My Personal View of Success

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an email that talked about how one of the key components of being successful was to actually know what success looks like to you.  I was kind of surprised by the feedback I got on this email because it ranged from confusion to a sense of helplessness all through way through to people who loved the fact that they were in control of what success meant to them.

Let me just say this, “You’re the boss of you.”  You get to do what makes you happy and you can define success however you want.

Everything is your fault – good or bad.

That’s the crux of accountability – you own everything, good and bad.

But one question came up from people about half a dozen times, “Sean, when you look at someone, how do you determine in your mind if they’re successful.”

My first reaction was, “Why does anyone care what I think?”

I mean really, if I think Joe Bloggs is successful and Jane Smith is a dumb-dumb, why does that matter?

As the question kept coming up, I figured it made sense to try and answer it.  I think people were looking for a frame of reference for themselves and how they view other people and competitors.

With that in mind, today I’m going to tell you my criteria for how I think about whether someone is “successful” or not.

Remember, this is entirely subjective and just my opinion!

Ok, let’s get into it…

My first thing is, consistency.  To me, if you’re spasmodic with your effort and not someone who has consistently achieved good results and put the effort in over time, I tend not to think of “you” as successful.

A lottery winner has had success.  Someone that has written a hit song has had success.  An author that has written one best selling book has had success.

In that sense, success is an event, not a way of being.  They WERE successful, they aren’t necessarily successful in general.

Conversely, the author who has honed his craft for ten years, writing books and building a following but then has a big hit – that person I would say is successful.  They’ve consistently built up to achieve a high-level outcome.

Musicians are the same – Pearl Jam had a monster hit album in their debut with “Ten” but it wasn’t until they’d released “Vs.” and “Vitalogy” which were both also hugely successful both artistically and financially that I’d deem them to be a “success” by my definition. That’s despite them being my favourite band from the moment I first heard them play live in a pre-release gig in Toronto in mid-1991.

By my definition, achieving good results over a long period of time is a form of consistency that is a defining feature of success.

Then there’s just the simple fact that you have to be good and receive some form of external acclaim.

Using the writer example again, if that person just churns out a book every six months for twenty years that nobody reads, that’s not someone I’d consider successful.

You actually have to achieve something beyond just putting the work in.

Admittedly, that’s a bit subjective because I have a fitness objective I’d like to achieve in 2018, so to do that I’m going to have to put the work in consistently this year, but I don’t have the expectation of people stopping me in the streets to take selfies with me because I decided to drop a few pounds.  In this case, success is very personal and externalities shouldn’t matter that much.

Some people will talk about a measure of success is how much you inspire other people to be better… Nah, I’m not a huge fan of that definition.  There are certainly some people I would say are successful who I do find their story inspiring, but that’s not the measurement of success.  That’s the area the personal development “gurus” live in – they associate their own success with how they make you feel and I think that’s a load of crap, it’s a con job.

Let’s finish up with the part of the question that most people asked about, “How do I determine if someone’s business is successful?”

Again, this is my external view and it’s a bit harsh.  If you create a business that you’re happy with, it fulfils you and you’re not couch surfing because you can’t afford rent, then who am I to judge?

But, I do have my own opinions and so here they are.

First of all, there’s the financial element.  I generally think that a business that nets the owner over $100k per year consistently is “successful”.  Someone who nets over $500k consistently is “quite successful” in my eyes and once you start cracking 7-figures net on a regular basis, then I think you’re a successful person in general.

It’s like a grading system…

People who have $5m of liquid net assets are “rich” in mind because they should be able to invest that money in low-risk ways and generate a $100k net after-tax income for themselves for the rest of their lives without even having to get out of bed and without depleting their capital relative to inflation.

That’s the level of success that I aspire to.

Then there are people who are “up and coming” successes.  These are folks that are putting in the work, doing the right things and are on a “success” trajectory – if they just keep it up, they will be an unqualified success.

I know a lot of people in that “qualified” success category – in fact, I’d say that a bunch of people reading this fall into that group.

I’m rooting for you.  I think you’ve cracked the code and now you just need to keep pushing through and I want you to keep at it.  I find these people inspiring because they are on the right path.

One thing you can take away from all this is that I view success as a byproduct of consistently doing the right things over a period of time.  That’s a big clue about how you become successful.

Some people talk a lot about luck and unequivocally, there’s an element of luck to everything in life.  Luck is really just an alignment of externalities that lends itself to delivering you an outcome that you deem favourable.

But I also believe that the harder you work and the most consistently you do the right things, the luckier you get and the more successful you ultimately are.

Funny how that works.

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