I recently had someone solicit advice from me asking for ideas on how they could take their career to the next level.
I truly do enjoy helping someone see what their true potential is. However, I’ve learned the painful truth (first hand) that we are our own worst enemy when it comes to success and this is not something that I can help someone with if they’re not willing to help themselves. I can educate them, encourage them, maybe even show them where to begin, but if they don’t believe in their own potential, they will never taste the success they want and the success that has consistently eluded them throughout their life.
I’ve actually been reading about this very topic in The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz. Schwartz refers to the number 1 reason that people don’t succeed as ‘Excuse-itus’. “That big project sounds great, it could really help my career, but I don’t have the time to take something new on,” or “I don’t know if I have what it takes to be successful at that, what if I fail,” or “I don’t feel very good about this opportunity so I’ll just pass.” The list goes on and on. Schwartz goes on to discuss that the common trait highly successful people share is their mindset. They instinctively believe that they can do it and they never make excuses.
You see, we know all too well that we live in an instant gratification society and I have fallen prey to this ideology myself. We want things immediately and we don’t want to wait. Just recall how you feel when the barista is taking too long to make your coffee at Starbucks. That feeling that starts bubbling up inside of you as impatience rears its ugly head.
The thing is though, success is next to never overnight. Darrin Hardy wrote an entire book on this subject called The Compound Effect. It’s the principle of simple interest applied to success in your life, health, marriage, career and so on. The growth is slow, maybe even hardly noticeable at first. However, if you stick to it, over time, the compounding effect becomes larger and larger and larger until its unstoppable. This Compound Effect is active in every circumstance in your life whether you know it or not. It can be used for good, or for bad. If I’m eating horribly and not working out, the compound effect is activated. I may not look too different over a month’s time but over the course of 6 months, you’ll probably notice that I’ve gained weight. By the end of 18 months, I’ve gained substantial weight. If I’m ignoring my wife, we grow distant day by day until we don’t know each other and face the possibility of a devastating divorce. Either way, the Compound Effect is activated. You get the gist.
In Scaling Up, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0, How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t, Author Verne Harnish recites Steve Jobs famous quote of, “I’m always amazed how overnight successes take a helluva long time.” Apple has only had its meteoric success in the last 15 years, since they released the iPod. Harnish writes “Apple, which started in 1976, had only 9,600 employees when it released the iPod in 2001, it’s 25th anniversary. The Rest is History. All the phenomenal growth of Apple in revenue and employment (80,000 in 2013) occurred after their 25th anniversary milestone.” However, Jobs would routinely be called an overnight success despite the fact he’d been plugging away for 25 years.
As I mentioned up front, I’ve been guilty many times myself of searching for the magic pill that could catapult me to immediate success. However, I’ve since learned the truth is pretty simple, and it’s not what most people want to hear. Success requires massive effort, continual education and pure grit. You have to have a burning desire within you to just go out and make it happen and learn from your mistakes and keep on keeping on.
Through my conversations with the person asking me for help, my natural point of aim is to direct them inward first. To look at their habits, their daily routine. I’ve come to learn that success rarely is adding things but counter intuitively, removing things. Removing bad habits. Removing self-limiting beliefs. Removing wasted time. It requires complete honesty and facing the truth about the things that are holding you back. It requires you doing things that 95% of the population will not do such as reading and continually educating yourself. Harnish describes this in Scaling Up, “Leaders are readers. Having a natural curiosity and thirst for learning separates the good from the great in our experience.” Bill Gates was known for his “Think Week” where he’d routinely devour up to 112 books/articles/white papers during one session. Or, Mark Cuban who reads 3 hours a day and Mark Zuckerburg who reads 26 books a year.
Anyway, I gave this individual some self-reflective home-work items and we agreed to revisit his work at our next meeting. When that meeting came, I was discouraged to see that they hadn’t done the work. They partially did some things but just administrative things, not the deep thinking parts that require brutal honesty with their current situation. It became apparent they were just looking for the Magic Pill. “Where can I spend money to make me successful?” was the question I was asked.
This is the wrong question entirely in my opinion. The question should be; how can I improve myself? How can I consistently work to become the best possible version of myself? How can I help other people? How can I develop a long-term game plan that will position me for massive success? You see, these are the conversations I want to be having with people. Jim Collins discusses this in his book, How The Mighty Fall. Collins describes that when companies (or people) notice that they’re failing, they start grasping for salvation, the Silver Bullet or Magic Pill. It’s like drowning in a lake where you’ll grab onto anything to hold you up. It’s an act of desperation. Collins writes, “They go for a quick, big solution or bold stroke to jump-start a recovery, rather than embark on the more pedestrian, arduous process of rebuilding long-term momentum.”
Unfortunately, I was unable to help this person. My approach, my process, requires hard work. It requires deep introspection. It requires developing a plan. What it does not involve, is a Magic Pill.