Success and Its Secrets

I went to a half-day leadership conference last week, where a bunch of big successful business leader types got up and shared their secrets to success.

I usually enjoy conferences like these. Sometimes experienced leaders have a way of clarifying your thoughts or giving insight to a certain problem which help direct your next step forward.

But do you ever get the feeling that these 3-step patented processes and easy anecdotes over-simplify things a bit? As I listened to these speakers paint their journey into a “here’s how we did it, 1, 2, 3”, I couldn’t help but have my doubts. Leaders will to you to “plan the work and work the plan”, but it’s usually much easier to write the plan once it’s already been worked.

Since that conference I came across Merlin Mann’s interview with The Great Discontent, which provided and helpful counter-balance to the 3-step plans to success. Here’s what he said:

I don’t think there are that many of us who deliberately end up where we are for any reason.

It’s easy to start regarding yourself as some kind of big success, crowing about all the things you did to get there and how you became a serial entrepreneur. But, most of us are just lucky to be alive. We like to come up with stories about our lives that are sensible; stories that make us look good, like we’re survivors of adversity.

When we mythologize ourselves, we tend to amplify the things that turned out okay and try to turn the failures or lack of success into something we learned from. You can do anything to make your life look really grand. It’s a shame that so many people find it difficult to do the things they’d like to do because they feel cowed by seemingly successful people who appear to never do anything wrong, or always learn from their mistakes. That just rings as a lot of B.S. and self-mythology to me.

Plan your work, work your plan, but remember that the path is rarely clear until you’ve already fumbled your way through it.