Do you like reading success stories? I certainly do. They remind me that very successful people were not always such, and I get a lot of encouragement from that idea because if someone else struggled to achieve their goals, and yet they managed to succeed, then I feel as if I can too. It makes the struggle seem worthwhile; perhaps even enjoyable.
You know how these stories go: they tried this and this and this and it made no difference. Then, they adjusted their approach and things got even worse. Then they tried other stuff and still they felt as if they were getting nowhere. Everyone else thought they were nuts. But you are reading their story, just waiting for that moment when things turn around. I know this is all very generic, but I bet you can relate to it can’t you?
In that old song, by the great Frank Sinatra, we see the form of the ubiquitous success story …
They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
When he said the world was round
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound
They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother
When they said that man could fly
They told Marconi
Wireless was a phony
It’s the same old cry
… but ho ho ho, whose got the last laugh now?
When you read these success stories, you are just waiting for that ‘a-ha moment’; the thing that made the difference. Of course, the reason is simple; you are looking for the takeaway. What is it that you can learn from this person’s personal experience that you can apply to your situation and, as a result, experience a similar breakthrough?
Well, what I wanted to write about today was the danger of reading other people’s success stories. I am not saying you should not do so; I fully intend to keep reading them for the above reason. But there is, I believe, something you need to be aware of: it is the danger of identifying the thing that made the difference.
You see, the thing that made the difference – for them – will not usually produce the same effect for you. Why not? Let me illustrate with a simple example. As I mentioned the Sinatra song, perhaps we’ll use the story of the Wright Brothers to illustrate. As you probably realise, their story conforms perfectly to the above. They tried many things to get their plane to fly. Day after day, they experimented until one day, they made a final adjustment and that was it – they had got it – that tiny adjustment had made all the difference.
The Wright Brothers’ story is truly inspiring. But just imagine you were a spy, working for, let’s call them the Wrong Brothers (just for fun), peeking through the keyhole of the garage where Wilbur and his brother conducted their experiments. Your team were working on the same project, in a secret location, and you had a similar prototype that you also could not get to fly. But now, looking through that keyhole, you had apparently got the answer.
You rush back to your secret location to announce to the Wrong Brothers that you had gathered the necessary intelligence and everybody listened carefully as you recounted the final, subtle adjustment that made the difference between flight and flightlessness. One of the Wrong Brothers slaps his forehead, wondering why he hadn’t thought of that little adjustment; it made perfect sense. So the team carefully make the exact same tweak. Excitedly, they wheel out their contraption and fire up the engines.
As the craft begins to move along the runway, everybody cheers in anticipation of that moment of final triumph. But your machine overshoots the runway and crashes in the bushes. Thankfully it is a fairly soft landing and, apart from a bit of minor damage, there is no real harm done. At least the pilot escaped unharmed. See, we still care about him – even if he is hypothetical right?
Now the inquest begins. Everybody wants to know whether or not you had recounted what you saw correctly. You checked and double-checked and … you had! The adjustment was made perfectly, but it did not produce the same result. The reason was that before making their final adjustment, the Wright Brothers had made approximately 1,000 other adjustments to their machine all with the intention of getting it to fly.
So it was not the final adjustment that did it; it was 1001 minor adjustments all working together.
Now, what is the point of all this? Well, if my story connects with you, there should not be much need for me to add anything. But, just in case you would like it spelled out, here it is: your ultimate success can be attained only through dedicating yourself to the same kind of effort that the Wright Brothers put into getting their kite to fly.
Whilst other people’s autobiographies may be encouraging and inspiring and there may be very good reasons for reading them, understand that you are not going to find the magic key to your own success in other people’s success stories. So make sure you put the necessary effort in and soon enough, you will be able to write your own success story!