Success Built to Last

"Success has to do with… discovering what matters to us as individuals."

- Success Built to Last, page 4

Success that lasts is created when you have a mission that matters, a calling, a cause.  That’s what the authors of Success Built to Last learned when they interviewed 200 people who’s success has endured time and changing circumstances.  Almost every page includes direct quotes gathered during the interviews – immediately usable insights illuminating these enduringly successful people’s specific definition of success.

After interviewing the 200 people who fit the criteria of enduring success, the authors saw three essential elements of lasting success: Meaning, Thought Style, and Action Style.

1. Meaning – Enduringly successful people had something so meaningful that they lost track of time while engaged in it, they were willing to endure criticism about it, they recruited others to do it, and they couldn’t be paid not to do it.

2. Thought Style – People who have lasting success have a style of thought that matches their particular situation and keeps them on track to persevere.

3.  Action Style – Jack Jia summed up the enduringly successful style of taking action as one that’s relentless. “If you refuse to do something you believe in your mind it will never leave you alone. You might as well get on with it even if it won’t be perfect.”

Imagine each as a circle and that lasting success is the intersection of the three circles. But without a conscious and sustained effort, the three drifted apart.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The definition of success

"Why am I not doing what really matters to me right now?"
- Success Built to Last, page 32

To create success that lasts you have to know your journey matters so much that you stay the course year after year – always with zealous overconfidence about your mission.

Ah, and here’s the rub.  What if you don’t have a mission, a calling, a purpose?  We all do but just haven’t put words to it.  Ask yourself what’s so important to you that you wouldn’t care if people criticized you, that it wouldn’t matter if you were famous for it or got paid a lot of money for it.  In fact, the authors discovered that this goal, this mission is something you don’t retire from. It is your essential being. It is why you breathe.

I loved Sally Field’s suggestion for how to discover what matters to you: “if you say ‘I don’t have anything I love’, you have to sit down and say ‘why don’t I have anything I love?’ ‘What in me walks way from every inclination that I had that I find something, something that sparked me, something that was for me and I didn’t do it?’ You have to go back, just recount every moment in life, what it was, what was that one thing that I did that I loved.”

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

If you don't love what you do, you'll lose to someone who does

"People who have found success that lasts pursue their goals because they matter to them, often despite popularity and recognition."
- Success Built to Last, page 96

And it’s not always what others think you should be committing to.  The traditional definition of success (wealth, power, fame) doesn’t describe what success means.  At least not the success described by those that are enduringly successful.  People who have success that lasts have a life that matters. Their definition is “a life of personal fulfillment” and the authors found that enduringly successful people won’t settle for anything less.

The interviews made it clear that it wasn’t just about achievement as when achievement came without meaning then the success didn’t last. Many examples in Hollywood, government, and the business world are given for very short-lived success and in each case the person had no clear mission that mattered to them. Just a short-term goal.

The past few years I had not been “loving what I was doing”. So, that explains why for two years every proposal I wrote got turned down! I was, however, actively figuring out why I didn’t love it, putting plans into action as I discovered the answers and slowly coming to where our company is now – starting to be noticed as the thought leader instead of as the doer and getting projects based on that.  Same mission as always, just implemented differently.  My whole adult life I’ve been doing things that others didn’t think I should be doing (giving away advice as a marketing tool) and not doing things they thought I should (making money at all costs). Does success have to mean struggling to survive? No, but if it’s really enduring success then I’ll take it any day over the fleeting kind.

If you don’t feel an ounce of excitement for your current work, you can take time to sit down like I did and figure out why you don’t love it.  From there, figure out your plan to transform your work.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Builders harvest their failures and successes as data they can use to improve their effectiveness

"Builders generally did not blame others for their circumstances, but instead focused their attention on actions within their control that they could take to solve and manage the problem."
- Success Built to Last, page 9

Many times ideas in books confirm for us that we’re doing the right thing and I was pleased to see that the way I handle failure is the same as the enduringly successful people.  I never blame others – I’m too busy fixing the problem to have time to blame. Then I’m too busy figuring out how to prevent it from happening again. Actually it never occurs to me to blame others as whatever I’m involved in I take responsibility for and therefore get the benefits of what I learned from fixing it.

But then, and this hit me like a ton of bricks – Ed Penhoet, recounting the early days of his business, said that the pressure was so high “sometimes I had to stop and throw up in the gutter on the way to the office.” I realized the instant I read this that I used to thrive on the problems and the pressure that came with the commitment to follow my path, but now I hate it. I hate even the pressure of the drive to the airport wondering “will the traffic and the weather allow me to make it on time, will the flight leave on time so I’m not late to the client in the next city, etc.”  So, did this mean I’m no longer success driven? I no longer look for the failures to learn from because of the conflicts and inevitable pressure that comes with it?

The 200 enduringly successful people interviewed for the book don’t love to fail, don’t love the pressure – they’re just willing to persist because what they believe in matters so much that they summon the courage.

Maya Angelou said, “The reward for the doing must be the doing.” Why? Because of the pressure, because of the failure, because of the criticism, because of the length of time it may take to achieve the mission that matters, because of the new directions you may need to go in order to achieve.

After struggling with the thought that I was no longer successful and all the years of the mission that mattered were wasted, I now realize that what I’m doing right now matters the same as always – I just advance that mission now in a different way!

“Choose a path that you love for better or worse. Only then will you have the good hearted stubbornness to stretch for your full potential and survive the inevitable slings and arrows that await you on your bold journey.”

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Carolyn B. Thompson

ABOUT Carolyn B. Thompson

I’m proud to be a Renaissance Man – dog mom, singer, water skier, Christian, gardener, trainer, business owner, cook, baker, swimmer, reader, crafts, Christmas decorator, vegetable lover who eats fish & meat, mocha drinker, iced tea drinker, believer that chocolate desserts are a major food group, walker/runner, exerciser, movie watcher, writer, former work road warrior mainly to do conference keynotes & bookstores, 3 children in their mid-30s w/5 grandchildren under 6 yrs old.
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