Risk versus reward

If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.

Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker
(September 17, 1930 – December 5, 2009)

Hard work

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

-Thomas A. Edison, US inventor
(1847 – 1931)

“Know thyself” – what is your definition of success?

The phrase “know thyself” is one of the oldest bits of wisdom of all civilization. According to the Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias the precept “Nosce te ipsum” (Know thyself) was carved into the court of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the phrasing has echoed throughout the ages.

But what does it mean to really “know thyself” and what does it mean for achieving success? I’m writing this basic note to discuss a question I am commonly asked: “Am I a success?” My answer (“Well, what do you define as success?”) seems so pedantic on the surface. Dull and plodding. But the truth is success is defined by only by the individual, and only knowledge of your own definition of “success” will ever reveal whether you have succeeded.

This isn’t to say that society can’t or doesn’t provide a measure of success…but society can only measure what you have defined. My definition of a “successful tennis match” with my son doesn’t include winning the game, (or even keeping track of the score!), anywhere near as much as it includes conversation and camaraderie, an elevated heart rate and enough water to drink, and not losing all the balls we brought along. It wouldn’t make sense to ask anyone else who’s watching, “Hey, are we having a successful tennis match?” Their criteria for success are not my criteria for success. However, depending on my success criteria, it might be very helpful to ask them, “Was that ball in or out?” or “How many calories have I burned?”

Know thyself.

Side notes:
There is an informative “know thyself”-themed website here: http://thyselfknow.com/ (yes, the word order is correct for this website!)

Moving at the speed of change

The below graphic describes two key variables (focus of influence and speed of feedback) important to identifying which techniques are most useful to achieve success.

Focus of Influence
You can improve what you can change. If you are shooting free throws in basketball, you can change your stance, your strength, your movements, but you cannot change the ball size, the height of the basket, or the distance you must stand from the rim. In other words, all improvements in your free-throw percentage result from purely internal changes. Conversely, car salesmen market to the public, have no control over the quality of their product and can improve sales only by improving the quality of their interactions with potential clients.

Rate of feedback
Your ability to change is also dependent on the rate of receiving feedback on the success of your current methods. The quicker you receive feedback, the quicker you can modify your methods. Your golfing instructor stands watching and quickly suggests changes to your grip, your swing, that you can then immediately try to implement. Conversely, it may take weeks to shows results from a reputable weight loss program, and take from months to years to get useful feedback about book sales or career choices.

Coming up next, an overview of the recomended success techniques for these four main categories of situations.

Five steps to success

  1. Have a goal. But…you will fail.
    The path over the mountain will have an obstacle, a door, a landslide. A lion. Something. Expect it and be prepared to overcome it. Don’t be surprised and just stop.
  2. Overcoming the failure might be easy…
    Often times the failure is easily surmountable – a thin shell, a paper screen, and a little pushing will easily get you through. Sometimes the blockade is a little thicker – a wooden door, or even a steel gate. Pound your way through.
  3. …or might be challenging.
    Eventually an obstacle along your path to success can’t be pounded through. It’s solid rock, or a deadly dragon. Nothing to do, right? Nope, go back a bit and try another path – make another path. Eventually, you will make it over the mountain.
  4. Don’t give up just because the going is hard.
    At some point the path will become so challenging, so difficult, that you will consider another destination, another goal. Only do this if you truly have changed your destination – don’t stop your current pursuit if you still want that goal. However, it might well be that on the way to achieve your goal you learned enough about your goal that you realize it’s not what you wanted. Be prepared to switch.
  5. Enjoy yourself along the way.
    Finally, the most important point, remember that one’s true satisfaction comes from the pursuit, not the capture,…the game, not the goal.