Success Is Never an Accident

imagesMost people spend their entire lives waiting, hoping, expecting something good to happen. That’s a great way to waste your life and end up bitter and broke.
Sure, some do the best with what they have. They get married and have a family. Find a job that pays the bills. Work hard to make a living and save a little for retirement.
Others don’t fair so well. They see others doing well and wonder what happened to their piece of American pie. They imagine others had advantages they didn’t have like privilege and connections. They become jealous, angry, and bitter with age.

Back in the day, you really couldn’t hide from that sort of thing. Thoreau wrote that most people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” Indeed, there just weren’t many things to distract you from the realities of life. That’s no longer the case. Now everyone can spend their lives on social media sites, watching reality TV, playing games, texting, emailing, and of course, eating. Karl Marx said something about religion being the opiate of the people. Now it’s Twitter, Facebook, Dancing With the Stars, Xbox, and McDonalds. That’s the new religion.

And you know what? I don’t blame them. It’s a hell of a lot more fun than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. Unfortunately, it’s also a hell of a lot easier than picking yourself up, taking some risks, and actually making something happen to improve your life. Everyone’s wondering why our culture is deteriorating. Why the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing. Why common sense and personal responsibility are in such short supply. Why so many of our leaders no longer bother to tell the truth or hold themselves accountable.

Isn’t it obvious? Nobody’s paying attention. People are either working too hard to take care of themselves, their businesses, and their families or they’re too distracted to notice anything more than sensational sound bites. And our ballooning federal, state, and local governments are over-regulating the hell out of the former while providing a nice, comfy, ever-growing safety net for the latter. That would be a recipe for disaster if some of us didn’t realize that sitting around waiting, hoping, expecting something good to happen was a bad idea. If some of us didn’t realize that, for things to change, you actually have to do something different. That nothing ever happens unless you take action.

The good news is that, with so many people either locked in their day-to-day inertia or giving into one form of addiction or another, it’s never been easier to shine. To get ahead. To really make something of yourself. While the number of ways to go nowhere has certainly exploded, so have the opportunities for people who want something more for themselves and their families. Who want to leave this world in a better place than they found it. Interestingly enough, the recipe for getting ahead hasn’t changed much over the years. Maybe the mechanics are a little different, but the strategies are the same. The way people who started from nothing make their own luck, the way people without privilege or connections find opportunity and accomplish great things, haven’t changed a bit.

In my experience, success is never an accident. It really comes down to six things:

  1. Building real relationships in the real world, one at a time. Over a 33-year career, I can map every single opportunity that amounted to something important to a personal relationship. Every single one. Relationships are everything in business and your career. At both ends of every kind of transaction are two human beings. Never forget that.
  2. Turning desperation into motivation. All of my biggest personal successes came immediately after humiliating defeat. You simply have to let go of your pride, face your mistakes, learn whatever lessons you can, and be confident that things will work out for you in the end. And by the way, desperation can be a great motivator.
  3. Taking the initiative to find and capitalize on opportunity. Rarely does the phone ring with a huge opportunity on the other end of the line. You have to be the one to pick up the phone and make the call. I did that countless times in my career. And remember, every meeting is an opportunity. Listen for clues and, when you sense an opening, take it.
  4. Shutting up and listening to those more successful than you. I graduated from college with a useless degree. I was desperate and destitute. Then my girlfriend’s father asked me if I wanted to visit his high-tech startup. I said sure. He talked about the next big thing, semiconductor chips. A digital world. That was in 1978. Good thing I listened.
  5. Having the courage to take risks and fail. You want to know what courage is? It’s being afraid and doing the right thing anyway. Fear is normal. Fear of failure is normal. Facing that fear and having the courage to take action in spite of personal risk, that’s rare. We gain confidence from success but we gain wisdom from failure.
  6. Having a positive “can do” attitude. I sort of like to do things my way. I’ll always try to manipulate and motivate others to do my bidding. Been that way all my life. But when I got out into the real world, I had to learn a different way. I had to learn to say, “sure, no problem.” A lot. I must have said that a million times in my career. And success followed.

I guess the bottom line is this. Success in the real world is not like Facebook or a video game. It’s never instantly gratifying. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes. No cheap and easy thrills. And no deletes or resets. You only get one shot at it. But if you stick your neck out, work your tail off, account for your actions, and learn from your mistakes, you’ll be a winner.

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