Podcast #6: The Myth of Success

Podcast #6: The Myth of Success

“Your job as a leader is to tap into the power of [a] higher purpose—and you can’t do it by retreating to the analytical. If you want to lead, have the courage to do it from the heart.”
- Gail McGovern, CEO, American Red Cross

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Employees are people. Customers are people. Same for entrepreneurs, business leaders. Conclusion? Companies are created by people and run by people, to service the needs and wants of people. Despite this fairly obvious observation, we tend to manage business and personal matters differently.

For instance, you might have deep empathy for your child or family at home but not have empathy for your employees at work. Or, you know from your personal life that you’re at your best when feeling passionate about a project, but you regularly take on business opportunities you or your company aren’t passionate about, purely for financial gain.

And individuals often are deeply spiritual or creative in their free time but don’t apply those same values or skills in the workplace. It’s only rational to think that what brings you success and fulfillment in your personal life will also bring you success and fulfillment at work. Therefore, all the ideals I espouse are applicable to both your business and personal lives, because both are made up of people.

The more I research the emotional elements, the more I realize the divided approach—life on one side, business on the other—is not only ridiculous but harmful to the bottom line. Most individuals run their lives focused solely on meeting their financial needs, and most organizations make decisions based solely on their P&Ls. Traditionally, little or no value is placed on understanding the emotional elements. But in the modern market, it’s creativity—a purely emotional element—that has the ability to change the value of a business simply by altering its perception or usage.

But this truth isn’t limited to business—the same concept applies to individuals. Once we’ve met our basic needs—safety, security, sustenance, and shelter—those same emotional elements, not material wealth, determine our level of fulfillment, or, as some may refer to it, our personal success. These parallel truths—that amazing achievement and lasting fulfillment for both individuals and organizations come from understanding and harnessing those emotional elements—are critical to flourishing in our new age, the Age of Ideas.

For example, the creation or ongoing success of a product is entirely dependent on its ability to influence people’s actions, primarily by getting them to make a purchase or use a product. Just think of the Internet, which is designed to get you to take a specific action, such as consuming content, making a purchase, or filling out a lead form. Not a single webpage exists without this intention. And the influencing of people’s actions is based on impacting them emotionally. We’re all emotional beings. To manage, sell to, parent, support, or lead people, we must understand and value the emotional as much as if not more than the practical. Only when you accept and embrace this fact will you be able to fully unlock your potential.

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The Myth of Success

A few years ago my therapist asked me, “What do you want out of life?”

I said the first thing that came to my mind: “I want to be successful.”

He looked at me, puzzled, and replied, “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean,” I said. “I want to be successful. I want to be wealthy, powerful, and recognized.” In other words, I framed a conventional vision of success, the one drummed into us by popular culture and other social dimensions.

My therapist chuckled at my naïveté for a moment and then asked, “Alan, why do you believe that wealth, power, and recognition are the definition of success?” He then went on to explain to me that success is defined as “accomplishing an aim or purpose,” but the definition of that aim or purpose is up to the individual.

My mind was officially blown.

Up until that day, I had never really thought about why I defined success that way—instead, I’d been obsessed with how I would attain those things. That focus on the how instead of the why had really tripped me up. It had led me to make some very bad decisions and to experience some very unhappy times. When you follow the influence of mainstream culture—television, movies, magazines, and more—to elevate the goals of wealth, power, and recognition above all else, it becomes logical to take selfish or negative actions in order to attain them. After all, that kind of approach—playing the game, playing for keeps, as they say—is put forth as the way to achieve success and happiness. Machiavelli’s writings are often referenced to support this point of view—statements like “the ends justify the means”—but it should be noted that Machiavelli died alone and in exile.

It’s only when you free yourself from external definitions of success that you’re able to comprehend the folly of this type of pursuit. Ask yourself: What’s the point of attaining a goal if it isn’t going to satisfy your internal needs? All you’re going to end up with is some form of a trophy (money, a big house, a nice watch, some press clippings) alongside a big bowl of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. You can only define yourself as a success if the result of your actions is the satisfaction of your internal desires, not that of some superficial, outside force.

It isn’t relevant if society deems you a success—it’s whether you believe you’re achieving success that matters. For some this may mean fame and fortune, but for others it may just mean putting food on the table every night for their family and having a loving relationship with their spouse. The determining factor is how you feel and what you desire on the inside. The first and most powerful step is realizing you have the power to determine what success looks like for you. Only then can you free yourself from the myth and begin the journey of living your truth.

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