Success is an elusive term, even for people who have managed to earn some of it in their course of life. Age is no bar, of course, but there are factors that determine the odds and let’s admit it, they hardly turn in our favour.
But you know what changes when it does? No, not the stars but your drive to make it happen. Some call it passion, others know it as perseverance but the fact remains that it works wonders. I’m sorry I don’t mean to be preachy but I came across something that called for some of the above-mentioned insights.
An aspiring engineer, a 15-year-old, asked if one can become as successful as Elon Musk without being as smart as he is on Quora and Jim Cantrell, Musk’s colleague from SpaceX, had the most inspiring answer. Read his entire post here.
-Do something that you are inherently good or talented at. We all have our relative talents but spending your life doing something that is inherently more difficult puts you at a disadvantage to other more talented people.
-Do something that creates value and can be sold into a market present or future.
Notice that money is not an ingredient in any of these factors nor is intelligence. Admittedly, higher intelligence makes some fields (maybe rockets for example) easier to learn but by and large these ingredients are never a major factor in success. If you combine these three elements into your pursuits in life, you will be very successful and the money will come on its own. Money is a reflection of the true value that you are creating.
SpaceX was born after Elon spent some time with John Garvey (a co-founder of my new company Vector) who was building amateur liquid launch vehicles in his garage at the time. While this seemed like an insane endeavour and John’s neighbours worried about him, Elon saw the brilliance in it and decided that John’s small rockets were an existence proof of something much bigger. Elon knew that if a small band of Space Cowboys like John could build a 30-foot tall liquid rocket with leftover beer money and regular machine tools, great things were possible with big money, a great team and lots of hard work. This is where SpaceX was born.
SpaceX was not an obvious success in the early days. Clearly, Elon and the team he recruited were passionate about building a low-cost launcher. Clearly, we were good at it. And clearly, there was a market. However, most of the world was betting against Elon from the outside. This skepticism was born of a bit of conceit on the part of the big aerospace concerns who thought that ‘nobody can do better than us and especially not a band of Space Cowboys like SpaceX’. There were also questions of Elon’s motivations and basic honesty brought up by the skeptics. Others in the industry confided in me at the time that they thought Elon was fundamentally dishonest and making promises that he couldn’t keep.
I left SpaceX after about a year because I too doubted SpaceX’s ability to succeed with the amount of money they had raised (and I could not conceive of raising more). I also did not share Elon’s passion for colonizing Mars as I regarded it to be a fool’s errand as it would never happen in my lifetime. I was wrong on both counts. Elon did succeed in the end and it was because he never counted himself out. He never gave up. He kept going. He knew that he had the three ingredients and he kept upping the ante every time that he faced an obstacle or failure.
This leads me to what I personally think is the most important personal attribute for success. It’s not intelligence. It’s not being educated. It’s not even experience. It’s simply a determination to never ever give up. That is the most important element of success: dogged determination. One of my favourite quotes along these lines is from Garth Stein, author of the book Racing in the Rain.
“A winner, a champion, will accept his fate. He will continue with his wheels in the dirt. He will do his best to maintain his line and gradually get himself back on the track when it is safe to do so. Yes, he loses a few places in the race. Yes, he is at a disadvantage. But he is a winner, a champion, and will accept his fate. He will continue with his wheels in the dirt. He will do his best to maintain his line and gradually get himself back on the track when it is safe to do so. Yes, he loses a few places in the race. Yes, he is at a disadvantage. But he is still racing. He is still alive”
May your race be a good one and may you find the winds of your passion to fuel it to a successful finish.
Isn’t it just the thing you wanted to hear? After all the blame-game, after all the ‘I told you so’ and after all the ‘constructive criticism’, it is imperative that you know what gets it going. So, what are you waiting for? Take notes and seize the day!