"If all you are getting from your hard-but-unsatisfying work is the opportunity to do more of it, it is time to make a change."
"Level One Confidence is your basic belief in yourself as a capable, honorable person."
"Level Two Confidence is your attitude as you engage in specific activities. A success “mindset” includes the willingness to learn, challenge your skills, focus on effort more than results, and treat failure as a stage on the journey rather than as the end of the road."
"As I see it, all experiences that force you out of your comfort zone and tap your inner resources can contribute to the Level One Confidence I am talking about."
"You should ignore any result—good or bad—that comes after you put in only a halfhearted effort. And you should be proud of any result that follows hard work—even when the result is not what you had hoped."
"As one team of goal-setting scholars has summarized it, “Each unfulfilled goal remains active [at some level of consciousness], intruding into one’s thoughts and attention, seeking to recapture [attention] so as to move toward fulfillment. Because of this competition, the persistent intrusions into attention from unfulfilled goals can impair pursuit of other … tasks.” This mental crowding is known as the Zeigarnik effect, after the Russian psychologist who documented the cluttering effects of unmet goals and uncompleted tasks on human consciousness."
"Duckworth’s GRIT concept is a combination of two things: persistence and passion. While your personality accounts for some amount of your persistence, you can increase GRIT levels by selecting long-term goals that are well adapted to your core motivations—as the introverted Lindbergh’s fly-solo action plan was to his."
"In the end, the owner of an art gallery tour company I met in New York named Rafael Risemberg gave a succinct definition of what it feels like to have meaningful work. He had tried to fulfill his parents’ dream for him to become a doctor and given up when he realized he hated being around sick people. Next he had made a career as a tenured professor in arts education. Finally, he found his sweet spot when he launched his own arts-related business. “It has become the greatest intellectual and emotional passion I have ever known,” he said. “I literally leap out of bed each morning. My definition of meaningful work is waking up with a feeling of excitement about what each day will bring.” What is your definition?"
"Many writers in the success field say that you should ignore reward-based motivation and focus only on the satisfaction-based drives. I disagree. I think you need to combine and balance both sources of motivation if you are to do your best. Satisfaction-based motivation is best for endurance. Reward-based energy is best for sprints."