Are You a Success Story? Why Not?
Ever wonder why you read about success stories instead of others reading about you? That’s not a rhetorical question. I think you should ask yourself that question. Seriously. Right now. Why do you think you’re not a success story? Let me give you a minute to think about it.
In case you’re having a hard time – after all, it is a tough question – let me give you a few choices:
a) I haven’t had the opportunities others had.
b) I’ve made poor choices in life.
c) I lack the knowledge or experience.
d) I’m not motivated or inspired enough.
e) I have no idea; I’m reading this to find out.
Have you picked one or come up with an answer of your own? Now, let me tell you what those reasons mean.
If you chose a) or something similar, you’re essentially saying it’s not your fault – that you’re a victim, perhaps of socioeconomic happenstance. That’s actually one of the two choices that are simply not valid. If you live in a democratic society that practices free market capitalism, what you do for a living is entirely in your hands.
Most of the successful people I know – myself included – started with nothing. And I can rattle off a laundry list of famous entrepreneurs and executives – Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, former Verizon CEO Ivan Siedenberg, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, and Alibaba chairman Jack Ma, to name a few – who grew up poor. That didn’t stop any of them.
Likewise, if you answered e), you’re more or less throwing up your hands and saying you have no idea why things haven’t turned out well for you. That’s either a blatant cop out or you’re not willing to take a cold hard look in the mirror and face what you see. In any case, don’t you think it’s about time you took responsibility for your life and quit expecting others to tell you what to do?
Besides, if you really believe you’re going to find the answer to such a critical and personal question on a website, then maybe those who say the Web and social media are frying our brains are right. Granted, there's no shortage of purported life-changing content, but come on now, you don’t seriously believe that stuff, do you? I know there are a lot of gullible people out there, I just don't want you to be one of them.
That brings us to those who chose one of the three valid answers or something similar. First, you deserve credit for being honest and straightforward. That says a lot about your character and courage. And believe it or not, it doesn’t really matter which of those responses you chose. My message for you is the same regardless.
In all likelihood, you haven’t made finding the right career your highest priority or you’re not disciplined about your search, so you haven’t found it yet. That’s the real problem. When you do, things will fall into place for you. But here’s the rub. There are two places you have to explore to find what you’re looking for.
The first place is the real world, the working world. That’s where all the opportunities are. If you spend every day of your life exploring what the world has to offer, some day you will find work that resonates with you. You’ll love it, you’ll be motivated and inspired by it, you’ll be focused on it, you’ll work hard at it, and you’ll become very good at it.
The second place is your inner world. If you spend much of your time distracted, seeking instant gratification, or overthinking everything, that means you’re not in touch with your instincts and emotions. And even if you do come across what you’re meant to do, you won’t be aware of it. The opportunity will pass you right by and you'll never find fulfillment.
Likewise, you have to have faith that there is a path for you to achieve great things. You have to trust that you’ll find a way to excel and make an impact. You have to believe that fulfillment is out there somewhere. You have to make it a priority, be disciplined about your search, and stick with it until you find what you’re looking for.
If that sounds like a lot of hard work, you’re right, it is. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But that’s not how the real world works. You get out of life what you put in. And if you want to be successful and happy, that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to become a success story.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.