Success Doesn’t Require Role Models

The more you look to others, the less likely you are to find out what you are capable of.

There’s this joke I’ve heard from the startup scene in China. If you hang around the cafes in Zhongguancun ( the startup hub of Beijing ) often enough, you’ll inevitably hear a founder at the next table quoting Jack Ma, trying to impress a would-be investor or partner with his hunger for success.

Many people forget that Jack Ma didn’t grow up wanting to be an entrepreneur. In reality, he was rejected from many jobs and also struggled to do well as an English teacher before deciding to go into business. Even then, he revealed at a speech in China that he only led his founding team out of their previous company to start Alibaba on their own because he disagreed with his boss. If you read his life story, you would realize he faced so much doubt and rejections throughout his life that his motivation for success was probably to prove everybody wrong.

Ma applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected by all. “I went for a job with the police; they said, ‘you’re no good’”, Ma told interviewer Charlie Rose. “I even went to KFC when it came to my city. Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy …”.

Charlie Rose Talks to Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Bloomberg

Over in the West, many Silicon Valley founders worship Steve Jobs as a role model. But if you watch the movie “The Pirates of Silicon Valley”, as well as read books on the early days of Apple, you would know he was a temperamental tyrant who threw fits and verbally abused the very team who helped him create the company when they couldn’t meet his perfectionist visions. This was also a man who denied fathering a child for many years and even after a court ordered DNA test proved it, was pretty much an absent (and highly traumatizing) father.

So where am I going with this? Icon bashing?

No, I’m simply trying to say this: in our habit of glorifying success and seeking out role models, we often forget the total picture of that person and the entirety of his personal history. Instead, we blindly aspire to be him.

Furthermore, success in life is relative to what your own motivations and talents are. To base your own goals on what others have achieved for themselves is foolish unless you are highly similar to them in character, skills and circumstances.

The basis and motivations for success need to come from within. Otherwise it will not last, especially in the face of obstacles and adversities.

Finding your own passion

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Some of us grew up knowing what we love. Others took a while to discover it.

If there was one thing you have done since you were a kid, something you would do even if you weren’t paid for it, that would be your passion. But whether it can be turned into a job requires experimentation.

Some interests are merely hobbies. Hobbies distract you from an otherwise mundane or routine life and keeps you amused. However, if a hobby turns into a job most people will start to tire of it soon enough.

Passions are different. An activity you’re passionate about is something you want to do regardless of whether it pays you. The desire to become good at it, the immense satisfaction you feel when you’ve done it well, the motivation and discipline to keep at it no matter what difficulties or situations you’ve encounter in life; when you’ve experience that, you have found your passion!

If you have no natural passions, there is an alternate way to create passion for what you do. It rests on the psyche of the human ego.

Our ego makes us want to talk about our accomplishments and feel proud of what we can do well. If we get recognized for our achievements by our peers and others around us we’ll naturally form a passion for what we do — fueled by praise and rewards that feeds our psychological need for admiration and adoration.

Role models like Steve Jobs and Jack Ma can inspire you but it won’t help you find your passion. I wrote about a career pilot I met once who was having a mid-life crisis and wanted to start his own business. He kept quoting Steve Jobs passionately; but had no idea what business he wanted to be in. When I asked him what his passions were, it drew a blank face… twice.

The need to succeed must come from within yourself. If you require inspiration from someone who is effectively, a stranger, then you are attempting to live someone else’s life, not your own.

Finding your own motivation

In my life I’ve came across quite a few individuals who have built great businesses out of the ‘motivation business’. People who are motivational speakers or those who organize such events. (Think Tony Robbins style ‘walk on fire’ seminars where participants pay a few thousand dollars to get a long and theatrical pep talk).

Photo by Jeroen den Otter on Unsplash

Interestingly they’ve told me that many of their customers are ‘repeat customers’ — folks who come year after year to be fired up for ‘success’. They are addicted to the need for a ‘rah rah’ motivation session in a huge hall with a few thousand other people cheering and shouting at a success guru on stage. It’s how they keep themselves going in the quest for success.

More often than not, the only success that comes out of such people are those of the gurus and motivational speakers they are loyal to. If your drive for success is externally motivated, then you are like a car that cannot move without regular gas top-ups — and being driven by someone else.

Live your own success

Look within yourself. What are you really good at? What do you love doing? That’s your guidance for success.

We all need role models to inspire us to become better people. Heroes who have sacrificed themselves for the greater good of mankind. Compassionate souls who dedicated their lives to helping those in need. Voices that spoke out against tyranny or oppression. All those human beings that put others before themselves should be celebrated, and adored.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Success is more often than not, a personal endeavor. It is for personal satisfaction, and mostly, personal gain. So to succeed, look within yourself for the reason, and the means to do so, not someone else’s. It’s your life, and not everyone can be the US President or the next Einstein.

Success is a relative concept. If you measure your own against someone else’s, than you are living your life against somebody else’s standards, not your own.

Don’t follow role models. Be a role model!

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash