Home > Rant, Reflections > The formula for success

The formula for success

Do you believe in the power of positive thinking?

Do you believe that if you wish something hard enough, and will it, and act as if it will happen, you will bring it into being?


You, my friend, are part of Donald Trump’s presidential candidate success.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference for work.

One keynote speaker rocked me. Listening to his story inspired me, because he shared his own story and how his particular story shaped his perspectives and present. His current success, he intimated, was the aggregation of many complex factors.

The next morning’s keynote speaker made me gag. I expressed a portion of my discomfort in this post, but I felt an overarching discomfort for which I couldn’t find words … until I heard a report on Donald Trump surpassing Hillary Clinton in U.S. voter preference polls.

I flashed back to that aggravating keynote speech and understood.

Its speaker died for a few minutes.

Long story short, he not only returned to the world of the living, but soon began running despite early doctor predictions he’d never walk again.

His take? The power of his positive thinking saved him … and it could save you, too, if you’d only relent to its power!

My take was a little more nuanced. While he was uncommon to have survived and thrived as he did, multiple factors contributed, including:

  • Adequate local health care
  • An uncommonly strong support network lending confidence that he’d not held up in the days ahead, including folks sharing his bed with him as he lay in a coma
  • Exact dynamics of how the accident he suffered (one tiny shift in car positioning could have resulted in sudden, irreversible death)
  • Love
  • Luck
  • Grace
  • Positive thinking

I spent a couple days in a coma as a child.

Did you know that? No? Well, I did. I had a near fatal response to an immunization since then modified to make it less harmful.

My mom, who had little support and no money, held me and wept, hoping I would awaken.

I did, because I was lucky. Because she held me. Because she prayed. Because–

who the hell knows, in the end? The factors are too complex for one human mind to fathom,

though luck and love likely both played their parts.

Someone else’s child didn’t awaken.

Many someone else’s children didn’t awaken.

It wasn’t because they didn’t positive-think hard enough. It was due to factors too complex, and heartbreaking, for one human mind to fathom.

Trump has a hell of a lot of money.

This is tremendously appealing to a lot of people.

If he has lots of money, he must have the secret–the one, magical, all powerful secret!–to money, to power, and to success!

They see his success and think he has done it. He has mastered the formula. If they only listen hard enough, they, too, will find themselves privy to the formula that yielded his success.

If they yield the keys of the kingdom United States White House, he will apply that formula to–via the thorough, detailed, well articulated plans he has not communicated–“make America great again.”

If they wish it hard enough, so shall it be.


Trump began his career with a “small” $1 million dollar loan from his father.

Sit with that for a minute. Imagine what ventures you could undertake with such a “small” loan from your parents. Imagine what failures you’d be able to set aside as small-on-that-scale failures failing to crush you as your larger successes–which you trumpeted far and wide, and which would have enormous impact on your credit rating–just kept gathering steam.

You could attribute your success to your business acumen, your smarts, your way with people, and people would devour it, waving off as insignificant factors like financing that were critical to your beginning and continuing.

People want to believe everything happens for a reason. If it did, well, then,

that would mean their own formula-driven success

might be just around the corner.


When my fellow liberals shake their heads in dismay and wonder how on earth someone who maligns Muslims, Mexicans, and women, who suggested a war crime to resolve terrorism, and who fails to set forth details of any kind around how he will “make America great again,” I’ll shake my own head and say, “You did this.”

Oh, what? The consequences of believing–and thus acting that–they merely need to send their intentions out to the universe and await their dividends are different than they intended?

So what.

Their intention–that they thrive, with their every intention eventually fulfilled–is irrelevant to the outcome.

They have perpetrated the same magical thinking that guides Trump supporters to believe that his prior success is indicative not of a convergence of many circumstances but of his possessing that magical thing they wish they had: the formula for success.


There is no one formula for success.

Everything doesn’t happen for a reason.

But if Trump does indeed become president, I will take some heart, anyway, in knowing that we can nevertheless learn and grow from consequences unintended that smart like hell while underway.

I will take some heart in knowing that, even if everything doesn’t happen for a reason, Trump’s presidency will have:

to disabuse people of the notion that everything simply must happen for a grand, magnanimous reason eventually beneficial to them.

  1. May 27, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I am with ya on this trump. I keep telling my husband that I believe that he was dared to campaign and thought anybody can do it and now he’s too far ahead to bow out now.

    • May 27, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      That’s pretty much all I can fathom at this point. It’s not even a matter of persona like/dislike, but of utter perplexity that … this? … should have carried a person so far.

      I’m reading the biography Alexander Hamilton right now and can only imagine what Hamilton would say–and/or change!–were he alive to witness this presidential race.

  2. May 27, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    THANK YOU! This whimsical view of the world that people take – JUST send your dream into the world and it will come back to you… It makes me wild with anger.

    Positive thinking is a lovely small boost to your current morale. It’s not a full scale model to the universe. Fairy dust does not come down and make things happen because we think “we can do it.” Doing it makes things happen.

    • May 27, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      Ditto @ “wild with anger,” and this from someone who’s been long and often accused of being too sunshine-y! I strive toward the positive, but within a framework of … reality.

      Doing really does make things happen.

