“Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others.”
The minute you begin to “believe your own press” you are choosing to surrender the edge that helped you build any advantage you might have previously created. Suddenly every problem begins to look like something you have tackled before, and previous solutions or thought processes are applied based on historical efficacy, not on current understanding.
Some questions to consider:
Is the answer I am choosing “right” or easy?
Have I done the hard work to understand the situation entirely?
Is the challenge worthy of genuine effort and not just a pale facsimile?
The old saying, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” seems particularly appropriate here. Never settle for a copy of previous success. Much like a paper that has been copied far too many times, you begin to lose your clarity.
“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone.”
What is the most important thing you wanted to accomplish today? Not the top three or five tasks, but the one thing that had to happen to make today a success? Did you start the day with a focus on where you needed to direct your time and energy?
It is only by intentionally deciding what you must get done that you enable yourself to say no to the things that will inevitably come up and stand in the way of what is truly essential.
Was today a success? If you didn’t start the day with a well-defined plan, how would you even know? You can’t define success in a rear view mirror…
“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, “This is the real me,” and when you have found that attitude, follow it.”
For years I would challenge every new employee at our organization to think hard about how they define a “good day at work.” My challenge to them was to think about and describe how they wanted to measure success in their roles beyond the surface level metrics; I wanted them to think bigger than $’s and more than just the production of widgets. Doing those things well is only the entry price to the game; it is what you do on top of that which truly matters.
How do you measure your success in your work? In your life? What are the metrics that truly matter beyond the paycheck and the toys and the things that won’t matter in five, ten, or twenty years?
I would argue that you aren’t living your authentic life if you can’t answer this question with clarity and precision…
“If your parents ever measured you as a child, they had you stand against a wall, and made a little pencil mark on the wall to show your growth. They did not measure you against your brother, or the neighbor’s kids, or kids on TV. When you measure your growth, make sure to only measure your today self by your past self. If you compare your relationships, your success, or your anything against anyone else, you are not being fair to you. Everyone has a different path, a different pace, and different challenges to face along the way.”
I love the analogy used in this quote, the absolute truth conveyed by the pencil marks on the wall. Those were specific data points from a moment in time that can’t be changed or stretched to fit a different narrative or used to compare to someone else.
What are the “marks on the wall” in your life today? How do you measure your growth in a specific and objective manner, not subject to interpretation by or comparison to others? What are you doing to ensure that you are capturing your advancement in life and ensuring that you are continually moving forward and making progress?
Perhaps you need to create a measurement mechanism and a timeline for regular review to capture where you are at specific moments in time, just like those pencil marks on the wall.
Ask yourself these three simple questions two to three times per year. Use the same journal or writing medium, so as time passes, you can look back at your answers and see how YOU have grown and evolved.
Who do I want to be?
Why is this important to me?
How do I need to change to become that person?
Notice that none of these questions are about “what do I want?” Or “what do others expect?” These questions are about drilling into yourself and creating a discipline of regular check-ins to establish a baseline and measure your progress.
Give it a try. Go ahead and answer these questions today, and when you get done, put time on your calendar six months from now to do it again. Add another appointment for one year from today. You are making this appointment with and for yourself. Can you imagine how influential this journal would be ten, fifteen, or twenty years from today? I certainly wish I had started this practice twenty years ago, I can’t begin to imagine how powerful it would be to have a quantitative measuring stick of my evolution and progress.
“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.”
The greatest leaders I have ever worked with did not capture or care about gathering power. These leaders were very much focused on giving it away through empowerment. These individuals were so incredibly effective at their jobs because they knew their real job was to create more leaders who could hopefully become even better than they themselves were.
By contrast, the worst leaders I have ever known or worked with only cared about how they would be perceived by others or about how they could gain more power.
The bottom line is that the most effective leaders measure their success not by looking in a mirror, but by looking through a window onto those whom they serve.
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
I have always deeply admired those who have the courage to start something new. Those who possess the ability to see the worldnot for what it is, but for what it could be. These are the people who dare to spread their wings and fly, knowing they might fall. They do so understanding success isn’t guaranteed, but by leaping, they might be able to impact the world in a bigger and better way.
