Why So Many Fail to Achieve Their Dreams
by Roger Reid
“I was at the right place at the right time!”
“I was fortunate to have the right people working for me.”
How many times have you heard a business owner or entrepreneur offer a self-deprecating quip that minimizes his hard-eared and well-deserved success?
It’s an overt show of modesty, and it’s about as far from the truth as you can get.
So what does it take—exactly? What are the necessary ingredients to insure your business start-up has the best chance of becoming a financial success?
I asked this question during a meeting of a “Second-Half of Life” group I joined a few years ago. The participants included a corporate 100 vice president, two physicians in private practice, three senior-level managers, a retired military officer turned business consultant, and several entrepreneurs and business owners with seven figure annual revenues—all successful people who agreed to share their ideas and experiences, and most important, their passion for success.
What came from that discussion is what I call the Three Metrics of Success—the most common traits of those who have come out on top. They’re not difficult to learn and are simple to implement. But take any one of them away and your chances of success drop in half.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Strategy. I’m amazed by the number of people who tell me they have no plan or blueprint to guide them in their new venture. Worse, some have given little or no thought to how they are going to support themselves in their transition to entrepreneur. And yet, they’ve already shared their intention to leave their current job with their boss. Leaving it up to chance or trying to “wing it” is a formula for financial disaster. Contrary to what a lot of life coaches tend to suggest, this does not have to be a detailed set of instructions that moves you from point to point until you cross the finish line, but a set of benchmarks that represents progress in the right direction. Relying exclusively on a rigid plan or a checklist of task-oriented functions (i.e., create a business plan, seek financing, research traffic counts, etc.) narrows your mindset, making you more likely to ignore or overlook spontaneous opportunities and short cuts. If you don’t know where to start, study the example of others who’ve done what you want to do (usually the best source), or ask for suggestions from those who work in the industry. Strategy is an on-going process, and just like any plan of transition, needs to be periodically updated to be effective.
Daily action. This means doing something that moves you closer to your goal—every day. It might be an hour of research, or writing an email to someone who can help with a referral or introduction, or learning a new piece of the puzzle that will allow you to take the next step. Success comes from doing, obtaining feedback, making corrections, and doing it again. Don’t fall into the trap of spending several years designing a product or service only to find out the market has changed or the competition has made your product obsolete. Spend as much time as possible in front of potential customers. Ask for their thoughts and feedback. You may find a strategic business partner or alliance that was just waiting to happen.
Persistence. Your competition wants the very same things you do. The ones who achieve success are tenacious and determined—no matter the challenge or obstacle. Every participant in the group made it clear they had been successful in spite of their failures, refusing to give up even when logic and reason told them to quit. Continuing to push forward in the face of adversity can be uncomfortable, stressful, and scary. But so can working at a job you hate.
With repeated use, these three “tools” become a mindset—a combination of planning, action, and attitude. And as a group with plenty of years to look back on, we unanimously agreed that each one had been a critical factor in achieving our personal and professional goals.
We could have left it right there. Put away our notes and gone home. But there was something else that had come up several times in our discussion—an implied essential that was often expressed in an offhand comment or in the example of someone who’d gone the distance in spite of the odds. At first, we’d not bothered to define it, assuming this prerequisite would naturally exist in anyone who strikes out on their own to pursue financial independence.
We were wrong.
In fact, the more we discussed it, the more we realized this underlying influence was a critical component to bringing any worthwhile dream into reality. One of the entrepreneurs in the group described it this way:
“Many of my hiring decisions has less to do with how qualified the applicant is, and more about how badly the person wants the job. Not only do they need to convince me that they really want it, they have to know why they want it. Otherwise, there’s a real chance they don’t understand the realities of the day to day work, and in three or four months, they’ll leave the company.”
The realities of the day-to-day work.
He was right. While we’d presumed that a burning personal desire to do the work was already there, he reminded us that’s not always the case.
Even worse, the desire to succeed often originates from false or fantasized expectations, distilled from media stories about quick success, or the promise of a potential fortune available to anyone who can put up a website.
It prompted our group to add a fourth metric to the list, one that is every bit as important as the other three. In fact, without it, the other three are virtually ineffective.
It comes in the form of a question:
“Do you really want it—in its most tangible, real-life form—or are you fantasizing over the idea of having it?
Many of us are in love with ideas. Spurred by media-promoted celebrities and reality-based TV shows about the latest entrepreneurial trends, we’re often motivated by the free-wheeling, conspicuous consumption of those who supposedly struck it rich with just a few years of work. We imagine what it would be like to enjoy the same perks—money, accolades from our peers, and the recognition for our accomplishments.
It’s a grandiose fantasy, and unfortunately, it’s the reason so many people pursue a career, a project, or even a relationship – merely for the ego stroking they hope to receive.
So if there’s even the slightest chance your ambition is driven by a need to impress or influence others, or gain the respect and recognition of your peers, read the next paragraph very carefully….
Others could give a rat’s ass about your success. Remember, the more success you achieve, the more your fair-weather friends will distance themselves from you. They will not want to be reminded of their own frustrating, mediocre life. Make sure you really want the experience of what you’re going after, and not because of how it will impress or affect others around you.
Before striking out on some new venture, use the following questions to help you confirm your desire is based on personal goals and objectives and not on ego-driven fantasies.
- Ask yourself why you want it. Make sure you’re intentions are driven by a love of the work, participating in the daily grind, and feeling good about yourself and the way you will be spending your time.
- Take inventory of your talent, ability, and resources. Don’t over-estimate your proficiency in sales, negotiating, or other critical business skill. It’s a common miscalculation to dismiss the importance of an ultra-competitive level of expertise by telling yourself you may never need it. Newsflash: You WILL need it. Be prepared to hire professionals or use contract services to round out your team.
- Commit to the work. Good intentions won’t pay the bills. You may fully intend to change your life or start a new business, but all those good intentions won’t matter one iota if you don’t have the stamina and actions to get the work done.
Bottom line, go get it, or let it go. The middle ground is a special kind of hell reserved for well-intentioned failures who punish themselves with the lingering memory of regret. The good news is that you always have a choice. You can change it or accept it. But dwelling on it—trying to imagine what might have been, or if such-and-such hadn’t happened—is a devastating waste of time. Don’t be foolish with your most valuable asset: Your time.