I recently visited the Key West home of famed writer Ernest Hemingway.  The descendants of Hemingway’s many six-toed cats still live on the grounds and join visitors as a part of their tour.  His quote about cats got me thinking about what I learn from my cat.  “A cat,” wrote Hemingway, “has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”


I know some people don’t like cats; I have friends who are allergic to cats.  And, I think I have heard all the idioms that express negative myths about cats (e.g., scaredy-cat, fat cats, herding cats).  Still I watch my eleven-year old black cat in action (or inaction) and marvel at what life (and work) might be like if lived more like a cat.  Using “cat-like” as a metaphor, here are four ways to blaze a path to success.


“Any cat who misses a mouse pretends it was aiming for the dead leaf.” –Charlotte Gray

Except for trips to the vet, my cat seems to enjoy every moment.  She never panics even when there are loud noises nearby.  She approaches every day with a pace and rhythm that is graceful, deliberate, and celebrative.  Life seems in part to be about taking deep breaths with a focus on being…not just doing, doing, doing.  When I make a mistake, I worry and sometimes punish myself inappropriate to the hiccup.  When I goof, I wish I could just pretend I was aiming for the dead leaf.  Successful people demonstrate greatness by the way they resiliently react to failure, not success.


Steve Jobs started Apple in his parent’s garage and grew it to a $2 billion-dollar company.  But, his board fired him to take Apple in a new direction.  Propelled by sheer resilience he started NeXT and Pixar; ultimately reclaiming his position as Apple CEO.  He took the company to a value of $300 billion.  J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was turned down by twelve publishers.  When publisher Even Bloomsbury finally took her manuscript, the editor told her to “get a day job.”  Instead, she doubled her efforts.  Today, through here doggedness she is a billionaire and her books have sold over 400 million copies.


“In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” –Terry Pratchett

There is an obvious self-confidence about my cat.  Being liked seems to be nice, but not necessary.  Perpetually measuring up is fine, but certainly not the driver of her identity.  She is centered and poised, even in circumstances that might warrant a bit of anxiety.  You get the impression she completely owns her life experience without one ounce of victim, blame or excuse.  She is not cocky, just confident.  Successful people live their life with an inner emotional invincibility.


Success comes from creating a masterpiece every day.  No one cared Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling for four years in such an awkward position it permanently damaged his health.   We simply marvel at the result.  Likewise, no one cares about the depth of someone’s inbox, the number of cold calls they made, or the meetings attended.  Only concrete results matter; tireless effort is just the stuff you do to get there.  Masterpiece creators do not act as if they are passengers on some cruise ship transporting them to retirement.  They gallantly assume responsibility for their own destiny.


“After dark, all cats are leopards.”  –Zuni Indian Proverb

I think my cat believes she is a gift and fully embraces that sense of privilege. From the day we brought her home from the shelter, she demonstrated in her attitude how lucky we were; she was just along for the joy ride.  It is not that she is unappreciative; she frequently shows her gratitude for her privileged station in life.  But when I watch her pounce…at anything that could be mentally converted into an adventure, I sense she is always on a glorious hunt.  Successful people approach every day like it was an glorious adventure, not just another day.


“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,” wrote Helen Keller.  The path to success comes from a pioneering spirit to blaze new trails to excellence, craft new bridges to a treasured dream, and tenaciously pursue a quest for distinction.  Playing the blame game gets no one a “get out of jail free” card.  Customers are never moved by hand-wringing excuses nor made more confident by shifting the focus to the supplier who failed to deliver.  Being late signals a lack of commitment, regardless of the reason.  Being unprepared telegraphs a lack of caring, despite the demons one tussled the day before.


“Cats know how to obtain food without labor; shelter without confinement, and love without penalties.” –William L. George

My cat washes herself a lot.  I know an elegant coat has DNA roots to the survival of her cat-family ancestors.  She just does it with such luxury.  There is nothing quick and on-the-run about it.  And, she seems to relish the ritual as her way of getting a daily massage. Successful people take great care of body, mind and soul with the same gracefulness my cat uses to envelope her shiny cold-black coat.  It means treating each day as an opportunity for betterment.


“He not busy being born,” sang folk singer Bob Dylan in his hit song It’s Alright Ma, “Is busy dying.” Success comes from perpetual growth and daily reinvention.  It takes non-stop curiosity, sincere humility, and a wide-eyed recognition that who you are must constantly be trumped by who you can be.  Successful people view psychic and physical maintenance is a crucial to their non-stop well-being as a tune-up is to their vehicle.


Cats are amazing animals.  They are also a metaphor for how to live life to the fullest.  And, they are smart enough to focus on what matters most, not on the trivial distractions that rob energy and spirit.  As Jeff Valdez wrote, “Cats are smarter than dogs; you can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow.”  Let this year be your year of the cat!


Adapted from an article originally published in success.com on December 3, 2017.