Courage is needed whether a person is starting a new role or project in their current organization, starting their own company, or simply doing something outside of their comfort zone. This courage, this ability to take on risk and move, despite any fears and doubts, that is what intrigues me so greatly. How does a person come by this? How does one learn courage? Is it genetic? Is it formed during childhood perhaps? Or maybe it comes through the experiences we have as we grow through life? What separates those who have courage from those who don’t?
Regardless of how courage is formed, I believe the formula for demonstrating it consistently comes down to one’s ability to answer these five questions:
What is it that MUST happen? This is the question that frames out the opportunity in your mind and allows you to paint a vivid depiction of a better future. This is where one defines the opportunities and articulates exactly what you want to see happen. Creating a deeply detailed “envisioned future” is the first step in summoning courage.
What am I afraid of? This is where you wrestle with your own demon that will try to hold you back and prevent your successes. Whether it is fear of failure, fear of being seen as a fraud, fear of being wrong, etc. You can’t beat your fears if you haven’t identified them and faced them directly. Fear is a demon, and if you want to beat it, you have to look it squarely in the face.
Am I willing to fail? This is the keystone question. Answering the first two questions enables one to arrive here and wrestle with the knowledge that not every initiative and opportunity seized will be successful. There are no guarantees in life. All the courage in the world could still result in failure. Is this acceptable to you?
What is the worst that can happen? This is where you nail down the absolute worst possible outcomes that could arise from the opportunity you are contemplating taking on. If you can’t think through and anticipate the problems that will invariably rise up, then you can’t make an informed decision about whether or not the risk you are taking on is worth it.
How do I mitigate the worst risks outlined above? When you have defined and understand the worst possible outcomes then you can begin to build solutions to offset those risks. For example, if you are taking on a new project at work outside your area of expertise and the associated risk is that you might lose your job, seeking out expert training, books, or mentors might be a good way to mitigate the risk. Not all risks can, and should, be mitigated. But when you can you have to do so if you want to create success.
This is what separates those who have courage from those who don’t. Those who create success through courageous decisions have an ability to see a better future, define their fears, understand failure, identify worst-case scenarios, and build in success enabling strategies in case the worst happens.
Then comes the moment of truth. Can you make the decision? This is the magic moment where you have to leap and have faith in yourself, those whom you have surrounded yourself with, and trust in a higher purpose and calling.
So go forth and do. Take on that new project. Embrace your new role. Start that new job. Build the company you have been dreaming of. Embark on a journey to create a better world for others. When you show up courageously you will truly feel alive and the world will be better because of it…
“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”
The Dalai Lama
At every stage in life we make choices to do, and to give up, certain things. When you look back over your life what are the choices you regret? Did you make those choices in the pursuit of some success that was important to you at the time but in retrospect the success wasn’t worth the cost? Given what you now know would you make different choices today?
How can you apply these lessons in your future? How can you ensure your next success pursuit is worth the cost? Perhaps even more importantly how should you define success to ensure the investment you are making is aligned with what you want to achieve and who you want to become?
I would strongly argue that if you choose to put more emphasis on the “Whats” of life, (i.e., what you get, what you have, what you do) than on the “Who” and the “How” you are building a life that will be filled with disappointment and regret at some point in the future. A life spent in pursuit of success measured in a “what” is one where you have a chosen something that won’t last. So, was it worth it?
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Every defeat is an opportunity to become stronger, to become better.
Every rising again is a rebirth as a slightly better version of oneself.
Seek out defeats. Seek out opportunities to fail. Seek out challenges bigger and better than you are ready for right now. For tomorrow you will rise up stronger and higher because of the defeats of today.
Tomorrow isn’t defined by today’s defeats, it is built upon them.
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
Success is a result of a intentional choices or actions. Striving to be of value is how you choose to show up. If your efforts aren’t a success, but you love how you showed up, isn’t that just success by a different name?
“Where there is humility, there is more success, and lasting success.”
As many have said “humility is a funny thing, the first time you think you have it you actually don’t”. So what then is success?
