A Simple Path to Success

Posted on 13 November 2020

Let Chuck, Martha and Lois show you how

Let’s imagine a person whose life is in a mess. We’ll call him Chuck. Everyone around Chuck can see how bad his lifestyle is. It’s making him miserable, but Chuck can’t see it himself. He goes on feeling wretched, unconscious of the cause—the mess in his life.

So long as Chuck remains unconscious of the cause of the problem, he’s unable to help himself. No one else can help him either, since pointing to the way his life is means pointing to something he cannot see. He rejects all such advice and say there’s nothing wrong with the way he lives. His problem is something else; something outside his control, like his bad family background and upbringing, his poverty, and the prejudice against people like him who weren’t born in the right place or with the right color of skin.

This sad fellow has a sister, Martha. She’s also miserable and her life is as much of a mess as his is. But Martha can see the problem. She sees the causes of her unhappiness clearly enough, but does nothing about them. Martha is convinced she has to “get herself straightened out inside” before she can tackle the mess and muddle of her life.

Mr. and Ms. Normal

Martha avidly consults self-help books and magazines . She’s always analyzing her emotions, reviewing her past mistakes, and delving into her family history—which is, of course, dysfunctional. She blames the external world for much of her misery, noting all the neuroses and traumas it’s left her with: problems that prevent her from moving forward until she can discover how to make them go away.

Chuck and Martha are becoming Mr. and Ms. Normal in our world today. They’re unhappy and they know it, but they either blame it all on problems outside their control (like Chuck); or have become convinced they must first sort out their emotions and thoughts (like Martha) before they can do anything about the mess they’ve made of their lives.


Lois’s life is just as much of a mess and she’s at least as miserable as Chuck and Martha. She has a string of handicaps, from poverty, through an abusive parent, to boyfriends who beat her and the last one who made her pregnant, then disappeared. One morning, just after the birth of her daughter, Amy, Lois wakes up and decides she has to stop her life being such a disaster area. She’s miserable, she’s poor, she has no confidence in herself and her emotions are a nightmare. She’s certain she won’t be able to cope with anything complicated, so she looks at her life and seizes on the simplest, most obvious thing to do—and she does it.

That’s how it goes on. Each day, Lois does the next most obvious thing she can see to improve her life. She has no plan; no long-term objective or vision of a better future. If you ask her what she’s doing, she’ll tell you she has no idea and it’ll probably be a mistake anyway. But, rain or shine, feeling good or feeling wretched, Lois plods on, doing whatever she can and whatever is most obvious to her.

One step at a time

Months pass. Lois is still poor. When she has time to consider her emotions, she can see they’re just as volatile as they always were. Still, her baby is well fed, clothed and healthy. They live in a small apartment. It’s not a wonderful neighborhood, but the place is clean, the rent is paid and they have food, warmth and basic security.

After a year, Lois can look back and notice how far she’s come. It makes her feel good. After two years, she has a job she likes, enough money to ensure Amy has a comfortable childhood, and she’s attending the local college to better her education.

Five years pass. One morning, Lois wakes up with a jolt. Her mind is in turmoil. She doesn’t know what to do. It’s just dawned on her that she’s happy. What’s more, her life is no longer a mess. She has a happy, healthy daughter. She has a great job. She even has a boyfriend who cherishes her and Amy and has never offered either of them anything but love and respect.

“What did you do?”

At work that day, Lois confesses her confusion to her closest friend, Juanita. Juanita, fascinated, wants to know Lois’ secret.

“I don’t have one,” Lois tells her. “I never did. I’m as puzzled as you are. I just kept doing things. Most were really small, dumb actions. The kind of things anyone with half a brain would have seen needed to be done. I’m not clever enough to come up with proper plans. I guess they worked out.”

Too many of us swallow these two prevailing myths of our society: that our problems all lie outside ourselves; and that we have to spend time getting our minds and emotions in order—or ‘motivating ourselves’—before we can tackle the problems in our lives. Believe either of these myths and you’ll never advance much beyond where you are today. Actions alone make a difference. Not necessarily big, dramatic ones either.

You don’t need a life plan. You don’t need motivation, self-confidence, peer support or even luck. All you need is the willingness to take the next most obvious step—then repeat the process again and again, regardless of how you feel. Try it. Happiness comes from seeing the results of your efforts. You don’t need it before you start.

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This post was written by:

Carmine Coyote - who has written 293 posts on Slow Leadership.

Carmine Coyote is the founder and editor of Slow Leadership, with a career that stretches from early employment as an economist, through periods in government service, academia and several multinational companies, to retiring as CEO of a US consulting company and partner in a large business services firm. Carmine now lives in Arizona, but is British for all that.

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18 Comments For This Post

  1. Greg says:

    Two thing I have observed with people struggling with poverty is confused thinking and (related) the ability to see past the present. Understanding that one’s actions today can affect tomorrow is a powerul life tool.

  2. Carmine Coyote says:

    @Greg: I agree with your point, but it doesn’t just apply to people struggling with poverty. There are many rich and powerful people out there who can’t see past their present greed and lack of ethical principles either. Sadly, the poor hurt only themselves, while the confusion, narrow-mindedness and short-sighted selfishness of the rich—as recent events are proving—harm us all. Keep reading, my friend.

