This piece was originally published in Performer Magazine on October 20, 2020
A few months ago my life’s work was finally realized. One random weekday afternoon just driving down the highway. Out of nowhere I realized… holy shit, I’m successful. Just like that. A life-changing realization as boring and meaningless as it sounds.
After more than 10 years of hard work, focus, and uncertainty. There was no big check. No contract or deal. No eureka moment I’d always envisioned. Still, the same feeling of relief was there.
To be clear... I haven’t made millions, and I’m still driving the same car I’ve had for ten years now. That said, I’m living a dream that I’ve had for most of my life. I’ve built a company that started out as a crazy idea in my head. I’m making a living doing what I love, while surrounded by a team of incredible people. And most importantly, I’m happy. How the hell did this happen?
While I don’t have much interest in writing about my own success - I do want to share a few important things I’ve learned that have been essential for my journey.
Reframing what “success” actually means
First - I think it’s important to start by literally defining the word success. Because at this point most of us are more than aware of the paradox American culture has created. We associate the word success mostly with two things: money and power. But we don’t take the time to remember what success actually means.
Success: “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” is an idea. One that is unique to every one of us. And one that in most cases has absolutely nothing to do with money.
Of course, no one struggling to pay their bills would consider themselves successful. But at the same time, not many people would say their ultimate goal in life is to have millions of dollars. So then why do we consistently associate our own success with wealth?
Hard Work + Consistency + Gratefulness = Success
In my own pursuit of success, I’ve developed an obsession with learning about other people’s successes. To me, success stories are almost always centered around two ideas: Hard Work (actually putting in the hours) and Consistency (never giving up). If you look hard enough though there’s always a third arguably a more important component of success. One that’s a constant in the stories of successful people yet is rarely highlighted: Gratefulness.
Everyone, literally everyone, I’ve ever admired and considered successful has built their career on the same foundation. Before they had any power, money, or fame. Even through the darkest of times. These people maintained an unusually positive outlook as they persevered through unbelievably difficult situations.
Unlike with hard work and consistency, gratefulness is extremely hard to fake by going through the motions. But just like the other two, gratefulness is a choice. It’s a skill that is developed through habit.
Gratefulness manifests itself in so many different ways: It creates a generally positive attitude, a willingness to help, a genuine respect for opportunities, and an appreciation for the work of others. It’s what enables years and sometimes decades of thankless and tireless work. It’s what attracts people to your vision and just makes them want to be around you. But above all else, being grateful is the key to maintaining a healthy vision for success.
Learning how to practice gratefulness
While I’ve never been gifted a trust fund or been shown the back door entrance for much of anything. I am extremely lucky. I was raised by a family that always prioritized my education, and I was given a belief and confidence early on that I could do anything I wanted to do with my life.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there are billions of people alive right now that would give anything to: a) know from experience what truly makes them happy and b) actually be in a position to spend their life doing it. Which makes me very, very lucky.
If you’re someone who is also lucky enough to be pursuing their passion as a career, be grateful. Don’t get sucked into a naive belief that you’re also entitled to being rich. Always remember, when you love what you do, and you wholeheartedly appreciate the opportunity to do it, you’ve already figured out the intangible parts of success. All you have to do from there is put in the work, and keep showing up.
Last thing, it’s important to always remember perfection isn’t the goal. No one should aspire to work 14 hours a day. Or to show up to the office 7 days a week. Nor should anyone aspire to be constantly stuck in a world of unicorns and rainbows. Challenge yourself, but know what’s healthy, and know your limits.