When Success Isn’t

For years I’ve joked about how, if I pitched my business on Shark Tank, it would take Kevin O’Leary less than 180 seconds to tell me I’m running a hobby.

I get it. I don’t have the success appeal sharks look for.

And that used to bother me, a bit.  Until I realized what it means at its core.  And now it doesn’t bother me anymore.

Consider these two quotes from Kevin O’Leary himself:

“My thesis is that you have to sacrifice everything for some period in your life to be successful. You have to be myopic and completely focused and unbalanced in every way.” 1

“Business is war. I go out there; I want to kill the competitors. I want to make their lives miserable. I want to steal their market share. I want them to fear me.”2

Wait. What??  “…you have to sacrifice everything… you have to be myopic and completely focused and unbalanced in every way…” and “I want to make their lives miserable”??

This just trips my wires. And I love Kevin O’Leary, love Shark Tank… and I treasure the freedom in this country to turn a solid idea into a successful business.

But I don’t love this definition of success.  Because primarily it is about self. About prestige. About beating or keeping everyone else out. It is in and of itself wholly myopic and unbalanced… which makes it one-dimensional. At the end of that road is me and me and maybe a lot of money and maybe not. Maybe some true friends and family who have stuck around and maybe not.

I consider how pervasive is this ego-led definition of success in the worlds of my now 17- and 19-year-old boys…

in school, in social circles, all forms of media, in athletics and extra-curriculars. It’s competitive. It’s comparative. And ironically, it has little in common with the world of authentic connection and community in which we all wish we could live

How could this not be related to how and why we and our children are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, loneliness and depression? Think about it. We long to belong. Cultural success, because it is exclusionary by nature, is at odds with our very life’s desires.

Here’s a better truth: Genuine and fulfilling success is possible for everyone because each of us is entirely unique in our talents and interests.  This is what we need to hear, what we need to be telling our children, every day, in our homes, our schools, our social circles, our teams: There is a good and important place for each of us, a successful place, a perfect fit for who we are and what we each uniquely can do.

True success is by each individual, for the betterment of all.

Consider what the world would look like if more of us embraced this wholistic multi-dimensional definition of success, captured in sweet pureness by Ralph Waldo Emerson. His words have taken up residency in my heart since I first read them in my teens, and Paula and I embrace them as a company:

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded.”

And if that makes what we do a hobby, well then, so be it.  I’ll get a goldfish and call it a day.

  1. John Rampton, 60 of the Most Inspirational Quotes in Shark Tank History (Inc.com, Sep. 30, 2016)
  2. Rampton, 60 of the Most Inspirational Quotes in Shark Tank History


If this post resonates with you, if you crave community as I do, you might also like this post from December: Meet Me at the Tree: Craving Community.

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