The cost of success: Is it worth the price of admission?
When we work on something truly great (you are working on something great aren’t you?), we will face adversity. There will be times when the whole world seems hell bent on putting brick walls in your path. But there’s only one way to respond when the universe conspires against you: keep going. Don’t believe me? Check out this list:
JK Rowling wrote her first “Harry Potter” manuscript while she was getting divorced, on welfare, and living with her daughter in a small apartment. Her agent received nothing but rejections for almost a year. It was rejected by 12 different publishers before finding someone who offered her £2,500 for the UK publishing rights.
Tired of working so hard?
Spencer West’s legs were amputated below his pelvis when he was 5. He gets around all right; and he has never really seen his lack of legs as a barrier to living life. In 2011 he decided to redefine what was possible for him — by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, mostly on his hands.
It took him 6 days. He did it under his own power: 80% on his hands, 20% in his chair (when the terrain permitted). On the last day, the friends climbing with him were struck with terrible altitude sickness. Looking back on that moment he said, “I wish I had legs that day. Because I would have picked those guys up and carried them one by one to the summit. But I couldn’t do that, so instead I got on my hands and said ‘Guys, let’s walk this together.'”
Feeling like a failure?
At age 22, his business failed. The next year he ran for legislature and lost. So he started another business, which also failed. At 25 he ran for legislature again, this time he won. His girlfriend passed away the next year, leading to a decline in his mental health. Ultimately he had a nervous breakdown. Upon recovering he ran for 3 more elected offices, and was defeated each time. At 37 he was finally elected to Congress. Two years later he ran for Senate and lost. The next hear he was nominated as a vice-presidential candidate, and lost. At 49 he ran for Senate and lost.
Finally, at age 51, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States.
Everyone thinks your idea is no good?
James Dyson made 5,126 failed vacuum prototypes over 15 years before hitting on the design that eventually became a success. Talk about a huge cost of success! Does he think any time was wasted? No. He says, “But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure.”
Running out of money?
In the early 70’s, Fred Smith was struggling to keep his young shipping company viable. Demand for services had grown quickly – faster than the company’s infrastructure. With $5,000 in the bank, and a $24,000 fuel bill in front of him, he pounded the pavement requesting a business loan from several lenders. After each and every lender denied the request, he was at the airport trying to figure out what to do. With nothing to lose, Fred got on a plane to Vegas with the remaining $5,000. He won $27,000 at the black jack table; he covered the fuel costs and kept the company alive for another week.
The company? $28 billion shipping giant — FedEx.
Don’t have the right connections?
Bette Nesmith had a good secretarial job in a Dallas bank, but she wasn’t a great typist. She needed a better way to correct the errors she made on her electric typewriter. Bette had some art experience and thought about artists who just “painted over” their errors. Using her kitchen and garage as laboratory and factory, she concocted a fluid to paint over her typing errors. Before long, all the secretaries in her building were using what she then called “MistakeOut”. She attempted to sell the product idea to marketing agencies and various companies (including IBM), but they turned her down. Undaunted, Bette Graham changed the name from Mistake Out to Liquid Paper and kept selling it from her kitchen-garage for the next 17 years. By 1968 she was making a profit. And in 1979, the Gillette Corporation bought Liquid Paper for $47.5 million plus royalties. When Bette Nesmith sold the enterprise, the tiny white bottles were earning $3.5 million annually on sales of $38 million.
There are hundreds of stories like this — where the cost of success is so high — so many that one has to wonder if perseverance isn’t an essential element of success stories. Irving Stone has spent a lifetime writing novelized biographies of success stories; Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin have all served as subjects. When asked if he saw something that all these greats had in common Stone replied,
“I write about people who sometime in their life…have a vision or dream of something that should be accomplished…and they go to work. They are beaten over the head, knocked down, vilified and for years they get nowhere. But every time they’re knocked down they stand up. You cannot destroy these people. And at the end of their lives they’ve accomplished some modest part of what they set out to do.”
“Brad these are great stories. But I’m not like any of these people. I’m just a small business owner,” you say. Well I say, what have you set out to do?
Did your business grow out of a time of upheaval and desperation, like J.K. Rhowling was experiencing? Did your business grow out of a conviction, or a dream, like Abraham Lincoln? Or were you determined to overcome an obstacle, like Spencer West? Was your business born from a natural talent you have, or a good idea, or was it simply a problem to solve — like Bette Nesmith, Fred Smith, or James Dyson? The only difference between these stories and your story is how much all of these folks believed in what they were trying to accomplish — in what they set out to do. They believed in it so much, that when no one else did, they kept going.
How much is success worth to you? If it’s not worth much, then you’re not dreaming big enough. (Click to tweet)
I promise you — if you truly believe in your business — and you bring this level of commitment to it, your story will be like these stories. When we add this level of perseverance to whatever vision, capacity, experience or convictions we bring to the table, the impact can only be great. I’ll say it again: what have you set out to do? What do you believe in? If you’re meeting obstacles, if you feel like a failure, if you are getting rejected at every turn and you are tempted to give up, look at these stories again. And ask yourself, what is the cost of success worth? 3 failures? 27 “no”s? If you knew that on the 5,127th attempt you’d succeed, would you pack it up, or would you start counting your attempts? And then, get on with it.
What is the cost of success worth to you? Share your story with us — victories and defeats. Tell us about how you’ve experienced the rewards of perseverance in your business.