The score will take care of itself ~ Bill Walsh

11ish Innovation Updates

Does Success Have an Emotional Cost

A friend of mine started a company that took off. Not hockey stick growth. Rocket ship growth. Straight up. Constantly accelerating. A couple hundred million away from going full unicorn.


I thought he would be happy.


He struggled to understand why, among the scores of equally or more talented entrepreneurs who start businesses every day, his was successful. He struggled to understand why “it” — fame, fortune, and tens of thousands of quasi-evangelistic customers — happened for him, while people he knew and admired had failed. 


He didn’t think he deserved it.

He didn’t think he deserved it. Like most successful people, he considers himself to be average in almost all things. (Persistence, determination, and effort are what allow “ordinary” people to accomplish extraordinary things.) He had worked really hard, but in his mind, everyone works really hard. Worst of all, he didn’t enjoy it; it just wasn’t that fun.


Why? He’s constantly worried about growth, competition, and his ability to lead. Success yielded a new and surprisingly much larger set of challenges. He also thought success would change him. Sure, people treated him differently. But inside, he was the same guy, still struggling with the same doubts and insecurities and hangups.


I told him that was a good thing: He didn’t want to be one of those people derailed by over-confidence and excessive self-belief. I told him “deserve” had nothing to do with it, because “deserve” never does:


We earn our successes, just as we earn our failures. 

The proof lies in the result, and I told him the results answer, “Why me?” Like most highly successful people, he gives luck much of the credit. Science backs him up: Research conducted in 2018 at Cornell University found that talent plays a role where achieving extraordinary financial success is concerned, but randomness also plays a prominent role.


He thinks he got lucky: Right products, right time, right messaging, right economic environment… the stars aligned. Maybe he’s right. But he was there — ready, willing, and most importantly, able — to spot and seize the opportunity. Education, experience, connections, insight, effort, a willingness to take intelligent risks… all the things that make entrepreneurs entrepreneurs.


And that’s why it should be fun — not because of the money and nightlife and accolades, but because he gets to enjoy, every day, what he hoped for most: To build a company customers would love, and people would love to work for.

All of which, especially if you sometimes question your abilities and “worthiness”, is also true for you. 

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