Want to Be Successful? Be the Best at What You Do.
The problem I see with many if not most aspiring entrepreneurs is they’re forcing themselves into a career they’re not cut out for. Why do they do it? They’re lured by all the hype into doing what they think they’re supposed to do. So they follow the crowd and march blindly into the abyss, like good little digital drones.
That’s why so many of you feel lost and uninspired. That’s why so many of you are constantly searching for answers, hungry for guidance, and fishing around for books and blogs to help motivate you to get up off your butts and get going. Simply put, you’re in the wrong line of work.
Let me tell you a story that I think will help you find the right line of work.
When I discovered the existence of high-tech startups, I instantly knew that was the life for me. It was as if I’d been lost for eons and finally found my way out of a vast jungle and into the light. Suddenly, the path ahead was clear. I knew what I had to do. And I did it right. I went back to school and got an advanced degree in engineering.
Even then, it would be many years – more than a decade, actually – before I achieved any kind of success in a high-tech startup. And while I spent the next decade as a senior executive in a number of successful companies, big and small, my only stint as a startup CEO ended in bankruptcy when the dot-com bubble burst.
But here’s the thing. I have no regrets, and I’ll tell you why. I was true to myself. And while I had the opportunity to run several startups before and since, I never did. Why? None of those situations was right for me. And had I attempted them, I would have failed, and not in a good way.
Instead of pushing myself to do something I was never meant to do, I climbed the corporate ladder and rode the coattails of some brilliant founders and CEOs who were cut out for that sort of thing. Honestly, I don’t get all the hype about being a founder or a CEO. Turns out, vice president’s a pretty sweet gig, too. And the payoff was incredible.
I loved my work, did quite well for many years, and now I run a boutique management consulting firm and write. It’s been a great ride and a good life, but only because I stayed true to myself and didn’t follow what others said I should do. Instead, I did what was right for me. I got the right education, did the work, got tons of experience, built a rolodex of who’s who in the tech industry, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now let’s talk about you. I hear from people striving to become entrepreneurs every day. To be blunt, most of them haven’t a clue about what they’re doing. They’re going to waste years spinning their wheels and end up back where they started with nothing to show for it. All because they read some articles, blog posts, or books written by greedy opportunists, shysters, and content generators who also don’t have a clue.
Hard to believe, but that’s exactly what millions of people are doing. Right now. I’ve tried to help a handful over the years – the ones I thought actually had a chance – and you know what? Those who made it are those who had what it takes. Those who were cut out for it. Those who were passionate about their work. Those who were committed to achieving great things. The vast majority were not. And they all washed out.
Most had an idea and thought that was more important than anything. Turns out that ideas are the least important thing. Everyone has ideas. Everyone. People who will never amount to anything have ideas. Every single one of them.
You want to know what the most important thing is? People who are cut out to be real entrepreneurs are doers. They don’t need to be motivated. They don’t need to be inspired. Once they find that one thing they love doing – that one thing they’re better at than anyone – they become unstoppable. They work like their hair is on fire. And they never stop working. Their work is their life.
And you know what? I had all those qualities. Still, I wasn’t cut out to run the show. There’s so much more to entrepreneurship than that. Don’t get me wrong. You can scrape by without those qualities. You can be a solopreneur with a bunch of gigs. You can maybe run a small business. But you’re not going to be the best at something like Gates, Jobs, or Zuckerberg.
Maybe it’s just me, but I always wanted to be the best at what I did. For me, that’s always been the litmus test. That, to me, is what matters most. And since I couldn’t be the best at being an entrepreneur, I chose not to do it. And wouldn’t you know it, that turned out to be the right path. That's how I became successful.
If you think you can be the best at something, that’s what you should do. That's what will make you successful. Once you find it, God speed.
Related: The 10 Worst Entrepreneurs of 2015
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.