"Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire." - Arnold Glasgow
There is danger in success.
We all strive to be successful in our individual endeavors. Making our millions or achieving an incredible goal early in life is something that most of us wish for. If it comes at the right time, after a long and hard-fought battle or at the end of an enormous project, notoriety and recognition are a fantastic reward.
When it happens to you, (and it will if you work hard enough) you may be pitched forward into an unfamiliar space where people begin to look at you differently, and treat your presence with a new reverence and inherent respect without knowing you. It’s fun, exciting and if you worked hard, completely worth it. So you made it, congratulations! You pushed on the world and the world changed in your image.
Enjoy it. Bask in it while it’s there. Then let it go.
If it happens to you early enough in your career, and you’re an entrepreneur or a creative person, external success can be a intoxicating and dangerous thing to hold. If that outward recognition defines you, you will not succeed again.
When I was 23 I started a nonprofit soon after college, and after over 5 years of incredibly hard work, watched it turn into a respected organization fighting poverty internationally. Our first major projects were a big success, and we received funding from the United Nations. I earned an award from the Dalai Lama, began meeting famous people and watched the world around me shift to include the “do-ers” that I deeply respected. I was happy to be considered one of them.
Soon afterwards, I started a new project, one with massive potential impact and in a space that I was unfamiliar with. I looked at my previous success, and applied the same actions of willful engagement to it.
As I began working, I found myself in the midst of strange new feeling that I had never experienced in all my years working on previous projects: Active paralysis.
I was working incredibly hard on trying to ensure the success of the next endeavor, but it was stalling. The effort I had employed was simply not working.
Would the next project be successful? Would it make the same kind of impact that our first operation had and be just as well-received? I became singularly focused on the mechanics of my next endeavor. Legitimate thoughts of fulfillment were hidden under layers of busy-ness. As a ‘successful’ person, I could not see my project going any other way, meaning it couldn’t go forward unless it was perfect, unless I was happy with it. My obsession with it being an outwardly successful project actually made it stagnate and stall as a result. Paradoxically, being focused on outward success meant it was doomed to fail.
Along the way I had lost a principle that I had previously known and practiced unabashedly through my actions:
You do not succeed through your external doing, but through your internal being.
I realized that my previous success happened far before the recognition. Far before the world even knew about it. The real success happened through practice, through diligence, and through being certain my actions were aligned with my purpose. It came from personal centeredness, reflection and integrity in my day to day. It had little to do with how the world saw me.
Your internal practice, your personal actions, your state of being creates your successes. The little wins in managing your emotions, in making sure they are daily, deeply and consistently aligned with your principles - that is the foundation of success. Being good to yourself is the currency of achievement.
If you find yourself heaped with praise for your successes in the future, ask your good friends to watch your back. Tell them to remind you to slow down, to breathe, to keep the fire in your belly well-tended. Being outwardly successful is not a state that you should strive to live in. You will not thrive there, and your endeavors will not succeed. When people peg you with the ‘S’ word, let it go. Be unafraid of disappointing them, and most importantly, be good to yourself. True success will follow.