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How to Park Anywhere for Free: A Metaphor for Success

In your job, you may get the promotion, the contract, and the big pile of dough, but lose your soul in process and be miserable in spite of "success." Know that true success makes you feel good.
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People often ask me about what I'm really good at. And I don't blame them -- when you're this talented, it's hard to cite just one thing. Mastery of French and Szechuan cuisine, speaking 37 languages, raising award-winning yaks, climbing every major peak on Earth and Mars, creating bunnies out of molten glass with my bare hands -- sure, they all count for something.

But what I'm really good at is parking.

One thing I know for certain: I have always succeeded at parking my car, 100 percent of the time. Now, some of you may think that a car can't really hover off the ground, and so by definition, the car ends up getting parked somewhere. But let's not split hairs here: I'm a damn good parker.

I have parked in Downtown LA during the Art Walk. I have parked on the Sunset Strip on a weekend night. I have parked overnight in Manhattan when they said it couldn't be done. I've parked in downtown Seattle, Dallas and San Diego -- and for five years in Boston, one of the toughest parking markets in the world. Ever try finding a spot in Harvard Square? I succeeded. Just left the car right there, boom. I've even parked in San Francisco where there are approximately 0.037 parking spots per 100,000 vehicles.

And I have done it legally, without getting fined, and without paying (meters are allowed). No pay parking structures if at all possible, and no valets, ever. To valet a car and say you've parked it is to have a fertility clinic artificially inseminate your wife and then claim you knocked her up. It's just plain cheating.

Of course now that you've gone through this cabinet of wonders ("You parked legally in Union Square at 9 p.m. on a Friday night? Will you autograph my son, please?"), you must be wondering: doesn't he have something more interesting to write about? Like curing cancer, improving education, or chocolate-covered Godiva pretzels? Mmmm, pretzels.

Well, this is about a little more than just parking your car. It's about the structure of success. Tomfoolery aside, I am exceptionally good at finding parking spots for free where no one else can, and I've done it thousands of times. So here are some tips, which you are welcome to apply to other, non-parking areas of your life as well:

Believe That It Can Be Done.

Any time I enter a tough parking situation -- like Sunset Boulevard in LA on a weekend night -- I tell myself that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is a free spot for me. And I find it every time.

This is important for many reasons. It precludes giving up prematurely. It also puts you in a physiological state that is more amenable to success. If you're in a state of adrenaline-soaked panic, your brain is too stressed to function. But when you know you're going to succeed, you're just waiting for your opening, and then -- bam - you take it as if you expected it all along. Because you were.

Hone Your Vision for Opportunity.

What does a spot look like? Anyone can recognize an empty spot. But what about a proto-empty spot -- the one that's about to be vacated? That's the one you're much more likely to score, since an empty spot in the West Hollywood district of Santa Monica Boulevard has a half life of 1.57 microseconds, slightly longer than that of a muon.

So the major repository of spots resides in turnover. Like receptor-ligand dynamics in cell biology, parking spots have a natural turnover rate: people come and go. Recognize that and utilize it. Be ready to nab a spot right when it opens up.

This is how you spot a spot that's about to become available: first, the driver's seat is occupied, or about to be. Also, look for people who are walking on the street instead of the sidewalk -- they're probably risking their lives for a good reason, like getting in the car to go catch Monday Night Football.

Second, the rear taillights are on. If the white reverse-gear signaling lights are on, too, then you've hit pay dirt. Unless the driver's got OCD and wants to readjust the car so he's exactly 4.23 inches from the curb, he's leaving.

So scan, scan, scan as soon as you get close to your destination. I even start visualizing my outcome: some parked car's taillights coming on, along with the white reverse-gear lights, and then seeing him pull out. And, more often than not, it happens. Do I have a statistically-significant data set demonstrating at the P=0.01 level that my visualizatons actually aid parking? That it is causation, not correlation? No. Have I parked 100 percent of the times I tried? Yes. I rest my case.

Be Bold.

You'd be shocked and amazed at how many times there are free, open spots directly in front of a venue you want to attend. Why? Because of the natural turnover rate. And also because most people don't even expect a free spot there, and never look! They park three blocks away, then kick themselves when they find they could have parked platinum. Needless to say, I've never done this myself. Except for the times that I have.

