My Biggest Lesson in Success? How to Thrive by Proving Others Wrong
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Thirty-five years ago, Apple debuted its Macintosh desktop computer, changing the way we think about computers. Both the Mac and its now-famous "Think Different" ad campaign fought an uphill battle against an army of naysayers. But today, Apple's dominant market share shows that audacious belief in yourself and your work can prove everyone wrong.
Now, I'm not Steve Jobs, and I didn't invent the Mac. But having someone vocally and repeatedly doubt the wisdom of my startup company proved a powerful motivation for me to succeed.
Forging a different path
Shortly after graduating from college, one of my close friends got his first "real" job in the corporate offices of a well-known company. He was earning good money right off the bat, and his career prospects looked good. Meanwhile, I had chosen to move back in with my parents -- who had just moved to a new town where I knew no one -- so I could save money while researching and making plans for starting up my own business.
I spent two years doing this: working 20 hours a week at the bar in the local golf club, then devoting the rest of my time to getting my business up and running. From the outside, I suppose it must have looked like I was simply failing to launch.
Though he never said so, it seemed like my friend wanted me to fail. When we spoke about my startup and what I was trying to achieve, he expressed doubts about every idea I was excited about. He looked at me with disdain, focusing our conversations on the problems that could arise and finding reasons that my business would founder.
It was almost as if he needed me to fail in order to validate his own career choices, like he was trying to prove that working “corporate” was the only path to financial and professional success. Of course, if I did succeed, I would be "more successful" by his definition -- and he couldn't stand that thought.
In case you're wondering, no, we're not friends anymore. But wow, his antagonism sure fueled my drive to succeed. His doubts motivated me to make my business work and to ensure that I never let anyone tell me I couldn't achieve something I set my mind to.
Turn others’ doubts into your motivation.
Starting a business -- making decisions for the long term and not necessarily seeing results right away -- isn't easy. As driven as most entrepreneurs are, it can still be hard for any of us to stay motivated over the roller coaster of getting things up and running.
During the two years I spent building my business while working part-time and living at home, my own motivation flagged at times. What kept me going was a drive to prove my naysayers wrong. Whether it was people doubting my abilities or laughing at my ideas, I planted those memories in my head and used them as fuel to propel myself to accomplish what they thought was impossible.
I have a blend of positive and negative emotions that drive me: Negative would be how my friend made me feel as he continued to press doubt and pity on me. But the positive part of that is the awesome motivation it provided me. There’s nothing quite like proving someone wrong when it’s about showing what I can achieve.
These positive motivations can take other forms, of course. They can include the motivation to support one’s family, to keep good on promises made and to live up to a loved one's expectations.
Ready to push all doubts aside and become a success? Here’s how to get started:
1. Find out what really motivates you.
A little bit of motivation won’t do the trick. It needs to be powerful enough to cause action. Finding that deepest drive might take a while to identify, but it’s well worth the investment of time. Journal about it, focusing on why you want to do what you are doing. Some things might light the fire you need to achieve a business dream, while others might be duds.
Some motivators might be time-sensitive: What inspires hard work in the morning might not be as powerful in the afternoon. What you need to do is dig up all the various factors that drive you toward success. Maintaining a list of motivational sources means being able to draw from those wells depending on what is most effective at any given time.
2. Once you’ve found your motivators, make them visible.
Successful people -- from Olympic athletes to Oprah -- credit visualization with helping them achieve their goals. Have a visual representation of a given goal handy around the house or private office, whether by writing it down, drawing a picture of it or printing out an image. This is not about visualizing success; research shows that it's more effective to visualize the process instead of the destination. To keep moving forward, give yourself reminders about what makes your hard work worth doing. These motivators are private, so set aside any fears of looking silly. No one else ever needs to see your lists and images.
Leave notes for yourself in a bedside drawer, for instance, or maybe make a motivating image the background of a cellphone. Wherever it is, make sure it’s readily accessible. Mix digital visuals with physical storage to ensure that this motivator is ever-present, constantly redirecting your eyes to the prize.
3. Keep reminders in easy-to-access areas.
Placing those images and notes in easily accessible areas is a simple way to keep motivational events and goals top of mind. Persistent messages, even if they feel redundant, have proven to be an effective strategy for getting the job done.
The powerful thoughts that push you out of bed in the morning should be in front of your eyes throughout the day. Don’t simply have one Post-It stuck to a desk lamp. Spreading out the motivational notes will come in handy when that afternoon slump hits or when you're only halfway through a long night of work. Having representations of a key driver in places meant for unwinding can serve as a “drip” of motivation every time the going gets tough.
I may not have taken the traditional path my friend did after graduating from college. But using his doubt of my abilities as my main drive to succeed changed my life. It helped me move from launching my business in my parents’ house to moving abroad and expanding my career. Following the steps above can keep anyone motivated in the face of discouragement.