Be Selfish to Be Successful
Today, I had the pleasure of meeting up with someone who has not only been successful in his work life, but believes you have to be selfish to be successful to achieve want after want after want. He’s been so successful that I can’t use his real name, so I’ll call him Sean. Here’s hoping you find as much inspiration as I did.
The door opened and I was greeted with a huge warm smile and welcoming “good morning!” Sean’s floppy gray hair is pushed back over his head as he leads me to my seat at the table. With pen in my hand, I was ready to write feverishly to make sure I didn’t miss a word.
Sean used to be the China and APAC Managing Director of a top Advertising Agency. He also used to run two other companies when he relocated back to England and knows a lot about wants. He doesn’t dilly dally, sits me down and says, “Beth, let me tell you a story.”
The story of the 4th Son
“A long time ago, there were three brothers. Their father ran a successful family business. They were all relatively close in age but the unthinkable happened, the father’s business collapsed. The family had no securities, no insurance, no nothing but they persevered. During this time, the Mother was pregnant with a 4th son, who would be born ten years younger than the others and again the unthinkable happened, the wife died shortly after childbirth. The family was in ruins and technically a mess.
Throughout his life, the 4th son felt cheated, unloved, and left to fend for himself. Fate, and his brothers, who were too old to play with him, had let him down. When his three older brothers were old enough, they started an engineering firm working all hours and borrowing heavily. But they began to succeed and soon had cars and homes for their families. The 4th son wanted to be part of this success and be part of what he saw as the “family” business – to be a manager and enjoy the fruits of success just like them. But the brothers said no. He had to start from the bottom just like everyone else. This made the 4th son feel even more cheated and discarded but he had alternatives.“
It was here Sean stops the story and looks at me. I immediately go into all the alternatives the 4th son had had, but Sean explained that what is important here is that he know what he WANTED.
The 4th Sons Options
What did the 4th son want? Was it business success? He should have sat himself down and made this all important decision consciously. Here were his options:
1. Accept a job at the bottom of his bothers firm and work his way up.
2. Accept a job elsewhere and prove himself by himself.
Unfortunately, he did neither.
“The 4th Son took the easy road – he worked for his brothers without thinking about his future. His emotions led him to try to make his brothers suffer by doing as little work as he could, arriving late each morning and leaving dead on time each night – calculating correctly that they wouldn’t fire him. He unconsciously set his goal as “make them pay” rather than “make me successful.”
At this point, I was feeling for the 4th son, because we have all been in his position, feeling like we’re the victim, as if we’re OWED a job, or money, or acceptance.
“Where is the 4th Son now?” I ask.
“At the age of 55 the 4th son is still doing the same menial job at the brother’s firm. He’s been eaten up with anger, resentment and has been completely overcome by the “victim” mentality because he sees daily that his brothers have the success he is certain was owed to him. He has distanced himself from the three brothers. He seldom talks to them more than is absolutely necessary and has basically divorced himself from the family. Having given him a chance to prove himself, they feel no reason to help him now.”
I felt so sorry for the 4th Son, who could’ve taken his life into a much more positive and happy direction but instead he gave into the emotion. He shouldn’t have asked himself what do I want do – but ask what do I WANT to get out of life – who do I want to be. His goal was to upset his brothers, not to do something for himself. When he started with the wrong goal in mind, he accomplished what he wanted – and went down the vulnerability spiral. This will never get you what you want.
Being Selfish At the Start of a Want
Affected by the story, I asked Sean, “that’s not you, so how did you get what you want?” And here, Sean explained how a process he learned at the ad agency set him up for a life of getting what he wanted.
“All client meetings are followed by a Contact Report which describes what was discussed and what decisions made. It is a formal record sent to all interested parties at the client and agency ends. Clearly such reports can only be written AFTER a meeting. However, in advance, we were required to think through what we would present to the client, how we would do so, how we thought the client would react etc etc. And how the meeting would end.
We had to write a dummy contact report BEFORE the meeting, and a REAL contact report after it. I would then sit down with my Supervisor to see where the two reports differed and why. What should we have done differently perhaps?
We started with clear written logical objectives and strategies designed to achieve them, so if they went awry we could work out where we had screwed up.”
It was learning how to develop these contact reports that gave Sean a process to work with. He explained, “You’re forced to think “what do I WANT out of the client and this relationship?” which is not something you would initially ask yourself BEFORE a meeting, but actually it’s the most important part. What do you WANT.
“Then we’d ask “why” if there wasn’t a match between the objectives and reality. Why did the client reject this piece or that? This contact report process makes you think about the objectives, how to sell it or craft a strategy, and makes you think from the clients point of view.”
If only the 4th Son had known about this disciplined thought process before he (probably unconsciously) set his want as being to upset his brothers, rather than to succeed in life.
Lesson learned: Take responsibility for yourself and make it positive. Be selfish for what you want in life – because life is about you.