I almost titled this article, “The Most Successful Business Doesn’t Mean The Best Business (At Least To Me)” but then I decided to take a little different approach. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my motivations and what exactly motivates me. I usually, to a fault, try to funnel down my own personality so that I know how to deal with myself, business and life (in general) better. Sometimes I think I think too much!
While I was thinking about my motivations in business I started thinking about how I get freaked out when I see a badly run business do well. I’ve seen a lot smarter people fail with their business over much less. I’ve pondered it for a long time. How come people go to all these seminars, take classes or even go to a business coach and fail but some seemly ‘bad business person‘ can be successful.
I often just wondered how much of a businesses life came down to luck, an additional income or even just not being so logical (which I often am.) After a certain amount of pondering, and a few beers, I came to a couple of conclusions…
You Have To Define Success!
I was writing an article a few weeks (probably months) ago about your business customers being your fans…just like in a band. I came across this video on YouTube where Ian MacKaye was giving a talk to Loyola University Music Business students. It’s about 2 hours and I watched all of it. I like Ian MacKaye. I even met him once and he was a real down-to-earth, genuinely nice dood. I can’t say I see eye-to-eye with him on every single thing on the video, but he’s lived a pretty successful life living by his own rules. He was a pioneer in the ‘American Hardcore‘ scene. Coined the phrase and inadvertently started a sub-culture known as Straight Edge, and went on to start his own label and be in one of the most respected underground rock bands, Fugazi.
In this speech he talks about his history of doing things DIY, and how he’s attempted to keep his integrity over the years (which I believe he has.) There’s one part where he’s talking about what success means to him that blew my mind:
“Success is not a goal to me. It’s the ‘do.’ Every day. I wanna love what I’m doing. What is success? I wanna know what that means. When people say “…but you sold so many records.” What does that have to do with anything?! If you put that into ‘food’…What’s the number 1 selling food in the world? Of restaurants?! It’s obvious: McDonalds. But does that make it the best food?! I don’t think so. It makes it pretty clear that it’s actually the opposite.
In terms of records, TV shows, or movies a lot of times the things that sell the most are actually, kinda, the most homogenous…and uninteresting.”
You Have To Define Your Own Passion!
In my personal and business pursuits I always had a mentality of ‘going down with the ship.‘ You can ask an old boss, my old band and probably even my girlfriend about it and I’m sure they’ll tell you a thing or two. If I’m going to commit to something or drive my passions towards something I want to see it though. If I fail? We’ll it’ll be something I’ll learn for next time, but I never want to give up and wonder if that’s the reason why I didn’t succeed. I even wrote an article called “Keep Failing…It’s Good For You.”
Part of the passion, or ‘go down with the ship’ mentality, is because that’s a factor I think about when I’m making a decision to do something. I always ask myself, “If I do this, am I gonna go down with the ship?” I think that’s an important question to ask yourself when making big decisions. It may help to show you what should be a hobby and what should be a career. It may help you to determine if it’s worth the fight or the time, energy and money you may have to commit to that pursuit.
There’s an old lifehack that if you’re torn between two decisions you should flip a coin. Not that you should leave fate up to chance, but in the moments the coin is flipping in the air you (more times than not) realize what side you want the coin to flip on. That’s the same kind of mentality I usually have with the ‘go down with the ship.’
I actually love having that mentality. It helps me to do things that I’m passionate about rather than just looking for the easy way out. There’s an old quip about that too, isn’t there? I just looked it up and it turns out it was in a Scrubs episode (actually Andrew Carnegie said it too):
We can even take it one-step further and use another quip from Confucius, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Your Motivations Can Still Lead To Failure (and Monotony)
The success of doing something I love is what motivates me. Agreeing with Mr. KacKaye about success, and knowing that I ‘go down with the ship‘ led me to some more conclusions. I’d much rather fail at something I love doing then spend my time, energy or money failing at something I wasn’t passionate about. I really wouldn’t want to be successful at something I could really care less about either. Of course there’s a fine line between needing to put the food on the table and loving what you do, but I’d really rather not be a successful McDonalds owner or anything else I wasn’t passionate about (sorry McDonalds you’re the example today…I still love your snack wraps.) I mean, I probably wouldn’t complain too too much, but there wouldn’t be any passion in it for me. There’s another side of the coin you can read about with an article called “4 Myths about Doing What You Love for Work.”
I also came to the conclusion that being ‘successful‘ and passionate doesn’t mean that you won’t feel like it’s a chore. About a year and a half ago I started a reunion and break-up blog called The Albatross. I had met a lot of people I admired that were in bands doing reunion shows. That’s a passion of mine; to talk to people about all the questions I had when I was 15 and just getting into music. I got some great answers too. There are days and even months where I wake up and I hate the thought of having to update the blog. It sucks sometimes. It wastes time I could be doing something else. Plus, it’s tedious! To be honest, I’m not even sure how long the website will last for. Undeniably, I come around and realize that I love doing it. I love giving people information about something that I’m passionate about. That makes it worth it, even though sometimes-barely on the off-days.
Passion Comes In All Forms…Unless It’s Insincere
So…let’s go back to that first paragraph. Why was I getting ‘freaked out’ about what I thought were poorly run businesses? I was getting freaked out because I thought everyone in the world had a business and/or life mentality like me. I was getting freaked out because they weren’t as passionate (as I thought they should be) and their business was doing fine. I realized that not everyone has the same passions and, like Ian states, “What is passion?” Maybe a business owners passion in life is to spend time with his family, or maybe more importantly, provide for their family. Maybe someone’s passion is just to run a successful business. Maybe that’s the passion! Maybe it doesn’t matter what type of business it is, maybe the success comes to someone in how it’s run!
You can often find the same thing in bands when you hear that they break up because of ‘creative differences.‘ Chances are that a band member or two just had a different definition of success. One member might have wanted to sell a million records while another was just happy to write songs with talented people. I don’t think either one is necessarily right or wrong, it’s just a difference of opinion.
After I came to that conclusion I felt like a total ass-face for everyone I might have judged over the past few years. But then I started thinking about other people and I realized that not everyone gets off the hook so easily. I think there’s some truly greedy, shady people out there. There’s some people that just want to take the easy way out. In business, I’d honestly prefer to not deal with those people. I talked about it a little in the article “9 Marketing Tips For Facebook and Twitter (If You’re Sincere).” It’s the difference of self-indulgent shameless self-promotion and a sincere thank you. I even referenced an old friend who wrote an article, Retweeting Your Fans is Cheap. If you’re being insincere then your luck may or may not catch up with you…but at least you can sleep at night.
I don’t think anyone can define success or passion for you. No one can tell you how or why you’re truly motivated. I think some people in your life can show you what they see to help you figure it out. So I hope this helps in some way. I also hope you’re not a greedy selfish jerk!