Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reclaiming the Fire

Book: Reclaiming the Fire
Author: Dr. Steven Berglas
Edition: First, Hardback
Read: September  2009
219 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

Dr. Steven Berglas has written an easy to understand, non-technical book on those who are successful, but dysfunctional in their success. Dr. Berglas takes a lot of his wisdom from his practice. His practice has ranged from patient psychiatry to corporate, management consulting. So his view is slanted from the perspective of seeing successful dysfunctional people.

He starts by giving examples of seemingly well-adjusted people who are successful. Then they are faced with some issue where their adjustment falls apart and they react with depression, anger or lack of energy. Berglas works with unresolved issues which his patient had not faced. This typically is inferiority issues, trying to live up to family expectations, and succeeding to please others.

 Berglas talks a lot about people who handicap themselves. Those who are almost afraid of their success. These people are concerned what happens after this success, so they fail to lower expectations. He concludes that people will become guilty or convinced they do not deserve success; or they will try to lower expectations for succeeding tasks. Others instead try to tempt fate by constantly ratcheting up the stakes. Eventually they fail.

 The closest which it came to me was the story of a man who was promoted to a position he did not want. The success at one position does not make him a success at another position. The way for him out of the situation was to retire. I found myself empathizing with this person. While being successful in what he was doing, he felt miserable, losing his drive. Berglas notes that professionals trapped in golden handcuffs are particularly vulnerable to derision if they elect to jump off the fast track.

 An interesting point is made concerning the seasons of life. As a young man, going to be successful person, there is a drive to being  successful. This can be consuming of all of your energy. But as you age, and Berglas says that someplace around thirty, this person needs to become more reflective, to understand more of what you are doing, what you are here for. There should be a reframing of the career path and examine how you are investing it. [Gary’s Note: Is Berglas saying that if you have not started your push by 30, you are not going to make it?]

 Compliments should be personal. This is good, because you did this and it had this effect. No confusion on why the person is being complimented. If a person is confused on why, then they are left wondering what they did good. This leads to anxiety as they try to reproduce the success which they do not know what was successful. This is true of children or staff. Also the opposite is true—about corrections. Be specific.

 Being There is so important. There is a way for those who have advantage—whether its wealth, social standing, smarts, ,…--to self-handicap themselves. As Jesus said, those who have much, much is expected. If you do not even show up, or live up to your full potential, then you don’t actually fail. This is what Berglas calls a Faustian Bargain. When the person feels pressure to succeed-read our generation saying you can be all you want to be—then by not trying, you don’t fail at living up to all.


  • People can be pulled short of their true calling by previous obligations. Such as a son of a military officer may feel compelled to follow in a military career rather than a passion for mathematics.
    • Truncation of calling leads to a lack of self-actualization.
  • Nothing satisfies a narcissistic person. There is always a need to obtain more self-love. Everything but perfection is failure.
  • Chris Argyis of Harvard has found that smart old dogs are adamantly opposed to learning new tricks. From Teaching Smart People to Learn, Harvard Business Review, May-June 1991, pages 98-109
  • Example of a bonsai tree vs a Christmas tree farm. With a Christmas tree farm you can bring in lots of money, quickly. But a bonsai tree will take beyond the time the original grower will live. Different between cheap individuals, but collective worth and the individual depth which may be worth a lot of money later on, but you cultivate for the value it brings to others. (121)
  • When you make your career yourself, then you are vulnerable to the failure of self as things with you job is not right.
  • There are three problems when your career has a single upward track rather than a zig-zag:
    • Choking under pressure
    • Seeking external excuses for failures, such as self handicapping
    • Fleeing performance expectations
  • How to introduce innovations and change without threat:
    • Know what you are afraid of
    • Instead of looking at fitting everything into the current container, try expanding the container.
    • Employ Psychological Diversity Training. Getting used to changing circumstances.
  • Berglas points out that success can be as addictive as a psychoactive drug. You can be dependent on it. Consequently the thrill wears off or you fail.
  • Success is not the only way to achieve this, but may also be gained through positive ways such as doing things for their intrinsic value. Example is given is children playing; helping others, ….


