By Marc Wilson

We all want success. And as we embark on a career, most of us want to be successful. But when I probe aspirations, “being successful” is usually a proxy for “I want the rewards / power  /status of success.”

If you think that business success has different rules to success in sports, less reliance on discipline, more reliance on connections and things out of your control, reconsider or stop reading.

If your job is a ticket to a pay-cheque, is so-many-hours-per-day, stop reading.

Brutally, most of us will not be successful. We will not achieve stand-out performance. We will under-achieve our childish dreams. Choose:

  1. Continue to fantasize OR
  2. Get real and set your targets lower OR
  3. Confront the challenge and do what it takes to chase your dream.

Dreaming is important. It is the often the reason that we try at all. But the great achievers realise that a dream without a plan and action remains a fantasy.

“…in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.” — U.S. President Barack Obama

Obama was quoting “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

When I was younger and starting out, I think I marked a lot of my desires for success in positions or promotions I hoped to achieve. In the first draft of this article, someone remarked that I had not mentioned promotion once. That is quite a stunning reflection. I believe my experience and growing up helped me realise that promotion and position reflect a result of success rather than success in itself.

Many of us do fantasize. As adolescents, we dream of mansions and sports cars, of power and glory, of beautiful spouses and successful children. As we begin our career journey, these dreams inevitably meet reality. We may continue to deny reasons for the gap between dreams and reality, but many reach a realisation at some point that not everybody can be excellent – by definition. And that to be excellent, we need to be doing things better than those in our defined benchmark.

We fantasize for good reason. Life is hard. As we become more experienced, we discover that achieving success typically requires far more from us than we imagined, we are not all exceptional, success is often dependent on the support of others – and people and relationships are not predictable. Life throws curve balls – illness, family needs and financial constraints to name a few.

But if we are to undertake an adult approach to success, it becomes time to replace fantasy with a deliberate approach to achieving our dreams.

What is success? At its simplest, success is achieving a goal. Being successful is therefore achieving goals regularly. But to most of us, being successful is more than this. Being successful in many people’s minds equates to excellence. Excellence – exceeding standard performance, standing-out, being the best. And pointedly, the rewards most desire for being successful equate with those for excellence.

This is an important distinction. The definition of excellence seems to be far more closely aligned with the aspirations of those with the desire to be successful. The measures of excellence are far more objective and demanding than those of success.

We tend to apply different rules to business success. It must be balanced. It must be within its 9-to-5 box. Here is my challenge to you: if you desire super-achiever business status, why would the lessons learnt from Olympian sports success be different to achieving Olympian stand-out performance in business?

Olympic sports success is not balanced. It is not confined to a part of the day. Olympian sports success is obsessive. It is unbalanced. It is single-minded. It requires brutal sacrifice and pain (see the graphic to the left showing the cost and effort required to get into the Olympics – source: Voucherbox). Why would being the best in your business field require anything less?

I think we tend to create an artificial distinction because an Olympic goal might be confined to a target by the age of 30. Thereafter an athlete can retire to a “normal” life. Similarly, an overachieving student might single-mindedly pursue “top-of the-class” performance knowing that the pain and sacrifice will end with the award of a degree. A business career is part of most of our adult lives and sacrifice for that amount of time is untenable for most people. For this reason, careers like investment banking and management consulting tend to have short lifespans before achievers move on to a second phase. I believe that for this reason they tend to attract more employees seeking super-achievement before the “second-phase” – people will accept the discomfort for a short time horizon.

I believe that there are fifteen determinants to achieving business-career excellence.

1. Get real – look outwards

It is impossible for everybody to…. To read more click here.

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