Why is it that so many people are… well, not very good at anything, not even their line of work?
It’s not a question you’ll often hear asked openly in the professional world. In fact, just look at your LinkedIn feed. As I write this post, during a pandemic, and likely, a global economic crash, my feed is still filled with candy-coated PR about “empowerment” and “bringing value,” from managers, executives, and all the rest.
What you won’t find are many questions about how we’ll face the enormous challenges in front of us. And you probably won’t find much in the way of anyone who knows what’s going on, let alone good at mastering it. The worst part? From what I’ve seen, few of these individuals can even count on anyone in the communities they profess to lead.
Is this what success looks like?
What Happens When You Start Asking Questions?
But every year, literally hundreds of thousands of people do a search for “success in life.” What are they looking for? What answers are they not getting elsewhere?
With so many examples of “achievement” before us, including an exploding self-improvement sphere, you’d think we’d have little issue defining what it takes to have success in life. Or finding resources to guide us on our journey.
But, despite the clamoring of an untold number of LinkedIn “thought-leaders,” we’ve arrived here today.
So, what happens when you do look for answers, as I did? You find trivialities. Just take a look…
- Do what you love and find your passion... as if your feelings were enough to make you good at something.
- Discover your “why,” for yourself or your team… but though Simon Sinek’s books remain popular, there’s little indication that his ideas lead to a greater level of success.
- Cultivate a proactive personality… because, in case you didn’t guess it before, essentially doing nothing doesn’t often lead to success in life.
- Build a positive mindset… as if there’s never been a wildly successful person who was less than sunshine and rainbows.
- Don’t be afraid of change… I’ll assume if you’ve found this article, you understand that going from unsuccessful to successful is about change, at least on some level.
- Never be afraid of failure… as if you shouldn’t try to avoid it at all costs. And although you can learn a lot from failing, it’s not like it can magically make you successful. Success can be just as scary as failure.
- Don’t compare yourself to others… As if we should ignore that only one person wins the gold.
- Believe in yourself… a platitude that doesn’t even need comment.
Success in Life, in One Simple Phrase
Epictetus once said that you should ask yourself whether something is or isn’t under your control. If it’s not, then it’s none of your concern. This method, sometimes touted by the self-help industry, allows you to focus yourself on what’s within your sphere of influence. It also lets you focus your energy on what’s possible for you.
Sounds great. So, what’s the problem?
The real issue is that it’s bullshit as a means of success. Sure, you might be less frustrated by life… but contrary to what many gurus say, your ambitions are going to involve frustration. They’ll also involve things you thought were impossible. Or which you might truly struggle to attain. Creating a successful business in five years might be one. Or growing a non-profit’s revenue during crisis might be another.
And in truth, reality tends to be far simpler, if more brutal.
How do you find success in your life? How do you attain your biggest ambitions? You have to decide what you (or your team) want to bring under your control, even if you aren’t sure you can subdue it.
Said more bluntly: you have to conquer shit until it’s yours and other people recognize your claim. That is success.
Or put in a single, timeless, and well-recognized phrase: Veni, vidi, vici.
Three Steps to Your Victory
That’s what most of humanity has recognized as success, a laying siege to lands you might never overpower. But which you desire to make yours. And the ability to make people remember it.
Not an idea that’s likely to be very popular in our ever-watered-down culture, certainly not on LinkedIn. It’s not always pretty, and it sure the hell doesn’t always make sense. And there aren’t exactly rules all the time.
So, how do we get it done? How can this timeless phrase help us attain our ambitions?
Success is difficult to teach, in contrast to simply seizing it outright. This is also why one of the best ways to motivate someone to succeed isn’t to let them experience failure… but to support them in getting a taste, however small, of decisive victory.
What’s necessary in that victory? Let’s return to our phrase.
Veni, vidi, vici.
- First, you arrive at your destination.
Ceasar didn’t simply conquer; he had to arrive at where he was going. These places where not under his control. But he needed them to be. Of course, you cannot hide yourself away in fear if you intend to successfully progress or be good at anything
- Observing the landscape before you.
No amount of platitudes can be a substitute to knowing yourself and your enemy, then owning the day through your chosen strategies and tactics.
- Decisively crushing your opposition.
Success, when it is success, is undeniable. For Ceasar, it was also unquestionably fast. You don’t look around and wonder; it leaves little room for debate. In fact, his success was so indisputable that the stoic Cato, in a rather telling act regarding stoicism, committed suicide by tearing himself apart. Why? All to avoid having to live in Ceasar’s world, a world he had conquered as his own.
In everyday English, it’s fairly straightforward: being good at something, succeeding at it, is equal parts mindset, method, and measuring the results. You’re brave enough to show up, smart enough to realistically decide what needs to be done, and then you exercise your power to affect change by overcoming whatever is in your way. Then you etch your name in stone for all to see.
That is success, and it resonates through the ages.