To Be a Dark Horse

I am a reader.  I read to expand my worldview, to expose myself to new ideas and ideologies, and to share in the experiences of other people who have journeyed before me.  In short, I read to grow.  Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, I read between the lines to see the motives, learn the lessons, and broaden my perspective to in turn, better understand myself and my place in this world.

Once in a while, what you may refer to as “Chance” (or what I believe to be Serendipity) tosses a book into my lap that shifts my perspective so greatly that the very foundation I have neatly settled myself upon in this world breaks and splits as if by earthquake.   I am tossed and forced to find new footing.

This has only happened for me a few times and it had to do with not only the content of the reading, but also the timing in my life.  The me of today will “hear” a different message through the pages of a book than the me of five years ago.

The me of today, in the midst of a global pandemic which has forced me inside both literally and figuratively, has spent a good bit of time asking the big questions: Am I on my true path?  Am I happy?  Could I be destined for something else?

Enter Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment, by Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas.  Although the book is on the one hand a critique of our society’s “cookie-cutter mold for success,” it invites the reader to partake in some serious self-reflection.  (Just the invitation I was ready for!)

According to Rose and Ogas, our society has been stuck in what they refer to as the “Age of Standardization” in which people move through the same basic system (school, college, internship, work, promotion, retirement).  In this system, success is defined as your ability to be, “the same as everyone else, only better.”  The mantra we have all heard before, “Work harder,”  has become our driving force and things like money, prestige, and power are at the top rungs of the ladders we have been conditioned to climb.

Within this system people may find themselves discontent regardless of whether or not they have “made it.”  I know the feeling.  It’s like having a mental and emotional itch that you can’t scratch because you don’t know the source.  The authors of Dark Horse foresee the emergence of an “Age of Personalization.”  

Instead of being motivated by competition, or to persevere through institutions’ pre-existing ladders of progress, people can achieve a different sort of “success,” one that satisfies and brings deeper meaning to life and purpose and addresses each individual’s authentic self.  In an “Age of Personalization,” society as a whole would thrive as people harness individuality through the pursuit of fulfillment.


How is this accomplished?  How does this really differ from the society we live in?  Don’t we promote individuality already?  Aren’t there enough choices and opportunities out there?

In order to answer these questions Rose and Ogas assert that we must first “unlearn” what we have been taught and dig deeper to identify what really makes us tick; the activities that bring us into a flow state, the places and spaces in which we thrive, the objects, sensations, and ideas which naturally draw our attention.  The authors of Dark Horse have a name for these:


What are mine?  After some meditation and journaling, I’ve come to some epiphanies about my truest self.  I’ll share them here:

  • I love aesthetics.  I need to be in spaces that are clean, sparse yet cozy, and “pretty.”  I need access to natural light.  (I whither in modern decor, fluorescent lighting, clutter, and spaces where technology muddle the energy of the space – think computer labs or office cubicles.)  
  • I need creative outlets that enable me to be expressive, like tangible crafts, writing, or even creating presentations.  (I am easily frustrated and burnt out when fixing broken things, balancing budgets, or troubleshooting for others.)  
  • I crave physical activity and function best when I have the opportunity to get up and move, hence my intense passion for walking and hiking.  (Long hours at a desk is toxic for me in every way.)  
  • I thrive in social environments with lively interactions, but greatly prefer working “side-by-side” as opposed to “face-to-face.”  (This was a big revelation for me!  I need camaraderie and love the sharing and bouncing off of ideas with others, but prefer when my work is my own.  I do not like to be in a position where my success is dependent upon the performance of others…) 

Dark Horse

Now let’s get back to the title of our book, Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment.  How did the authors come to these conclusions regarding success through fulfillment, individuality, and an Age of Personalization?  Through the case studies of numerous “dark horses,” or people who achieved remarkable success in fields where no one saw them coming, either because they started their lives on an entirely different track or because they completely bypassed society’s ladder of success (formal schooling, internship, etc.).

Examples explored in the book include a public relations associate turned renowned florist, a software planner for Apple computers turned horticulturist, political coordinator and director at the level of the White House turned professional organizer, high school dropout turned astronomer, successful businessman turned tailor.  Each of these people not only succeeded in their new fields, but by using personal fulfillment as a main motivator, far surpassed others in their new fields.

Now although it certainly wouldn’t be prudent to quit your day job without an intelligent plan of action and sizable safety net, think for a moment about your own level of personal fulfillment.  Might there be another path for you to pursue?  Perhaps one that doesn’t exist yet… but could be carved out by you as you go?  

Just remember, a “dark horse” is a success story.  Before dark horses set out through unchartered territory with machetes in hands, they peer carefully through the thicket to ensure they don’t suddenly emerge at a cliff’s end.

The Pursuit of Happiness

As per Rose and Ogas’ extensive study, dark horses share one thing in common – deep deep (deeeep) sense of personal satisfaction, purpose, and happiness.  Now for a lesson in etymology (another passion of mine, by the way).   

The word “happiness” is derived from the root “hap” which means “something befitting a particular event or circumstance” (consider the words happenstance, haphazard, mishap, or hapless).  When our founding fathers counted among our three unalienable rights, the right to “the pursuit of happiness,” it was not intended to mean cheerfulness or joy.  As per historian Jack D. Warren, “a person achieved happiness when his condition fit his character, talents and abilities.”

Am I “happy?”  Are the actions in my life in sync with my micro-motives?  Am I on my true path?  Perhaps the word “pursuit” is the one I should be focusing on.  I am supremely grateful for books like these, the inspiring people in my life, and the opportunities this country provides for the pursuit of true happiness.  All I need is the awareness of opportunities and the courage to harness what makes me, me.

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