The Hierarchy of Personal Success
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Within this diverse and eclectic world, abundant in talent, artistry and potential, success presents itself in many guises - musical symphonies, artistic performance, sporting endeavours and wealth accumulation to name but a few - but one undeniable and universal principle about success is that we, as human beings, recognise it when we see it.
'The accomplishment of an aim or purpose; a person
or thing that achieves desired aims'
Why is it that some people possess the systems, processes and capacity to achieve unbounded success while others spin their wheels in the dirt, or worse yet have resigned themselves to a life of mediocrity or as Gary Vaynerchuk pens it, a life of 'doing shit they hate'?
Discussion around this subject proves to be challenging for some and provocative for many with circumstance, family wealth and network, genetics, fate, hard-work, persistence and even serendipity or some combination of the above being cited in most cases as 'the formula for success'. With the belief that 'success leaves clues', I have spent the last few years scouring the biographies of the greatest actors, sports stars, athletes and business people, reading classic philosophy and the best success and productivity books of our generation in the quest for the 'Blueprint for Personal Success'.
Although a statistically small group of outliers do exist, the majority of successful individuals create success through design rather than by default. They have created and, more importantly, consistently implemented systems, processes and habits, and within this framework developed capacity, competence and proficiency incrementally over time. The glamorous media illusion of the 'over-night success' is in most cases just that - an illusion.
The media fails to recognise the laps ran in the rain, the coding sessions past midnight or the rookie comedian performing to an audience of two and in doing so does a disservice to viewers. It creates the environment where people see success as something external, something that simply happens and is outside their locus of control, rather than something internal which they can design, persist at and improve upon. Even if they don't hit the lofty heights of Brian O'Driscoll, Beyoncé or Brad Pitt their trajectory will undoubtedly be upwards and the meaning and success of life improved.
Almost universally, successful people take control of their lifestyle, environment and exhibit great personal leadership. Self-evaluation is recognised as the driving force of success and the hallmark of enlightenment and self-fulfilment. Self-evaluation is used unmercifully, unscrupulously and ruthlessly to make tradeoffs between which endeavours to let go and which to pursue. As a result, successful people tend to have clarity of vision, a deep sense of purpose, a clear definition of what success means to them, very specific goals and create a lifestyle and environment which aids the achievement of these goals.
Routine, repetition and regime play a pivotal role in the goal achievement process but, more importantly, allow for health, relationships and sleep patterns to be maintained simultaneously to ensure optimal health and a strong foundation on which to build success. The importance of this bedrock for success cannot be underestimated - especially in a world where so many sports, political, music and film stars have crumbled under the pressure and prizes of ultimate success. Jordan B. Peterson suggests that you must 'treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping' if you are to firstly, become successful and secondly, deal with the the trials and tribulations of success.
The truly successful, upon setting their lifestyle in perfect order and achieving some success in their chosen field, begin to transcend personal achievement and use their influence to lead and build the capacity, competence and skills of others within their community of practice. They must lean on their bedrock of success to deal with ‘the white-water maelstrom’ that is modern day leadership.
They teach, coach and mentor in order to create relationships that move from 'dependence to independence to interdependence' and ultimately create a stronger, more vibrant community where 'leaders and followers are united in the pursuit of higher-level goals that are common to both' and in doing so create an environment where success breeds success. Examples of these communities can be seen right across the globe from sporting teams such as Bill Belichick's New England Patriots, theatrical casts such as Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton or local community groups who improve the lives of those they serve.
The greatest leaders use their platform to evaluate the ecosystem in which they operate and, if need be, challenge the status quo in an attempt to create effective system change on national and international levels to address the inequalities, inadequacies and inefficiencies present within their field. Their prominent position and expertise within these fields give them the credentials and manifesto to lead others in creating systemic and institutional changes that will positively impact the world.
The unintended by-product of a lifestyle of personal leadership, where substantial expertise is built, is a life of transformational leadership where system improvements or reforms are engineered on local, national or even international levels and the world or field of expertise is tenaciously and irrevocably improved for the better - and a legacy is created.
The greatest leaders understand the formula for success lies in becoming the best version of yourself, applying yourself unequivocally to your field, adding an abundance of value to your community and leading others when the time calls for it. Ironically, they recognise the paradox of success and refuse to aim for it recognising that 'success, like happiness, cannot be pursued, it must ensue, and only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself’.
Covey, S. 2006, The 8th Habit, Simon & Schuster, London.
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Gunter, H. 2001, "Critical Approaches to Leadership in Education", Journal of Educational Inquiry, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 94-108.
Gunter, H. 2001, Leaders and Leadership in Education, Paul Chapman, London.
McGuinness, S.J. 2012, "Education Policy in Northern Ireland: a Review", Italian Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 1, pp. 224-234.
Peterson, J. 2018, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Random House Canada, Toronto.
Vaynerchuk, G. 2018, Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence - and How You Can Too, Harper Business, New York.