How to Fail Without Really Succeeding

E'RE ALWAYS HEARING about the life stories of highly accomplished people, and how ever since they were three months old they knew they wanted to be a doctor, an actress, a letter-turner on The Wheel of Fortune, and so on. Well I'm here to acknowledge the unique brilliance of the highly unaccomplished, the wouldn't-be's among you. Yes, I know you well. You have spent your entire life trying to discover your innate talents, but you have repeatedly come to the realization that there are more important issues to consider, like the fact that your laundry is, possibly at this very moment, begging to be separated into whites and colors.

Take the case of a close personal friend of mine. This dear, almost fatally perfect woman, who looks, by the way, years younger than her age, has never had the vaguest idea what she'd like to be when she grows up. For a brief period in her fourth year, (she tells me everything) she was fond of dressing up like an "Indian princess." Her family possesses numerous snapshots of her during this imaginative stage, taken with a unique approach to composition by her nine-year-old brother, Benny, who, after years spent diligently practicing this beloved hobby, is not a photographer today.

My friend, let us call her Clarice, tells me these photos arouse painful memories of frustrated dreams. All her parents' hopes of launching Clarice on a career as an Indian princess prodigy were cruelly dashed when a child psychologist informed Clarice's mother, Edna, that there really wasn't a lot of call for this sort of thing in what he haughtily coined "the real world." By way of rubbing salt in the wound, he also offered the observation that little Clarice's bangs were highly crooked, a comment that inspired Edna, the bang trimmer in the family, to reply that shrinks in cheap suits ought to stick to what's in the head and not on it.

This discouraging incident marked the beginning of my friend's rather uneventful journey to mediocrity. But I think we may actually be gazing upon a diamond in the rough. I would assert that what we really have here is a tour de force of restraint, considering all that cornucopia of potential simply coursing through Clarices' veins.

I have asked my modest friend to share with you the wisdom of her thwarted genius. She has graciously consented, not because, as some cynics might suggest, misery loves company, but because it loves fifty dollars, which is what Clarice's parents will give her if Benny is mentioned in this article.

Clarice has devised and employed what she calls her "Twenty-Year Delay System" based on "elongated distraction," which allows for maximum "success departure." Her highly original techniques provide users with the dual benefits of time loss and therapy expenses. As you might have guessed, her system is widely known and respected among psychotherapists of every discipline. One cognitive-behaviorist noted, "Clarice's delay system is . . . the surest antidote to [my] unemployment I've seen in 30 years of practice. I just hope she spreads the word."

Well, with the intense encouragement of her latest therapist, a Jung-Adler mix, Clarice has opened a Web site to do just that: This week's Road To Nowhere online newsletter offers such delectable morsels as:

Many thanks indeed, Clarice, for sharing your insights with us. If history is any judge, I'm sure we can all look forward to hearing from you less and less in the months ahead.