How to do yourself (and the world) a world of good
For most of us success and peace remain work in progress. But we’re not done yet
I don’t like lists. I saw the cover of the 4th Annual Africa Forbes magazine’s Under 30 publication which had the rather bold title “90 Young entrepreneurs across three sectors with the fire and fury to Change the World”.
I wondered about two things: What is success, and are there obvious characteristics, either observed or necessary, in those people who achieve their goals?
Over years and years, I’ve changed my measures of success, more than once. At first they seemed obvious, measurable and comparable – but there’s more to success than that. It’s at once simpler, and more complex. It’s not as much about money as it is about the absence of money. It’s not so much about winning as it is about not losing. It’s actually about playing in a fair game – there’s no victory shallower than an undeserved or, worse still, cheated one.Success is not only defined by the outcome you seek, but the consequence of it. “Changing the World” presupposes not only a definition of what is wrong, but a demonstrably better alternative that is right, popular and sustainable. Public success is much easier to achieve than private success, to the point that some individuals have success foist upon them. If the fans like your first song enough to make it a hit, does than define or oblige you or can it fulfill you?
I define success as the achievement of a defined objective, on purpose. By exclusion then, not just a mistake or unintended consequence of a different plan.
What does it take? I’ll try to get to a list of 10.
1. Know yourself – who you are, really, at your darkest and lightest moments.
2. Like yourself – no matter the popular prescriptions or criticisms of the others. Everyone who isn’t you is an “other”.
3. Embrace risk – by definition, doing what is tried and tested will not change the world, or even set apart the achievement of your plan.4. Recognise and accept failure – both are different skills and states of mind, but the first is less valuable than the two taken together. Failure is the stuff of foundations or vacuums: your choice.
5. Be generous – both in the recognition of the mix of people and things that had to come together to culminate in success, and in the sharing of the rewards it may offer, not just the money.
6. Don’t be mean – mean is not just the opposite of generous. Mean is the worst of all human traits, finding solace most often within malice, repaid always by karma.
7. Celebrate the differences between people – more than one of you is one too many. More ideas, more questions, both lead to more refined outcomes – the product of intelligent discourse. Original thought has a single source, but turning a concept into a commercial, sustainable success takes so much more than just the initial spark.
8. Listen more than you talk – you can still be the boss, you can still own the idea, you can still be the main beneficiary, but the breadth of the success of a new concept, a disruptor, or just a better way of doing things, is directly proportional to how much listening was done in its design.9. Work hard – it’s a competitive world out there, even if you think you’re the clever one. You’re not the only one, by the way, and effort can outrun inspiration, in time. Success is not a one-day game.
10. Enjoy it – this trait is a close cousin to the work hard rule. If you’re not enjoying it, someone otherwise as good as you are who is enjoying it will beat you, every time. Their pleasure will outlast your burden. You can’t compete with someone who’s having fun.
There are other lists and definitions, equally valid as those I’ve penned here. Success is not always sought, it sometimes arrives by surprise. Its arrival should be treated as a birth, not a destination.
It’s as difficult to deal with success as it is to chase after it. Lotto winners seldom die rich and young superstars can’t always cope with the trappings of success. But some do.
When I reflect on the many people I know who have succeeded, by some measure they have many of the characteristics on the list. I have also found them to be at peace.
For most of us that list is incomplete. The success and peace remain work in progress. But we’re not done yet.
Mark Barnes is CEO of the Post Office