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To Achieve Success, First Abandon Popular Delusions

When you feel pressure to pursue the elusive outcomes of traditional success, it’s often driven by the burden of making a living, pleasing others, or achieving status. Ironically, it appears that success often will fade, vanish, or become the dungeon of your soul unless it is not your primary objective. Builders like Penhoet tell us that when success just means wealth, fame, and power, it doesn’t last and it isn’t satisfying. If he had let a culturally promoted definition of success be his guide, he doesn’t think he would have ever achieved the success that matters to him.

Instead, people who seek to build long-term success by their own definition—Builders—insist that success may never come without a compelling personal commitment to something you care about and would be willing to do with or without counting on wealth, fame, power, or public acceptance as an outcome.

In reality, most Builders are hailed as leaders in their field usually long after they commit to their calling or to a particular way of living in the world that holds special meaning to them. The mainstream media stories about successful people—along with wishful thinking about instant gratification or a magic pill for success—may make it seem as if they were overnight successes, but it rarely happens that way.

Builders mostly toil with every ounce of their energy and persistence, with heart and soul, for their whole lives. They become lovers of an idea they are passionate about—for years and years—creating something that continually seduces them into obsessing over every detail, losing track of the passage of time. In a real sense, it’s something that they’d be willing to do for free, for its own sake. Quincy Jones wouldn’t give up music if it wasn’t popular, nor would Mandela rest until apartheid was crushed. It’s hard to retire from an obsession. Jack Welch is no more likely to stop teaching his brand of business than Maya Angelou is likely to stop writing poetry or teaching. They do it because it matters to them.

After being at it for years, and with the coincidence of whatever “it” is becoming popular, success came for some of them as defined in the dictionary. They may now have success as hailed by the culture, but this is a serendipitous outcome rather than an original goal.

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