Success Built to Last

Summary Written by Carolyn B. Thompson
"Success has to do with… discovering what matters to us as individuals."

- Success Built to Last, page 4

The Big Idea

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

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.

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Insight #2

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.

Read the book

Get Success Built to Last on Amazon.

Jerry Porras

Jerry Porras co-authored international business bestseller Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, with Jim Collins. The book is based on the results of an exhaustive six-year research project aimed at discovering the approaches and behaviors of the most visionary companies of the past two centuries. Translated into 25 languages, it has sold more than one million copies worldwide.

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