THE TRUTH ABOUT SUCCESS
Todd Dewett | July 24, 2015
People often talk about success as if it’s simple. The common sales pitch suggests that success is available to anyone willing to work hard. I truly love that sentiment, though it’s terribly incomplete. The truth is that success is the result of many factors. Some you control, others you don’t.
Let’s think about what you can control:
Education and learning. This might include degree programs, online platforms such as Lynda.com, books, blogs, articles, mentors, seminars, and many other options. This is about stretching your mind and building new or deeper skills. In particular, successful people tend to be strong communicators, sound decision-makers, and smart risk-takers – all of which are skills you can learn.
Effort and sacrifice. How bad do you want it? Will you clock the hours? As you go the extra mile, sacrifice is of course implied. The opportunity cost of an hour spent working towards your goals is an hour not spent doing something else. Successful people are usually not geniuses. They are, however, people with extraordinary work ethics.
Service and networking. Here’s where we first begin to understand that your success is partially explained by other factors. Who you know matters. You expand your network through volunteer efforts at work and volunteer efforts within professional associations. When you use your time and expertise to help others, it comes back to you in beautiful and unpredictable ways.
Now let’s get honest. There are many things outside of your control.
First, consider IQ and personality. We know IQ is associated with success in life, to a point. We also know that IQ is the result of the genetic lottery. No person has ever earned their IQ. If it’s low, you’ve been given an unfair challenge. If it’s high, you’ve been given an invaluable gift. Personality is similar, some profiles are highly associated with productive social interactions, others are not. Isn’t playing the lottery fun?
Initial socioeconomic status. Research and common sense suggest that the challenges faced by people from the wrong side of the tracks is bigger than the challenges faced by the silver spoon crowd. Forgive the metaphors, but the point is real. As youngsters, our home and community have a strong impact on our development.
Location and timing. You had nothing to do with when and where we were born. Like IQ, you never know what you’re going to get. Maybe you were born in a depressed city during a long period of economic despair. Or maybe you were born in an economic hot spot during just as things were taking off. The difference between the two is quite serious in terms of developmental opportunities.
Help you receive. At some point we could all use good advice, a helping hand, or a kind deed. What you actually receive, however, depends on a few things: where you live (is it a positive and productive context or not?), the circles within which you run (do you associate with people who can help you grow or not?), the service you’ve given to others (it’s true – the more you give the more you receive), and finally – dumb luck.
Yes, luck. Okay, maybe it’s not dumb. Maybe to a certain degree the optimists are correct – we create our own luck. Kinda. You can increase the odds of good things happening, but you never eliminate the reality of chance. Case in point: I am a popular author and speaker. Did I earn my success? Maybe. Or maybe I was fortunate some literary agency stumbled upon me online and connected me with their client (Lynda.com) who then changed my life. That they found me instead of someone else is pure luck.
If you assume I’m basically correct about the nature of success, there is one huge implication to consider: you have to give back! You have to find others you can help and work to add value to their journey. I give a few pro bono speeches and informally coach lots of folks. You might volunteer at a school, support a social cause, or serve on the board of a professional organization. Who knows – find an option that works for you and start giving back. It’s your duty.
The reality I’ve described can be challenging, depending on where you begin and how luck treats you. However, it should never be an excuse to quit, complain, blame, or worse. In the end, we are given what we are given and our goal is clear: do the best we can with what we’ve got. So, vital caveats aside, the optimists are on to something when they remind us that success is likely when we work relentlessly. But don’t forget, when you find a little success, you should work relentlessly to help others find it too.