Although I enjoy receiving email from my friends, some of my favorite emails are from strangers. These strangers have read Hike Your Own Hike and are writing to tell me the positive impact it had on their life. Such emails are more rewarding than seeing a boost in sales (OK, except for really big boost).

Fuji mountain and cherry blossom, Japan

Below is a excerpt from Hike Your Own Hike that spurred a reader to write how it impacted her. First, the excerpt:

When you’re good, you’re good

When good events happen or when you perform well at an activity, you should attribute it to your inherent skill. Do not attribute it to luck. It’s possible that a thru-hiker may believe she’s lucky to have hiked 20 miles of trail. Indeed, it’s possible that she was lucky. Maybe she was blessed with great weather, or a friendly Trail Angel who gave her some food and encouragement to press on. On the other hand, walking 200 miles of trail isn’t about luck—it’s skill and determination. Finally, when a thru-hiker has walked over 2,000 miles, clearly luck had little to do with her success—she accomplished that feat because of her pure will.

Some hikers may credit their ability to hike 20 miles because “I was feeling strong that morning.” Some may even credit hiking 200 miles because “I’m lucky that my knees have be holding up this far.” However, the successful thru-hiker doesn’t think like that. She says, “I’ve hiked 20 miles because I am strong.” Or, “I’ve hiked 200 miles because my knees are made of iron.”

Fuji mountain at sunrise, Japan

When you pass a test with good grades, do you say, “Whew, I got lucky that time—that jolt of coffee did me good that morning.” Or do you say, “I’m smart, that’s why I did well.” When you see an attractive picture of yourself do you think, “That’s a good photographer,” or “I had some good clothes and makeup that day,” or do you say, “I’m beautiful” or “I’m photogenic.” By attributing permanence to your successes and qualities, you boost your self-esteem and optimism. This improves your chance of success, and your ability to get the most out of life.

Therefore, remind yourself that successes are the norm, whereas bad times are fleeting abnormalities.

"I didn’t lose the gold. I won the silver." — Michelle Kwan, Olympic Figure Skater

Fuji mountain, Japan

This passage of my book, provoked the letter that follows. The author said that she would prefer to remain anonymous, but agreed to let me share it with you.

Dear Francis,

I want to share with you how one of the points you made changed my perspective on how I used to view success and luck. The point I'm referring to is "when you're good, you're good," and the difference between attributing success to luck or attributing it to skill.

My initial reaction upon reading this passage was one of disapproval, mainly because I wanted to believe that success should be attributed to some mystical phenomenon, as to make it more exciting and more meaningful.

I never seriously thought about how such wishful thinking reinforced many years of conditioning by my parents and the communities I lived in throughout my life, to the point that I was truly convinced I could never attribute the successes in my life to my own abilities and my determination to accomplish my goals.

After I finished reading your book, I took out a sheet of paper and divided it into two columns, and then I began to list a few of my meaningful accomplishments on the top of the page, and then I rewrote each accomplishment in such a way as to attribute them by either luck or skill.

Sun on top of Fuji mountain

Because I had repeatedly read that the weather on Mt. Fuji can change unexpectedly, and that one should be prepared for these potential changing conditions, I quickly accepted how other people viewed good weather conditions as a sign of good luck, and this thought was always in my mind and in the minds of the friends I climbed with. So on the day that we began our hike, we had beautiful sunny weather the whole day, and we were able to summit the volcano and then hike back down. And we did this in one day, and this idea of the weather being perfect overshadowed any possibility for me to attribute my summit and my completion of this hike to training, skill, fitness, or determination.

Now I know I can do nothing about the weather, but when I wrote the following sentences on my paper "I successfully climbed Mt. Fuji because I was lucky to get good weather," and then "I climbed Mt. Fuji because I'm bad-ass" I began to realize that there was so much more that went into my accomplishing this goal. I began to see that it really was true that luck had nothing to do with it. I took the initiative to finish the hike, and I finished the hike because I was strong, fit, experienced, and determined to do it.

I then listed my next accomplishment, which was a marathon, and after I had listed enough accomplishments, I began to compare them all to each other, and I began to see a reemerging pattern of initial interest, planning, preparing, acquiring the skills to compete the goal, and then completing the goal.

I did this exercise about a month ago, and I allowed myself some time for these ideas to sink in, because I felt that for me to "fill-in" the details of how I accomplish my goals was a cerebral task in and of itself. I tend to be a "global" thinker and although I'm a mathematician by training, I prefer not to focus on details. But, it is precisely with mathematics that I had this incredible realization about myself and my skills and my abilities that I finally appreciated the lesson of "when you're good, you're good."

The moment came shortly after I tutored a student about the tangent line problem from Calculus and how it relates to the concept of what a limit is. I was amazed that I could explain such a concept to a student who is being introduced to new ways of thinking about functions, ways that that are different from how a college algebra student typically thinks about functions.

As a result, this left the student with a deeper appreciation for the power of the Calculus, and as I reflected upon the session as I was driving home, I concluded that I knew such things because I had a good education, I had a good calculus instructor, and I went to good schools. When I did this, I tried to force myself that it was absolutely true that my professors were totally responsible for my education.

I wasn't completely convinced, however, that this could be the case. As is with the subject of mathematics, when a person shows some proclivity for the subject, many seem to believe that this person was born that way, inherited some math gene from some relative, and is destined to be "smart." Many people promulgate this belief without ever considering the fact that even the best of minds must work hard to maintain their skills.

I focused in particular on my calculus instructor and I asked myself, did he really somehow pass his knowledge onto me through some magical process like osmosis or mental telepathy? As I began to think in great depth and detail about what it was that my calculus instructor taught me, I slowly began to realize that it me all along--it was me--and not him, and not any of the other professors I worked with as an undergraduate who was responsible for everything I learned about mathematics.

Sunset over the Fuji mountain, Japan

I had given away so much of own personal power that I lost sight of who I truly was, and I knew that I wasn't a personality constructed from the efforts of others. It makes sense to me now that I wouldn't even know who all of these people were had I not taken the initiative to become a mathematician in the first place, so how I could I give them all of the credit for who I am today? Ironically, I had been responsible for shaping my life into what it is right now in the present thinking all this time that others were responsible for making it all happen!

On a much lighter note, I'm happy to report that I'm well on my way to overcoming my Starbucks addiction and started saving my money whenever I'm tempted to buy a latte. I started this a month ago, and I have almost 200 dollars saved.

Her last comment was referring to Chapter 2 in Hike Your Own Hike, which points out how a coffee habit can cost you over $1,000 per year. If you don't feel like buying Hike Your Own Hike, I share some more money saving tips and how you can measure how financially free you are.

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