I think the key to this quote is to defining what success really means to you. If success is serving others, enabling others, and helping others, before thinking of your own needs, then that is humility. Anything else really isn’t lasting success…
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
There truly is no such thing as an “overnight success.” Sure, luck or chance can play a role, but one has to be ready for those opportunities when they arise. You can’t look at someone who happened to win the lottery as successful. Winning the lottery isn’t success, that is just being incredibly lucky against the odds, though based on all the research on the unhappiness of lottery winners I am not certain it is all that lucky…
I think it is important to remember that “success” is, or should be, internally defined, not externally defined based on whatever the world has decided success should look like. An artist who devotes their life to capturing a certain quality of light in their paintings is successful if they achieve their goal and are happy with the result. They might never sell a single painting, but they weren’t working and sacrificing in order to sell their work, they invested their time, effort and energy because they loved the work itself.
How do you define success? Is it through the lens of the modern world? Money, fame, fortune? Or is your definition of success based on something internal and intrinsic to oneself? Can you consider yourself successful if you are never rich and famous? What is it that you want to achieve, and will follow the recipe mentioned in this quote above to accomplish?
Regardless of how you define success, and what it is that you want to achieve, you can’t get there without demonstrating the attributes of “hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” These principles apply to everything in life, your marriage, your hobbies, your family relationships, your work, your projects, etc.
What stands out to me the most is this, if you don’t “love what you are doing or learning to do,” you are going to have a hard time generating the energy necessary to do all the other things required to make yourself successful.
Take the time to define your success and ensure that you truly love what it is you are doing. Then the hard work won’t feel quite so hard.
“Failure is often that early morning hour of darkness which precedes the dawning of the day of success.”
Leigh Mitchell Hodges
The lens through which one views failure is critical for creating a life of success and growth. I have found that there are two ways to look at failure.
First, you can see failure as an indictment of self and this manifests in seeing yourself as a failure. “I am a failure.” This isn’t healthy nor is it true. No one is a failure at an individual level. We will all fail many times in life. Heck, we likely fail on a daily basis as we fall short of being the person that we were created to be. But that doesn’t mean that we are a failure as a human being.
Second, you can see failure as a specific unsuccessful set of actions or behaviors in a particular moment in time. You might fail to achieve some goal, some target, etc.. But that doesn’t mean that you are a failure as a person. It just means that we were unsuccessful in our attempt at something. We have simply failed through our actions to create an outcome we desired.
The most important component in building a life of continual growth is looking at your failures through the lens of learning. One must constantly and continually seek our your failures with the intent to learn. Lean in to your frustrations, defeats and shortfalls. This is how you can create the “dawning day of success.”
“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard.”
How do you measure your success? Is the scorecard for that success one that is public and visible for all to see? Or is it private and internal for just yourself and God to see and understand? Do you care more about the outer scorecard and what others think and say or do you put more emphasis on the inner scorecard based on your own core values and mores?
I guess you could have two scorecards, but they had better be aligned in almost every way, because if they aren’t you will inevitably make a choice that violates the principles of one of them. So in all reality there is just one scorecard. Where and how do you keep score?
“The key to victory [is] creating the right routines.”
Over the years I have found that having a morning routine is what sets the day up for maximum productivity and enjoyment. I have tried many different things in an attempt to find just the right way to start my day and while I haven’t settled on a “perfect” routine just yet I am pretty happy with the routine listed below that I use to start each day the right way.
Ice Water – I start each morning with a big (32oz) glass of ice water to rehydrate after sleeping. Yes, even before my beloved coffee… Double bonus is that there is nothing like a glass of ice water to wake up the mind!
Meditation – This is a relatively new addition to my routine but is now a critical component of my morning routine. I meditate for 15-20 minutes each morning as soon as I have had my ice water and before I look at any type of electronic devices.
Devotional & Journal – I find that reading, studying and praying over a scripture based devotional is very powerful, especially after time spent in meditation. The second part of this routine is a daily journal. The topics I write about can be anything that is on my mind but I always include a portion of my time focused on gratitude and those things that I am especially grateful from the previous 24 hours.
Leadership Quote & Blog – Yes, I choose my quote and write my blog post each morning. Occasionally time compression will dictate a later quote or blog post but 99% of the time this is part of my morning routine. I have found that I really enjoy framing my day by taking time to reflect on leadership or life.
Physical Fitness – I have come to the realization that in order for me to be at peak effectiveness I need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Sometimes I can’t always get it in during the morning before work, but if I can find a way I will. I am much more focused and efficient through the day when I start the day with a hard workout.
What are your routines? Do you feel “off” when your routine is disrupted?
