I recently picked up a copy of Paul Arden's 2003 book, It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be. I've heard of this book and seen quotes from it here and there but I've never read it or rather, experienced it, until now. Arden, who died in 2008, was a renowned advertising genius who worked for Saatchi & Saatchi in the U.K. for many years, and had a great sense of humor, strong opinions, and the simple genius to write this straightforward book about how to make the most of yourself. It's an easy read at 127 pages with big type and a lots of enjoyable illustrations.
Arden grabs you right away by saying in large white type against a black background: "Your vision of where or who you want to be is your greatest asset." He doesn't say anything else on that page. The opposite page says: "Without having a goal, it's difficult to score." You then turn the page and find the table of contents where chapters include You Can Achieve the Unachievable, Have You Noticed How the Cleverest People at School are Not Those Who Make It in Life? and, one of my favorites, The Person Who Doesn't Make Mistakes Is Unlikely to Make Anything.
He tells us at one point that we all want to be good at what we do, but then asks: how good do we really want to be?
"Quite good. Good. Very Good. The best in our field. Or the best in the world."
As he writes, "Everybody wants to be good, but not many are prepared to make the sacrifices it takes to be great. To many people, being nice in order to be liked is more important. There's equal merit in that, but you must not confuse being good with being liked."
He continues on in that vein and you begin to see that his goal is to inspire and animate those who aspire to something more in life than the conventional mediocrity. It's not a book for the slacker or indolent.
An excellent one-page chapter is titled, "You Can Achieve the Unachievable." This chapter starts on a page that faces a photo of a person walking on a suspended set of stairs curling sinuously around a column. It's an image that brings to mind the stunning Casa Malaparte on the Isle of Capri as well as the courage to take a risk.
Arden writes on that single page:
Firstly you need to aim beyond what you are capable of. You must develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end. Try to do things that you're incapable of... If you think you're incapable of running a company, make that your aim... Make your vision of where you want to be a reality. Nothing is impossible.
In other words, think big. Say yes to life. Go for the fences. He keeps going back to your goal and says that as long as you have a goal, there's no limit to what you can do. Perhaps it's best summarized by a quote he takes from Samuel Beckett: "Fail, fail again, fail better." Arden's book is a fun read and if you're about to graduate from college, or looking for a new job, or simply looking for a new life, it might just be what you need.