As a people, Americans love to worship the obsessives among us. Witness the near deification of Steve Jobs and other amazing business people. We are quick to forgive them their sins of anti-social, bullying and “ends justify the means” behavior since their accomplishments are so great. We begin to see their obsessive behaviors as the one true secret to business and life success. Unfortunately, business thought-leaders have tied onto this star, as well, and seem to think that this obsessive behavior is the ONLY way to achieve success in any business. While certainly there are some success stories of obsessive leaders leading a company to greatness, to expect everyone to be obsessive is a road to disaster.
Your career is important for your stability, your livelihood and your sense of accomplishment. That said, it should only be one part of your life. Your career should never dominate your life. Sure, we love to celebrate the obsessive entrepreneur, but I believe that those people are the outliers in society as a whole. While they may see no problem with sacrificing everything for their career, I think most of us would rather seek a balance in all the various aspects of our lives including, career, family, recreation, simplicity and love. It takes a very odd person — perhaps even clinically obsessive — to ignore all the other aspects of their lives — all the other amazing things in the world — and focus solely on business success.
Let me be clear. Thank goodness there are those obsessives who can drive new innovations and tremendous accomplishments in the world. They are to be lauded for much that they accomplish. That said, I think we are doing a great disservice when we hold up these people — these outliers — as the norm that everyone else should — no, MUST — emulate. Talk to any career counsellor and I can almost guarantee one the first things they will say will be, “You are trying to do too much, too many different things. You have to FOCUS on one of them!” As someone who thinks and acts otherwise, I believe it is only a minority of people that can find such a hyper-focused life possible or rewarding. For me, there are far too many cool things to be investigated to limit my life to only one obsessive pursuit. Further, while my methods may not lead to the dramatic success of some obsessives, it will lead to my own personal success. The success will look different, but if I do it right, it can still be counted, by many factors, as a success.
For most of us — the “normals” if you like — life has a daily balance and subtlety. Further, there are many more of us, than them. Trying to be something that you are not, simply because someone has told you this is the only path, is destructive to you and your career. Like Cinderella’s sisters constantly trying to fit into a shoe that is too small or too large, trying to be an obsessive when you are not is a foolish waste of time and energy. Even worse, when you are “trying” to be something you are not, your chances of success in that role lessen with each passing day. You are fighting against your very nature and it shows.
We are so enamoured with obsessive success that we have now begun to mistake the minority for the majority when it comes to business success. We see the great obsessive successes and begin to think that everyone should/could/would behave in exactly the same fashion. We deny that there is any other path to success and even deny that any other success exists but this one. There are many levels and types of success, though, and we ignore that at our peril. As I said in a recent talk at CareerCampSCV (Santa Clarita Valley), “For many, if you can support yourself and your family doing something you love, you are successful!” It may be a different type of success, but you must recognize it as success all the same. To deny it risks your very happiness and fulfillment in life.
(Watch this talk, “What is success…and why you might have it already!” by clicking on this link. Listen to the audio version of “What is success…and why you might have it already!”)
When we try to fit into someone else’s shoes, or someone else’s suit of clothes, we seek to ignore our most dramatic nature as humans — our infinite variability. We are surrounded by every possible variation of human throughout our entire lives, yet we try to fool ourselves into thinking that we can — or should — think and act as only one type. Some great successes come from obsessive behavior so we start to think that everyone should be obsessive. This totally disregards the fact that obsessives typically only engage in their behavior because they are surrounded with “normal” people who take care of everything that they are ignoring — who actually implement what the obsessives have only dreamed.
For every obsessive success, there are thousands of people who made that success possible. Without these variations in thought and behavior, it is likely that we humans would find our accomplishments growing less and less each day. If we truly decided to turn everyone into an obsessive entrepreneur, we would find ourselves with thousands of tremendous ideas, but with no one to turn them into reality.
It is time for us to stop worshipping the obsessives in the world and trying to turn everyone into some version of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Monetary success is one thing, but success means something different for every person in the world. Instead of trying to be a copy of your favorite obsessive creator you need to be the best YOU that you can be. You need to work smarter. You need to work harder. You need to dream bigger, sure. You need to work towards a success that means something personal to you. Doing more of what you love most is the road to success. To ignore your own, individual, unique wants, needs and desires is greatly damaging and almost guarantees that you will never reach the success you truly want. If you are obsessive — be obsessive. Otherwise stop trying to be who you are not — what you are not — and focus on who you truly are and what you truly want.