The Tao Of Success
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I am not a basketball fan, but I stumbled on the late basketball coach John Wooden’s definition of success, and I found myself loving it. He said: “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best, to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” Wooden was addressing basketball players, who have already defined for themselves the parameters required to become the best they are capable of becoming the game itself. We can extrapolate this approach to success to other aspects of our lives, such as professional, financial, close relationships, intellectual, academic, personal development, wellness, self-expression, and so forth. Is it that simple? And how does that apply to entrepreneurs?
SUCCESS FOR ENTREPRENEURS: TRAPS AND MISCONCEPTIONS
Moving on from basketball players, how is success any different for entrepreneurs? I interviewed five successful entrepreneurs I know, and asked them two questions:
1. What is success?
2. What are the traps and misconceptions of success?
Here is how they answered:
Entrepreneur 1: “Success for me is being able to wake up every morning with drive and motivation, happy to start the day with all its wins and losses. The trap for me is to define myself as an entrepreneur through the money we raise or make.”
Entrepreneur 2: “My biggest success came from accomplishing the execution map we set out to do in the beginning of the journey with all its milestones. Every little task and milestone felt like the biggest success. The trap for entrepreneurs is to define themselves through the big picture, and fail in taking into account small wins.”
Entrepreneur 3: “Our success is measured by numbers, how many customers we have, and how much revenues we are making as a startup. The trap for successful entrepreneurs is to fall into complacency.”
Entrepreneur 4: “I define success through how many clients we empowered and helped, how many returning customers we have, and how much we learn from our customers. The trap for me is not to manage a work-life balance.”
Entrepreneur 5: “Success is about being able to always work on new innovative stuff to keep the excitement and drive going. The trap in that is not taking enough time to ground the work and personal innovations, and fall into unjustified boredom.”
While the definition of success and its traps was different from one entrepreneur to the other, successful entrepreneurs seem to share some common attributes like passion, focus, and obsession. Whereas these are great attributes to have, they can also lead to dangerous blind spots, and spell the demise of the same successful entrepreneurs.
I wanted to dive deeper into the definition of success, so I extended my study to other random people around me. I came up with a few more definitions. For some, it is amassing a certain amount of money. For those who had or made money, the definition of success shifts to making an impact around them, pursuing personal achievements, or being present in the lives of their loved ones. As for those battling with a physical illness, success is only about regaining their wellbeing.
So yes, success shifts from one person to another, from phase to phase, and from situation to situation. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, when asked, all those interviewed seemed to focus their definition on one aspect of their lives, at that particular time. Maybe real success is success on all fronts, while maintaining a balance? For what is financial success without accomplished close relationships? Or what is professional success without being physically and emotionally healthy? Or what is intellectual and creative success without the ability to pay our bills?
Some coaches and psychologists say that success is about:
- defining goals and objectives, and writing them down
- making a plan of execution within a defined and realistic timeline
- having the will and the discipline to execute the plan
- believing that we have the capacity to succeed, and that we deserve to succeed
All this is nice, but it also seems very time-bound and limited. There is also the mysterious factor of luck, the good one, and the bad. Accounting for the element of chance allows us to understand that while we are responsible for our plans and execution, we are not in control of everything. There is also the obsessive pursuit of success that puts the mind in a constant state of unrest; and when the mind can’t rest into silence, we can never feel happiness and peace of mind.
Andy Warhol rightly predicted, back in 1968, that there will be a time in the future where everyone will have their “15 minutes of fame,” and today’s social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have got us there. Those channels are flooded with people flashing their extreme fitness workouts, the many places they travel to, the fashionable clothes they change every day, the glitzy social events they get invited to the list goes on. We imagine these people to be successful, because of their number of posts, following, or likes. In reality, we know nothing about these people aside from what they display on their social networks, and the reality can often be quite the opposite from that projected image. So, instead of asking about what defines success, I went asking: what defines our feeling of lasting success?
UNDERSTANDING LASTING SUCCESS
From almost everyone interviewed, it was essential that the feeling of lasting success always be linked to something they set goals and objectives for, and then put the effort towards. Winning something accidently or with no merit doesn’t provide a feeling of success. Lasting success has the element of achievement in it, with defined external goals and objectives that we can measure, such as wealth, fitness, fame, etc. Aside from defining goals and objectives and putting the effort, it also seems that for some of the interviewees, the feeling of success is tightly linked to having defined in advance what is a successful outcome for every action, endeavor, or dream.
Others stated that the feeling of success is linked to putting in their best possible effort, while maintain- ing self-honesty, self-integrity, and a detachment from the outcome. Thus, lasting success is interweaved with feelings of contentment, and awareness about how we see ourselves and see life. Another finding from the interviews is that the feeling of success was always linked to the feeling of not having compromised something else along that road, such as values, principles, health, or relationships. Moreover, the feeling of success was personal, personalized, and not measured towards being the best, or towards some celebrities in the field.
What naturally follows is an emphasis on one’s sense of purpose and peace of mind, which contributes to our own self-growth. (One of my favorite quotes by Jordan Peterson is to not to compare ourselves to others, but to compare ourselves today to the person we were yesterday.) As such, a byproduct of lasting success is a sense of purpose, peace of mind, worthiness, and continuous self-growth. And finally, lasting success was unequivocally about leaving a legacy behind, not in the material sense, but more in the sense of impact and values. Success comes by putting effort towards what we want, what we can be good at, what we can impact others with, and what we can feel happy about.
We spend days, weeks, and years putting in that effort, and we do it in the context of lasting success. We do that every morning while we wake up in bed, while we deal with our personal lives, our challenges, our breakups and make-ups. We do it while we support a friend through the illness of a parent, and while we take care of ourselves, what we eat and how we move- we keep moving forward, and we put a smile on our face. We do that also by dealing with our past, our mistakes, our shortcomings, our regrets, our arguments– we learn to be more tolerant with ourselves, while still wearing that smile on our face.
TO CONCLUDE, WHAT IS THE TAO OF SUCCESS?
Success is about patience, tolerance, discipline, and honesty, equally towards others as towards ourselves. Success is validating and validated, without seeking validation. Success is simultaneously rational and emotional, and thus requires our own values to be aligned. Success is temporary and temporal, but also elusive, and thus requires humility and constant thriving, while at the same time learning to just take a break from that constant thriving, so we can recharge and be able to make better decisions. Success is about believing in ourselves, believing in our destiny and never letting go, without being completely attached to those beliefs. Success, whether it is through a personal challenge or through a work accomplishment, is also to be recognized as never done by us alone, but also by everyone around us who supported and helped us to get to that moment. Success then becomes a path, not an objective- a brick builder on the road to self-growth, purpose, and legacy. In that sense, success is essentially joyful, energizing, contributive and expansive. Success invites us to love the person we are today, and embrace the growth that will make us become who we so eagerly know we can be.