Many passions to success


By YI CHIN

CONSIDER this. In 1964, Nelson Mandela was convicted of conspiracy and sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.  

After 27 years in captivity, in 1990, at the age of 71, Mandela was released. He had every reason to have become the most dangerous man on his continent, but instead he accelerated the peaceful reinvention of his nation.  

Mandela found meaning in overcoming his hatred to lead a non-violent revolution, seeking reconciliation instead of revenge. 

In this book, we meet more than 200 other people who’ve made a profound difference: not for weeks or months, but for decades.  

Most are over 40. Some are well known: Steve Jobs, Steve Forbes, Quincy Jones, and the Dalai Lama.  

And some aren’t, such as Norma Hotaling, a former prostitute and addict, who founded an organization to help women get off the streets.  

Other frequently cited examples in the book include Charles Schwab, Sir Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Jimmy Carter, Herb Kelleher, Elie Wiesel, Condoleeza Rice, and Marva Collins.  

Basically, Abraham Maslow would have recognized these Builders (as the authors call their successful people) as his self-actualised individuals.  

Now, imagine discovering what they’ve got in common, distilling it into a set of simple practices. 

And this is what co-authors Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson found: Continually successful people combine meaning, thought and actions in mutual consistent ways that provide sustained performance. Yes, they found meaning too. 

In Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters (Wharton/Pearson) you will find that meaning is important because it ignites passion in you and others. Success also requires persistence. As such without continuing passion, it’s hard to be persistent enough to be a lasting success.  

In their conversations, the authors rediscover a principle that is starting to emerge in books about organizational performance and leadership, but rarely seems fully developed: Success in the long run has less to do with finding the best idea, organizational structure, or business model, than with discovering what matters to us as individuals.  

Those interviewed were not confined to the categories of entrepreneur, revolutionary, or positive deviant. Many were reluctant to think of themselves as leaders or role models. They come from many backgrounds, some horrific and others privileged.  

In terms of personality, they’re all over the map - some are naturally loud and assertive, while others are barely audible until you ask them about what matters to them. But at some point in their lives, all of them found themselves on a collision course with a kind of need that generated a relentless, passionate conviction to change the way things are for the long run, often despite how society might judge them.  

The bottom-line conclusion about how successful people operate: “Their passions create meaning in their lives that is nothing short of a lifelong obsession from which they seek no escape.” 

To quote Apple co-founder Jobs: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” What’s most important, says Jobs: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”  

And there you have it. In the end, nothing beats true dedication and passion.  

As such, money, ultimately, isn’t the goal. 

“The essential difference with Builders is that they’ve found something to do that matters to them and are therefore so passionately engaged, they rise above the personality baggage that would otherwise hold them down,” the authors write. 

And you can have more than one passion. In fact, you should. 

“Carve out a little time each week, on the job or after work, to experiment in some way with one of your other passions.”  

In final analysis, one of the best qualities a successful person can bring to the table is a sense of being an explorer.  

“The journey is like shooting for the moon and instead hitting Mars - perhaps a better, but different, outcome than envisioned,” according to Success Built to Last

Here’s the rub: You should have plans - they get you going - but along the way other things happen in life.  

And what you end up being successful at may not be exactly what you pictured when you first started out. Just like when I set out to review this book. My take? Best read with a focus group. 

  • Chin is former investor relations counsel for PT Bakrie Brothers in Indonesia. He is currently consulting for a hospital project in Sumatra.
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