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I have noticed something interesting when listening to and reading the stories of “successful” people (by conventional definition:  money, power, status), what they say about themselves and the advice they give to others.

There are some things that are stated outright, and some that are only hinted at.

The advice given is usually something like this:  discipline, perseverance, hard work, commitment, never give up, wake up at 4 in the morning and run marathons, etc.

And yet if you listen to the anecdotes from their lives that they tell, there is one obvious factor that is mentioned in passing but RARELY, at least from what I’ve heard, specifically drawn attention to.

These gurus and tycoons do not start their advice with “You will never succeed in the world of business if your emotional needs are not met at home and in your community.  Never give up on finding a group of people who support each other’s success.  Stop at nothing to find a loving caring family, whether it is your family of origin or not.”

Yet, when they tell stories about their lives these people are right there in the background.

Yes, they do talk about finding mentors.  And yes, the concept of the mastermind is out there, and they do say “if you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people” but there’s something about the way this is presented that strikes me as…detached.  A signed contract to use each other, rather than actually caring.

People who have succeeded (again, by conventional definition) can take credit for reading external conditions accurately, anticipating trends, leadership, and innovation.  And yes, plenty of hard work.  However, no person or event is disconnected from, or unrelated to, the environment in which it occurs.

Government regulations allowed them to do what they did, their business partners supported them, their spouse and family supported them, their employees did the work that supported them becoming successful….

When a person (or a company) succeeds, people want to look at it, figure out why and how it happened, so they can reproduce those outcomes for themselves. 

There is nothing wrong with analyzing an event, breaking it down into its parts in order to have someplace to start.  However, you can’t recreate yourself as that person or company, nor can you recreate the people who were around them who participated in the opportunities they had.  Nor can you recreate their exact environment.   

We (humans) have this compulsion to understand our world, but as science gets more and more advanced and we learn more and more, it appears we start running face into the parts that can’t be explained, or duplicated.  In this reductive “science of success”, is there something about the whole that is lost?  

We can analyze “successful” people, and see what they have in common, but are the common variables necessarily the relevant variables?

And hey….why do we idolize multimillionaires anyway? 

If you are one of these people (you are one of these people if you read books that have at least two of the words “millionaire”, “wealth”, “rich”, “grow”, “think”, “mind”, or “secret” in the title), I think you have to ask yourself, do you really want to be like them?  What is it that makes you not want to be yourself? 

Do you not trust yourself enough to know what to do, and others are only too happy to try to supply the answers for you (at a price)?

Who says that in order to succeed, you have to do it exactly the way they do?

When talking to the people that come to my Meetups, I hear things like this. 

“I like to read self-help books, but I have trouble turning dreaming into doing.”
“I know I need to change jobs (or career field), but I don’t know what I want instead, so it’s easy to procrastinate.”

If you listen to the “traditional success literature” (you know who I’m talking about), the answer would be to put your nose to the grindstone to develop the “universal characteristics of successful people” (discipline, motivation, commitment, “positive attitude”, perseverance, etc. etc. etc….)  

My view is the reverse.  These beneficial traits and behaviours are a consequence of something else.  And that “something else” is community.  Not just any community, but the right kind.  Supportive, dynamic, trusting and real. 

You already have everything you need in you (and more).  You’re not broken, you don’t need to be fixed, and you don’t need to work on wrenching your personal characteristics by force of will over to something they are currently not.   You just need the right environment to let what is already in you, flourish.   

Community may be able to transform your career and life if:

–          You change jobs, but then notice it’s “different job, same pattern”.  For example, the same interpersonal struggle with your boss.  Maybe you notice that you get bored easily, and here you are, bored again. 

–          You have a lot of great ideas but they don’t make it off the journal paper into the world.

–          You do start making changes, but your energy fizzles out, or you reach the point of a challenge you don’t know how to solve and abandon the project.  Then you start again, and stop again.  It never quite gets past the critical threshold. 

–          You acquire numerous opportunities that you could follow up on (job leads, affiliates, mentors, “you-should-talk-to-this-person”s, resources) through networking events, friends and/or family….but you don’t follow up on them.

Maybe one of the following things is true about you….

  • You don’t feel passion, purpose, energy or alignment with your values at work, but you keep your job because you need to pay the bills. 
  • You don’t like your job, but you don’t know what else you’d do instead, and not knowing makes it easy to procrastinate.
  • You are ready to make a change, but go through many brief starts-and-stops because you don’t receive enough support from people around you who are committed to the status quo.

Whatever the reason, you know life could be more fulfilling, but dreaming doesn’t turn into doing.  Or, you know exactly what you want to do, and you are on the edge of something beautiful and terrifying.

So why haven’t you gone for it?  Is it because you lack some superhero personal qualities that only successful people have?

The truth could be that you are missing two very simple and easy, but often overlooked, factors in life success.

  • Self-awareness:  you grew up surrounded by ducks, and were taught to act like a duck in order to succeed, even though you are really a swan (or maybe an ostrich).  Unlike the fairy tale, we humans can go much longer even fooling ourselves about who we are, and then wondering why we lack vitality and passion.  Until now.
  • Community support :  the myth of the self-made man is everywhere in North American culture.  It isn’t true.  All “successful” people have a support team.  If your tribe doesn’t exist yet, create it yourself.  Or join mine.

We live in the Information Age.  Every process, from sales to sex, has been broken down into its constituent parts so that, in theory, anybody can pick them up and follow the same series of steps and get the same results as the proprietor.

Sounds empowering, right?  It is, in the sense that it demystifies success (and knowledge).  Now anyone can have success, not just a chosen few.

But what if the steps happen not to work for you? 

Either start asking questions, and feel alienated if the guru gets defensive. Or, in my opinion more damaging to self and others in the long run, pretend it worked for you (and bully or lecture anyone who questions you).

There are a couple of things at work here.

The steps that work for the expert may not necessarily work for you because you are a different person.  More importantly, following someone else’s steps doesn’t necessarily help you discover your own resources, your own unique strengths. 

Followers of “7-easy-steps-to-success” also never get to experience the temporary breakdown, the state of chaos and uncertainty that I believe is necessary for creativity. 

If you approach your chosen guru or trusted expert expressing uncertainty, uncomfortable emotions, and chaos….does he or she blame it on your failure to get with the program, and try to whip you into shape to get back on track…

Or does he or she congratulate you?

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