“Work hard in silence. Let success be your noise.”
Do you do the work for the glory, or for the joy of the work itself? If you make it all about the celebration it says that it is all about you. Is that the message you want to send and the life you want to live?
“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”
The best leader I have ever worked for did two things exceptionally well. First, he asked great questions to keep our team focused on where we were going, not just what we were doing. Second, when we achieved great results, he stepped back and gave the team all the credit. He knew it wasn’t about him and as a result his team would have done anything for him. Leadership isn’t about you…
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing.”
Suffering setbacks, failures and challenges is inevitable. It is going to happen to all of us at some point or another. How we react and respond is a choice. Deciding to succeed despite the challenges is a choice. Doing whatever it takes to overcome is a choice.
But then, so is quitting… Which choice are you going to make today?
“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”
The minute you think you have arrived, that you think you can lay back and relax because you have accomplished your goal, that is the minute you start to slide towards complacency and irrelevance. Complacency scares me more than almost anything else. Complacency means that you don’t care deeply and passionately and that goes against every fiber of my being. But how do you make sure that you pause long enough to recognize success?
I know that I struggle to slow down long enough to celebrate success. When something is achieved I immediately begin thinking of the next thing, the next goal. How do you ensure that you pause long enough when achieving some level of success but not become comfortable there? What is the appropriate about of time to celebrate success before starting towards the next journey?
I follow the principle “celebrate a win for a day, then get back to work.” Numerous people have talked and written about this and it has worked for me. What works for you?
“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”
I don’t like to lose. Heck, no one likes to lose. Losing isn’t fun, pretty or enjoyable. Losing sucks. Period. However, nothing stokes the fire of determination and focus like a loss. Nothing teaches a more powerful lesson than losing, if you choose to learn. That’s the key right, you have to choose to learn. You have to accept the loss, and your part in it, so that you can you learn and build on it so you can win the next time.
I would strongly argue that losing is more important to growth and development than winning. Losing is the platform that wins are built from. If you don’t know how to lose, how can you learn to win?
We must work as hard as we can to win and build success. When the losses come, and they will, then we have to embrace the suck, figure out why, and get up and try again.
Will I ever enjoy losing? Absolutely not. I hate losing with a passion. But do I appreciate every loss I have ever had? Damn right. Those losses, and the scars that they created, are the burning fire that powers all future successes. Losing is going to happen to all of us. Being a loser is a choice that we individually make….
“Effort does not guarantee success, it only removes the guarantee of failure.”
No matter how hard we work at something success is never guaranteed. All the hard effort in the world just might not be enough. But if you don’t put in the effort you are absolutely going to fail. I think the real key is how you answer this question:
If we don’t put in our best and maximum effort will we look back later and wonder if failure happened because we didn’t try hard enough?
“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
I don’t know about you but there just never seem to be enough hours in the day. The world today is busier than ever and the distractions are relentless.
I really love this quote because it makes you sit back and thing about the work you are doing. If you are doing something to check the box, achieve the minimum standard, etc, then why are you doing it all all? If it is something that needs to be done right, what needs to go in order for you to have the time to accomplish the task at hand?
Part of the challenge in today’s hyper busy world is that it is easier, and more acceptable unfortunately, to do more things, at the bare minimum level. That doesn’t create long-term sustainable success. Focusing on the few things that really matter, and then executing them to a degree of completion that ensures they won’t have to be redone is a guaranteed way to stand out from the crowd.
Besides, if you are so busy, how can taking the time to redo anything be a palatable option! Get it right, get it done, move on to the next important thing.
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
I really love this quote as I’ve been thinking a lot lately on the phrase “focus on the solution, not on the problem” which was one of the quotes from last week. It is amazing how easy it is to allow oneself to focus on why things can’t be done, as opposed to what can be. It drives me crazy to hear, “that will never work” or “oh, I can’t do that.” Not that I haven’t been guilty of it myself more than a few times… How do you flip this around when it comes up?
I’ve found that focusing on one simple question can reframe the thinking when I, or others, get caught in the “excuses trap.” Because let’s face it, if you are focused on what you cannot do, you are making excuses. The question is this; “What one thing can I do to create change in this situation?”
