Everyone wants some degree of success. They might want it in different forms, but I've never met anyone who didn't want to be successful in or at something important in their lives. This is good, because I believe that everyone's entitled to pursue success--but success itself is not an entitlement.
Success is largely determined by our hard work and our choices. I know many people who work hard but make bad choices. It's amazing how many of them think they deserve to be more successful because they feel like they've worked so hard. On the other hand, I don't know very many, if any, successful people who have made good choices but didn't work hard.
Working hard is only the first part of success. Making good choices is the second part. It truly takes both to achieve success at whatever you do.
I knew someone who was constantly lamenting her "bad luck." She wasn't happy with the various jobs that she had over the years, her personal life was a shambles, she was almost 30, hadn't completed college, and constantly had money problems. She often blamed situations or other people for the various predicaments that she was in. However, the glaringly obvious truth was that although she worked fairly hard, she continually made horrible choices. One day she would complain about money, and the next day she'd buy something totally extravagant and completely unnecessary. The next week she'd complain about not being able to get a good job while showing up to work an hour late for personal reasons (which happened regularly).
From time to time, she'd talk to me about her issues, and I'd point out the choices she made that led to the current problem at hand. Each time she'd pay lip service to acknowledging the connection, but the truth is, she never took ownership for the real problem--her choices. She once lamented, "Why me, why me, I deserve better!" I didn't offer my opinion on this question, but what I wanted to tell her was that "everyone feels like they 'deserve better' at some point in their life--get over it, stop complaining, and start really doing something about it. Work hard and make better choices!"
I've had the opportunity during my career to work with thousands of people who have experienced varying degrees of success in their lives. One of the recurring themes I see with these people is that they plan their work and work their plan. That is, they think through their choices, make the best ones they can with the information they have, and then work hard to carry those choices out.
As the CEO for an international business, I know that the choices I make are sometimes pretty important to the business. The decisions I make can impact hundreds of employees, franchise owners and associates as well as tens of thousands of clients around the world. Years ago, I was talking to a friend about some tough decisions I had to make and my concerns about them. He gave me some great advice. He said: "Not every decision you make has to be a good one. Just make sure that you make more good ones than bad ones, and when you make a bad one, minimize the impact by fixing it quick."
Wow! This was great advice. It's advice that squarely hits the point about working hard and making good choices. Not every choice you make has to be on the mark. However, enough of them do in order for you to get the kind of results you want. Some of my biggest lessons in business have come from my losses, not my successes. Generally, neither had much to do with luck, but instead, with the choices I made or the commitment I gave to the project.
Not long ago, I was talking to someone I've known for years about the growth of my business and some other personal goals I've recently met, and he said: "Man, you're lucky. It must be nice."
I responded to him by saying, "Yes, I'm lucky; let me tell you the secret to my luck...
"First, I went to college for 10 years. During that time, I started my own business and worked really long hours for two decades. Along the way, I mortgaged my house a couple times for the business, and I wrote five books. You, too, can have this kind of luck. All you need to do is apply this kind of effort to whatever you do, and you can be just as lucky."
He laughed and said, "OK, OK, I get it!" Did he really get it though? I don't think so, because he hasn't changed his behavior or started making different choices. If being successful were easy, everyone would have the success they think they deserve.
For most of those two decades I mentioned above, I didn't feel very lucky or incredibly successful. It took time, effort, hard work and fairly decent choices before I felt any modicum of success. The problem is that many people want to go from point A to point Z and bypass all the challenges in between. They work hard, therefore "deserve" the success they want.
Success is not an entitlement. It's not a "right" or a "claim" that we should have. Oh, people have the right to "pursue" success, but that's it. Success is most often earned, not handed over because you are entitled. I think I was in my thirties before I truly understood and internalized that notion.
The other day, I asked my 9-year-old son to quote the "mantra" of success that I had been teaching him. I said, "Trey, what's the secret to success?" He said, in a young boy's slightly bored sing-song tone: "The secret to success without hard work and good choices is still a secret, Dad. Can I go out and play now?"
OK, maybe 9 is a little young to start the training...but, maybe not.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.