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Finding Extraordinary Success and Fulfillment

Hard work does not make you successful. If that were true, our soldiers would drive Bentleys and our teachers would take their lunch breaks in gold-plated Jacuzzis.

Talent doesn’t either, or every skilled street performer would have a record contract, and Jedward would likely not.

I’ve been lucky enough to find a lot of happiness and success in my own life so far, and here are my brief musings on the subject.

Three non-negotiables

There are three things you can demand from your work:

  • Work you’re good at
  • Work you love
  • Work you can be paid for

Extraordinary success comes to those who will not settle for less than all three.

This is easy to say and extraordinarily hard to do. Most people skip one:

  • Work you don’t love
    You’re paid pretty well, but you’re unhappy. Your job is a necessary burden, your dreams are fading and you’re trapped by the need to not fall off your own treadmill. You spend your earnings trying to find happiness.
  • Work you’re not rewarded for
    You feel wasted, unappreciated, undiscovered. You’re frustrated by people around you who have less talent but infinitely more success. Life is unfair, and you’re tired of waiting for someone else to come to your rescue.
  • Work you’re no good at
    You desperately want to succeed at what you’re doing, but you can’t seem to compete. You feel increasingly inadequate and desperate.

Now consider what happens if you don’t compromise.

Because you love your work, your happiness is intrinsic: your work makes you happy. This may sound like tree-hugging hippy crap, but happiness is the biggest component missing from most people’s careers. Do you doubt that Steve Jobs loved his work – well before it made him rich? Is there a successful musician who doesn’t love music, or a great writer who hates writing?

If you think success will make you happy, you have it backwards.

People are not well rewarded for drudgery. The greatest rewards go to those who are some mix of creativeunique and insightful. If you hate your job, you’ll struggle to be any of those things; certainly you won’t be close to fulfilling your potential.

Skill is of course essential, but you need the right, rare blend of skills to attain reward – and often this is well outside your comfort zone.

Say you’re a great musician. By itself, the world has no need for you: there are countless great, unemployed musicians. To succeed, you need to become remarkable; perhaps through brilliant videos, or a world-changing story, or even though lewd relations with a celebrity. If you can’t handle this, you’d better get good at finding people who can.

In my experience, the only way to truly fulfil yourself is to practice something very difficult: total honesty.

Understand that your brain – quite instinctively – doesn’t like thinking about these things much, and will have a tendency to curl up into a ball, put its hands over its ears and sing la-la-la until you go away.

If you’re truly honest with yourself, you can realise perhaps the only two things that matter: where are you now, and what has to be done. The former is uncomfortable because it bruises your ego; the latter because it almost invariably involves personal sacrifice close to your heart. But it’s like being honest with yourself about a bad relationship that you’ve stayed in for too long: if you don’t face up to it, nothing will change. I had to give up a business I spent 10 years building to create something better, and my only wish is that I’d had the courage to do it sooner.

Fulfilment is a deeply personal goal, but it’s quite simple: everyone wants to reach the limits of their own potential. Are you reaching yours?

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