What are you prepared to do for success?

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson

Recently I was watching the movie, “The Untouchables,” and there is a scene where Elliot Ness is frustrated because he is being outplayed by Al Capone. He is unable to make any progress on his goal to bring down Capone.

As he shares this with Jim Malone (played by Sean Connery), Malones asks him, “What are you prepared to do?” Ness gives a long answer and then Connery cuts him off and replies, “and then what are you prepared to do?”

The not so subtle message is how far are you willing to go to reach success? Everyone wants success, but many aren’t willing to pay the price. Instead they are quick to point out all the reasons why something can’t be achieved. All the while there are people far worse off who are having success and accomplishing their goals in life.

Everyone has excuses. Some excuses are legitimate while others are merely attempts by people to justify why they lack the level of success they desire. Successful people take responsibility. Non-successful people always have an excuse why something did not go their way.

Whether real or not, excuses are just that … excuses. Consider the pilot on the plane we are about to board to LA. At the end of the day, we want the pilot to get us from point A to point B with no excuses that their husband left them or they didn’t get a good night’s sleep.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Stuff happens. How we respond to obstacles determines whether we are successful in life.

Steve Jobs started Apple and was worth millions in his early 20s. Then he was fired. I’m sure he felt wronged in that moment. He could have cried about it and taken his money and retired at age 30, but he didn’t. He started his next venture with NeXT Inc., which ultimately would be bought by Apple and opened the door to his return to Apple as CEO.

Jobs’ greatest accomplishments and impact on the world came after he was fired.

Everyone has failures in life. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Often it seems that those who work the hardest make it look the easiest. Walt Disney’s first animation and film studio went bankrupt. After arriving in California, he started his next venture, Disney Bros. Studio which introduced us to Mickey Mouse. How different would the world look if Walt Disney and Steve Jobs had changed careers after their first major defeat?

“It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates.

How can we overcome failure, stop making excuses, and move forward in life? First, recognize that failure, like success, is a temporary state. We need to analyze what we can do differently in the future.

Recognizing what we did wrong takes us 90 percent of the way toward future success. Many people never look back. That leads them to repeat the same mistakes. Only through careful examination of our failures can we identify the exact problems and implement the correct solutions.

A young executive made some bad decisions that cost IBM several million dollars. He was summoned to then-CEO Tom Watson Jr.’s office and fully expected to be fired. As he entered the office, the young executive said, “I suppose after this set of mistakes you will want to fire me.” Watson replied, “Not at all, young man, we have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you.”

Every mistake is a life lesson that moves you closer to success. We must be willing to learn from these life lessons.

I know a woman who never takes responsibility for her actions. Mistakes happen and it is never her fault. Someone else is always to blame. Because she never makes mistakes, she can never learn from them. And because she never learns from her past, she keeps repeating the same mistakes.

It must be so frustrating to think that everything that happens in life is preordained and there is nothing we can do to change our future. In the end, it will keep her from any real success in life.

Successful people have the courage to say, “I screwed up. I thought A was going to happen and instead B happened. But next time I will be prepared for both A and B.”

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” – Bill Gates.

Look at your goals, your vision of what success means to you. Now look at what is holding you back. Where could you get better? What could you do differently?

Convert the excuses to challenges and figure out how to address those challenges. What are you prepared to do? And then what?

Peter Johnson is the director of the Westgate Center for Leadership and the Institute for Family Business in the University of the Pacific’s Eberhardt School of Business. He can be reached at [email protected]


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