So go for the gusto and, at the very least, make a point of going exactly where you want to be -- you just never know when opportunity will smile at you. How many people do you know who have stopped short of their ultimate goals just because they thought, "Oh, that'll never work out anyway -- why bother trying?" There's a Persian saying: sang moft, gonjeeshk moft -- free stone, free bird, so take a shot already, geez.

To maximize your chance of securing a space, you may want to roll on the inside lane at a more leisurely pace to allow for natural turnover to pop open a spot for you. Will this annoy the cars behind you (see below)? Most likely. Will they get to see their football game anyway? Yes -- and remember that someday, they'll be the one holding up traffic with their parking crawl, so it all evens out.

For the bolder amongst you, also scan the opposite side of the street for spots and be willing to make a quasi-legal kamikaze U-turn on demand.

Stay With Your Vision.

Parking in crowded urban settings is inherently messy: you must hold up traffic as you back your car into a space. And, since you have no choice but to ruffle some feathers, make your peace with it. Some people are going to be irked -- oh well.

In the entrepreneurial realm, so many people buckle and abandon their causes as soon as they encounter opposition. Remember this: detractors are not a bug -- they're a feature of any successful endeavor. So if people are honking behind you, it means you're doing it right.

Staying with your vision also involves a little aggression. Various miscreants, varmints, scoundrels and knaves will attempt to take your hard-found spot from you, so don't let them! Position your car behind the car that's leaving. That way you're blocking those behind you from snaking the spot, while allowing the parked car an open avenue to leave. This works orders of magnitude better than getting in front of the parked car which is now blocked from leaving. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find the profound metaphor that's in there somewhere.

Seek Underexploited Opportunities.

Do you always read the entire novella printed on the parking signs to figure out when you can and cannot park? Most people don't, leaving perfectly legal parking spots available for intrepid, literate folks like yourself.

Did you know that you can park at a yellow 'Loading Zone' curb for free after 6pm Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday unless specifically noted otherwise? There aren't a lot of them, but unless you have a hip-hop entourage of 17 black Escalades, one is all you need.

Did you know that if you go two or three blocks away from a venue -- especially in the opposite direction that people are arriving -- you're more likely to find spots? At a minute's walk per block, a spot even five blocks away beats circling the streets for 20 minutes.

Are you able to park in a spot that's only a foot or two longer than your car? If you can, the spot it yours, since most people don't bother with those (see below).

There are always underexploited opportunities for those seeking them. The surest sign that there's a better way of doing something is a long line of sheeple waiting obediently for their turn. Dare to bypass the beaten path and blaze your own trail -- all great success stories start there.

Train the Skills in Your Domain.

When you block a long line of traffic on La Cienega Blvd on a Friday night, it helps to know that you won't take an extra 15 min to get your car parked. When you're confident of your abilities, you become more willing to take risks that others leave alone (see kamikaze U-turn above).

I'm pretty good at parallel parking and can get into tight spots on the first try. And, as much as I'd love to brag, it ain't rocket science. Have you ever practiced your parallel parking -- even for 15 minutes? Didn't think so. If you do, you'll get a lot better at it. This is also true of public speaking, memory, charisma and sex -- other things that we're supposed to be good at naturally without training. Whatever! The good news is that the initial returns on training in these underserved domains can be huge. So get thee a book like "Use Your Perfect Memory" by Tony Buzan or "The Multiorgasmic Man" by Chia & Abrams and behold the miracles that ensue.

For Real Success, Be Willing to Reassess.

It is good to find free or cheap legal parking. However, if accomplishing that means missing the first 15 minutes of the U2 concert or enduring the wrath of a crippled girlfriend after she walks three blocks in her tottery heels, then by all means pay for parking -- or even give the car to the (gasp) valet. Yes, even I have broken down and done that sometimes. Don't win the battle and lose the war.

Similarly, in your job, you may get the promotion, the contract, and the big pile of dough but lose your soul in process and be miserable in spite of "success." Know that true success makes you feel good. So if you ever deviate from feeling good, you're not really successful. Reassess and get back on the track of real fulfillment.

For an unconventional but effective perspective on your love life, check out The Tao of Dating for Women and The Tao of Dating For Men.

For further thought-provoking ideas on happiness, health and creativity, visit the Tao of Dating and Awaken Your Genius blogs.