In a moment, I’m going to ask you to close your eyes, think about one word, and tell me what comes to mind. Not yet. First you have to know what the word is.
The word is “success.”
Now close your eyes, sit quietly, and tell me what comes to mind.
That’s your current definition of “success.”
When I do that experiment, I open my eyes to see the same thing I imagined when my eyes were closed. That’s probably because I’m a lot older than you and happy with what I’ve achieved in life.
Don’t get me wrong. I still have goals. I’m still hungry to accomplish certain things. I mean, that’s what life is all about, n’est-ce pas? But since I started out with nothing, I’m pretty damned ecstatic to be where I am right now. I feel fulfilled.
And you know what? Wealth was never my goal. It was never my definition of success. Had it been otherwise, I’m certain that I would not be fulfilled. I’d still be closing my eyes, imagining some vision of fame and fortune, and opening them to disappointment.
This is the essence of one of life’s great ironies: Success leads to money. Money rarely leads to success.
This is not some rhetorical sleight of hand; it’s real-world logic and the causality is critical. Let me explain how this works.
Whatever your definition of success, if you’re true to yourself and achieve your goals, not only will you feel fulfilled, but you’ll also find plenty of money when you arrive at your destination. That’s just the way it works. No kidding.
But if wealth is your definition of success, you will likely never achieve it. As goals go, wealth is a pretty lousy target. It’s superficial. It’s not fulfilling. And there never seems to be enough of it. The more you have, the more you want. The more you spend, the more you need.
I imagine there must be some fabulously wealthy people who spent their whole lives focused on accumulating tons of money for themselves. I just don’t know any.
When all the successful tech industry CEOs and VCs I’ve known were building their careers, I’m sure every single one was laser-focused on their work. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they’re all concerned about their finances now that they’ve made it, but back then, I doubt if they gave personal wealth much thought.
Actually, VCs are a great example of what I’m talking about. Since some manage $1 billion funds, you’d imagine that their entire lives have been focused on generating and increasing their own wealth. Not true, at least not for any of the top tech industry VCs I’ve known.
Most of them cut their teeth as engineers, researchers, analysts, or marketers who climbed the corporate ladder to prominent positions, reached the top of their trade, or founded startups that became successful. And during those long years, their goals were inevitably related to their work, not their wealth.
Then, and only then, did they become investors. And I guarantee that, to this day, their primary goal is generating exceptional returns for their limited partners by making smart investments and helping their portfolio companies to be successful. If they’re successful at that, then personal wealth comes with the territory.
Look at it this way. If your professional goals are to enjoy what you do for a living, work hard at it, strive to be the best at what you do, and accomplish things you’re proud of, then there’s a very good chance you’ll achieve all that and make all the money you need to be happy. That’s how it works in the real world.
If, on the other hand, you want to obsess over the habits and hacks of millionaires, billionaires, or boastful bloggers who really just want to talk about themselves, be my guest. Just remember one thing. That’s not what any of them were doing on their way up.