Success in anything requires taking ownership and finding the path forward. Getting caught up in the reason why something won’t work is a guaranteed way to get bogged down and achieve less than you are capable.
“If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”
I would argue that if your goal doesn’t scare you just a little bit, it isn’t set high enough. If your goals are too easy, they just aren’t going to make you stretch. They won’t make you push, make you dig deep and find that extra effort and energy you didn’t know you had.
Goals shouldn’t be targets set to where you know you can hit them, they should scare you because you really don’t know if you can reach them. Only then will you find what you are really made of.
Are you willing to aim so high that you might fail? If failure isn’t a real and potential option, your goals are too easy…
“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.”
I have a long list of things I want to do better. Things that I need to be better at in order to continue to grow and improve. Wishing won’t make them happen. I have to pick the two or three that are most important, or perhaps just the one thing, and then create a plan to make it better. Then it is all about execution of that plan.
The watch out is to ensure that I pick the right thing(s) to work on. Picking the simple one because it is easy or fun, versus the one I really need is where the hard work comes in. You have to tackle the stuff you might not want too… But that is how you grow. It’s the only way to grow.
“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes when you are part of a team. The energy that comes from working with others towards a shared vision is palpable. Success becomes the result, not just a goal or a thing to be achieved.
Without teamwork I would argue that while a specific task or objective might be achieved, the true opportunity is left unfulfilled. Teamwork unlocks the magic of what could be.
Why then do teams get off track? Lack of a crystal clear vision or goal and clearly aligned team and individual objectives that bring focus and clarity to the work at hand. Without this there is always going to be some sand in the gears so to speak.
If you haven’t read “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr I highly recommend it. One of the best books I have read on creating focus and clarity as a team. Truly exceptional.
When in doubt do something. Even if it is isn’t perfect and might not be the best possible choice. With a strong bias towards action you can always take another action to address whatever it is that needs to be fixed. Sitting around talking about things doesn’t make change happen. I believe a bias towards action is critical in life and leadership. Inaction represents indecision and an inability to get things done. Inaction doesn’t inspire confidence or create a winning attitude.
When in doubt, focus on one simple rule. Get. Stuff. Done.
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
Henry David Thoreau
There are a finite number of hours in each our days. Are we spending those hours doing the work that needs be done or are we spending them focused on becoming “successful.” Success is a result, not a destination. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in life by focusing on the end result and not the hard work that was right in front of me. The good news is that you can fix that today, and everyday you go off course, by asking yourself this question:
“Am I working on what needs to be done, or am I working on what I want because of what I’ll get?” Be honest with yourself. If you are I have found that things will reframe themselves pretty quickly.
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
People that lean in always impress me. I am talking about those who look for ways to serve others, serve the organization, serve a higher purpose. The type of person that drops everything to go get it done; to do what matters most. They don’t wait to be told or asked but they raise their hand and volunteer. They exhibit and live an ethos of “whatever it takes to get the job done.” They just see what needs to be done and do it. No complaints, no focus on “what does this mean for me, what am I going to get out of this” they just get it done.
This type of person doesn’t know how to quit. This is the athlete that is committed to excellence and doesn’t take plays off. They know the ball isn’t coming their way on the next play but they are committed to performing at the highest level no matter what.
This is what it takes to create success. The determination to grow, persevere no matter what, to find ways to contribute and add value without making it all about yourself. When you do this, regardless of the score, you win…
“Wishing is a form of inspiration for the lazy mind but taking action, persisting and finding alternative routes to your destination against all odds is the definition of a SUCCESSFUL venture.”
A wish is simply a seed that is sown that can grow into a great tree or a beautiful flower. But for the seed to survive and become what is is capable of it must overcome all sorts of challenges and obstacles. In the same manner for a wish to grow it must be nurtured, it won’t happen by accident or through simple desire.
This quote reminds me of the parable of the sower from Matthew 13: 1-23. For our wish to become reality it must fall on good soil and be tended and protected. That is our responsibility and obligation as leaders. To achieve great things we can’t be content with wishing, we must instead ensure that our dreams, and the dreams of those whom we serve, are nurtured, encouraged, and sustained against all odds. If wishes are seeds then we are gardeners charged with ensuring they grow to their full potential.
What seeds are worth taking from dream to reality? What seeds are worth planting and protecting no matter what happens?