Success isn’t an accident… It’s an outcome

I was talking to one of my sons not that long ago and the phrase “success isn’t an accident… it’s an outcome” was something that I said early in our conversation.

While it’s unlikely that I am the first person to ever say this, I found myself thinking about the gravity of the statement over the last couple of days.

The context of the conversation with my son was around him starting his third year of university and his study habits (or lack thereof).

When you are in your early 20’s, you want success - and you want it now (I was no different). What most young people don’t realize is that you have to play the long game. Think of it like working toward becoming a 20 year “overnight success”.

Age breeds experience and experience offers the opportunity for introspection. The ability to be introspective is one of the most useful I’ve acquired as I aged. This has allowed me to look at my failures, to accept my role in them and to understand what behavior contributed to those failures. From that understanding and acceptance, I could then decide to modify what I did, how I did it and with whom.

These qualities and experiences have allowed me to coach those who are seeking counsel (or aren’t like my son), that in order to achieve success, you must understand what your desired outcome looks like to you in different time intervals. I recommend 1, 5, 10 and 20-year horizons.

There is an adage – begin with the end in mind. As such, define your desired end state (or success in this case) in personal and work terms. Keep in mind that work successes generally drive or facilitates success on the personal side.

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For example, I am a passionate skier. A desirable end state for me was to be able to ski world-class mountains all winter. But – I have significant family and business responsibilities. So I adapted what “success” looks like to me. A more achievable (and responsible) goal was to be able to ski world-class terrain 2 weeks a winter.

From my desired outcome, I reverse-engineered what needed to be true in my personal and business lives. I needed significant disposable income and vacation time/flexibility.

From there I set out to make a long-running series of (mostly) small good decisions. It’s a bit like the old joke, “How do you eat an elephant? – One bite at a time.” There are always a few missteps along the way, but on aggregate, a large number of good decisions will outweigh a few bad ones.

So what’s the silver bullet?

How do you make a long-running series of small, good decisions? In my opinion, it’s constantly listening to that little voice in your head paired with a healthy understanding and willingness to perform continual cost/benefit analysis. It’s an ability to know when to make a selfish (or unselfish) decision.

Let’s put it in context – let’s say you have to write a blog post that’s due tomorrow at noon. You could stay at work and finish it before you go home or you could try to get in early and do it. On the surface they both seem fine, but writing the blog post tonight means you might miss going out with your friends to the pub. The other option (waking up early) seems safe, but let’s look at it more closely. What if there’s traffic on your way to work? What if you get client call? What if your boss puts you on an unexpected rush job? Guess what – you don’t get the blog post done and now your boss is ticked off (a career-limiting outcome).

If you made the small decision to stay and get it done, you would have saved money, slept better knowing your post was done and could sleep to a normal time – and on top of it all your blog post was probably better (a career-enhancing outcome).

There’s always a bit of serendipity and luck in life – of that there’s no doubt. But I subscribe to the belief that I can brute force my success and that what success I’ve enjoyed so far is no accident.

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Marty Fisher is an experienced marketer. Equally comfortable talking technology and data or branding and strategy, he is counted on to deliver measurable solutions to Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. He is recognized as a leader in the creation, delivery, integration and expansion of brand experiences through digital channels.

Follow Marty @tweetsbysherpa​

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