Monday, July 23, 2012

The True Price of Success





The True Price of Success

Standing in the gale-force winds, the kid was looking queasy. We could all see the storm was growing more intense.

The rain had already plastered his hair to his forehead and his new black suit was starting to cling to him in ways Mr. Armani never intended.

A typhoon was coming -- the seventh this summer to hit Japan -- and the kid's job, as newest employee, was to stand in front of a TV camera while the weather buffeted him about for the nation to watch. Sort of a talking weather vane.

I take my exercise along that stretch of beach every day, and today one of the most powerful typhoons on record would soon be upon us. I knew I couldn't stay too long, or I'd be caught in the wind and the torrential downpour. I'd make my walk extra-brief this day.

But the television crew had a different assignment.

They, and many other crews like them, are dispatched in satellite equipped trucks to many well-known sites all over Japan. These crews provide live reports on the progress of the storms as they rip their way up the Japanese archipelago.

And the kid in the black suit was their sacrificial lamb today. It was his job to get out there, once the storm reached its peak, and do a show and tell. That's what the people huddled at home want to see, and sponsors will pay well to bring them exactly what they expect.

If you've watched a lot of news over the years, you'll know that the greater the devastation, the higher the viewer ratings. That's the way it works -- more destruction means more interest.

In fact, you may recall that Dan Rather got his big break into national news by doing exactly what this kid was doing -- standing stubbornly in a raging hurricane and giving moment-by-moment reports to the viewers at home.

The networks find it's profitable programming to report on all the destruction, disruption and deaths.

But before we get off on an "Ain't-It-Awful" tangent, let me say right here that this scene I've just described carries one of the richest lessons you'll ever gain.

Typhoons and hurricanes cause huge disruptions. Your humanitarian heart empathizes with those caught up in the tragedies; aches for them; wants to reach out with succor and aid.

And I do applaud that urge to give comfort and help to those that life dumps on. The feelings are normal and proper.

But I suggest that sympathy alone, no matter how heartfelt, is a one-dimensional (even a poverty-ridden) way to respond to the world.

Sympathy can be a good thing, but often it's only a cheap imitation of caring. If it doesn't lead to action, it's basically worthless for anything but show.

However, it's possible to add a second layer of responses, a layer that involves going out and interacting with that world you're so empathic with.

Furthermore, since you've been seeking some way to gain wealth, let me say this. You've just found it.

It's called action.

Action -- appropriate action in response to the problems and tragedies you see around you can make you not only a better person, but a very rich one as well. It can allow you to provide far greater aid to those in need than you could ever accomplish with an aching heart alone.

And the profits from your actions will help you stay in business long-term so you can continue helping your fellowman.

Now, you may already be running a business. If so, you're providing people with some kind of solution to their problems. Are you being well paid for your solutions?

If so, that's good.

But if you're not being well rewarded for your efforts, there are only three possible reasons.

1. You're not telling enough people about yourself.

2. You're not very convincing because you don't believe you're very good at what you do.

3. You may not be solving problems that are big or urgent enough. This is probably the most common limit.

The biggest need today is for people who will do what you and I can't (or won't) do for ourselves. This includes people who make us feel better.

Consider the relative public value of a heart surgeon versus a sales clerk. A captivating entertainer or sports figure versus an office cleaner. A brilliant attorney versus a typist.

It's not my intention to demean anybody who is fulfilling any useful role in society. But the smaller paydays almost always go to the person who is more easily replaced. If nearly anybody can be quickly trained to do the job, there's lots of competition for that slot, and so the price goes down.

And the high-profile jobs like brain surgeon, trial lawyer, pro ball player, or CEO of a multinational -- well, most people won't ever try for those spots, meaning there's less competition. So the people who do try for these jobs can charge whatever the traffic will bear.

This is basic economics, right? We already know all of this. But if we already know it, why do we so seldom apply it to our own life? Why aren't we qualifying ourselves for the absolute top spot in our respective industries?

In many cases, it's because we unthinkingly shy away from "responsibility." We're scared of a bigger role... a higher profile. We keep ourselves small because... well... we just do, that's all. For example, can you tell me exactly why you're not the top authority in your industry? Can I tell why I'm not?

We do know the answer to that, though, don't we?

It's basically cowardice. We're scared spitless of making ourselves uncomfortable through doing things that we're not sure we can do perfectly. If we tried something big and super-ambitious, oh my goodness, what if we didn't do it very well? 

We don't like to take chances. Don't enjoy big measures of ambiguity in the things we do. So instead, we plod along like cows coming in from the pasture at evening, regular as clockwork, utterly predictable -- and dependant upon whomever feeds us at the end of the day.

Cows don't take big chances. Neither do sheep. They stay close to the same territory day after day, year after year, clustered together, acting just alike, grazing placidly, never having any grand adventures. There are few opportunities in the fenced-in pasture. Just eat and sleep and grow old.

Ah, but the venturing soul slips through the fence, goes into unknown territory, and seeks out new things to do. Among us humans, we admire most the men and women who push past the barriers to new territory. Record-setting athletes. Inventive new artists and writers. Bold leaders who set new directions and escort the rest of us into new fields. Explorers in medicine, literature, flight, business, sports.

People who go out seeking new places to find, new levels to achieve, new problems to solve.

If you want your income and your life to expand, you're going to have to explore. Go out there past the edge of what you already know, past the comfortable, to a place where you're unsure what your outcome is going to be.

You, in a very real sense, become a gambler. But you will be gambling on the only thing in the universe that's worth the action -- yourself.

It has been said that the real reason for becoming rich and successful is not the money or the fame. It's the joy of being the person you have to become in order to achieve those goals of yours.

Know this: You'll never achieve those goals as you are now.

You really must become a whole different person. A bigger person. A stronger, more capable person.

And how do you do that? You stretch yourself. You make yourself uncomfortable, and you stay that way until you grow into it.

That's the true (and only) price of success.