  3. CK says:

    I just finished listening to the audio book “The Art of Excetional Living” by Jim Rohn. He stated that everyone has the basic things in life - There are some things you just can’t change (external). You can blame the economy, the weather, the price of gas, etc. Everyone else is in the same boat - suffering from the very same things. The difference is what you DO with them (internal) that makes the difference! He stated that at one time he as poor - but along came a mentor that “changed his philosophy” and then he became rich! Sounds interesting at least! Some of the things he suggests I have already been doing but not in an orderly or consistant manor.

  4. sambit says:

    Life is about living. Happiness, Sorrow and all other experiences make it lively. The willingness to live is important. Fortunately God has given all living beings that blessing. Only it gets covered in human beings because they can create visions through imaginations which he at times take to be real or realistic. That creates the confusion as he fails to distinguish between the real and the imaginary. The characters and the theme sounds so real. I liked it very much.Thanks for it.

  5. Greg says:


    I specified poverty because that was specific to Lois.

    A post based on your experience with middle class dealing with moral and ethical issues, and how making the right choices day by day improves their life. It would be an interesting and informative post.

  6. Justin says:

    I love the story and feel that too many people blame other things around them as reasons for not doing things. The simple task of just doing what you are supposed to do no matter how you feel is a huge step in the right direction for anyone. I was one of those people (not to that extreme) going through life and blaming things on others and going through the motions. I started to take painful steps to change by reading more, thinking more, and doing more. All it takes is a little pain to get the rewards you are looking for.

  7. Carmine Coyote says:

    @CK: Sounds like an interesting audio book. What he says makes perfect sense to me. I hope it brings you great success. Keep reading, my friend.

  8. Carmine Coyote says:

    @sambit: Glad you liked it and found it useful, Sambit. Keep reading, my friend.

  9. Carmine Coyote says:

    @Greg: I’ll think about it, Greg. thanks for the suggestion. Keep reading, my friend.

  10. Carmine Coyote says:

    @Justin: Glad you liked it and found it useful, Greg. I guess we’ve all been there at some time: busily blaming all our problems on someone or something else. Until we give that up, it will hold us trapped in whatever is causing us misery. Keep reading, my friend.

  11. CK says:

    @Justin - I don’t know about the ‘pain’ part but it sounds like a start! Listen to the audio book I suggested and maybe you’d pick up on a couple of other things in as I did. Jim Rohn suggests reading as well as playing audio books when you are driving to work (as I have been doing for some time now). He also suggests getting a book to write in - to jot down your thoughts and also to have a placeholder for them that you can look at over time. I bought a little notebook instead of a blank book as he suggested but hey, it’s a start! At least it’s easier to carry around!

  12. Martin Wildam says:

    Great post,

    seeing what is the next obvious step for many seems to be a problem these days. From inside and outside a lot of distractions come and everything and everybody is calling for attention.

    I also think that there is no magic pill and also no life plan is needed. However thinking about the big picture helps finding the proper priorities and then the next obvious action. - For some having hunger or living in a city of war the priorities are usually clearer and hence also the next obvious action is more clear.

  13. Thierry says:

    Thanks for this fascinating thought/tale; it looks I am on the right track but not volunteraly. My life has no extended plan as such, for I just do and never know what will happen tomorrow.

    I have a small heated flat, a good job and various project/investments in Africa but I do not have any strategic plans for them. They just worked out themselves; your story reminds me of our my guru model: RICARDO SEMLER who does not manage with any plan…

    Thanks for your brain!

  14. Carmine Coyote says:

    @Martin Wildam: Glad you enjoyed the article. I believe one of the reasons why some people can’t see the next most obvious thing to do is that they don’t like what they see. Self-delusion is a common thread in many of the financial and business problems around us today—especially where clinging to some fantasy is seen as a way to avoid accepting personal responsibility for the mess. Keep reading, my friend.

  15. Carmine Coyote says:

    @Thierry: Glad you liked the article. The trouble with grand plans is that people put so much effort into producing them that they cling on grimly to the plan long after events have made it obsolete—witness those banks and US automobile manufacturers who still can’t admit, even to themselves, that what has caused their disastrous slump in profits and sales is their own past action.

    They go on repeating the discredited, obsolete mantras of their past and then wonder why nothing changes for the better. If they simply did the next, most obvious thing they would have a way out of the mess. Keep reading, my friend.

  16. Greg says:

    While not exactly the subject, there is a review of the book “Scratch Beginnings” by Adam Shepard on the Blueprint for Financial Prosperity blog (http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/scratch-beginnings-by-adam-shepard.html).

    The book’s author went to city with nothing but the clothes on his back with the purpose of seeing how long it would take to become self-sufficient and save $5k.

    I have not read the book, but it looks to be a facinating read.

  17. Kathakali Chatterjee says:

    When in doubt, most often what we forget is to take the immediate next step. We get completely bogged down and paralyzed by our own feeling of misery which replaces our backbone with a wishbone.

    We do not need to create drama in our life to overcome obstacles, it’s the small everyday stride that makes the difference, and we just need to walk no matter how miserable we feel.

    Really enjoyed reading the article, thanks a lot!

  18. Carmine Coyote says:

    @Kathakali Chatterjee: Glad you enjoyed the article. Keep reading, my friend.

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