We were driving back home from a failed intervention for a friend, when my wife turned to me and said, “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but there are things about your personality, if you didn’t work on them everyday would be a real problem in your life too.” I got what she was saying. When I think about success, often, the very attributes that drive me to succeed, are also the very attributes, if left unchecked could lead me to making mistakes.
This is one of the least talked about aspects of success. The media when focusing on successful people, either do so in their prime of success, or when they fall from grace. Yet at the same time, seem to be blind to the fact, that often, both of these expressions, the rise and fall, are inextricably linked. I know for myself, that the very inner attributes that have helped me succeed in my life, and in my career, are also the very same attributes if left unchecked, could be my downfall. I am using the word ‘attribute’ here intentionally, as a quality regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone. As a quality, it can therefore be used, to put it bluntly for good or bad.
Now I know, good and bad are clearly subjective. Most superstars, who fell from grace, knew the risk if they were caught out, but did so anyway. We look at them and we don’t understand why! Why, if you seemingly have everything would you then throw it away? We say to ourselves, “If I had all of that success, I would never risk throwing it all away as they did.”
I am not so sure about that….
If my theory holds true, and as I noted previously, looking beyond the deed, and rather deeper into the attributes required to both exercise the actions that lead to success, or one’s that create the downfall — both are made of the same qualities. If you are known by reputation that your success was defined by a person who had no problem taking risks, then that very same attribute you used to succeed, can be the very same attribute that leads to your downfall.
The events surrounding these attributes don’t have to be massive career ending ones either. They can be seemingly mundane. I know for myself, that I only ever do my best work, when time is of the essence. This is why, often, I will wait until the last minute to do something. I need that sense of urgency, to galvanise my resolve, and to set my mind and body into action. The problem with this way of approaching things is that, I am complacent in what I perceive as the mundane, especially if urgency is not present. For example, my accountant has to call me up every single month, multiple times, to ask where are my statements, slips, etc. I have told him numerous times, “Telling me to get it to you sometime in the month is a bad idea.” While this may not seem like a big deal, it will become one if I am unable to submit my tax returns on time, because I failed to provide the accountant with all the relevant information. This last minute, last second pressure where I do my best work, also shows up in my career as a martial artist. When faced with opponent in a fight, and I only have seconds to turn the fight around in my favour, I almost always do. But the truth is, I likely could have done it earlier, but until the pressure was at its maximum, I simply didn’t sense any urgency.
Another attribute that has served me well in my career as a martial arts coach has been my black and white thinking. For me, it’s either true or it’s not, it either works or it doesn’t (likely why I enjoy Stoic philosophy so much). I built a global martial art brand around this thinking, dispelling Hollywood myths about how people actually fight and win them. But this kind of thinking has gotten me into trouble more than once in relationships with people. I am often accused of being to straight forward, to quick to judge, and when it comes to my kids, I have to remind myself, that to fully understand them (especially as they are not yet fully developed emotionally etc) I need to step into the grey areas of their life.
But here is the thing I have realised about success seen from this perspective. You need to know what your strengths are, and the attributes that allow you to succeed. At the same time, you need to recognise their flip side of how these attributes show up negatively in your life. As Gary Vaynerchuk is constantly reminding everyone, that being self-aware is the key to succeeding In business (and life). Over the years I have taken the time to be self-aware of my strengths, but equally how these same attributes show up in my mess-ups. One thing I did that really helped, was conduct a mini social science experiment on myself by writing down those attributes that I see within myself that allowed me to succeed. I then asked the closest people to me if they agreed? I then created a second column, and thought about how these same attributes show up negatively in my life. I went back to the same people that cared about me, and asked if they agreed with those?
Being self-aware in this way, then gives you the foresight to prevent the negative use of your key inner attributes before it even arises. Again, no wonder I am a fan of Buddhist Psychology too. As the Buddha was noted as saying, it is not what happens to us on the outside that causes our suffering, but rather how we interpret them on the inside. It is obvious to me, that the way my success and failures manifest are more often than not, fuelled by the same inherent attributes — but as mindfulness has taught me – I can change the direction of how I react to them, and therefore their outcome. While success and failure may be two sides of the same coin — success isn’t a straight line. If you are self aware of this however, you can place sign posts on the road, as reminders on which best route to take.