Over my many years of observation of people, organizational dynamics, economic conditions and situations, there are a relative few characteristics of people who are truly successful:
- They are intelligent – either “smart” in a general sense (able to accumulate and retain a lot of basic facts) or in a specific way (a subject matter expert).
- They have common sense – knows that even when the world says that 2+2= 3 or 5, that it will always equal 4. Logic always prevails.
- They are confident – internally validated. Note that, for the purpose of this writing, there is a difference between confidence and arrogance – confidence is a characteristic based on actual accomplishment (moving the needle) and arrogance is based on the perception of achievement.
- They possess the four “D’s” – diligent, dogged, determined and driven (stubborn, persistent, focused and actively pursuing success).
There have been – and will likely continue to be – reams upon reams of paper committed to the chase for the magic formula of success. There are legions of business writers, do-it-yourself real estate magnates, self-help gurus, weight loss experts and relationship sages who have made billions of dollars trying to quantify this elusive calculus for the general public. They all relate to some personal situation or mountain of research that presumes to define the “how-to” of success.
There can be no doubt that these qualifiers are not the only harbingers of making your way in the world today but without them, success is far difficult and far more based on pure dumb luck – and there are those who have “succeeded” based on nothing but that. The human psyche believes that rags to riches stories without work are achievable or else gambling and lotteries would never work. These are very, very rare. I’m always amazed when someone is tagged as an “overnight success” when a minimal amount of digging into the story reveals that they have been hacking at it every day for 20 years or that they have failed four or five times before hitting it “big”.
Many times there we can see that when a person or idea succeeds it is not because of only hard work, it is because there is one more thing stirred into the cake batter – vision, not the “vision” of motivational theorists that requires a written mission statement or a set of core values – rather it is a belief of eventual success. People who truly “make it” always see themselves as winners; they never let negative circumstances stop them. Even failures are seen as “wins” because, to them, they just eliminated a possibility and that means that they are one step closer to victory. Vision is the aspect of successful behaviour that focuses the four aforementioned items; it is the metaphorical glue that binds them all together. It is the same human aspect that allows a sports team to come back from sure defeat to log one in the “W” column, the same feeling that allows a military unit to prevail even against overwhelming odds. It is the same vision that causes a single individual to stand against a tank in Tiananmen Square. History validates all.
Many will call such events a sheer force of will, and they are, but there has to be a mental image of what success looks like to create the will. The human spirit is a very powerful force. We have seen stories where a cancer survivor was created from a cancer victim who was given almost no chance of survival by any explainable reason. There are also stories in opposition where a diagnosis and the subsequent loss of hope destroy a person in a very, very short period. It is the effect of the “vision thing”. Winning is as much a state of mind as losing.
This is perhaps the greatest issue that I have when politicians talk about a “safety net” and “welfare”. While these are worthy as a concept and are invaluable in times of significant economic distress, the rhetoric that is used to support them today is quite different from that which was used to create them. Every bromide used today from the American left entails visions of Armageddon, children starving in the streets, old people being pushed off a cliff or disease running rampant – visions of hopelessness and failure.
Granted, FDR was the spark that lit the fuse of the “progressive” bomb that his predecessors like Woodrow Wilson and other had planted but whether he meant it or not, FDR elucidated a significantly different vision for things like Social Security and government programs than his “progressive” progeny do today. When he was governor of New York, he said:
If the Nation is living within its income, its credit is good. If, in some crises, it lives beyond its income for a year or two, it can usually borrow temporarily at reasonable rates. But if, like a spendthrift, it throws discretion to the winds, and is willing to make no sacrifice at all in spending; if it extends its taxing to the limit of the peoples power to pay and continues to pile up deficits, then it is on the road to bankruptcy.
The view of failure conjured up by these modern Stygian witches is a powerful one. It created the anti-globalist protests that accompany every summit of the developed nations; it spawned the Occupy Wall Street “movement”, it powered a “progressive” majority in Congress in 2006 and a Marxist leaning president to an electoral victory in 2008. It emboldens columnists today to openly praise communism…like Neil Clark of the Guardian taking the opportunity of Valclav Havel’s passing to praise the Eastern Bloc communists:
Havel’s anti-communist critique contained little if any acknowledgement of the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women’s rights. Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first.
Havel’s message was always one of the individual first and that personal freedom was necessary to assure liberty for all. His was a message of self-reliance based on a vision of success. This is the same vision that was identified earlier of the one standing against the weight of a culture shackled by authoritarian and oppressive political bonds.
Success starts with believing that you can succeed, that you can actually beat the odds, that you can win. Hopelessness guarantees that you will lose. Vision guarantees that you will labour for freedom and independence, a lack of will mandate that you are part of the collective, that you will ask others to share your defeat, that you will not prepare for your individual success and that you will live in envy of the success of others. This is the singular difference between the boardroom and the basement, between working in Wall Street and sleeping on Wall Street.
I picked this up from AOSHQ this morning after I started writing this yesterday. Supposedly, this was part of a speech that Bill Gates gave at Whittier High School in California. I personally haven’t taken the time to validate the authenticity of the words because it really doesn’t matter who uttered them, they are spot on. I guess that the truth does have many vessels but is always the same vintage.
Rule 1: Life is not fair…get used to it.
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000/year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a cell-phone, until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a word for flipping burgers-they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up it’s not your parents fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life hasn’t. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the answer right. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers and Christmas break off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10. Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to work.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.