The Audacity of Success

What do Ryan Seacrest, Jessica Simpson, and Dr. Phil have in common? How about Tony Robbins? Or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Oprah Winfrey? Kim Kardashian? Yes, they are all extremely successful, but that’s not the answer I was looking for. What else? Lucky? Maybe a little, but we all have a little luck in our lives, even when we don’t choose to acknowledge it. Extremely gifted or talented in their chosen fields of endeavor? Nope. That’s certainly not it.

Okay, I’ll get to the point. The other day I was talking with a colleague of mine and I mentioned I was re-reading Tony Robbins’ The Power Within. For some reason, I was a little embarrassed to admit that. After all, even I think he’s a little, well, corny. Like many, if not most of us, I find myself talking trash about people who, let’s be honest, are a lot more accomplished than I. “She cannot sing!” Or “He’s a joke?” “How the heck did they give her a television show?” And “What is his talent, again?” In one form or another, we are saying “Who do they think they are?”

The Audacity!

The Audacity of Success.

If you haven’t looked around lately, let me tell you a secret. Those amongst us who are most successful are not the most talented. They aren’t the smartest. They aren’t the best looking or most articulate. They aren’t the best actors. They’re not even always the best athletes.

But guess what? They don’t give a you-know-what! That’s the audacity, the gall, the gumption that I’m talking about.

Every one of us has doubts. Every one of us has fears. There is an inertia that pulls on every one of us. It tells us that reaching for success is too hard. It tells us that trying to be the absolute best we can be is dangerous and scary. It makes us vulnerable. Vulnerable to failure. Susceptible to criticism. Open to hurt and pain. The control we give those two little letters (N and O) is almost ridiculous. We give it limitless power, assigning to it self-destructive talk that sounds a lot like “You’re not good enough” or “They’re all going to laugh at you.” The difference between those who get everything they ever wanted from life— and more — is that they don’t really listen. They hear it just like everyone else. But they turn the volume way down. They envision mistakes and losses just like we do. But they distort that picture of negativity, making it fuzzy and in black and white. And when they have butterflies or feel like they’re being ridiculed, they push through as if to say “I don’t care what the world thinks.”

The Audacity!

The Audacity of Success.

The world calls these people cocky. The world views them as self-centered. The world discounts their accomplishments as right-time-right-place happenstance. “They knew somebody.” “They got lucky.” “They were in the right place at the right time; I could do that.” All of that might be true. But it really doesn’t matter. And they really don’t care— what you and I think, that is. What they’ve come to understand— that many of us don’t— is that we live in a results-oriented world. As Tim Ferris says in The 4 Hour Workweek, “The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up all the pins either.” Or one of my favorite sayings: “No Apologies. No Excuses.” People who are successful don’t apologize for asking for greatness. And they understand that there are no excuses accepted in life.

It’s a lot harder than it sounds. It’s easy to get in line for the contest. It’s not as easy to go up to the counter when your number is called. If it were, we’d all be great. It’s even harder to accept and admit to ourselves that we are often afraid of greatness. There is great truth in what Nelson Mandela repeated1 in his famous speech when he said that “our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.” And to be honest, I really don’t know why. For I, too, deal with that troublesome truth. But here’s what I think. For me, it feels like a tug-o-war between the two sides of me that are important. On one side, I really want to be great. If not for myself, then for everyone who’s ever helped me, everybody who’s believed in me, every person who has sacrificed for me. And as I’ll continue to say, I owe it to the Lord for giving me all of my talents, to maximize those gifts and share them with the rest of the world.

But the other side of that rope is strong. Very strong. It provides a powerful force that immobilizes us in what I see as four distinct ways:

  1. Definition of Self- Early in our lives we begin to define ourselves. Moreover, the world— that mean old big brother— begins to define who we are for us. Any deviation from that, as we get older, is difficult. And it is met by those around us with strong resistance. You begin to feel like you’re “not great at math” or “not a great athlete” or that you “come from a family of blue collar workers” or that “not everyone is meant to go to college.” It becomes increasingly difficult to punch back against a foe of such complacency and mediocrity. It’s much easier to “roll with the punches,” as they say.
  2. Need to Win- Even amidst this pull in the direction of the ordinary, we all want to be winners and achieve at a high level. I firmly believe that it is in our makeup as human beings to compete with ourselves and others. It has a lot, I think, to do with “Survival of the Fittest” and “Natural Selection.” Even though we don’t run around exhibiting our strength, proving that our gene pool is worthy of advancing the population (or maybe some of us do), we still have an innate desire to be good at what we do– whatever that is. So, instead of risking failure at the next level of advancement, we often prefer to remain where we are, where we feel we have attained a certain level of expertise or proficiency. To put it in sports terms, it’s akin to the 12 year old kid who is dominating in the 12-13 year old age group of the local Little League Baseball organization being asked if he’d like to play with the 14 year olds. Even though many parents would like for their child to challenge themselves further and move up, most children in that situation would prefer to stay put. Yes, the phenomenon that holds us back starts early in our lives.
  3. Inevitable Discomfort- We are more apt to hold ourselves back then reach for the stars because reaching just beyond our comfort zone is uncomfortable. Growing in any area of our lives requires an exposure to stress beyond our normal limits. Just like with our bodies, building our confidence muscle or our public speaking muscle or any other “muscle” means we have to deal with some short-term pain in order to achieve long term gain.
  4. The Wrong 80/20 Rule- In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He later realized that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. It wasn’t until 1941, however, when the world realized the greater significance of this discovery. That is when Joseph M. Juran, a 20th century management consultant— one of the first of his kind, applied this 80/20 rule to just about every aspect of life. It turned out that the Pareto Principle, named in honor of the original founder and thinker, was applicable to everything from sales in business (20% of your customers account for 80% of your sales) to pain and happiness in relationships (20% of your friends account for 80% of your happiness {or sadness, on the flip side}). But that is not the 80/20 rule I’m talking about; I just wanted to give you a little history lesson. The 80/20 rule to which I’m referring— maybe one day it’ll be called the Bluford Principle— is the fact that we almost inevitably make a dramatic shift in our comparative thinking as we learn and grow. There is a continuum of growth and advancement that ranges from beginner and low achievement to expert and high achievement. It is often the case that he further along this continuum one moves, the smaller the group of comparison. When you move from Little League Baseball to High School, for example, you might compare yourself to the other kids at your same level. When you get drafted out of high school, however, you begin to compare yourself with the very small sample size of major league players. The woman who now lives in a gated community for the first time in her life often times doesn’t look back at how far she and her family have come. Instead, she looks around and compares herself to her new neighbors— moms who where diamonds on their morning walks, take yoga, and are the president of their local PTA. And as dumb as it sounds, the guy who just bought a Porsche almost immediately feels inferior to the guy down the street who just bought a Bentley. Instead of comparing themselves to the 80% (sometimes as high as even 99%) of the population that is less accomplished, they compare themselves to the 20% (sometimes as low as 1%) with greater success.

We can all come up with dozens of reasons we are not where we want to be in our lives. But I think most, if not all of them, fit into one of those four “buckets of truth”. Recognizing the existence of those four hurdles is the first step. Acknowledging the use of one or more of them as a crutch moves us closer to any dreams we might have. But pushing through and overcoming them ultimately provides the foundation that separates Ryan Seacrest, Jessica Simpson, and Dr. Phil from the rest of us: The Audacity of Success!

Don’t be afraid to push through. Ignore the fear and naysayers. Don’t apologize for wanting more from yourself. Demand it. And don’t make excuses. Nobody cares or is listening. Remember: NO APOLOGIES! NO EXCUSES.

1 Nelson Mandela delivered this message in his 1994 inauguration speech. But the inspiring quote is the work of accomplished author Marianne Williamson.

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About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

7 Responses to The Audacity of Success

  1. Lois Hoffman says:

    I like the idea of turning the volume down on the negativity. It does get loud sometimes. I do think that failure is part of success. At least when I fail I know that I’m trying. Thanks for the post.

    • bbluford says:

      You are absolutely, 100% right, Lois. Failure does come with the territory. And it doesn’t feel good. But it is absolutely necessary. I just finished reading the Power of Full Engagement. Like many other books, it talks about stretching ourselves right beyond our current limits. That inevitably means some failure. But with that we grow and we learn. We also become calloused to the negative talk (at least more calloused to it), so that we can deal with it better each time.

      In case you don’t want to read the book, by the way, there is a great Harvard Business Review Article on the same topic:
      http://kimhjorth.dk/User_files/6546b09903976a2d7f706bc4d2197db9.pdf

  2. Doris Tolliver says:

    I like this one as well. I won’t even comment on the use of the word “where” that should have been “wear” 🙂 I love you!

    • bbluford says:

      Come on, Sis. You know me better than that. When I screw up, let your big brother know 😉 That’s how we all get better. But, truth be told, I don’t know what I was thinking with that one. Good catch.

  3. Julie Manriquez says:

    Bobby, I was challenged by your analysis of the 80/20 rule and find if difficult to dispute. Also, I wish I had decided not to give a “you know what” before reaching 40, but I’m glad to finally be there! Better late than never.

    • bbluford says:

      It is better late than ever. But like with school subjects like Math, where you must learn Algebra before you dive into Calculus and need to know basic math before learning about Algebra; a lot of life’s lessons are similarly linear. I often beat myself up about things I wish I’d learned or known earlier in life, but I am trying to train myself to really understand that there was a reason I didn’t do this or that, why I couldn’t do this or that. And often times that reason is that I simply wasn’t ready. And that is okay.

  4. Pingback: Life Preparedness Kit « BobbyBluford.com

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