When I read a book like this, it is very much related to something which I feel needs to change in my life. From this book, I did not get a good sense that it addressed people like me. The one place was mentioned about. But when I read through the book, I did not see a place of help here.

It was an interesting book to read, but not for me.

Good Quotes from the Author:

  • When you fake inner strength, you fool yourself much more than you fool other people. (115)
  • Until you abandon the pretense of perfection, you cannot possibly acquire the new skills or resources needed to sustain success through a career. (176)
  • Burnouts do not lose passion for a career because they are deadbeat, exploitative users. They are doers—or would-be doers—thwarted from attaining psychological satisfaction because their eyes have been on the wrong prize. (212)

Good Quotes from Others:

  • Be satisfied with success in even the smallest matter, and think that even such a result is no trifle. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. ix. 29.
  • The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them. George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren's Profession, 1893
  • In this world there are two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst. Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, act 3.
  • Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
    For what's a heaven for?" Robert Browning (Men and Women and Other Poems)
  • Oh, don’t the days seem lank and long
               When all goes right and nothing goes wrong.
                    And isn’t your life extremely flat
                              With nothing whatever to gumble at!
                                             William S. Gilbert, Princess Ida
  • A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. William James, no reference
  • Ambition is so powerful a passion in the human breast, that however high we are [is] never satisfied.  Niccolo Machiavelli-no reference
  • There is no trap more deadly than the rap you set for yourself. Raymond Chandler-no reference
  • Success is counted sweetest, By those who ne’er succeed. Emily Dickinrson, Part I: Life
  • When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot. Ray Kroc. No reference
  • Avarice and happiness never saw each other, how then should they become acquainted? Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richards Almanac, 1736
  • The flourishing life is not achieved by techniques. You can’t trick yourself into a life well-lived. Neither is it achieved by following five easy steps or some charismatic figure’s dogma. A flourishing life depends on our responding as best we can to those things uniquely incumbent upon us. Epictetus, The Art of Living, pg 89
  • Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them. Epictetus, The Enchiridion
  • It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. Sir Edmund Hillary
  • To do anything well, you must have the humility to bumble around a bit, to follow your nose, to get lost, to goof. Have the courage to try an undertaking and possibly do it poorly. Unremarkable lives are marked by the fear of not looking capable when trying something new.- Epictetus, The Art Of Living: The Classic Manual On Virtue, Happiness, And Effectiveness, pg 87
  • Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently, Henry Ford
  • The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act I
  • -This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

You and Yours

Book: You and Yours:
Author: Naomi Shihab Nye
Edition:  1st Edition, Paperback
Read: August 2009
81 pages
Rated: 2 out of 5
Why a “2” rating? Is it a bad book? Is this book just not for me? Does Nye not say anything worthwhile? Is poetry not something I get? Is this poetry?

Questions I pose for myself. Poetry sound wonderful to me—being able to express thoughts beyond words on the paper. I just don’t see the depth in most of the 49 poems presented. They seem more words on a page, rather than opening my eyes to something beyond. The thoughts seem more prosaic, along with the words.

So is the problem me or Nye?

One of the two places which somewhat succeed for me was in the poem, Fold. She talks about the proclivity with words, small and little, the diminutive tendency in a world given often to sprawling and big. This reminded me of the lostness those of us have who are pebbles—trying to make small ripples in a big pond.

The other piece I found was in the poem Don Chu Go. Nye says to use your voice, cry of in pain, injustice. While a common thought, it is expressed ragged and well like the thought should be expressed.

The book’s title comes from the poem, During A War. She looks at who “you” and “yours” are. She has received a letter from a friend during a war—I am assuming Iraq or Afiganistan. She asks the question, who is “yours”? Where does “yours” stop? Good questions. There she falls in her responses—this is where either I do not understand or she does not provide something in continuity with the question.

So which is it, she or me?
Notes from my book group: