While on my bike ride this afternoon, it dawned on me that the lessons of The Triple Package (Amy Chua’s book) might have some strong applicability to me. As you may recall, the triple package comprises three character traits that, when combined, tend to produce individuals who succeed in America. Those traits – a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control. As I pondered the list, it occurred to me that in my youth, I could have been a poster child for the triple package:
- A superiority complex. During my freshman year in college, for a reason I no longer remember I was talking with a high school classmate about me, and she said in high school I had been self-centered or conceited. I don’t recall which term she used. I responded with disbelief and asked why the School Paper’s personality poll had listed a classmate instead of me as the most conceited in high school. She responded sensibly that just because he had been the worst didn’t mean I wasn’t bad, too.
- Insecurity. During my high school years, I hated the way I looked and sincerely thought I was one of the two or three ugliest guys in high school. Imagine my surprise when the aforementioned School Paper personality poll listed me as the most handsome guy in high school.
- Impulse control. I never had an allowance during high school. My brothers and I were given a calf to sell in the fall and the proceeds had to last us until the next fall. That will inculcate impulse control.
With those three traits engrained in me, you might think I was destined for great things. What the hell happened? Why did I underachieve?
The authors of The Triple Package provide an explanation for my underachievement that I like. According to them, success can be defined in numerous ways, including goodness, religiosity, or self-awareness, but for purposes of the book, they subscribed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., suggestion that success “in its vulgar sense” means “the gaining of money and position.”
Well, I like to think that, as a child of the 60s, I declined to pursue success in its vulgar sense. I distinctly recall on multiple occasions while early career and mid-career advocating against a full-throated quest for money and position. Instead I attempted to create a life that is more consistent with the philosophy described in another book that I recently read – The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly. As you may recall, Kelly suggested that, for a life to flourish, a person needs to develop four critical facets – body, relationships, intellect, and spirit. Money or position are not on that list.
Looking back, I am satisfied with my work in each of the four items in the bucket, with one glaring exception – my failed marriage. Otherwise, I like where my body, heart, brain, and soul have been.