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Doers and Drifters

April 28, 2012

Napoleon Hill’s Keys to Success offers the aspiring conductor much in the way of food for thought. While not a book written by Hill, as such, it is a collection of notes and speeches he gave that was published after his death. Toward the end of the book one can find two lists, those for “doers” and those for “drifters.”


  • Have a definite major purpose
  • Manage circumstances and resources
  • Examine every idea they encounter before they adopt or discard it
  • Take risks and assume responsibility
  • Learn from their mistakes
  • Go the extra mile
  • Control their habits
  • Have postive mental attitudes
  • Apply their faith in their own success
  • Create mastermind alliances to expand their knowledge and experience
  • Recognize their weaknesses and take steps to correct them


  • Have no goal in life
  • Are controlled by circumstances and the lack of resources
  • Flit from one idea about life to the other, depending on this week’s fad or what the guy on TV said last night
  • Run from opportunity and blame others for their lots in life
  • Make the same mistakes again and again
  • Do only what it takes to get by
  • Let their habits control them
  • Have negative mental attitudes
  • Never do anything to improve their situation
  • Learn all they want to know from that guy on TV
  • Wouldn’t know a weakness if it bit them

A “definite major purpose” is present in almost every creative genius’ life story (sure, there are some who rode the luck plane into success – but that’s a small number of people.).  Think of great inventors, artists, scientists, composers, and anyone else who was great at their craft. Almost everyone who became great at something had a combination of these elements:

  1. Aptitude
  2. Training with a great mentor
  3. Driven work ethic
  4. Some degree of luck

The comedian George Carlin once said that “not giving a {damn} is the most empowering thing you can do.” Perhaps, but if you review his life’s work, you can see readily that he DID give a damn about his craft, and he worked relentlessly at it. Do yourself a favor and watch this interview with him. Among other things, he talks about the four points above as being essential to his success.

But, aptitiude is important. I knew in 7th grade I wasn’t going to become a baseball player, even though I loved playing. (I was smart enough to notice how much improvement I was making at my instrument while at the same time I was riding the pine for my Pony League baseball team. As a matter of fact, I cannot remember our team name, but I can remember learning my first viola concerto – the Telemann G Major.) Author Ken Robinson devotes a whole book to this idea of “finding your tribe” in his book, The Element.

Training with a great mentor is a factor that can be dependent on environment (family connections or geographical location) or sheer luck (meeting the right person in the right place at the right time and forging a positve relationship). I have had a few mentors in my life, and unfortunately some of them were pretty awful. But, the bad ones taught me a lot about what not to do while the good ones were able to help improve the better qualities in me. An important thing to remember: no matter what age or level you are, you should still find a mentor. Someone out there is more experienced than you, go find him/her.

A driven work ethic can be summed up in a simple phrase: What do you spend your time doing? I have met so many people that say “I want to be a professional musician,” yet they spend their time doing something else.

While “all work and no play” can lead to a life out of balance (and yes, you need rest, recreation, fun, love, etc.), asking yourself periodically “what do I spend my time doing” helps you to monitor your behavior.

Luck, it’s said, is when preparation meets opportunity. I am not sure how much I agree with that, but it’s a nice phrase. Luck – both good and bad – smiles upon us when she feels like it. I know some fortunate individuals, but to assume their career success is due to luck is insulting. As I mention above “some degree of luck” is probably there, but luck doesn’t supplant hard work and a positive attitude.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 20, 2012 11:32 am

    Those profiles of ‘doers’ and ‘drifters’ line up very neatly with the distinction that psychologists make between an internal versus external locus of control: i.e., whether you believe you can make things happen, or whether you believe the world acts upon you.

    In either formulation the key question is: to what extent is it possible to change from someone with a passive relationship to the world to one in which you make things happen? I don’t know the answer to that – I get the impression that these things can be very deep-rooted, but have also seen people display quite different tendencies after a change in circumstances.

    But I find myself uncomfortable with the judgemental tone of the category ‘drifters’, and it’s taken me a while to work out why. I think it’s because it implies that the drifters are such by choice, and just need to buck their ideas up to become doers. If that’s the case, though – if it’s true they have genuine choice in the matter – then describing them in those terms is quite unhelpful, as it breed resentment rather than motivation. Do you see what I mean?

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