Success Stories & What They Say

Recently, I have been reading a few success stories, something I enjoy doing from time to time, and I was struck by just how many rags-to-riches stories of success there are. For sure, not all success stories begin with the successful person experiencing poverty, but a good many do. Is that just some kind of coincidence or did the fact that many of these people came from very poor backgrounds actually contribute to their astonishing success? And, by extension, does being middle-class make success less likely? It is something I have been thinking about.

Let’s look at a few examples, very briefly. Firstly, as I am a bit of a fan of the UK TV show Dragon’s Den, Theo Paphitas and Duncan Bannatyne immediately come to mind, both of whom came from very humble backgrounds indeed and both are now multi-millionaires. James Caan and Peter Jones perhaps had a better start than Theo and Duncan; though I think it is fair to say that James did not come from a wealthy family; and, at one stage, his father lost everything he had after a fire destroyed the family business. Since his father had no insurance, this meant that very hard times were thrust upon the family, so I think we can also include James in the same category as Theo and Duncan, in terms of understanding what it is like to have absolutely nothing financially.

Peter, I think is slightly different in that his family background seems to have been more typically middle-class. However, he started in business right away after leaving school and, although he had something of a safety net in that he could have returned to his parent’s home, he also lost everything in his second business venture. Peter never, at any time, got himself a regular job and I think this is yet another important factor in some of the success stories I have read. Recently, I wrote about this and why I would certainly not get a job if I were starting out again (See What’s Wrong With Getting a Job?).

Having read the books by all four of the UK Dragons, I have noticed that actually, none of them pursued the more usual route of getting qualified and then starting a career. Duncan did bum about Jersey doing odd jobs after getting himself thrown out of the navy, and he then he also learned how to repair farm vehicles. But I think he was serious when, in his book, he said that whilst relaxing on a beach in Jersey, he made the decision to become a millionaire. It is fair to say that he never really got his career going until he began in business.

In other areas of entertainment too, it is relatively easy to find similar success stories: Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Celine Dion and Shania Twain all came from very poor families, for example, and all of them are now multi-millionaires with the exception of Oprah, of course, who is a now billionaire. What I have noticed from studying these, and other success stories is that many people who have become astonishingly successful either came from very poor families or they never got a job at all, or in some cases, both of these things were true.

So what does the foregoing tell us: does it mean that you cannot experience success if you come from a comfortable, middle-class family? Of course, it doesn’t, but I do think that it may be more difficult in some respects. I do not mean to imply that success came easily to the people I have mentioned. On the contrary, in my opinion, they all earned it! What I mean is that being comfortable is the great enemy of the middle-class and that’s most of us in the western world. These days, we don’t really have a lower class since the embourgeoisement of the working class.

Necessity is the pressure that caused these people to do ‘whatever it takes’ in order to succeed. Many of us simply are not exposed to that kind of pressure and that, I believe, is a fundamental problem. Recently, on one of my workshops, I asked people to list their most important goals. There was a person who’s top goal was stated as ‘to be successful’. As the subject of the session was actually Time Management, I later asked people to make a list of where their time was being spent; and the same person listed Facebook as a big time waster. I think it is a good illustration of the problem of the middle class: you want to be successful, but you are spending your time on Facebook. I bet Theo would not have touched Facebook with a bargepole, were it around at the time he was starting, unless he could figure out how to make money out of it, of course.

If we are to become successful, we too must have the same desire; exactly the same kind of desire that is already within those born into poverty. If we are listing things that it would be nice to have when we write down our goals, then we simply do not have that desire. You have got to want success with that same kind of passion that comes from having nothing. That way, you can be absolutely sure that you will be prepared to do ‘whatever it takes’ in order to succeed. And, remember, this truly is the magic ingredient.

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