Do you know what it takes to be successful? (I will focus on material and financial success in this post, and I should say that it is possibly the least important type of success, but it is nevertheless the one that most people seem to focus on.)
There are three common theories about what it takes to be successful:
1. THE OBVIOUS: Talent (including abilities and skills)
2. THE SECRET: A secret recipe (may include ingredients like passion etc.)
3. THE UNEXPLAINED: Luck (synchronicity)
Which one do you subscribe too?
Consider talent shows (Australian Idol, Australia’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars etc.) and jokers aside, there is an endless amount of talent lined up, each one better than the last. Yet, only a handful ‘make it’ to the top. Ironically, the winner of a talent show is not necessarily the one that goes on to make the most of the opportunity. And the one with the most talent often labours in obscurity whilst lesser talented people enjoy success. (Think Britney vs. Susan Boyle.) So it can’t be raw talent.
Secondly, if there was some kind of recipe, then the people who had already tasted success and knew the recipe should be able to repeat it, right? Well, what does Bill Gates have in common with Billy Ray Cirus? Bill co-founded Microsoft and Billy-Ray sang Achy Breaky Heart, and you guessed it, they are both on-hit wonders.
Think of all the famous singers you know, and then think of how many singers were also successful at anything else? There aren’t too many who have made a successful transition from one area to another, right? (Tara Moss can’t write and Russell Crowe can’t sing – trust me.)
This phenomenon is not restricted to the performing arts. Think of successful business people, from Steve Jobs through to John Fletcher. How many of them have been successful at running two different companies? How many CEOs have been successful at more than one company, compared to the total number of CEOs?
With many more one-hit wonders than we care to admit, and the lack of repeated success, it is clear that there is no (secret) recipe either, or many would be able to repeat it. Which brings us to the last explanation for success.
If talent is no guarantee, and if knowledge of the ‘recipe’ is no guarantee, the obvious conclusion is that success is a more about luck than we care to admit. • It is not in the interest of the book writers, the gurus and the coaches to admit it.
• And those who are successful will be loathe to admit how big a part luck has played (plays) in their own achievements.
• And if you ascribe some of your successes or failure to fortune and/or misfortune, you are tagged as a loser.
This means that being logical and realistic about the role of luck in our lives does not gain the currency it deserves in the public consciousness.
But acknowledging luck does not translate to a defeatist attitude.
The point is made well (by many people in many places, including the Bible) that it is really not about the actual achievement of any desired outcome, but it is the journey that counts. Being realistic about the role of luck does not mean you should resign yourself to ‘fate’, it just means that you accept the final outcome (success or failure) readily and with dignity. We know that. But we don’t live our lives accordingly.
You see, the people who peddle recipes or their ability to shape your talent have much to lose. And those who believe the peddlers like the idea that they have something to blame when things don’t work out. (‘I don’t have the talent’ or ‘I did not try hard enough’ are easier to accept, rather than a more philosophical c’est la vie.)
And, equally, much of the satisfaction (and gloating) that comes from your success is based on the principle that it was somehow YOU that had something or did something special. Acknowledging luck does not make you weak; it makes you strong enough to accept a result and to pursue the next goal.
And acknowledging luck will hopefully make one more gracious about your successes and achievements. By recognising and accepting that good fortune is just that – fortuitous – we can share more readily and act more wisely.
Because we know what is today is not necessarily what is tomorrow.