  3. May 27, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    I shouldn’t even start on this lol. But I do want to share one anecdote that made my head spin. A woman was asking me about the election and who I was voting for and she proceeded to tell me she was voting for Trump because she couldn’t vote for Clinton because of HIPPA (she’s a nurse). And she said you know I’m a democrat, but I have to vote for Trump because he’s going to actually get things done. I had to bite my tongue. I said, you know there’s another democrat running…she didn’t know one thing about Bernie Sanders. What she did know was that Trump was not afraid to speak his mind so even though he was rude and maybe just a little politically incorrect (or racist, sexist, hate slurring, etc) he was only that way because he was not a trained politician and therefore would be able to accomplish ummm making America great again. Because no one knows what he’s actually going to do or how he’s going to do it. I just can’t with him. And I just can’t with people who think he is going to save this country.

    • May 27, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Hear, hear. Very early in my career, a mentor told me not to confuse my hopes with my expectations. I now walk around wishing everyone had received such sage advice, and knew the difference between “hoping” and “planning.”

  4. May 27, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    I’ve spent a lot of my life debating the pros and cons of being a positive person. I think being positive is a great way to live your life but can also be a real danger to other people. We like to believe we’re in control of our own success, and I do like to think I can find the motivation within myself to overcome setbacks, but I also don’t like people pushing this narrative of ‘pulling myself up by the bootstraps’ like our society and its systems had nothing to do with it.

    • May 27, 2016 at 8:10 pm

      Exactly so. In a recent visit to a doctor, I mentioned frustration when people respond to indications of difficulty with pep talks. He said they mean well and I said I understood that, but that I’ve only made it where I have by virtue of being positive. When I encounter that, I’m troubled by what messages we’re conveying to each other about why others are or are not suffering.

      I believe positivity can help make hard times better by situating them in a larger picture. I also believe it’s one piece of a very complex picture, and that there are so many others that we can’t see from a human perspective.

      “Pulling myself up by the bootstraps” is easier for some than others, and more in certain times and contexts than others, and positivity-alone narratives don’t reflect that.

  5. May 27, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    From this side of the world I have been watcing. Fascinated. Horrified. Afraid.
    The positive thinking malarkey? ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride…’

    • May 27, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      Indeed. I think my ability to find silver linings was a huge part of my making it out of my childhood, but so, too, was understanding that “silver linings” are only a small, small part of a much larger whole.

      I talked to someone who sounded like she was about to vote for Trump. I began expressing bemusement before realizing this was a good opportunity for me to listen. Unfortunately, she didn’t say much more.

      I so understand wanting to make sense of senseless times. I do. But I’m reminded of a time I saw a lady standing and smacking a traffic light button over and over and over again. It must have helped her feel she was doing something, to hit it over and over again, but the end result was … no additional speed. No positive change. I see in much of what I read online thinking that mirrors this: “I am doing something, and I am doing something with a particular vision in mind, so I am changing things the way I want them changed!” Nope. Just pressing a button and hoping things change sooner. I don’t mean that cruelly, but simply to maybe inspire a single person to consider a different take on means and ends.

      • May 27, 2016 at 8:26 pm

        Oh yes. Positive thinking can help. Does help. But it isn’t all on its own a magic bullet.
        And I become ballistic with rage when people imply that by thinking positive cancer for example will disappear. Which makes it the individual’s fault if they don’t go into permanent remission.

        • May 27, 2016 at 8:32 pm

          YES. When I first started reading about pediatric cancer, it was via one particular mother who’d lost her daughter to cancer.

          She visited a rally where one mom said she wasn’t, just wasn’t, going to let cancer beat her own child. Her daughter persevered and won!

          This positive-thinking message must have sounded very affirming to its speaker, but it was horrifying and devastating to the listener/blogger, who was left reeling at the implication that, wow, she just must not have wished hard enough for her own daughter to conquer cancer.

          Since reading that, I think hard about things I’m saying that might sound like that, because I don’t for one second believe one person’s daughter lived and another’s died due to variable love levels. In fact, even typing that makes me want to follow it with a string of expletives. AAAAARGH.

  6. May 27, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Oh I love it! Although I do think that everything happens for a reason… or at least is another puzzle piece in your life. But it’s about what you make of it. You can not just sit on your ass and believe that something will happen, you have to put the effort in.

    • May 27, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      Yes to effort!

      I met a lady last weekend who said “everything’s connected,” and that … that made me smile. That’s closer to what I believe. 🙂

      • May 28, 2016 at 12:51 am

        That is very well said actually. I like that!

  7. Paul
    May 27, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    When in B-school we studied this phenomenon whereby people are attracted to those who are rich and powerful,sure that they will share their secrets. Many CEO’s are hired on that premise – what they did for themselves,they could do for the shareholders. It turns out that such people are narcissistic and they got rich by taking from others. Soon enough the shareholders discover that their new CEO is making himself richer even when the company is failing and often making himself richer by making the company fail. Narcissists like Trump have no allegiance to anyone or anything let alone their country – they are in it only for themselves.

    • May 28, 2016 at 6:23 am

      I’ve read a little bit about CEO compensation recently. (Actually, I’m trying to read a little bit about everything these days, but that’s neither here nor there!) This seems consistent with what I’ve read about how the more CEOs get paid, the worse their companies perform. And why? Unsurprisingly … in part, due to their overconfidence. Those on all sides who think confidence equals success–for self and community–are positioned to learn a very difficult lesson firsthand.

  8. May 28, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    If positive thinking worked there would be no disease, no famine. No assholes. We all muddle through as best we can.

  9. May 28, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    Great post, Deb. It was funny to laugh at early on, such a joke of a presidential candidate, but it’s not funny anymore.

  10. June 2, 2016 at 4:12 pm


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